Is South Korea your next destination on the map? Here are 10 things to know before traveling to South Korea for you.
South Korea recently has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. From BTS to Squid Game, the Korean Wave has got people curious about this small yet dynamic country. Also, the world is now in love with Korean cuisine, cutting-edge tech, and K-Beauty.
But, if it’s your first time to South Korea, you must be anxious as much as you are excited. So to help your planning to South Korea, here are 10 tips and things to know before traveling to South Korea.
1. Find Out Visa Requirements or K-ETA
Before you plan to travel to South Korea, the very first thing you need to do is to research a South Korea visa. Most travelers are exempt from visa requirements for short-term purposes. But, citizens of some countries may need a South Korea visa.
If you are from a visa-free country, you still need to apply for a Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) on its website. The site says that the assessment may take more than 72 hours, so apply for K-ETA with sufficient time. Application for K-ETA costs 10,000 KRW (about $9 USD).
Find more information about South Korea Visa or K-ETA.
COVID-19 Travel Updates for Korea
At the time of writing (Aug. 2023), there is no specific actions are required regarding COVID-19. When international travelers arrive at Korean airports, no PCR tests or quarantine is necessary.
Q-Code registration is no longer needed in most cases, either, since July 15, 2023. And yet, travelers from quarantine inspection required areas still need to register for Q-Code. See the full list of the areas.
2. Learn Hangul and Some Key Phrases
We are living in the 21st century, and everybody is talking about AI. The app on your phone can definitely help you talk to locals wherever you visit in the world.
But, we all know that Google and Siri can help you so much (at least for now). Then, how much Korean should you know before going to Korea?
If you speak English, you may find communicating with younger Koreans not too difficult, especially in big cities like Seoul. But, there are many places without any English signs or English-speaking staff.
Learning how to read Hangul and some basic Korean phrases could go a long way during your trip to South Korea. It would be much easier to find restaurants, read menus, buy some Korean products, and use public transportation.
Plus, if you are an avid traveler, you know how much locals love to hear international travelers speak their own language, right?
Some Korean Phrases To Know
Here are some basic phrases that could make your trip in South Korea a bit smoother:
- Thank you. 감사합니다 /gam-sa-ham-mi-da/
- Sorry. 죄송합니다 /joe-song-ham-mi-da/
- Hello. 안녕하세요 /an-nyeong-ha-se-yo/
- Where is Place A? Place A가 어디에요? Place A/ga eo-di-e-yo?/
3. Know about Korean Money
Even though now everything is digital and you may not even have a chance to touch Korean money physically, knowing and understanding one’s currency is basic to international trips.
The South Korean currency is won. The symbol is ₩ and sometimes marked as KRW.
There are four banknotes (bills): ₩1,000, ₩5,000, ₩10,000, and ₩50,000. And, four types of coins are ₩10, ₩50, ₩100, and ₩500.
Credit cards are widely accepted in South Korea. But, it is a good idea to carry a small amount of cash with you. Some places like street food carts may not take a credit card.
Also, you can use Samsung Pay. Apple Pay has recently started to be in business in South Korea. However, I’d suggest credit cards and cash would be your best friends yet.
The exchange rates are always changing. As of 2023, the rates usually stay around 1,300 KRW to 1 USD. Here you can check the current currency (no pun intended).
4. Prepare Travel SIM Card or Pocket WiFi
Nowadays, reliable and affordable internet connectivity is essential for hassle-free international trips.
Although WiFi is very accessible in South Korea, it is a good idea to prepare a SIM card or pocket WiFi for your trip to South Korea, especially if this is your first trip to Korea.
You have four options for your communication during your South Korea trip:
- SIM Card
- Pocket WiFi
- Data Roaming with Your Cellphone Plan
A SIM card is inserted into your phone. A pocket WiFi device provides a WiFi hotspot that you can connect multiple devices to. You can pre-order them before your departure and pick them up at a Korean airport.
An eSIM is a relatively new technology. You simply need to sign up online and scan a QR code. You don’t have to pick up a SIM card at the airport.
For your information, the major service providers in South Korea are KT (Olleh), SKT, and LG U+.
5. Free WiFi is Everywhere in South Korea
South Korea is one of the most digitally connected countries in the world. It is quite easy to find free WiFi hotspots in Korea.
You can get free WiFi access at public places like subway stations and local buses in big cities. Most Korean cafes and restaurants offer free WiFi, too.
