If you’re preparing to study abroad in South Korea, you’re probably all too familiar with the intense visa and foreign registration process. One of the first, and very necessary, steps when you are finally released from your 2-week quarantine upon arrival is applying for your Alien Registration Card, or ARC. This process has to be completed within three months of your arrival before the time limit for a tourist visa expires (yes, even if you already have a student visa).
I consider myself a pretty proactive person when it comes to getting documents filled out and submitted by their various deadlines, but nothing could have prepared me for the tedious process of applying for and receiving my ARC— and how unexpectedly complicated mid-pandemic life in Korea would be before I received it.
While I’ve studied abroad in Korea before, in 2019 I was only here for the summer so I didn’t need to apply for a visa or an ARC. But with an extended, full-semester stay in the middle of a pandemic, the ARC has become one of the most coveted items during my stay.
The struggle began when all the exchange students flooding the local immigration centers made it impossible to secure an appointment to turn in the ARC application material until mid-October. Unfortunately, due to COVID-related delays, this would mean we would be receiving our ARCs just weeks before our departure, not nearly enough time to enjoy the conveniences of finally having a foreign registration number.
Here’s how life has been complicated by not having an ARC for the majority of my stay.
First, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Korea has been using a mandatory QR code check-in system that is attached to your phone number and alerts you of potential exposures based on where you’ve visited. Unfortunately, this convenient feature is impossible without an ARC, and a phone plan that is registered to your ARC number. Instead, make sure to ask for the manual sign-in sheet and write down your phone number for the store manager to upload later.
Second, it’s impossible to order delivery food or packages from Korean websites without an ARC (and a Korean debit card… which you guessed it, also required an ARC). While you can access almost anything you could think of at physical storefronts, if you’re really in a pinch, try the global G-Market site or Amazon— I was able to order a 30-count box of Hot Cheetos without an ARC or Korean debit card.
You also can’t schedule appointments through Naver—Korea’s most popular search engine—without your ARC, so make sure you look for any salon or nail shop’s Instagram to schedule. A lot of places still take appointments through direct messages so try that before throwing your hands up in despair over your split ends.
While daily life in Korea is definitely possible (and tons of fun) even without an ARC, if I could give just one word of advice, it would be to schedule your ARC appointment months before your arrival so you can guarantee a spot. Just search up your local immigration center and book ahead— trust me, your fellow exchange students will be very jealous.