Travel Tips South Korea
Languages spoken: Korean (official)
- Overall English-speaking level: better in Seoul, but on average, Korean adults know very little spoken English. Younger children are more apt to have a slightly better understanding of English.
Time of year to go
- Peak travel times: Peak times would be around national holidays (Lunar New Year in January and Chuseok in September). Traveling to Jeju-do (Jeju-island) is more difficult during the Summer months because of the beautiful climate.
- Off Peak travel times:
- Entry visa: S.Korea does not require a visa to enter and visit for up to three months (if you are a U.S. citizen.) If you want to work however, you will require an E-2 Visa, and appropriate documentation.
- Exit visa: None required, unless you are working, in which they check your E-2 Visa and Alien Registration Card (ARC.)
- Vaccines: None needed. If you work in South Korea, they do test for drugs and other diseases (AIDS, etc.) before you begin your contract.
- Korean medicine can be very hit or miss. Since medical coverage is universal, you pay very little to visit a doctor or a hospital. However the language barrier can often make it a little discouraging. Doctors often prescribe pill packets that are far more potent than what Westerners are used to (i.e.: if you take an anti-diarrhetic, be prepared to not go to the bathroom for a few days.)
What to know when you arrive
- Tipping is not customary in S.Korea. In fact, in many areas that Westerners are accustomed to tipping (taxis, haircuts, drinks at a bar), it is seen as rude because the recipient can be seen as not providing an appropriate service or that they are poor.
- Restaurants: If you do tip, at most 10%. Again, it is very rare for people to tip.
- Taxis: Taxis often give you a look of shock when you try to tip them. However some who are used to carting foreigners around almost expect it. It depends on your region. More populous cities may have more taxis like this. However 90% of all taxis don’t expect tips.
- Salons/Services: If you get your haircut, it is almost never expected, and always received with a smile; however this could be because they are shamed. If you go to a booking club however (read: sex club), then tipping or buying bottles for your “guests” is expected.
- Hotels: I have never had to tip at a hotel, nor have I known anyone to do this.
Tips for avoiding tourist scams:
- Honor and respect are pretty important in Korea, so you do not get a lot of scams. The only real scam that I have heard of is taxis that take you for rides but charge you an exorbitant amount. Fortunately these are ONLY found when you are leaving Incheon Airport. As long as you don’t take a taxi to Seoul, you will be fine, otherwise, it will cost you $100 when you could have taken the bus for about $15, or the train for $5.