Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2017, 13:52 GMT

Republic of Korea: Requirements for either forfeiting or losing Korean citizenship; discretionary power of authorities who issue certificates of renunciation, including conditions that could be imposed on a Korean citizen seeking to acquire the nationality of another country

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 16 February 2007
Citation / Document Symbol KOR101975.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Republic of Korea: Requirements for either forfeiting or losing Korean citizenship; discretionary power of authorities who issue certificates of renunciation, including conditions that could be imposed on a Korean citizen seeking to acquire the nationality of another country, 16 February 2007, KOR101975.E, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
Comments Corrected version added 16 March 2009.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A corrected version of this Response was published on the Refworld site at the request of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 16 March 2009

South Korea's approach to nationality is based on the principle of jus sanguinis (literally, "right of blood") (Korea n.d.; Korea Herald 2 Aug. 2006). Essentially, this principle means that a child acquires the nationality of his or her parents at birth (MIS n.d.; Korea n.d.). This approach contrasts with that of jus soli ("right of birthplace"), in which nationality is determined based on the country in which a child is born (ibid.; MIS n.d.).

An associate professor of law at Korea's Yonsei University who has a research interest in citizenship, commented at length on the renunciation of citizenship and the discretionary power of authorities issuing certificates of renunciation as follows:

The statutory rules leave no room for discretion on the part of authorities issuing certificates of renunciation of nationality (in Korea nationality is coterminous with citizenship).

A renunciation of Korean nationality takes place when a dual national chooses to retain his/her foreign nationality and therefore is obligated by the law to renounce his/her Korean nationality. Korea does not recognize dual nationality except in limited circumstances where it arises inevitably and requires the dual national to make a choice within a designated period as to which nationality to retain. According to Art. 12(1) of the Nationality Act, one who [becomes] a dual national before the age of 20 should make the choice [of nationality] before he/she reaches 22 (an earlier age for males rostered for compulsory military service). One who [becomes] a dual national after reaching the age of 20 should make the decision within two years after [becoming] a dual national (see the military service exception below).

If the person chooses to retain his/her foreign nationality, he/she may submit a statement to the Minister of Justice that he/she intends to renounce his/her Korean nationality. He/she loses his/her Korean nationality simultaneously with the submission of the statement (Art. 14). The Minister of Justice issues a certificate of renunciation and sends it to the person's residential district office and the household registration office, but he has no discretion as to whether or not to issue the certificate (Art. 18, Decree on the Implementation of the Nationality Act). In other words, as long as the dual national submits all the required documents, one of the purposes of which is to ensure that the person renouncing Korean nationality does not become stateless, the Ministry of Justice must accept the statement and issue a certificate of renunciation.

However, the Ministry of Justice should refuse to accept the statement of renunciation and thus disallow renunciation if the dual national i) was not born on foreign territory to parents who were residing in the foreign state at the time of his birth for the purpose of permanent settlement, and ii) his military service has not been discharged (Art. 14(3)). Again, refusal to issue the certificate of renunciation is not subject to any discretionary power of authorities. (8 Nov. 2006)

Information on the Web site of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States of America indicates that the Ministry of Justice issues a letter of approval (Korea N.d.) similar in effect to the certificates of renunciation, described by the Associate Professor which enables a person to give up his or her nationality (8 Nov. 2006). The Korean Web site also indicates that an individual's name will be removed from the family census registration after the application is verified by the Ministry of Justice (Korea n.d.). The same source corroborates information provided by the Associate Professor, stating that the renunciation of Korean nationality applies only to dual nationals who achieved Korean nationality by virtue of jus sanguinis and a second nationality by virtue of jus soli (ibid.). The source also indicates that the "most common" exception to Korea's policy against dual citizenship occurs when a child is born in the United States to parents of Korean nationality (ibid.).

The Associate Professor also commented on the requirements for forfeiting or losing Korean citizenship, and the conditions that could be imposed on a Korean citizen seeking to acquire another nationality as follows:

The Nationality Act provides for forfeiture or loss of nationality only for the purpose of controlling dual nationality. A Korean national automatically loses his Korean nationality when he voluntarily acquires foreign nationality (Art. 15(1)). One who has acquired foreign nationality by marriage, adoption, or recognition, or who has automatically acquired foreign nationality as a result of the acquisition of the nationality by his/her spouse or parent (him/herself being a minor) is given six months to submit a statement of intention to retain his/her Korean nationality (Art. 15(2)). If he/she fails to do so, the loss of his/her Korean nationality is effectuated retrospectively from the time of his/her acquisition of the foreign nationality. The exceptional retention of Korean nationality does not mean a permanent retention; the person still has to make a choice of nationality pursuant to Art. 12(1).

