So here, for posterity, I will record my own, personal experience of the slightly infamous Fukuoka "visa run." There are plenty of online references to this type of experience, as it is nearly universal among Westerners trying to work out long-term livelihoods in Korea to have to make a "visa run" to Japan at some point or another. I have googled and utilized bits of information from various summaries of other people's experiences over the last several weeks.
My own "visa run" experience was nearly unique, in one respect: I opted to wait for my authorization number while in Japan, rather than in Korea. This was an issue of timing – it just so happened that my tourist visa in Korea ran out just as I submitted my application. Since I didn't see the logic in coming to Japan to "reset" my tourist visa, and then return to Korea only to have to go back to Japan 2 weeks later to get the E2 visa, I decided to just wait in Japan. This was not a big deal.
My angst and suffering during the waiting period (which is well documented in previous posts) was rooted in my own insecurities, and not in the fact that the waiting was taking place in Japan rather than in Korea (or elsewhere, for that matter). And now, I feel that I have a sort of "home base" in Japan – I feel very comfortable in the city of Fukuoka; I know where things are, I know how to get around, etc. In retrospect, however, I must admit that it would have cost me less to make a "double trip" to Fukuoka, rather than sit in Japan waiting. The cost of everything in Japan is quite high, compared to Korea: food, lodging, transportation, etc.
So starting Friday, I had a more typical "visa run" experience. I got my authorization number via email early Saturday morning. This morning (Monday), I went to the Korean consulate. The Korean consulate in Fukuoka is extremely easy to get to: about a 5 minute walk north of the Toojinmachi subway station (which is on the same "Orange Line" that stops at the airport and at the main Hakata Railroad Station where the shinkansen stop). I have been using my "SUICA" card to ride the Fukuoka subway, which is the stored-value e-money card that I'd bought in Tokyo last September. But I think the ride from downtown (Tenjin) runs about 200 yen. The consulate is basically "across the street" from the Yahoo! Dome (a sports stadium) and the Hawks Town Mall – so if you follow the horizon to those landmarks, you can't get lost.
Unlike what I'd been told by my recruiter, I did not need copies of my passport, I did not need sealed original university transcripts, I did not need copies of my criminal background check, I did not need copies of anything at all. The magic authorization number was really all they needed. That, and a single passport-size photo, and, of course, I surrendered my passport. I filled out a mini application but that seemed almost a mere formality.
The one piece of information that I did not have that they asked for was a name, address and phone number of my new employer – but, because the woman behind the counter was kind and efficient, she was actually able to retrieve that online using my authorization number, too. Still, for those using this summary as a reference, I recommend you have that information handy.
Certainly just because I didn't need any of that additional paperwork doesn't imply that one should show up at the consulate unprepared. Jared's number one bureaucracy rule: always carry lots of copies of everything. I had brought along a copy of my contract and a photocopy of my old Korean "alien card," too – but I noticed the woman behind the counter pulled that information off her computer and filled it into an "office use only" blank on my mini-application. Unlike what I read in all the various online accounts of the "visa run," I didn't hold any kind of "blue authorization form" from Korean immigration. So don't worry, I guess, if you don't have that document – just make sure you have an authorization number that they can put into their computer.
Oh, and, of course, I paid a 4500 yen fee. It must be in Japanese currency – won or dollars are not acceptable. I'd been worrying that maybe, like in the US, there would be some problem with paying in cash (in the US, many agencies, including consulates of foreign countries, rarely accept cash, and require check or money order). But paying in cash was fine.
As mentioned, the woman behind the counter was extremely courteous, efficient, and kind. I can't say the same for the guard at the front gate – he was a bitter gate-gnome with a grudge against everyone (he was unkind to the people in front of me in the little line that developed, too). I wondered if he might ask me the airborne velocity of an African swallow. But once past that hurdle, it all went quite smoothly.
Tomorrow morning, I will pick my passport with it's shiny new E2 visa stuck into it, and then I can return to Korea. I'll have to go to the airport and rearrange my return ticket, but that shouldn't be a problem (although there might be a fee involved). By the end of the week, I'll be in my new job. I'm excited, and nervous.