South Korean nationality law

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South Korean nationality law defines who is a South Korean citizen, as well as the procedures by which one may be naturalized into South Korean citizenship or renounce it.

Basic definition[edit]

South Korean nationality can be acquired in a number of ways:[1]

  • By being born to either a Korean national father or Korean national mother after June 13, 1998, or to a Korean national father before then.
  • By being born in the Republic of Korea to parents who are stateless, or being found abandoned within the territory of the Republic of Korea.
  • By being acknowledged by a Korean national parent while still a minor (under 20 years of age).
  • By meeting the requirements for naturalization.
  • A minor (under 20 years of age) can apply with a foreigner parent who is applying for naturalization.[2]
  • Those who were born to a Korean national mother and a foreign national father between June 13, 1978, and June 13, 1998, were able to apply for Korean nationality until December 31, 2004, by notification. (Unlike naturalization, there were no residency requirements and no need to apply from within the Republic of Korea.) This is known as Article 7 of the Addenda (Special Cases of Acquisition of Nationality for Persons of Maternal Line By Adoption of Jus Sanguinis to Both Lines of Parents). Those that fail to apply by the deadline may still be able to acquire Korean nationality by applying for Special Naturalization.

Under the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, Koreans from North Korea are also recognized as South Korean nationals. However, in practice, a formal evaluation needs to take place which requires documentary proof of North Korean nationality.[3] Additionally, Koreans from North Korea do not have automatic protection from South Korea per se, since those with criminal histories are not accepted as South Korean citizens.[4]

Korean diaspora[edit]

Additionally, South Korean law legally defines the term "Overseas Korean" as referring to Republic of Korea nationals who reside overseas as well as "Koreans with a Foreign Nationality." The latter group is composed of former South Korean nationals who gave up Korean nationality (but barring those who did so to deliberately evade military service, at least until age 36) and children and grandchildren of former Korean nationals.[5][6] It is important to note that not every descendant of a Korean can be counted as an "Overseas Korean" or "Korean with a Foreign Nationality" under this law. For example, a 25 year old man who was born a South Korean national overseas but whose birth was unreported will have no documentation to prove his status as a former South Korean national, and can only gain status as an Overseas Korean if one of his parents or grandparents gave up Korean nationality.[7] Also, those who fall under Article 7 of the Addenda (Special Cases of Acquisition of Nationality for Persons of Maternal Line By Adoption of Jus Sanguinis to Both Lines of Parents) but failed to acquire South Korean nationality are not able to gain the status of an Overseas Korean unless the mother or a maternal grandparent has lost South Korean nationality.

Koreans in Japan who have South Korean nationality and Special Permanent Residence in Japan do not have a Resident registration number and cannot apply for a new passport from a South Korean embassy while outside Japan.[8]


There are three types of naturalization under South Korean law:

  1. General naturalization
    An applicant:[9]
    • Must have had domicile in the Republic of Korea for more than five consecutive years.
    • Must be a legal adult (over 20 years of age).
    • Must be of good conduct.
    • Must have the ability to maintain a living on his/her own assets or skills, or be a dependent member of a family capable of such.
    • Must have basic knowledge befitting a Korean national, such as an understanding of the Korean language, customs, and culture.
  2. Simple naturalization
    An applicant:[10]
    • Must be legally adult (over 20 years of age).
    • Must be of good conduct.
    • Must have the ability to maintain a living based on their own assets or skills, or be a dependent member of a family capable of such.
    • Must have basic knowledge befitting a Korean national, such as an understanding of the Korean language, customs, and culture.
    • Must have had domicile in the Republic of Korea for more than three consecutive years.
    • Be either:
      • Those whose either parent have been a Korean national in the past, but have since abandoned it for a foreign nationality.
      • Born in Korea, whose either parent was also born in Korea.
      • Adopted children of a Korean national, who was of a legal adult age according to Korean Civil Law at the time of adoption.
      • Foreign spouse of a Korean national who either for the past two or more consecutive years, maintained marriage status with the spouse and kept residence in Korea, or for the past three or more consecutive years, maintained marriage status and have spent more than one year in Korea.[11]
  3. Special Naturalization
    There are many forms of special naturalization, with different requirements. However, the basic requirements are:[12]
    • Must be of good conduct.
    • Must have basic knowledge befitting a Korean national, such as an understanding of the Korean language, customs, and culture.
    • Foreigners with at least one parent of Korean nationality, except foster children who were adopted after they have become adults according to Korean civil law.

