Monday, September 3, 2012

Fukuoka Visa Run 2012, Part 1: He Took the Midnight Train Going Anywhere

I was trying to explain the concept of a Visa Run to a non-traveling friend of mine the other day, only realizing afterwards that it was impossible to explain without sounding like I was doing something shady. In the traveling world, the concept ‘Visa Run’ is very well known and accepted as part of the reality that you really are far away from home, and that as a guest in a said country you must abide by their laws. To someone outside that circle, however, a Visa Run sounds like something of a spy movie. Papers, Embassies, Last Minute Flights, Confirmation Numbers. Trust me, it sounds cooler than it really is.

Regardless, it marks the beginning of a new Adventure of the Orange Sweater, and I’m excited to let you in on this mini-adventure that kicks off a series of more adventures that is sure to be....well, quite adventurous indeed!

This adventure starts with a midnight train in Seoul, speeding off into the distance to catch a flight on the other side of the country.

Well, actually, it starts at my soon-to-be office. To be exact, it started a couple weeks ago during the tedious process of applying for an E-7 Visa in Korea.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of Visa’s, let me explain. A Visa is not a credit card, but a piece of paper or stamp in your passport that lawfully allows you to be in a country. When you travel, the most common type of Visa is a Travel Visa. This is usually nothing more than a stamp saying the date you arrived and the date you must leave. Sometimes you pay a fee, sometimes you answer questions, and sometimes you must apply weeks beforehand and get permission from the local embassy. The time you are allowed in a certain country can vary from a handful of weeks to 6 months. For a country like Korea, it is completely dependent on what country you call home. I am an American citizen, and as of June of 2012 you are granted a 3 month traveler’s Visa when you enter the country.

Now, in nearly all cases, you are not allowed to do alot of things on a traveler’s Visa. As far as the government is concerned, you are simply a guest in their country. You cannot own a cell phone or a house. You also legally cannot work. To be a more permanent guest in a country, you need to secure a long-term Visa. There are some specific for Diplomats, ones for Marriage, Students, Workers, and just about any situation that requires a person to be in a foreign country for longer than the duration of a Traveler’s Visa.

In my case, I am getting an E-7 Visa, which is a working Visa reserved for professionals in an industry in Korea. My Visa is for Video Producers. Previously, I was on an E-2 Visa  when I taught here, which is the standard Teaching Visa. And as for the past 3 months? Well, I was visiting my Girlfriend on a travel Visa set to expire at the end of September.

Now, as complicated as that sounds, that’s the short and sweet version of the Visa application process. When you turn in all your paperwork and Immigration accepts everything, you are then given a Visa confirmation number. That number is your ticket to  go get a Visa at any Embassy for that country in the world. So, for example, if you are getting a Visa for the UK you will need to visit a UK Embassy.

The silly part about this process is that an Embassy for a country cannot be found in that country. So, for people that are in Korea and require an Korean Visa, you will need to leave the country to get the Visa. This is much more common than it sounds, and so the concept of a Visa Run is the time honored tradition of literally running out of the country to get a piece of paper that says you can stay in that country. You would think, in this age, they would have an easier way of doing this...

Anyways, I just got my Visa Confirmation number for my E-7 Friday of last week. The following Monday(today), I booked a slew of tickets, including a train ticket leaving Seoul station this very evening.

My route is pretty simple: my destination is the Fukuoka Korean Consulate in Japan. It’s a 2 day process to get my Visa, and I was able to cushion that time frame with an additional 2 days to compensate for any kind of hiccup in the process.

To get to Fukuoka from Seoul in the most economical way possible on literally last minute notice was to book a midnight train to Busan, a city on the southern tip of Korea, and take a plane from there to Japan. There was the option of taking a ferry, but the ticket buying process was in Japanese and I couldn’t navigate the website without having weird anime characters jumping around the screen.

So now here I am: on a midnight train going to Busan to catch a morning flight to Japan. It’s that quick. This morning I wasn’t planning on doing much. This evening, I packed a backpack in a scramble and was running after a train. It happened that quick.

I’ve been napping most of the train ride, but I did get up at around 3am to take a peek outside. It’s strange seeing the countryside of Korea. Sometimes I forget that Korea isn’t just Seoul. It’s a proper country. This night in particular was something special. We were in these foothills that went on for miles, all with rice paddies carved into the side of the hills. A harvest must have just taken place, as the paddies were empty. Rather, there were just hundreds of circular ponds sprawling as far as the eye could see. A morning fog was rolling in, and the moon had this eerie glow that bounced off the water that illuminated the landscape. In the distance, I could see 1 small house with the light on. It was probably a farmer preparing for his day. He must get to wake up to this wonderful piece of land every morning.

I didn’t have much time to dwell on it, as just like that the train was in a tunnel and I was riding through Daejeon, another Korean city. I dozed off again shortly after that.

My train is finally coming to a stop now. It’s 4am. I have about 6 hours until my flight. I think a quick trip to the sauna will do me alot of good. It’s been quite a day, and I wasn’t expecting such a spontaneous. Nevertheless, I’m intoxicated on the thrill of it all. This is what traveling is all about: you, a backpack, and the uncertainty of what is up ahead. I’ll see you all in Japan!


  1. Haaa, the visa run is great. I loved watching people do it in Peru. We would get 90 day travel visa...after that you drive 2 hours to Chile, walk across the border, eat lunch, walk back. INFINITY VISAS

  2. They do that here in Korea, too. I met a guy who has been living here for 12 years...just kicking it. He goes to an island in Japan every 3 months.