The Seoul Diaries: Things They Don’t Tell You as an Exchange Student

Hello! I am back with another episode of the Seoul Diaries where I will be covering the things that people don’t tell you before you study abroad in South Korea and the things that I have learned from my 1 year study abroad journey. I hope that this information can be useful to all who read and – if you have any questions or concerns – don’t hesitate to reach out to me privately and I will try my best to help!

Alien Registration Card Kerfuffle and other mandatory government things

A few days before I was set to arrive in Korea for quarantine last fall semester, I was sent an email from my exchange university with instructions for setting up an Alien Registration Card (ARC). This card is your lifeline while abroad. It allows you to not have to always carry your passport around everywhere. It lets you open up a Korean bank account, connect your phone number to it (through kakao), and just makes your life ten times easier once you get it. However, getting this small blue card is harder than it seems. First, you need to make the appointment for applying for your ARC VERY EARLY! I did it during quarantine and I barely got into the October spots at the immigration office. The university advises you to apply for it within 90 days of your arrival, but I suggest that you sign up for an appointment slot a month before you come to Korea, so that way you can just apply for it, wait a month, and then receive it as early as possible. To do this, book an appointment through this website ( visit the immigration office listed in the email from your respective university.

Required Documents:

  • Application form (can be downloaded at
  • Passport and one copy of the passport ID page (the page with your 3×4 photo – bring lots of copies of this photo!!!)
  • Application fee 30,000 KRW (in cash only)
  • Certificate of Enrollment – this document is usually disbursed to students during the first week of the new semester (in September for fall students – thus, try to book an appointment during the 2nd or third week of September so that you have all of your materials together)
  • Proof of Residency (if you are living on-campus: you need a ‘Confirmation of Residence/Accommodation’ form from the dormitory office with a signature and dormitory payment receipt; if you are living off-campus: you need to submit a copy of rental contract. If the contract is not under the applicant’s name, you have to also submit a copy of accommodation provider’s ID card & ‘Confirmation of Residence/Accommodation’ form). See my previous post on housing in Korea for a copy of this form)
  • Visa and copy of Visa
  • Copies of housing and wire transfer payments

Tip: When you get to your initial ARC appointment, DO NOT walk out without getting your fingerprints done! This step is very important and sometimes the staff forget to tell you about it.

Anywho, I personally found this whole ARC process to be more difficult and prolonged than it needed to be for me to be able to do things comfortably. Keep in mind that, during fall semester, the rules and regulations for things like Covid were very severe and often required the use of my ARC to get certain things registered and in the “system”, so having my ARC as soon as possible was essential. Also, when you get your ARC and connect it to your Kakao account, you have more options than before (shopping, gifting friends, and Kakao Pay – see below).

Another things that I had to do was set up my QR code (this whole process is defunct now so it’s not worth discussing that much in depth, registering my foreign vaccinations in Korea (ooffffff), getting automatically enrolled in the Korean national health insurance (mandatory for all foreigners), and setting up my bank account:

  • Foreign vaccinations: This process was stressful during fall semester because the government had recently changed its rules to allow foreign vaccinations that didn’t take place on South Korean soil to be seen as “valid vaccinations” in Korea. This meant that me, as an US vaccinated exchange student, could now download this app that proves that I am up to date on my vaccinations and be allowed into to eating establishments or basically any place in Korea (movie theaters, museums, stores sometimes, etc). It made life SO MUCH EASIER after this rule was changed because – for around a month and a half – I was being treated as if I was unvaccinated even though I was vaccinated. Doing this also allowed me to get my booster shot in Korea (where the staff at the vaccination registration center helped me find and set up an appointment that same day at a clinic).
  • In terms of the national health insurance, the price of the monthly mandatory payments has increased since fall of last year and is somewhere close to $55 per month now. This was one of the reasons why I signed up to create a bank account in Korea. By doing this, I could have the payments be automatically deducted from my account every month and all I had to worry about was making sure that there was enough money in my bank account each month to cover the charge. Setting up my bank account included a lot of paperwork, so make sure to set aside at least 2 hours of time in your schedule for this visit because it will take a little bit. Walk into the bank and inform the security guard in the front that you are here to open a bank account as an exchange student. He will sit you down and give you a bunch of paperwork with an English version. You fill this out and get a number slip. When called, you hand the person at the desk your official certificate of enrollment (another document you need to print out for this process – make sure it is the OFFICIAL version because they won’t accept a copy!), passport, and ARC. They will then register you for an account, let you create a PIN number, and offer you to sign up for online banking (you create a username and 6 digit passcode). For me, I made an account with Hana Bank (하나은행) and the process was pretty simple. You can then download the Hana bank app once you finish and enter in your information just like how it is on your ARC (capital letters with your last name first). You should receive a bank booklet before you leave and a physical bank card in two weeks time to use it as you see fit. While at the bank, you can also give them your first bill of the monthly health insurance and ask them to set up automatic payments for this.

