Last Updated: April 26th, 2022
Dateline: Seoul, South Korea
Which is the best Asian citizenship in the world?
While we don’t talk about South Korea a lot, South Korean citizenship is one you may want to consider.
South Korea, while a bit of a mystery to Westerners, has been an amazing success story. We frequently talk about how momentum is an important factor to consider when choosing a country in which to plant a flag. And when it comes to momentum, South Korea is where your eyes should be set at.
Not long ago, South Korea was a migrant country. Like the Philippines today, they sent farmers, miners, and domestic helpers overseas to do jobs where demand exceeded supply.
Today, of course, South Korea is one of the wealthiest countries in Asia and exports, not workers, but well-respected goods such as Samsung Electronics and Hyundai and Kia vehicles to the rest of the world.
Just over fifteen years ago, there were only a few hundred thousand expats in all of South Korea. Today, that number is close to two million. Most Western expats live here among the nearly 10 million people who populate Seoul.
And, while you may not have considered a North Asian country in your plans for your second residence or second passport, South Korea offers a permanent residence status that can possibly lead to South Korean citizenship if you’re willing to invest in a local Korean business.
Korean Permanent Residency Visa
Getting a South Korea visa used to be rather easy. Not that many years ago, it was possible to come in with as little as 25 million won (US$20,000 in today’s dollars), claim to set up a business, withdraw the money, and live in South Korea indefinitely.
Eventually, the authorities wised up and increased the minimum investment to US$50,000, and then US$100,000.
Today, you can get a South Korean investor visa if you’re willing to bring capital with you, but you have to actually generate some profit or show economic activity.
There are a few main options for getting a residency in South Korea.
You can start a business, invest in a business, invest in real estate, or invest in a government fund or development project to get South Korean residency.
South Korea doesn’t have a direct program for obtaining citizenship by investment, but investing can lead to permanent residence.
Permanent Residence Visa
You need to invest 100 million Korean won, which would be around US$80,375, into your own company. If you invest in someone else’s company, it will cost around 300 million Korean won, around US$241,000.
Here’s how it works: South Korea issues D-8 investor visas to those willing to invest 300 million won — roughly US$241,000 — in their own small business in South Korea. You will have to show that the business is viable when you renew the South Korea visa, or you may be denied renewal.
The South Korean investor visa is really a hybrid of the typical entrepreneur visa that encourages innovators to bring their talents to a new country and a South Korean investor visa that seeks to bring capital into the country.
If you have a great new idea for a biotech company that will change the world, the requirements in countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, or even Japan will be lower. Countries are competing for ideas that could give them added business clout.
Business in South Korea
If, however, you want to start a restaurant or some form of a lifestyle business, South Korea might be an attractive option, especially if you enjoy the country’s lifestyle. Because South Korea puts an actual dollar amount (and few other restrictions) on getting a D-8 visa, you don’t have to have an earth-moving idea.
While we’ve been told by friends of mine in the business that the Singapore government likes high-end restaurant concepts as business plans, you’ll need more capital to immigrate to Singapore on such a business plan than someone who has the next hot software company.
You can get a South Korean visa by working for a foreign investment company. You can do this if you are considered an indispensable skilled worker and plan to work in management, administration, production, or technology in a new Korean foreign investment corporation. You’ll also need to own at least 10% of the company’s capital stocks, voting rights, or shares.
You can also get a residence by investing 500 million Korean won into South Korean real estate, which is around US$401,878.
If you want to get residency by investing in government bonds, you’ll need to invest 500 million Korean won and hold the South Korean government bonds without interest for five years.
South Korean Citizenship
It is possible to become a naturalized Korean citizen if you maintain an actual residence. There are three paths to citizenship through naturalization, but the most typical way for a foreigner to get South Korean citizenship is through “general naturalization.”
Under this process, you must have lived in South Korea for five consecutive years and have spent at least 183 days each year in South Korea, and pass a test on Korean culture and history. You have to prove your Korean language proficiency in the test as well.
While there are always cracks in the system in these cases, South Korea isn’t some corrupt banana republic where you can pay the Korean immigration official in their immigration office five thousand won and get by with no knowledge of their foreign language.
It’s possible to get your citizenship here earlier, but you have to have been married to a South Korean national for at least two years.
Dual Citizenship in Korea
South Korean citizenship is one of the best in the world. A South Korean passport can take you almost anywhere in the world.
However, the dual citizenship law in South Korea doesn’t typically allow dual citizenship. South Korean citizens are not to have another citizenship, and to obtain South Korean citizenship, you have to renounce your other citizenship(s).
Under certain conditions, particular “talented” foreigners who made significant contributions to the development of South Korea can keep their citizenship and get the South Korean one.
Is the South Korean Passport Worth it?
The cost of a South Korea visa is understandably expensive, especially considering that many Chinese and other nearby nationalities call Korea home.
It’s a developed, wealthy country so you naturally can’t get permanent residence on the cheap.
Similarly, South Korea is not a tax haven for corporations.
There’s a ten percent minimum corporate tax for corporate income under KRW200 million (US$160,000), and a graduated system that peaks in the mid-twenties with 25% taxes for income over KRW300 billion (US$239,215,530).
But there are opportunities to be had if you are willing to live in South Korea and keep your ear to the ground. And there is certainly no shortage of money in many parts of Seoul, especially the now-infamous Gangnam area.
Even in trendy, slightly downmarket Itaewon, a one-course dinner with a couple of cocktails set me back $60. South Koreans are so ga-ga for all things Western now that the waiter at this fine dining establishment couldn’t help but steer me away from the $32 halibut and down to the $22 hamburger.
And, in case you’re looking for fun in the sun, South Korea isn’t for you. You’ll need to spend the majority of each year here, including what locals tell me is the ever-encroaching winter season.
I had to bundle up a bit for a few days and it was still cold.
Still, if you’re looking for a “first world” Asian passport, that might just be a price you’re willing to pay.