Back in June, when we found out that Erin had a job with EPIK, we began researching how to get our VISAs. According to the Chicago Consulate General of the Republic of Korea (whose English website is found here ) Erin needed to bring her passport, a completed VISA application (obtained through their website), a couple of passport pictures, a $45.00 money order or cash (in person only), her Notice of Appointment from the Korean Government, her contract, and a SASE so they could send us back her completed VISA. My VISA was supposed to be even easier. I was applying for an F-3 (dependent) VISA. According to the website, all I needed to bring was proof that I was married to Erin and a valid passport. I didn't even need an SASE, since they'd just tuck my VISA in with hers. That seemed almost too easy, so we did a little digging around online and found that no, in fact, that was really all it took. Erin and I needed to apply for our VISAs at the same time, and all I needed to do was prove that she had a job and that I was her charming other half. Erin's EPIK adviser confirmed all of this as well. We had the option of applying through the mail or in person. We decided to expedite things and drive down to Chicago.
Upon arriving at the Consulate, we were told that it was impossible for me to apply for an F-3 VISA. The very, very patient lady at the desk explained that I could only apply for my VISA after Erin had received her alien registration card (ARC). Which she wouldn't get until she'd landed in Korea and registered with immigration. This was a bit of a shock since it flatly contradicted all the advice we'd received from EPIK, and the all the online research we had done to that point. It also meant that I might have to wait in the US and then join her in Korea after she’d already been there a couple months.
Since THAT wasn’t gonna happen, we asked if there were any other options. We were told that I could apply for a 90-day tourist’s VISA. I could stay with Erin until she got her ARC, and then apply for my own F-3 VISA at that time. Awesome!
Except it wasn't supposed to be possible to change VISAs inside Korea. All the information we found online suggested that Korea flatly refused to change 90 day tourist VISAs from inside the country. I would have to leave the country, apply for and receive my F-3, and then reenter with the new VISA. Even worse, I would have to take Erin’s ARC and fly back to Chicago (my home consulate) to do it.
I asked the nice (and she really, really was) lady at the consulate if there were any other option, and she said that she was not aware of any. She also confirmed that Korea wouldn't change our VISA in country, and that I'd have to fly back to Chicago to get my new one.
We contacted Erin’s EPIK advisor, and he was barely more helpful. First, he was surprised that we were having any kind of problem at all. When we explained what was going on, he told us that as far as he knew, we couldn’t change our VISAs once we arrived in country, but he was sure that EPIK would help us figure something out once we got here. This was very slim encouragement.
Still, it was enough. Erin didn't want to dive into Korea alone for a couple of months, and I didn't want to have to sit on my hands in my parents' basement (since I'd already quit my job and turned in notice at our apartment complex). We accepted that I’d probably have to do a trip back, but we hoped that something could be arranged once we got in country.
We got our VISAs (Erin’s teaching VISA and my 90 day VISA) and boarded our plane. When we arrived, one of the first things we did was sit down with some EPIK staff to ask about our VISA situation. They told us:
1) They’d never heard of ANYONE having this problem before in the history of EVER (not encouraging).
2) They didn’t think we could get my VISA changed from a 90-day to F-3 in Korea (sad).
3) I wouldn't have to fly all the way back to Chicago to get my VISA changed. I’d just have to fly to somewhere like Japan or Australia, or really anywhere with a Korean Embassy outside of Korea, and make my application there. (sort of happy?)
Well, okay, so we wouldn’t have to spend $2000.00 on plane fare, but I’d probably still have to spend a hefty chunk flying to Japan, staying long enough to apply for my VISA, and then flying back. Still, better than having to spend 19 hours in a plane going home, just to turn right around and come all the way back again.
On our first night in Chungju, we went out to a welcoming party for new EPIKers. There, we met a woman who had been living in Korea with her husband for the past two years. She laughed when we told her about our VISA woes.
“Just go to the provincial capital's government offices, bring your marriage license and Erin’s ARC. They’ll change the VISA.”
“Really? Just like that?”
“It'll take them a month to mail it to you, but sure. They won’t even bat an eye.”
So we did. And as I write this, I am the proud new owner of an F-3 VISA, just arrived in the mail. I didn't even have to leave the country. I am also the proud new owner of this bit of hard won wisdom regarding Korean Bureaucracy:
“All rules are absolute, except when they aren’t.”