April 16, 2024

South Korea has announced that it will launch a new visa specifically for enthusiasts of South Korean culture. The Hallyu visa, also being called the “K-culture training visa,” will allow non-Koreans who register at local performing arts academies to stay in the country for up to two years. Hallyu, which translates to “Korean Wave,” refers to the enormous global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy exporting K-pop culture through music, films and other artistic mediums.

The business plan of South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism cites the arts as “the driver of K-culture for the next generation,” naming support of young artists and writers as one of six key strategies to lure more visitors. Additionally, the country plans to launch the “K Tourism Road Show” in countries such as the US and Sweden this year. Specific requirements for the K-culture visa have not yet been disclosed, but details are expected by the second half of 2024.

From a tourism perspective, nurturing the devotion of K-pop and K-drama fans makes a lot of financial sense. Consider that the $10-billion K-pop industry has become so crucial to South Korea’s economy that the country’s GDP took a hit last year after the musical juggernaut BTS announced it would be taking a temporary break while its members explored solo careers.

Meanwhile, after being decimated during the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korea’s tourism industry is rebounding as a significant economic driver. A recent report from the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that the country’s tourism sector will grow at an average rate of 4.8% annually through 2032, significantly outstripping the projected 1.8% growth rate of the national overall economy.

K-pop is already the most-cited reason for visiting the country, according to a report released in October by South Korea’s culture-and-tourism ministry. For three years, researchers tracked mentions of Korean culture on social and online media in the 20 top countries that drive inbound tourism. The study found that K-pop was mentioned nearly 37 million times—roughly 2.6 times more often than the next most-cited motivation, Korean food, and about four times more often than general Korean cultural content.

Visit Korea has increasingly featured K-culture in its marketing campaigns, to great success. A video called “Challenge Korea: Hello Future” starring “Squid Game” actor Lee Jung-jae has racked up 142 million views on YouTube since its release six months ago. And “Feel the Rhythm of Korea,” a series of more than three dozen videos featuring K-pop megastars like BTS and Blackpink to promote different Korean destinations, has reached more than 2.1 billion views on YouTube in three years.

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In addition to the K-culture visa, South Korea has also announced it is jumping on the digital nomad train with a separate visa aimed at remote workers. The visa, which launched January 1, allows remote workers earning at least $66,000 a year to stay for up to two years.

The digital nomad scene is burgeoning, with dozens of countries worldwide—from Sardinia to Canada to Estonia—already competing to lure remote workers who work in sectors such as technology and finance.

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