South Korea

by phone

International dialling prefixes in South Korea vary by operator, and there is no standard prefix. Check with your operator for the respective prefixes. For calls to South Korea, the country code is 82.

Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas. The country has three service providers: KT (, SK Telecom ( and LG Telecom ( They offer prepaid mobile phone services pre-paid service, PPS in South Korea. Incoming calls are free. Phones and prepaid services can be acquired at any retail location found on any street. Second-hand phones are also available at selected stores in Seoul, also you can rent korean phones at the international airports.

South Korea uses the CDMA standard and does not have a GSM network, so most 2G mobile phones from elsewhere will not work. Even quad-band GSM phones are useless. However, if you have a 3G phone with a 3G SIM card, you can probably roam onto the UMTS/W-CDMA networks of KT or SK Telecom; check with your home operator before you leave to be sure. 4G has recently been made available in Korea; again, check with your provider.

All the carriers offer mobile phone rental services, and some handsets also support GSM SIM roaming. They have outlets at the international airports in Incheon, Seoul Kimpo and Busan Kimhae. You can find service centers for KT SHOW and SK Telecom at Jeju airport as well. Charges start from W2000/day if you reserve in advance via the visitkorea website (http://english.visitkorea...) for a discount and guaranteed availability.

The 1330 Korea Travel Phone service is a very useful service provided by the Korea Tourism organization. It is a 24 hour service and offered in four different languages Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese. The operator will answer questions on bus schedules, accommodation, museum hours, etc.

by mail

Korea Post ( is fast, reliable and reasonably priced. Postage for a postcard anywhere in the world is W370, while letters and packages start from W480. If you want actual traditional stamps, be sure to ask for them, or else you will just get a printed label. On request, fancy "tourist" cancellations Gwangwang Tongsin Ilbuin for your stamps are available at selected post offices without additional charge. Korea Post accepts Visa and MasterCard for purchases over W1000.

Most post offices are open weekdays only from 9 AM to 6 PM. Larger post offices also open Saturday mornings, and central offices in the main cities stay open late and are open on Sundays as well.

by net

South Korea is the world's most wired country and Internet cafes, known as PC bang PC ë°©, pron. BAH-ng, are ubiquitous through the country. Many customers are there for gaming but you're free to sit and type e-mails as well, typical charges are about W1000 to W2000/hour. Like anything, it may be more expensive in more "luxurious" places. Also, snacks and drinks are available for purchase in most PC bangs. PC bangs are often divided into smoking and non-smoking areas.


See also: Korean phrasebook

Koreans speak Korean, and knowing a few words of this will come in very handy. Unfortunately the language is rather drastically different from any Western language in its grammar, and pronunciation is rather difficult for the English speaker to get right though not tonal. Depending on which part of the country you go to, various different dialects are spoken, though standard Korean, which is based on the Seoul dialect, is understood and spoken by almost everyone. Most notably among the dialects, the Gyeongsang dialect spoken around Busan and Daegu is considered to be rather rough and aggressive compared to standard Korean, and the Jeju dialect spoken on Jeju island is known for being almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard Korean, although the pure Jeju dialect is becoming less common.

Written Korean uses a unique phonetic writing system called hangul 한글 hangeul where sounds are stacked up into blocks that represent syllables. It was designed by a committee and looks like, at first glance, all right angles and little circles, but it is remarkably consistent and logical and quite fast to pick up. Many Korean words can also be written with much more complex Chinese characters, known as hanja 한자, 漢字 in Korean, and these are still occasionally mixed into text but are increasingly few and far between. Nowadays, hanja are mainly used for disambiguation if the meaning is ambiguous when written in hangul. In such instances, the hanja is usually written in parentheses next to the hangul. Hanja are also used to mark janggi 장기, 將棋 or Korean chess pieces, newspaper headlines, as well as personal names on official documents.

Learning to read hangul before you arrive in Korea will make traveling much easier, as many signs and menus are written in hangul only. Even basic pattern-matching tricks come in handy: for example, if you know that a circle at the bottom of a block is read -ng, you can already distinguish Pyongyang 평양 from Seoul 서울. Further, the Korean words for many common products — coffee, juice, computer — are often the same as the English words, but will be written in hangul. If you can read hangul, you'll find surviving in Korea surprisingly easy.

