I moved to South Korea in February 2021, in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. At that time, all international arrivals, regardless of vaccine status, were required to undergo 2-weeks self-isolation/quarantine. As I was living in student dormitories, the process was heavily managed by staff at the university. Here is my experience of Covid-19 quarantine in Korea as a student!
Note: Quarantine facilities and experience may differ depending on the time and nature of your visit. This article is mainly relevant to other prospective students travelling to South Korea during the pandemic.
Leaving the US
On arrival at the gate in the US, my temperature was taken before I could proceed to the desk, where I had to provide my negative PCR test, visa and quarantine agreement.
The airport experience in the US was relatively normal, with the exception of mask-wearing and negative covid PCR test requirement. When boarding the plane, all middle seats were closed off and we were given sanitary wipes to clean our seating area.
Arrival to Korea
I landed in Korea 14 hours later, both excited and nervous. After leaving the plane, there were two lines ahead of immigration, with staff members taking temperature readings of each passenger. Those with an above-normal temperature were given special badges and guided to another line, awaiting a covid test. I heard that some people waited over 10 hours for their test and had to stay overnight at the airport!
Thankfully, my temperature reading was normal and so I was able to proceed. Before heading to immigration, there are banners with QR codes, through which you can download and register on the official self-isolation app. If you are a short-term visitor, you will stay in a government-designated covid-19 quarantine facility with individual apps and so you do not need to download the QR code apps.
While queuing, staff helped organise our paperwork to speed up the process. At the arrival desk, I was required to present my passport, visa, negative covid PCR test and the location of where I would self-isolate. After that, I was guided to the immigration desks. While there are several tasks you must complete, the process is fast and well-managed. Moreover, there is help available whenever you need it.
Off to the Dorms
Once I collected my bags from baggage claim, I headed out into the airport terminal, where staff guided me to a designated waiting area. All the passengers there were provided with new K95 masks and told to wait for the bus that would take us to quarantine.
We boarded our bus and drove for approx. 3 hours to the university dorms that we would call home for the next 2 weeks. Our temperatures were checked again before entering the building and we had to supply our agreement to covid-19 quarantine.
We then entered the elevator one at a time and arrived at our dorm rooms that we wouldn’t leave for 2 weeks. The dorm room was quite large, with two beds and a small private bathroom. It was equipped with kettle, dishware, trash bags, body wash, shampoo/conditioner and some cereal and ramen too. We were also given a laundry soap bar as we would need to wash our clothes in the sink.
At first I was overwhelmed by the idea of staying in the same room for 2 weeks, but in the end, it wasn’t all that bad. The days blurred together after a while and I passed the time by studying my Korean books and shaking off my jet lag.
First Covid Test
The next morning, we were escorted downstairs to pay our quarantine fee, as well as receive our first — of two — covid tests. The test consisted of a swab up the nose and down the throat simultaneously, which was different to what I had experienced in the US. It was certainly not a pleasant sensation and I heard the sounds of gagging while I waited… However, the test is only a few seconds long, so it can be endured. We were also told that we would need to record our temperature and general health manually twice per day, via an app.
We were given 3 meals a day + snacks. The meals were primarily Korean food but every so often we were treated to Burger King and pizza. Honestly, the staff were incredible and took great care of us. If you adhere to a specific diet e.g. halal, vegetarian, ideally let the staff know before you arrive. However, you won’t have much freedom with regard to choice.
On the final day, we were taken to a local hospital where we would receive our second and final covid test. Thankfully, everyone tested negative and the next day we were free to leave and start our exciting year at university.
Many US citizens do not take Covid-19 seriously or are averse to mask-wearing. Therefore, it was incredible to see the efforts made by Korean authorities. Covid-19 quarantine is not fun but I felt safe knowing that if I was sick, I would be cared for. The meal schedule and health report helped me to overcome my jet lag and adjust to Korean time and cuisine.