Are South Korea’s Stringent Digital Nomad Visa Requirements Dampening Enthusiasm?

Are South Korea's Stringent Digital Nomad Visa Requirements Dampening Enthusiasm?

How much is a digital nomad visa worth to you? In South Korea, it will not only require you to be an employee with a contract but also earn roughly the equivalent of USD 5,333 per month. This high income requirement has doused the fire of initial excitement that many Koreaphiles felt for South Korea’s new F-1-D Workation Visa that launched in January. In the first months of 2024, only 31 people have officially applied.

So much for “If you build it, they will come.” Why even build it if you’re going to keep the doors locked? Japan, which just launched its digital nomad visa program, also has strict income requirements, asking applicants to earn about $5,530 per month. It is too early to gauge how popular Japan’s program will be, though it would not be surprising to see similar results to its East Asian neighbor.

Jeju Island – South Korea

Due to lower average incomes in other parts of the world, the required monthly salary to apply for a digital nomad visa is much lower.  According to Freelancermap, in Finland, you only need to make 25% of the Korean requirements – $1,315 per month. In Spain, you need roughly 2,500 per month, and in flashy Dubai, you only need to make $3,500 per month, all considerably cheaper than South Korea. 

The high income requirements imposed by South Korea make one question the ultimate value of jumping through the hoops to get a workation visa. If the F-1-D only grants you one year in the country, with the option to extend for two, would it be better to stay for three 90-day stints in the country if you won’t receive any questions for doing so? Sure, you can’t register a phone number or buy tickets online without a resident card in South Korea, but is that really worth being required to work on an employment contract and maintain a certain salary to live there for the full year?

The UK may have a better solution for attracting remote workers: make them feel at home with only a stamp in their passport. In December 2023, they updated their immigration policy. Travelers to the UK can now work remotely, provided it’s not the main reason for their visit. The remote work includes taking business calls, participating in remote meetings, and email correspondence.

Busan – South Korea

In the end, South Korea may attract more tourist dollars by doing away with the workation visa altogether. Would it be better to extend the period of stay to six months for visitors and relax the rules around remote work? We will just have to wait and see what the South Korean government decides after it analyzes the data. 

For the freelancers working online who dream of living there, the land of cosmetics, K-pop, and kimchi will have to wait…for now.