Korean travel drama a costly affair

Making plans: Azza Azrin Juri, 37, looking for information on South Korea at her home in Shah Alam. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Applying for the Korean Electronic Travel Authorisation (K-ETA) through an unauthorised third-party website has turned out to be very costly for unsuspecting Malaysians.

Despite warnings by the South Korean authorities against applying via third-party and fraudulent sites, some Malaysians went ahead and ended up paying 10 times more for their K-ETA.

ALSO READ: Malaysians denied passage into S. Korea due to entry discrepancies

The K-ETA only costs 10,000 won or US$9 to US$10 (approximately RM35) and is valid for three years.

However, many have paid as much as RM478 (US$99) for the electronic travel authorisation.

Foreign visitors with visa-free access entering South Korea must submit relevant information online to get the K-ETA, which was first implemented on Sept 1, 2021.

Sharifah Naqiyah Afiqah, 27, from Seri Kembangan, Selangor described her K-ETA application experience as being her “first and worse”.

“I chose a K-ETA website that appeared at the top of the search results, thinking it was an official site. It seemed legitimate because the details required included name, passport number and photo, which is almost the same as those on the official website. After filling up the details, I proceeded to pay,” she added.

However, she said the payment portal did not clearly display the actual cost.

Sharifah Naqiyah only realised that she was charged RM478.24 for the K-ETA after receiving an email with the receipt.

She then tried to request for a refund, but according to the refund policy on the site, a “cancellation fee” of US$31 (RM148) would be imposed if the cancellation was made before the application was approved.

“Unfortunately, I could not get the refund due to my K-ETA application being approved in less than 30 minutes,” she said.

Sharifah Naqiyah also tried to email the official website operated by the South Korean government over her predicament, to no avail.

She is worried that she will not be able to enter the country with the K-ETA she had received.

Another traveller, who wanted to be known only as Kartini, said she also had paid US$99 for the K-ETA when she visited the country in 2023.

“I was lucky I was able to get in,” she said, adding that she only realised the site was not affiliated with the South Korean government after discovering the cost of the K-ETA following a news report earlier this year.

She said the third-party website looked legitimate, “with the crest and everything,” and she was under the impression that the high fee was similar to the visa charges of other countries.

Kartini said she hopes the South Korean authorities would look into the matter and reminded those applying for a K-ETA to do their homework first.

Sharifah Naqiyah and Kartini are not alone as there were other similar accounts posted on social media.

A South Korean embassy source in Kuala Lumpur said the country’s Ministry of Justice had requested search engine operators ensure that the official website appears first on the list of featured websites.

“The embassy has been trying to raise the awareness of travellers and has always advised people to visit the embassy website first, and use the address of the official site posted there,” said the source.

The embassy has been posting a notice on its website since 2022, saying that the South Korean government has not designated any agency for K-ETA application.

“Recently, some non-official K-ETA application websites were found to be illegally collecting a higher fee than the official fee and relevant cases have been reported. Please be careful and protect yourself from losses due to fraudulent non-official K-ETA websites and agencies,” the notice reads.

“Please make sure to apply through the K-ETA official website (www.k-eta.go.kr) or mobile app (K-ETA).”

It also warns people to be extra cautious to avoid any financial losses or fraud due to non-official application agencies.

In 2022, Malaysia was listed as one of the top 10 countries with the highest inbound tourists in South Korea, with about 100,000 arrivals.

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