The automatic loss of Korean nationality as a result of acquiring foreign nationality (e.g., naturalization in another state) takes place regardless of whether the person has performed his military service, unlike in the case of a male dual national by birth, who can renounce his Korean nationality only when his military service has been discharged.

Another instance of forfeiture or loss is when a foreigner who has acquired Korean nationality fails to renounce his/her original nationality within six months. The forfeiture takes effect with the passage of the six months (Art. 10). This requirement does not apply to those who are in circumstances that make it difficult to renounce their original nationality (Art. 10(2)), but, again, they have to make a choice of nationality pursuant to Art. 12(1).

The various kinds of dual nationals who are required to make a choice of nationality under Art. 12(1) automatically lose their Korean nationality if they fail to make the choice within the designated period (Art. 12(2)). The choice of nationality is conducted by way of submitting a statement of choosing Korean nationality and documents, including one that certifies the loss/renunciation of his/her foreign nationality (Art. 17, Decree on the Implementation of the Nationality Act). Therefore, one who would choose foreign nationality at the expense of Korean nationality does not have to do anything positive, as he/she loses his/her Korean nationality if he does not do anything within the designated period. (8 Nov. 2006)

The following documents are reportedly required for a dual citizen of Korea and the United States to renounce Korean citizenship:

  • the Nationality Renunciation Approval Application;
  • two copies of both the original and the translation of the applicant's Certificate of US Naturalization;
  • some kind of proof verifying the process of acquiring permanent residency in the US;
  • two copies of the Korean Family Census Register;
  • a self-addressed return envelope;
  • two stamps;
  • two identification pictures;
  • and a processing fee (Korea n.d.).

Male applicants over 17 years of age must bring proof of an exemption from military duty or else proof of having fulfilled this duty (ibid.). A family member can file the renunciation in lieu of the applicant if need be (ibid.). Moreover, individuals living outside Korea can submit their applications via a Korean Embassy (ibid.).

According to the United States (US) Department of State, there have reportedly been several cases in which US citizens of Korean descent who travelled to Korea as tourists found that they were required to serve in the Korean army (US 5 June 2006). In two cases, the young men – who were born and raised in the US – were reportedly considered to be Korean citizens because, unbeknownst to them, their names had been entered into the Korean Family Census Register (ibid.). According to the Korean Embassy in the US, "[m]ales with dual citizenships who are registered in the Korean Family Registrar are required to fulfil their military obligations, unless they postpone or obtain exemption before they reach the age of 18" (Korea n.d.).

In May 2005, an amendment to Korea's nationality law came into effect requiring men who have dual citizenship to serve in the military before giving up their Korean citizenship (Migration News 3 July 2005; Korea Times 11 May 2005; US 5 June 2006). News of the proposed revision to the nationality law reportedly prompted an increased number of men to renounce citizenship before the law went into effect (Korea Times 11 May 2005; Migration News 3 July 2005). The revised law is reportedly a response to growing numbers of pregnant Korean going abroad to give birth to "[save] their sons from military service" (Korea Times 11 May 2005). By giving birth on foreign soil, Korean women ensure dual nationality for their children (Korea n.d.), and therefore the opportunity for these children to opt out of military service by renouncing their Korean citizenship (Korea Times 11 May 2005).

According to the US Department of State, the amendment reportedly means that dual citizens whose parents lived only temporarily overseas cannot renounce their citizenship until they have completed their military service (US 5 June 2006).

Further information related to the conditions that could be imposed by authorities on Koreans wishing to renounce, forfeit or lose their citizenship could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Associate Professor, College of Law, Yonsei University, Seoul. 8 November 2006. Correspondence.

Korea. N.d. Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States of America. "Consulate Service: Other Information." [Accessed 30 Nov. 2006]

The Korea Herald [Seoul]. 2 August 2006. Gi-Wook Shin. "Ethnic Pride Source of Prejudice, Discrimination." (Asia-Pacific Research Centre, Stanford University) [Accessed 22 Nov. 2006]

The Korea Times [Seoul]. 11 May 2005. Kim Rahn. "Young Men Abandoning Nationality over New Law." [Accessed 22 Nov. 2006]

Migration Information Source (MIS). N.d. "Glossary." [Accessed 22 Nov. 2006]

Migration News [Davis, California]. 3 July 2005. Vol. 12, No. 3. "Japan, Korea." (University of California) [Accessed Nov. 22 2006]

United States (US). 5 June 2006. Department of State. "Consular Information Sheet." [Accessed 10 Nov. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral Sources: Representatives of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Ottawa and in the US, and professors with relevant specializations at Stanford University and California State University did not provide information within the time constraints of this Response.

Publications: Journal of Comparative Law, Journal of Historical Sociology.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International, Asia Foundation, Embassy of the Republic Korea in Canada, Government of Korea Web site, Immigration Daily.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld