LIFE IN KOREA: No Discount for Foreign Seniors

by Anne Ladouceur, 23/12/2010


As of May 2010, the 65+ (65 y-o-a and over) discount on entry to cultural heritage sites in Korea (palaces, tombs, etc) is no longer being given to ‘foreigners’ – residents and tourists  alike.  Although the admissions fees pages for the different sites on  the Cultural Heritage Administrations’ website ((문화재청)  do not reflect this new policy, foreign residents who have recently requested the senior’s discount/free entry entitlement (because they were over 65) have been denied it.  (http://www.cha.go.kr/)

I’m not sure what has motivated this change in policy, but it may be that whoever is responsible forgot that foreign residents pay taxes here. Most long-term foreign residents are taxed the same as Korean citizens and therefore, should be entitled to the same benefits.  In fact, we are, when it comes to pensions, VAT refunds, etc.

I can’t help but wonder also if ethnic Korea seniors with foreign passports are being denied the free or discounted entry. I’ve never see anyone asked to produce proof-of-age at any of the cultural sites I’ve visited (do let me know if you have) and so I’m also assuming that ethnic Korean seniors with foreign passports may still be allowed to take advantage of the 65+ discount.

Was this decision taken as a cost-saving measure? Given that the entry to the cultural heritage sites (when not free for everyone) is usually in the W1,000 to W3,000 range and there are not thousands of elderly foreign residents in Korea, the savings can, at best, be minimal.

If the target is the elderly tourists who are expected to visit during Korean Years 2010 through 2012, again I doubt that having them pay entry to the palaces and tombs they may visit will inflate the CHA’s coffers to any great extent.  And are the negative reactions (especially as the CHA website still reflects the previous equal-treatment-regardless -of-nationality policy) to what many will interpret as a discriminatory, maybe even xenophobic, policy worth the minuscule financial gain?

If the answer is yes, so be it as far as senior tourists are concerned (although it is ironic that such a policy has been implemented at the beginning of the Visit Korea tourism promotion period). However, there is no justification, in my view, to deny long term residents the same benefits as other taxpayers in Korea.

“It’s not a matter of the W1000 entry fee to Deoksugun but rather the principle. I’ve paid taxes for many decades in Korea and don’t understand why I’m suddenly denied something that was previously available to all seniors.” This long-time resident and others are asking themselves why this is happening now and worries that it could have a negative impact on Seoul’s global image.
Moreover, one has to feel for the palace and tomb staff who now has to say to people, including those who have previously received discounts, “No discount for foreigners.”

I’m wondering also if this is, in fact, a Cultural Heritage Administration policy or if it is being applied elsewhere. Do let us know via a comment below or by writing to info@korea4expats.com if you know of other such policies. In the interim, I’ve sent a ‘petition’ about this issue to www.epeople.go.kr, a people’s online petition and discussion portal with options in various languages, including English. Will let you know when I get a response. Feel free to do the same, on this or other issues.

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