Posted November. 18, 2008 03:10,
Visa-free travel to the United States began yesterday for Koreans, though this requires an electronic passport and travel authorization online that many say is not easy to get.
A Korean must apply for travel authorization on the Web site of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (esta.cbp.dhs.gov) under the U.S. government, but the site is hard to find.
A Korean-language version of the site will open next month.
Since it is not directly linked to the homepage of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, access to the site is available by going through the homepages of the embassy, the U.S. Homeland Security Department, and then the ESTA Web site, or by directly typing in the homepage address.
Those not proficient in English will find it tough to apply for authorization because the site is in English only. One must fill out the application form, submit it, and get a registration number, and confirm whether he or she can travel to the United States visa-free.
On the first page, one must click "application" or "confirmation." If one applies for travel authorization, he or she must click apply on the bottom left side of the first page.
After reading the explanation of the authorization system, one must check that he or she has read and understood the terms and conditions, and then must type in personal information. All 16 items must be filled out, including name, birth date, passport number, flight number, and destination address in the United States. Then an applicant must answer seven questions on illness or criminal record.
After completing the process, a registration number is assigned that later tells if an application has been successful. Generally, an applicant can get immediate determination of eligibility in one to two minutes, but some people are put on stand-by status that takes up to 72 hours.
As the entire process is done in English, some complain that applying for the authorization is as difficult as taking an English proficiency test. Many questions about filling out the application are posted on major portal sites.
Meanwhile Incheon International Airport held an event to celebrate the first day of visa-free travel to the United States yesterday.
Korean Air awarded a business-class upgrade for the first passenger on an Atlanta-bound flight and a coupon good for a night at the Hyatt Regency Incheon.
Asiana Airline also offered an upgrade coupon to the first visa-free traveler on a flight bound for Los Angeles.
U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens and Incheon Airport CEO Lee Chae-wook attended a ceremony at the airport hosted by the U.S. Embassy and United Airlines.