Known for its welcoming hospitality, delicious food, and cultural sights, there lots to do in South Korea. However, the country is known for its detailed social rules. So, get the most out of your visit by brushing up on Korean culture with these useful South Korea travel tips.
1. Learn some Korean phrases beforehand
As with so many destinations, the locals in South Korea will truly appreciate if you can use a few phrases in their language. You can brush up on some basic phrases, or use a phrasebook or app throughout your trip, but here are some things that would be beneficial to know:
Yes – neh
No – ah-nee-oh
Please – jwe-song-ha-ji-mahn
Thank you – gahm-sah-hahm-ni-da
You’re welcome – chon-mahn-eh-yo
Excuse me – sil-le-hahm-ni-da
Good morning – ahn-nyong-ha-se-yo
Good-bye – ahn-nyong-hee ga-se-yo
Do you speak English? – yong-o-rul hahl-jool asim-ni-ka?
I don’t understand – jal mo-dara dut-ge-soum-ni-da
What did you say? – mo-ra-go greo-shut-ji-yo?
I only speak a little Korean – jeo-nun han-kook-o-rul jo-gum-bah-ke mo-tahm-ni-da
2. The Korean Alphabet is actually super easy to learn
Korean is officially written in Hangul. It’s a phonetic script, meaning that it’s made up of the letters that can be sounded out rather than characters that have to be memorized. This makes it very easy to learn, and even if you don’t speak Korean, it’ll help you recognise food names on menus and destinations on street signs. Get started here.
3. Local transportation is both efficient and inexpensive
South Korea has an amazing public transportation system, that is incredibly easy (and cheap) to use. When you land, just get the T-Money card, that can be used on various modes, including public buses and subways in several different metropolitan cities and will save you the hassle of buying a ticket on each journey. Even taxis are easy to find and are inexpensive.
4. Public bathrooms are a bit confusing
Many public bathrooms have Western-style toilets, but you might come across a “squatty potty”. You may also find bidets, or toilet paper dispensers that are outside the stalls, so be prepared. Additionally, the custom is to throw used toilet paper into a trash bin rather than flushing it,
5. Money exchange and where to do it
ATMs that accept foreign cards aren’t all that common in South Korea. Keep a lookout for a ‘Global’ sign or the logo of your credit card company, but remember that they might close at 11 pm and that you might be charged a transaction fee. However, most major credit cards are widely accepted, except in the countryside, and smaller places that may prefer cash.
6. Tipping isn’t really necessary
Tipping is not generally required or expected in South Korea, especially at restaurants. However, cab drivers, hairdressers, porters and bellboys would be grateful of a tip for good service, and the amount is entirely up to you.
7. Pay attention to Korean table etiquette
Korean etiquette can be quite complicated. There are rules about sharing meals, when you can start eating, who gets seated or served first and lots more. Loud chewing and clanking spoons or chopsticks are also frowned upon. You can read up on more rules here.
8. Yelling in restaurants is encouraged
Restaurants are one place in South Korea where its both acceptable and expected that you yell out loud. You can yell for the waiters (by shouting “Yogiyo!” which mean’s, “I’m here!”), at your companions, and even at yourself. (However, yelling at waiters is only okay to get their attention, not for other reasons)
9. Dress conservatively
Although fashion experimentation is widely accepted in South Korea, there are some unspoken rules. For women, short skirts or shorts are fine… but exposing shoulders or cleavage isn’t. Men usually wear pants or slacks rather than shorts. In general, avoid tight clothes, and wear sleeves.
10. Take off your shoes
If you ever visit a Korean house, or even some restaurants, schools, and the occasional store and bathroom, you’ll be required to remove your shoes before entering. Koreans eat, sleep and sit on the floor, so tracking dirt across it is a no-no. In many places, you’ll be provided with slippers to wear instead.
11. Bring comfy shoes
Speaking of shoes, bring along comfy shoes because there will be walking involved during your trip. Lots of it. Even if you aren’t planning to go on a hike, walking is one of the most common (and easiest) ways to get around cities, even big ones like Seoul or Busan.
12. Visit a Korean public bathhouse, but know the rules
One last South Korean travel tip is to visit a jimjilbang. They have saunas, video game quarter, karaoke room, lounges, and much more and are a must-see when you visit. However, there are strict rules to follow, such as specific gender-segregated areas, wearing the provided pyjamas, and taking a shower before you enter a pool.
Also Read: 13 Incredible Public Baths Around The World
So, are there any South Korea travel tips that we’ve missed? If so, be sure to share them in the comments below.