The spelling of Korean words in Roman letters can be quite inconsistent, so don't be too surprised to see adjacent signs for Gwangalli and Kwanganri — it's the same place. In 2000, the government officially standardized on the Revised Romanization system also used in Wikitravel, but you will frequently encounter older McCune-Reischauer spellings and just plain weird spellings. Notably, words beginning with g, d, b, j may be spelled with k, t, p, ch instead, and the vowels eo and eu may be spelled o and u. The letters l, r and n also get swapped often, and the vowels i and u are sometimes written as ee and oo respectively. In foreign words imported into Korean, f turns into p, so don't be too surprised by a cup of keopi coffee or a round of golpeu golf.

Nearly all Koreans under the age of 40 have taken English lessons as part of their education, and the English level of the country is being improved by government policy and investments. However, due to lack of practice as well as fear of mispronunciation, most Koreans have little more than a very basic grasp of English phrases in actual conversation. If you're in a pinch and need someone who speaks English, your best bet would generally be the high school or university students. Reading and writing comes much easier however, and often people will be able to read and understand a considerable amount of English even without any practice with real conversation. Many employees at airlines, hotels and stores catering to international tourists are likely to speak at least basic English. Consequently, travelers can get by in major cities with English only, but it goes without saying that learning basic Korean phrases will make your travel experience more convenient and enjoyable.

A common experience for western travellers in South Korea is to be approached by children interested in practicing their English skills. They will often take a picture of you, as proof they really talked to you.

Older folks may also still speak some Japanese. The city of Busan, being a short trip from Fukuoka in Japan has a larger number of Japanese speakers per capita, and the dialect itself is more similar to Japanese in the same way that the Japanese dialect in Fukuoka also has a large Korean influence. However, many Koreans especially older ones still resent the Japanese for the atrocities committed during the occupation, so try not to address a Korean in Japanese unless you have no other choice. Thanks to the "Korean wave" hallyu of Korean pop music and soap operas throughout East Asia, many shopkeepers in touristy areas speak some Japanese, Mandarin or Cantonese.


Whilst not as popular as in Japan or China, many Korean men and an increasing number of Korean women smoke, and it's fairly cheap compared to much of Europe and America. A 20-pack costs around W2500domestic cigarettes or W2700foreign cigarettes, and cigarettes can be bought from all convenience stores. Koreans favour mild cigarettes around 6mg tar so Korean-made cigarettes may taste bland and flavourless compared to those from America or Europe, and even the Korean-produced Western cigarettes are much lighter than the originals e.g. Full-strength Marlboro Reds in Korea have only 8mg tar, the same as Marlboro Lights in the US. If you prefer stronger cigarettes it's wise to bring some duty-free cigarettes with you. However, there are a few vendors in Itaewon and Gunsan that do sell American cigarettes, although you will probably need to look around a bit to get the brand you like. Fortunately, the ubiquitous American military personnel in both cities can usually point you in the right direction.

Smoking is forbidden in most public buildings, public transport and restaurants, although it's permitted in most bars. Internet cafes have smoking and no-smoking sections and karaoke parlours, DVD-bangs, hotels etc give you a choice of smoking or no-smoking rooms.

Also, make sure you familiarize yourself with the local ordinances on smoking. Smoking in public is prohibited in certain places of Korea, and although police will generally let foreigners off with a warning, you still run the risk of getting fined.


Koreans are reserved and well-mannered people.

Korea is a land of strict Confucian hierarchy and etiquette. As a visitor, you will not be expected to know every nuance, but making an effort will certainly be appreciated. Following these rules will impress the locals:

Koreans bow to each other to show their respect when they meet. They may also shake hands. However, with people you know well, quick nod of the head and a simple annyeong haseyo 안녕하세요, meaning "hello," should suffice the direct translation is "do you have peace".

When meeting for the first time, older Koreans will tend to ask about your age, your parents' jobs, your job, and your education level. If you feel uncomfortable about the questions, just provide short answers and discreetly try to change the topic if possible.

