Obtaining Korean Citizenship

Category : Surviving in Korea / Visa/Legal Issues/Tax
Nov 28, 2014

According to the Korea Times, Korea’s foreigner population has increased by an average of 10,000 per year since 2001 and the percentage of foreigners in Korea is up 13% from 2010. Increasingly, foreigners are being drawn to the strength of Korea’s economy, the opportunity for jobs, and the recent changes in Korean immigration laws, which are making it easier than ever to get a legal work visa. In addition, Korea is improving diplomatic relations with other countries, especially China. Today 53.1% of the foreign population is Chinese and migrant workers represent a whopping 42.5% of foreign nationals in the country. It’s evident that Korea is opening its doors wider and wider year after year, but the big question still remains: is it possible to set up house permanently in Korea?


The answer is: yes, you can become a Korean citizen. The process is called naturalizing. You give up your former citizenship in exchange for Korean citizenship. In some cases you might be eligible to become a Korean citizen without even knowing it.


Check out the following conditions for citizenship:

  • You were born to a Korean national father or a Korean national mother. If your mother is Korean, you must be born after June 13, 1998 to qualify for citizenship.
  • You were born in the Republic of Korea (ROK) to stateless parents (refugees) or you were found abandoned in the ROK.
  • You were adopted publically by a Korean national before the age of 20.
  • You have met the requirements for naturalization.
  • You are under the age of 20 and your parent is applying for nationalization.


If you want to meet the requirements for nationalization, there are three ways to apply to naturalize through general, simple or special naturalization.


Eligibility for General Nationalization (Nationality Act Article 5)

General naturalization applies to only those who have never attained Korean nationality in the past, have no familial relationship with a Korean national and have been living with a recorded address in Korea for five consecutive years.


These are the detailed requirements:

  1. You must have lived in Korea for at least five consecutive years with a recorded Korean address. This means you must have a valid, up-to-date Alien Registration Card (ARC) and therefore you must be legally working in Korea.
  2. You must be a legal adult over the age of 20 (as stated by Korean Civil Law).
  3. You must have shown good conduct. (Sorry folks, that means no criminal records.)
  4. You must be financially independent and possess job skills or must be a defendant in a financially stable household.
  5. You must display basic knowledge as any Korean national. You must attain language capabilities, and prove thorough understanding of Korean culture, customs, and history.


Process of General Naturalization

The following original documents must be submitted to a Korean immigration office in your jurisdiction to prove you qualify to become a Korean citizen.


à Note: All documents not in English. Chinese or Korean must be translated into Korean and notarized.

  • The completed application form for permission of general naturalization and 1 attached color photo (4 cm x 5 cm)
  • A copy of Passport
  • Your ARC
  • A statement for citizenship application
  • A statement of identity and a copy of the statement of identity with 1 color photo attached (4cm x 5cm)
  • A copy of the foreign family registration or citizenship papers (only applicable if dependants are also naturalizing)
  • A document approving any accompanying dependants (children of parent’s applying for citizenship)
  • Proof of financial stability with at least 1 of the following:
  • Certificate from your bank showing you have a balance of more than 30,000,000KRW
  • Copy of the real estate lease agreement form
  • Certificate of employment or a certificate of future employment
  • (if you are a dependent) A document from the Attorney General proving that you have the ability to make a living
  • 2 letters of reference plus a document proving the status of each referee.

àEach letter should be written by someone from the following professional titles:

A member of the National Assembly, the head of municipal government, a member of regional parliament, a member of the board of education, the superintendent of education, a judge, a public prosecutor, a lawyer, a professor, a principal, a vice principal, a government official, a local public employee, an executive in the banking business, a manager, the head of an agency, the chief of a department, a position in a public enterprise, an executive or manager of a quasi-government agency, an executive of a publication, an executive of a broadcasting company, an executive or a manager of an insurance company, an executive of a listed company.