Tip: If you have read my blog post about joining clubs in Korea, I made mention of using Kakao pay a lot in Korea. Once you make a bank account in Korea (other students who stay a year find this to be the easiest course of action), you can then connect your bank account to Kakao pay and things become ten times easier! Additionally, some stores only take bank wire transfer, so once you have a bank account, this process becomes a lot easier. Just think of Kakao Pay as Korea’s CashApp, Venmo, or Paypal.

However!!!! Make sure that you close your bank account before you leave Korea! If you don’t want to keep getting billed by the government for this monthly health insurance, I was advised by my bank to simply close my account and withdraw all funds.


I didn’t know that I would be making so many callbacks and references to my past blog posts, but… if you remember my housing post and how there was all this tea about why I couldn’t live in the dorms again for spring semester – here it is! The tea is being spilled.

The Desi Love for (Spilling) Tea – Specs & the City

During the end of fall semester, I applied to continue living on-campus for winter break. This was because I had received an email from the housing center telling me about the approaching deadline to do this. This email notification process happened when I applied for fall semester housing and winter housing, so one could (and would) assume that the same process of alerting exchange students about the approaching deadline for applying to the next round of on-campus housing would continue into the next semester? Well, you’d be terribly wrong.

Without any warning, notice, or email, I wasn’t informed about when the spring housing application opened or closed until 1 month after the deadline. Apparently, without any notice except for a singular pop-up on the university housing website that only lasted for one month in December, the deadline for applying for spring housing passed and I was hypothetically going to be homeless in South Korea in the next two weeks. On top of that, when I reached out to the housing center and the global services center on-campus about this situation and my stress about not being able to find any type of affordable housing, I was met with “That’s your fault for not knowing about our one-month silent website pop-up notice” and “Tough luck”. To say, I was enraged was an understatement. Basically, if you miss this application period, you are on your own in a foreign country – left to fend for yourself with almost no help or assistance. For more information about the next steps that I took, read my housing blog post.

Tip: If you have plans to live in Korea for an academic year like me, make sure to keep track of on-campus housing deadlines and be on top of these application periods. Don’t assume that they will tell you things (even if they are about important deadlines or required documents).

Things that I wish someone told me about earlier: (random things)

  • Daiso Point Membership – You will live and breathe Daiso during your time in Korea so I would suggest that you sign up early for their point membership, This was one of my major regrets from my study abroad experience, not going to lie. In addition, there is also MegaCoffee and Coffee Bean that offer point memberships!
  • A Life after Korea – I complete forgot that I had to go back to the US after my time abroad because I was having so much fun. I got an email mid fall semester about fall advising periods starting and had to start registering for my next fall semester classes while I was still in Korea (this included staying up for registration times because of wonky timezones). Just make sure that you are in touch with your advisor and start putting things into place for when you get back! Deadlines still remain the same, regardless of timezone and country.
  • School Online Libraries – I only found out about this online resource during my second semester, but this can help you find online articles for your classes. You just need our KUpid ID and portal login information (
  • A messed up US Timeline – With studying abroad in Korea, be prepared to have your whole regular “timeline” in the US be destroyed by the Korean university timeline. Since Korean schools end in late June (usually the time when many US internships begin), finding internships for when you return are definitely harder. You also will still be in school while everyone in the US has ended earlier, graduated, and are on summer break so it is a bit of a drag when you are trying to finish finals week and your friends are all out having the best time during summer break.

Overall, my time abroad was a fun one, but I wish that I could have been more prepared in these specific areas because I only learned about this stuff from going through it firsthand or from the personal experiences of other exchange students around me.

As long as you are organized and on-top of your stuff, these things shouldn’t be too stressful, but they are all mostly things that NEED to be done in order to have a good (and legal) study abroad experience. 화이팅!

*The writing and photos here are meant for use on and are not to be copied or redistributed by other entities without permission from the author.

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