Friday, March 4, 2011

Visa Runs

There are many ways to obtain the standard E-2 visa necessary to work as an English teacher in Korea. The Korean government has added many weird and wonderful prerequisites before they will allow you in. Some of the things they check out (drugs, HIV, perversion) are not asked of Koreans, of course, but regular readers will already be acquainted with my and Flint's rantings about this.
I received my education about the whole process the hard way. The first time I went to Korea, I went without a visa, and was stopped at the check-in at Vancouver.
A person can get a visa before they go to Korea, but I didn't know that. The recruiter neglected to mention the fact that I should keep my visa status on the q.t.
I did get to Korea and finally obtained my E-2 through what is known as the "visa run." My school sent me to Fukuoka in Japan, where South Korea has a consulate that handled the application.
There are a variety of ways to get to Fukuoka. There's an overnight ferry from Busan, as well as a hydrofoil that makes the trip before you can even blink. This time, I took the train to Busan, and a plane from Busan to Fukuoka. Daegu has an airport, but the reason why I just didn't fly from there was never properly explained to me.
My school paid for everything: train tickets, plane tickets, visa fee, and about $500 for expenses. Not bad. They even gave me a map of the city, so I'd know where to go.
It was a very interesting trip. I had to get up about 3 AM or some godawful hour (on a Thursday, returning Friday) in order to make the train. My doofus of a rommmate, who couldn't give directions out of a paper bag, didn't tell me that there were two train stations in Daegu. One was simply Daegu Station, while the other was Dongdaegu (East Daegu) Station.
Dongdaegu was fairly big, and not hard to miss, but thanks to my idiot roommate, I was looking for Daegu Station, which at that time was hidden behind an outdoor market. I wandered around, looking for the entrance to the station, being stared at by all the people getting their stalls ready.
I did find it, and I made my train. The ticket guy looked at me kind of strangely, no doubt wondering why I wasn't at Dondaegu.
Babo waegookin.
One of the things I loved about getting around Korea was riding on the train. They're fast, cheap, and relaxing. It was a nice easy glide down to Busan. Hmmmm, reminds me of Arlo Guthrie's "City Of New Orleans." Maybe Flint and I can adapt the words for Korea...
Anyway, I got to Busan, and even got off at the right station (Gupo). I had to take a city bus from there to the airport, and then made the short hop across the Tsushima Strait to Japan. History buffs will recognize this body of water as the place where the Imperial Japanese Navy took on the Russian Navy in 1905, and blasted it out of the water.
From Fukuoka Airport, I took the subway to a station near the Korean consulate. There was about a half-hour walk between them. After coming out of the subway, you see a foot-wide creek, which widens out as you follow it to the coast.

I arrived at the consulate about noonish, and submitted the necessary forms, photos, and fees. The visa would be ready for pick-up the next day, at which time I would reverse the trip I'd just taken.
I remember when I made a visa run to Osaka in '07 that the visa was ready the same day, but I still got a two-day trip out of it. Time enought to visit Osaka Castle even.

And I got a great picture of this neon bat sign from my hotel.

Fairly close to the consulate was the Fukuoka Dome, where the local baseball team, the Hawks, play.

There's a shopping mall and a hotel attached. The complex is called Hawks Town.

Just down the street is the Chinese consulate.

According to the map, Fukuoka is lousy with consulates, probably catering to thousands of teachers like me, getting visas for all the countries in the area. The ones I saw at the consulate were all doing the thing where they ignored everybody else, so I didn't have anybody to talk to at all during that trip. That's cool. I'm solitary by nature, and I don't feel right about inflicting my company on someone who doesn't care for it. Their loss.
As it was deep December, there wasn't a lot to do or see outside. I wandered down to the beach, but there wasn't a lot to see if you didn't like just staring at the ocean.

I did go on up the Fukuoka Tower, which is not as impressive as it looks or sounds. It's mainly an elevator and some observation decks.

But it does give you a nice view of the city and the bay.
There was an old fortress I wanted to see, but I ran out of time and money.

These photos are from a later trip.

I stayed at the Mimochi Twin Towers hotel. Very nice, and cheap, about $40 a night. I got to experience a Japanese bathroom, which was very economical about the space. Its shower was very similar to the showers in Korea. The spray hits you about mid-chest.
I ate at a Japanese version of a steakhouse (across from the hotel) and turned in fairly early. There wasn't much on the television for the English speaker.
But all in all it is an enjoyable trip, and a bit of a break from teaching, which at that time was torture for me and my poor students.
Japan is very different from Korea. The cleanliness is on a level far above Korea, and the people are polite. They don't stare, and they don't noisily clear their throats and then spit.
I made two, maybe three trips to Fukuoka for different E-2's, and another run to Osaka. The others I got in Canada before I went to Korea. Once I even went to Vancouver to submit the paperwork (I combined the trip with a visit to my sister).
After you get your visa, your hagwon can register you with the government, and arrange for things like your health care. I remember in my second year, the director's second in command Charlie, took me down to register me, and we got laughed out of the office. I had gone to Korea figuring I would do the visa run, but my recruiter and the school had expected me to come with the E-2 already in my passport.
SNAFU, eh?


  1. I only had to do a Visa Run once. Loved Fukuoka, always meant to go back but never did.

  2. I did the visa run about 3-4 times. At one job they kept on putting part time employees on 3 month tourist visas, so I ended up going to Foukouka about 3 times one year. I wasted a lot of money doing so, but I quite enjoyed every trip. Those were some pretty good glory days actually since Japanese money was pretty cheap and the won was more than the U.S. dollar. On one trip, I made a weeks vacation out of it by buying a Japan rail pass and going all over the country. Japanese trains are super awesome, because they come and go like every 20 minutes. Well they are awesome if you have a rail pass, if you don't it isn't really that cool. I also like going to Japan for the grilled meats on sticks.

  3. My husband had to do a visa run back in September. Where did our recruiter send him? Guam. A three day trip to Guam. They said it was the only place to get a visa for a U.S. citizen. Sigh.