  • If you are Korean-Chinese applying for naturalization you must have a document from the government of People's Republic of China the proves you are the person who applied for naturalization and that you are Korean-Chinese. Your name must be written by the Korean pronunciation, not by the Chinese pronunciation
  • Fee 100,000KRW per person


After you submit the documents listed above to the immigration office you will:

  1. Have a written examination testing history, politics, culture, and Korean customs. The exam is a 20 question multiple choice test.
  2. Have an interview to test Korean proficiency (about level 4 on TOPIK—the Korean proficiency exam), and your attitude towards Korea and liberal democracy.


à Notes on the Process

  1. Some may be exempt from the written test and interview such as:
  • A minor, a spouse who’s applying for naturalization together with their partner, a foreigner who already has a permanent residency status, a foreign investor employing more than five Koreans, a foreigner who has a doctorate degree approved by the Attorney General, and a foreigner who contributes towards arts, culture, sport or entertainment in an outstanding way.
  1. An applicant must receive over 60 points on the written exam to pass.
  2. If you want to gain permanent residency but you do not want to gain citizenship you can seek an F-series visa. See the article The F-series Visas in Korea for more information.
  3. Once you attain Korean citizenship you have one year to renounce your previous citizenship. In December 2010, Korea began recognizing dual citizenship. There are some special circumstances in which dual citizenship is accepted such as marriage to a Korean national, Korean children born abroad to at least one Korean parent, an outstanding citizen who has contributed greatly to Korean society, and overseas Korean adoptees.
  4. The processing time to obtain Korean citizenship can take up to two years.


Eligibility for Simple Naturalization (Nationality Act Article 6)

If you haven’t lived in Korea for five consecutive years, you may still be eligible for simple naturalization.

If you meet one of the following criteria you can naturalize in this way:

  1. You are married to a Korean national and you have lived legally in Korea for two years while married.
  2. You have been married to a Korean national for three years and you lived in Korea legally for one year.
  3. You were married to a Korean national, but now are not by no fault of your own (example: death) and lived in Korea for at least two consecutive years while previously being married.
  4. You are raising a child born from a Korean national in or out of wedlock and you have lived in Korea for at least three consecutive years.
  5. One of your parents was a Korean national and you have lived in Korea for three consecutive years. You can still naturalize even if your parents renounced their Korean citizenship.
  6. You were born in Korea and one of your parents was born in Korea and you have lived in Korea for three consecutive years.
  7. You were adopted as an adult by a Korean citizen and you have lived in Korea for 3 consecutive years.


àNote: In addition to one of these requirements you also must possess numbers 2 through 5 of general naturalization requirements (see above for details).


Process of Simple Naturalization

The same documents are required for simple nationalization and general nationalization (refer above).


  1. If you are naturalizing by marriage you need to submit:
  • A copy of the resident registration of the Korean spouse
  • A record of the family history of the Korean spouse


  1. If one of your parents was a Korean national you need to submit:
  • A record of the family relationship of your Korean parent


  1. If you were born in Korea and one of your parents was born in Korea you need to submit:
  • A document that proves that you and one of your parents was born in Korea


  1. If you were adopted as an adult by a Korean you need to submit:
  • An official document proving your adoption and the family record of your Korean adoptee parents


Eligibility for Special Naturalization (Nationality Act Article 7)

Special naturalization is determined on a case by case basis.

Some of the main reasons special naturalization is granted are:

  • You have demonstrated outstanding community involvement in Korea
  • You have received a formal decoration/award from the government
  • You have displayed notable pride and commitment towards the country
  • You have contributed greatly to Korean society (the arts, sciences, economy, education)


àNote: You also must possess numbers 2 through 5 of the general naturalization requirements (see above for details).


Process of Special Naturalization

The process is the same for special naturalization as for general naturalization. In fact, depending on the reason for your special naturalization, you may not need all the documents or prove Korean language proficiency.


Photo Credit:Wikimedia

Tags : Korean Citizenship

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.

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