In Seoul, you can find free WiFi at outdoor locations like Cheonggyecheon Stream, Itaewon, and many Hangang Parks. You may have some difficulties connecting to WiFi in remote or rural areas of Korea, though.
6. Bring a Travel Adapter
Nowadays you can’t travel without charging things: your cellphone, tablet, laptop, watch, and many more.
Many electronics now convert voltages themselves, so you probably don’t need to bring a voltage converter with you. But, outlets are all different from country to country.
The standard voltage in South Korea is 220 volts and 60 Hz. As for plugs, Koreans use Type C and Type F outlets. More hotels and accommodations are providing USB outlets as well.
It would be best to prepare a travel adapter before your departure. But, if you forgot to get one, don’t panic. You can buy one at supermarkets like Emart and Homeplus and some convenience stores. Or if you can find Daiso near you, you can get one there, too.
7. Get T-Money and Use Korean Public Transportation
Public transportation in South Korea is easy, clean, and safe. The best way to use Korean public transportation is to use a T-Money card.
T-Money is a rechargeable card. It is primarily for public transportation services such as buses, subways, and taxis. The card covers public transportation in almost all parts of South Korea.
Korea Tour Card would be an even better choice for international travelers. Korea Tour Card is a T-Money card specifically designed for foreign visitors.
In addition to T-Money features, the card has benefits like discounts at over 200 vendors. The list of vendors includes duty-free shops, hanbok rentals, and accommodations.
If your stay is mostly in Seoul and its metro area, Mpass would be another option for you. It is a transportation pass with a period of the user’s choice.
The visitors can ride public transportation in the Seoul Metro area up to 20 times a day. The ride includes Seoul Metropolitan Subway, Seoul Bus, and Airport Railroad Express.
You can buy T-Money cards and Korea Tour Card both online or offline stores. Do you want to avoid any hassles? You can buy T-Money card here and just pick it up at the airport.
8. Ride Korean Trains
Thanks to its compact size, it is not too challenging to travel to other parts of South Korea beyond Seoul. The best way to move from city to city would be by riding Korean trains.
There are several tiers and types of Korean trains, but KTX (Korea Train Express) would be your best choice. Although it costs more than other Korean railroad rides, it is the fastest and the most comfortable ride.
It would take only two and a half hours from Seoul to Busan by KTX. The routes of KTX connect most of the Korean major cities and places.
You can buy tickets at the train stations or online. At ticket booths at train stations, you can use your T-Money card. For an online purchase, you need a credit card with Visa, Master, or JCB, or one issued in South Korea.
If you are planning multiple train trips in Korea, consider KORAIL PASS. KORAIL PASS is a train pass for unlimited rides on KORAIL-managed trains for selected periods. The pass is available only for international tourists or foreign residents.
You can find more about Korean public transportation here.
9. Download KakaoMap or NAVER Map
Although South Korea is one of the most developed IT countries, some things are less global. For example, Google is not the most used search engine in South Korea.
Google Maps is not quite fabulous in South Korea, either. Don’t be disappointed yet. You have a couple of Korean alternatives.
KakaoMap and NAVER Map are good options for you. You can download them for both iOS and Android. KakaoMap has an English interface.
Both apps provide users with routes for public transportation, driving, and walking. You can find restaurant reviews (in Korean, though), menus, hours, and more on the map. Download them before your departure and familiarize yourself with them.
If you plan to stay in big cities like Seoul and Busan, Subway Korea is also a very useful app for your trip.
10. Tipping Isn’t Necessary in Korea
Tipping in South Korea is not as common or expected as it is in some other countries.
At restaurants, you don’t have to leave tips on your table or add tips to your bill.
At hotels, you can leave out some money, but chances are the hotel service workers will not take them. The bellhops probably would accept your tips if they assist you with your luggage.
When you ride a taxi, you pay what you see on the meter. You may round up your fare, but it is getting rare because many people pay by credit card or just using an app.
As a matter of fact, some cafes have recently started putting tip jars on the counter. But many Korean customers just don’t tip in or even frown upon the suggestions.
Although the practice of tipping has recently become more familiar due to exposure to international tourists and media, the bottom line is that no tip is required in South Korea.
What Are You Interested In?
- Travel in South Korea
- Korean Food
- Korean Culture
- Korean Entertainment
- Applying for South Korea Visa
- Studying in South Korea
- Learning the Korean Language
It’s important to know the dates of Korean Holidays for planning your trip to South Korea. Read the complete guide to Chuseok.