How a Foreigner Becomes Korean: South Korea’s Naturalization Process

This article is the first in a 4-part series. Skip to the end of the article for links to the following 3 parts and more detailed processing information.

Applying For Korean Citizenship & Its Benefits

The South Korean passport consistently ranks as one of the most powerful passports to have, with it’s 2017 “Visa-Free Score” of  157 giving it a “Passport Power Rank” of 2(!), and making it one of the 4 best passports to have in the world. Korea also has some tremendous perks for its citizens, like one of the greatest value-for-dollar healthcare systems in the world, free or discounted daycare for children under 5, great public libraries, free public transportation for the elderly and much more.

If you meet the criteria, you too can hold one of the most accepted passports in the world. Read on to learn more.  

Foreigners Can Become Korean: A Relatively Recent Development

It wasn’t that long ago when becoming a naturalized Korean citizen was almost unheard of. Up until 2000, the average number of people granted citizenship annually stood at 34. Until as recently as the late ‘90’s it was still impossible for a foreign man to even get a visa to stay in the country despite having a Korean wife. The wives of Korean men were granted a visa, but men married to Korean women had to get a work visa for Korea or risk being separated from their families.

In the last 20 years, however, there has been tremendous progress. Men married to Korean women can of course easily receive a visa to stay in the country, while the process for foreign nationals has been codified and become relatively commonplace, with over 150,000 foreigners having become naturalized citizens as of 2015.

The South Korean Legal System’s Attitude Toward Naturalization

With the steady increase of long-term foreign residents, the system for naturalization has become both codified and implemented regularly in practice by the immigration office.  There are 3 basic guidelines the government looks at to establish whether Korea wants you to join its citizenry:

  1. Long-term, Consecutive Korean Residency
  2. An Understanding and Appreciation of the Korean Language and Culture
  3. Financial Stability

Under some of the “Specialized Naturalization” circumstances these conditions may be overlooked, but regardless it would be beneficial to meet or exceed them. If you meet these criteria, then it may be time to start researching whether or not you too can become a Korean citizen.

The 3 Categories of South Korean Naturalization

The Korean government has divided the ways for becoming a naturalized citizen into 3 different categories. They will each be explored in this series. Tune in the following weeks for more details.

  1. General Naturalization (일반귀화)
  2. Simplified Naturalization (간이귀화)
  3. Special Naturalization (특별귀화)

Unlike 20 years ago, it is now entirely possible – and even relatively common – for a foreign-born person to become a Korean citizen, even without a Korean spouse.  Expect the process to take up to 2 years, but if you love Korea and want to spend the rest of your life here, then you can do it. Start your research and planning well ahead of time – and if you need professional assistance, you can always contact us here at the Pureum Law Offices.

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5 thoughts on “How a Foreigner Becomes Korean: South Korea’s Naturalization Process

  1. Stefania Cipriano says:

    Hello my name is Stefania and I am from Italy. My husband is Korean and we have been married for 19 years, we also have two sons aged 17 and 14.
    I am writing this post because I need some informations about getting my dual citizenship. I love living in this country and I have many friends here, I also have a teaching job in kindegarten and a private English institute. I have already applied for korean nationality and infact next weel I will have an interview at the immigration office. But honestly I still have lots of doubts about making this important decision in my life. Infact for me the only reason of applying is for job reasons. If I will become a half Korean citizen they can register me legally with no problem of working there ( I mean at the private English academy ) is this true? unless this point I don’t really know what other benefits I can get by getting the dual citizenship. As a very proud Italian what ate the pros and cons of doing this? Could you please help me out?
    Thankyou so much in advance!

  2. Jamal nasir says:

    Can i get korean citizenship by birth in korea while my parents are foreigners is there a process of some sort of years to stay or whatever please reply me Thanks

  3. Barbara salingao says:

    Hello. I give birth to south korea 200. Is there a possibility that she can get a korean citizenship. Thank you.

  4. Sarah says:

    My husband is half korean, so recently he received his korean citizenship through his mom (mother is korean). We have two children ages 5 and 1. They were born here but they are citizens of my home country. We are planning on applying for korean citizenship for them as well. If the application is accepted, how long will it take for them to get Korean citizenship? It told almost two years for my husband, will it take the same amount of time for them?

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