When picking something up or taking something from somebody older, always use two hands. If you have to use one hand, you can simply support your right arm with your left hand. Likewise, when shaking hands with somebody older support your right arm with your left hand.

It is customary to take off your shoes in houses and in many traditional restaurants.

Koreans in general have very strong nationalistic views and would view any criticism of their country with varying degrees of hostility. To avoid getting into the bad books of your hosts, it is advisable to praise the country or, at least, to avoid bringing up anything negative about it.

Avoid bringing up the Japanese occupation, Dokdo, the Korean war of the early 1950s and US foreign policy, or engage in other political discussions unless mentioned to you as these delicate topics are likely to get you on someone's bad side and can lead to intense debates, use of negative epithets, or even violence. Also, do not attempt to compliment North Korea in any way.

South Korean households may have strict rules about recycling, for example one bin may be for paper only, as to another in the kitchen for food/drink containers.

Do not pour your own drink, but do pour for others. When dining with Koreans, the oldest always eats first. It is common to hear people talking loudly in restaurants, as a sign of being happy and enjoying the food. Also, slurping noodles is actually expected, as it shows that you enjoy the food and you are appreciating the cooking well.

Alike other Asian countries, when giving tips in restaurants, it is polite to fold the bill and hand it into the waiter's hands secretly and quietly, rather than leaving it on the table or displaying/waving the bill in full shape like the social norm in Western countries. Similarly, in households, when giving money to younger people, it is more acceptable to fold the money and place it in a piece of a paper, preferably an envelope.

The further you are away from metropolitan areas the more conservative the people are.


Korea has several English language media sources for daily news and other information.

News Service

Yonhap News Agency (http://english.yonhapnews...)

Daily Newspapers

Hankyoreh (

The Korea Times (

The Korea Herald (

The Chosun Ilbo (


Arirang TV ( available via cable

AFN Korea (http://myafn.dodmedia.osd...) available to US military community or via cable


TBS e-FM 101.3 FM

AFN channel 1530 AM and 102.7 FM in Seoul; in other areas, frequencies may be different.

Arirang Radio available Korea DMB Service; your car or mobile'

emergency numbers

Police: 112 from a phone and region code-112 from a cellular phone

Fire and ambulance services: 119 and region code-119 from a cellular.

Emergency-service English interpreters are available 24 hours a day.


With one of the highest rates of traffic deaths, Korean motorists will speed through pedestrian crossings, jump red lights and come within a hair-width distance to pedestrians and other cars alike. Even when the light turns, drivers will not stop. So, beware. Motorcyclists are particularly reckless weaving in and out on crowded sidewalks. It is up to you to avoid them.

Pedestrian crosswalks stay green for a very short period of time. When the walk signal is yellow and you are still at the curb do not cross. Instead, you should wait and be ready for the light to turn green. The moment it turns green, wait for about 3 to 5 seconds and see if other pedestrians start to cross, and if all the traffic has indeed stopped, then walk briskly to cross safely. It is safer to take underground passageways at busy intersections.

Don't expect the cars to stop for you at the zebra crossings and it is important for you to stay alert while crossing the roads.

natural hazards

South Korea is considerably less prone to natural disasters than its neighbours. Earthquakes are rare occurences, though minor ones occasionally occur in southwest of the country. While typhoons do not occur as often as in Japan, Taiwan or the Philippines, they are nevertheless an almost yearly occurance, and are occasionally known to be deadly and cause major property damage.


South Korea is a "relatively" safe country, with "reported" crime rates significantly lower than in Western countries, although theft, assault and hotel burglary might happen in major cities such as Busan or Seoul. Take care especially in known tourist areas. Use only legitimate taxis. Illegitimate taxis run even from the airport, and their safety and honesty cannot always be guaranteed.

local laws

Ignorance of the law here is no excuse for breaking them and can even be seen as a reason for harsher punishment. Penalties concerning drug offenses may seem particularly harsh to westerners. They include heavy fines, lengthy jail sentences and immediate deportation. Submitting fraudulent documentation for obtaining visas can result in the same and detainment as well. Even giving somebody an English lesson can get you deported you have to get a special visa to be allowed to teach English, and then only at your place of employment.