Those who acquire South Korean nationality by naturalization normally must give up foreign nationality within six months or forfeit South Korean nationality. An exception to this is draft-age males, who must complete or be exempted from military service before being allowed to forfeit Korean nationality.[13]

The first person to naturalize as a South Korean citizen was a Taiwanese immigrant in 1957. From then until 2000, there were an average of just 34 naturalizations per year. In the decade that followed, these numbers increased sharply to an average of 9,816 per year, and by January 2011 the cumulative number of naturalized citizens over the years had reached 100,000. Chinese immigrants formed 79% of these, followed by Vietnamese (9.2%), Filipinos (5.2%), and Taiwanese (2.1%).[14]

Former South Korean nationals can reacquire South Korean nationality by applying for reacquisition of nationality. However, this will reinstate the military service duty, if applicable to the national, and also requires forfeiting any foreign nationality within 6 months.[15]

Visa free travel[edit]

Visa requirements for South Korean citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of Republic of Korea. In 2014, South Korean citizens have visa-free or visa on arrival access to 172 countries and territories, ranking the South Korean passport 3rd in the world.[16]

Dual citizenship[edit]

Current policy[edit]

In 2010 the South Korean government legalized dual citizenship for some South Koreans who have acquired another nationality/citizenship, as well as foreigners who lived in South Korea for five years (two years if married to a Korean).[17]

A revised nationality law passed on April 21, 2010, by the National Assembly of South Korea and in effect since January 1, 2011, granted a limited number of persons dual citizenship.[18]

These persons include:

  • Koreans with multiple nationalities who has vowed his/her intention not to exercise his/her foreign nationality in the Republic of Korea. (According to Constitution of the Republic of Korea Chapter II Article 39, male citizens shall have the duty of national defense under the conditions as prescribed by Act.)[19][20]
  • Foreign marriage migrants[20]
  • Foreigners of outstanding talent who are naturalized as Koreans[20]
  • Persons who have their Korean citizenship reinstated by meeting certain qualifications.[20]
  • Foreigners who are married to Koreans and acquired Korean nationality from July 2, 2010, or later
  • Children born in Korea or abroad with one Korean parent
  • Foreigners who acquired Korean Citizenship through marriage
  • Foreigners with exceptional talent
  • Foreigners with an important contribution to Korea
  • Overseas Koreans at least 65 years of age
  • Overseas Korean adoptees

There are transitional provisions for those who fit under the first category but had already forfeited one nationality.

  • Those who failed to make a choice and automatically lost Korean nationality can apply to have it restored before May 4, 2012;[19]
  • Those who choose Korean nationality have until 2016 to reacquire their foreign nationality.[19]

As of December 2010, an application for dual citizenship can only be made inside the Republic of Korea and requires the applicant to currently hold an F-series visa.[21] This would normally be an F-5 visa (Permanent Residency) or an F-4 visa (for former Korean nationals and their descendants, including Korean adoptees) or F-2 or F-6 visa (for spouses of Korean nationals). In the case of Korean adoptees living abroad (e.g., in the U.S.), application to restore Korean citizenship, and thus obtain dual nationality, may be made at the Korean Embassy or Consulate.

Former policy[edit]

Prior to 2011, the South Korean government did not permit dual citizenship after the age of 21. Koreans with dual citizenship under South Korean law who work or study in South Korea were legally obliged by South Korea to choose one or the other citizenship soon after reaching that age.

In addition, South Korean men over the age of 18, including Koreans with foreign citizenship, were subject to compulsory military service. From a law that was effective since 2005, a dual citizen could not be allowed to abandon his South Korean citizenship until he finished his military service, or had received a special exemption from military service. In several cases, men of South Korean descent holding U.S. citizenship visiting from overseas had been drafted upon visiting the country, despite having never been there before and not having South Korean citizenship.[22] At least two of the aforementioned cases had involved individuals whose names had, without their knowledge, been recorded in the Hoju, the Korean Family Census Register, which does not automatically remove the names of former South Korean citizens.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Acquisition of nationality". OneClickLaw Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  2. ^ "Dependent acquisition". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  3. ^ "Evaluation for nationality". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  4. ^ "Admitting North Korean Refugees: A Canadian Perspective". CanKor. Retrieved 2011-11-01. 
  5. ^ "Overseas Koreans". OneClickLaw Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  6. ^ "Change of Status for Overseas Koreans". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  7. ^ "Status of sojourn as overseas koreans". OneClickLaw Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  8. ^ Ryang, Sonia. Diaspora without Homeland: Being Korean in Japan." University of California Press, April 2009, Introduction.
  9. ^ "General Naturalization". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  10. ^ "Simple Naturalization". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  11. ^ "Simple Naturalization (Marriage)". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  12. ^ "Special Naturalization (Underage foster children)". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  13. ^ "Nationality loss". OneClickLaw Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  14. ^ "Number of naturalized Korean citizens passes 100,000". Korea Times. 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  15. ^ "Restore nationality". Hi Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  16. ^ "Global Ranking - Visa Restriction Index 2014". Henley & Partners. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  17. ^ "Korea Likely To Permit Dual Citizenship", The Korea Times, 2009-10-30 
  18. ^ "Dual Citizenship to Be Allowed". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2010-06-30. 
  19. ^ a b c "People with multiple nationalities". OneClickLaw Korea. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  20. ^ a b c d "South Korea: Permanent Dual Nationality Allowed after 60 Years". Law Library of Congress. Retrieved 2010-12-26. 
  21. ^ "Dual Citizenship". G.O.A.'L. Retrieved 2012-07-27. 
  22. ^ "Consular Information Sheet:Korea, Republic of". Archive of as of 2010-01-01. Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  23. ^ "Consular Information Sheet:Korea, Republic of". Retrieved 2008-04-24.