<b>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea </b>- We have all heard the two words "SOFA stamp" at some point during our tours in Korea. For some of us, we ignore it - "it doesn't apply to me." For others, the mere mention of the words brings confusion, frustration and anxiety.
Quite simply, anyone entitled to this Status of Forces Agreement status (primarily military and civilian Family Members of assigned personnel) entering the Republic of Korea with a passport must obtain a SOFA verification stamp in addition to a category "A-3" Visa to reside.
You are required to receive your SOFA stamp within 30-60 days of arrival in country. This does not mean that all U.S. Family members in Korea will have an A3 Visa and SOFA stamp. Some Family Members are Korean citizens and require no Visa or stamp. Other Family Members work outside the garrison gates and are required to have any variety of work Visa deemed by the Korean Immigration Office.
What is important to know is the "why's" and "how-to's" to obtain the SOFA stamp.
<b>What does the SOFA stamp do for me'</b>
The U.S. government has a stationing agreement with every country that hosts U.S. military forces. The SOFA defines the legal rights and obligations of SOFA status personnel and exempts personnel from the Korean Immigration laws relating to alien registration and control only.
The SOFA stamp registers the person and identifies them as having protections and rights under our SOFA agreement. Having a SOFA stamp does not exempt any person from abiding by our host nation's laws.
<b>What about the A-3 Visa'</b>
The A-3 Visa is required in the Republic of Korea and denotes the bearer as a "dependent" of military forces assigned to Korea. If the wrong visa was issued before coming to Korea or you entered in a tourist status, Korean Immigration officials will not be sympathetic if more than 60 days lapse before you make an application for the correct visa. Make sure that you receive a "multiple entry" visa when applying for the A3. This allows you to enter and exit Korea without having to renew the visa.
<b>Who is responsible for getting a Family Member their SOFA Stamp/A-3 Visa'</b>
The military or civilian member and that person's assigned unit are responsible for ensuring each Family member assigned to them has their A-3 Visa and SOFA stamp. Many units arrange the SOFA stamps for their own personnel. Some organizations allow in-processing time for their personnel to receive stamps for Family Members. And if you are a Family Member assigned to Area I and living in the USAG-Yongsan area, the 1st Replacement Company Area I liaisons can assist with acquiring your A3 Visa and SOFA Stamp.
<b>What happens if I do not renew my A-3 Visa in a timely manner'</b>
Many personnel like Korea so much, they extend their tours. This causes A-3 Visas and SOFA stamps to expire. You must be mindful to avoid this problem. Allowing these to expire could result in daily fines and being held in Korea until the proper paperwork is completed. Fines can be as high as $65 per day and are issued at the discretion of an immigration officer.
<b>How do I get the visa and SOFA stamp'</b>
To get an A-3 Visa and/or SOFA stamp is actually quite easy. USAG-Yongsan is located in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. We have many options available at our disposal:
<b>The Korean Immigration Office</b> is the primary location for any Korean immigration service. The full-service Korean Immigration Offices are located within Seoul and are just a subway ride away. Their locations are in Mok-dong, Anguk and Sejongno. Service offered is "first come, first served" so make sure to pull a number when you enter the office. English is a language that many Koreans study from elementary school, so many personnel will be able to help. Directions are listed on an A3 Visa and SOFA Stamp application packet for pick up at ACS, Bldg. S4106, room 115. ACS staff are always willing to help prescreen your application prior to going over to the Korean Immigration Office.
<b>USAG-Yongsan ACS </b>offers a coordinated service with Korean Immigration on the second and fourth Tuesdays during the fall, winter and Spring, from 2-5 p.m. During these summer months, this service is increased to every Tuesday from 2-5 p.m. The service is limited to those who have signed into our SOFA log and have scheduled appointments. Appointments are made based on the date of signing the log; those to be scheduled for an appointment will be notified by email two weeks prior to their appointment date.
ACS is limited to 50 passports per Tuesday. Some community members signing into the log have multiple Family members; therefore, during high peak move seasons, your wait could exceed the 30-60 day window. Walk-ins are not available; the service is by appointment only.
<b>Another option for many is Osan AB.</b> Osan is a port of embarkation and has a full service customs/immigration office located in its Air Mobility Command Terminal. The office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Service is offered "first come, first served," but usually only takes about 15-20 minutes.
Getting the A3 Visa and SOFA stamp is normally a routine and simple process. But forgetting to renew or not even getting one in the first place could be costly in the long-run.