Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Busan visa run, experience and suggestions

So this is sort of aimed at other GenkiJACS Fukuoka students who want to stay longer than 3 months. It's difficult getting a visa, so the visa waiver scheme is great for those who can use it. The problem is that you need to renew it around the 3-month mark, and doing this means leaving the country for a bit. The classic scheme is to nip over to Korea for the night.

I spent ten hours since leaving my flat to arriving here. Only 35 minutes of that was spent flying between the two countries. I spent about an hour travelling within Japan, another hour on the bus from Busan airport, and seven hours waiting around. If things had gone to plan, this would have been a mere three hours - slightly more than I spent actually moving anywhere. I can expect the same on the way back. I left early in the morning and will return in mid-evening.

As far as I can make out, this means that the best case is wasting two full days mostly hanging around in airports of surpassing tedium or on transport to and from them, plus additional time making arrangements and checking paperwork, and spending in the neighbourhood of £250, in order to get one piece of paper replaced with an identical piece of paper that you are more or less automatically entitled to anyway. This is an absolutely fantastic use of everyone's time and money. I try to be understanding, but I can't help caring about things like processes and efficiency, and when I think how much better the world would be if you could simply go to an office (a local office, not out at an airport where it's convenient for nobody) and answer the questions and get your permit extended, without the one simple yet vast hoop of "must leave the country" to jump through... at least the notoriously awful-with-visas USA lets you walk across a bridge and back.

I feel slightly mean disliking Busan, but so far 100% of my experience with Busan, and indeed Korea as a whole, has been entirely negative. This is in no way Busan's fault, or anyone's really. I was obliged to come here for no good reason, which never helps, and I have no personal desire to be here. My flight was delayed three hours. The first airport bus refused to let anyone one for reasons nobody understood and left us waiting for another 40 minutes, followed by a tedius 50-minute drive in through a grotty, concrete-ridden industrial suburb of the kind that always infest airports. Because of the typhoon, it's grey and miserable and chucking it down with rain, so even if I had any desire to explore the streets of a city where I don't speak a single word of the language, I wouldn't. I'm going to get soaked as soon as I step out for some food, and have no idea where to find any, because in Korea Google Street View doesn't work in about 90% of streets, so you can't scan the local area for promising eateries.* And I just discovered that a very reasonable law here prevents hotels from offering disposable toothbrushes, but I deliberately didn't bring a toothbrush and toothpaste because the Kumamoto branch of the exact same hotel provided these, and getting toothpaste through airport security is a pain, which means I now need to locate and buy toothpaste and a toothbrush so I can throw it away tomorrow, thereby undermining the whole aim of the law anyway.

*From what I've read, this seems to be for military security. Nobody else explicitly mentions Street View not working, but rather limitations on maps. But there are very clearly massive restrictions on Street view because you simply can't go to most places at all, on multiple attempts over several days.


For anyone else making the trip, I would honestly advise going one of two ways. The first is to plan an actual holiday of a few days in Korea and go somewhere more immediately preposessing, or indeed to a different country altogether, rather than taking the shortest possible trip out of Japan over to Busan. You're going to be travelling for a long time, you might as well get something out of it that you might enjoy.

The alternative I'll suggest would be to make it as short as physically possible. Aim to get a mid-morning flight and to fly back in late afternoon. Don't bother leaving the airport. Bring a packed meal so you aren't reliant on the dismal food selection in airports, and something to do for the ten hours or so you'll likely spend hanging around. This will be a rubbish day, but at least it should only be one day. You'll also save on the time and energy of taking the bus into Busan just in order to sleep and eat there, as well as the money you'd otherwise spend on the hotel and travel.


  1. Thant's the reason I do not go to see my granny very often, Busan pfffft...

    1. One day I will maybe show you where I grew up, and you will suddenly appreciate the many merits of Busan :p

    2. In my memory, you often speak virtue of your hometown. I bet it is decent enough