5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting South Korea

South Korea is relatively easy to get around, but it still helps to be prepared and know a bit about their climate, transit, and local customs. Our nomads offer some travel advice and tips for your next trip.


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Did you know, in South Korea you should never leave chopsticks in your rice?

You should never beckon anyone with palm up, using one finger? That's the way Koreans call their dogs.

That writing someone's name in red symbolizes death?

Well, now you do. Here are five other things to know to help you plan your trip to South Korea.

1. Know what to pack

South Korea has a lot of variation in weather and temperature from season to season, so pack accordingly, and be ready in case of rain or snow.

"It gets cold! I was there in December and it dropped to well below freezing. While I'm used to cold weather, I hadn't packed the right clothing with me, so I didn't enjoy South Korea as much as I could have. Be sure to carefully think through your packing list." - Gary Arndt, Everything-Everywhere

2. Try the public transport

Public transportation in South Korea is fast, efficient, and clean, ranging from high-speed bullet trains (KTX) to ferries, buses, and taxis. Many major cities have their own subway systems – Seoul’s subway is considered one of the best in the world. Public transit is typically safe, but it’s always wise to keep your wits about you, and be aware of local etiquette – for example, don’t sit in the seats at the ends of the subway car, even if the car isn’t full. Those are reserved for the pregnant, elderly, and disabled.

"If you're on a crowded bus and standing, don't be surprised if a passenger seated under you tugs at your bag. They are typically just offering to have you rest your bag on their lap. Politely decline or, if feeling it's safe, place the bag on their lap, but keep the strap around your arm/wrist." - Christina Tunnah, World Nomads

3. Get a travel card

Transportation cards are invaluable if you’ll be taking public transit in South Korea. These convenient, reloadable cards can be used to pay fares on public buses, subways, and taxis in cities around the country. There are three main options: the Korea Tour Card, T-Money, and Cashbee. The Korea Tour Card is for international visitors only – it’s more expensive than the others, but includes small discounts on certain popular attractions. T-Money and Cashbee are somewhat more widely accepted.

Transportation cards can be purchased at airports, convenience stores, or subway stations. Once you’ve purchased your card, you’ll need to load it with money for your fares.

4. Be prepared for crowds and high prices in summertime

"Peak summer, from late June to late August, starts off with the monsoon season, when the country receives some 60% of its annual rainfall, and is followed by unpleasantly hot and humid weather.

Although air conditioning makes summers much more bearable these days, many locals flee the muggy cities for the mountains, beaches, and islands, which become crowded, and accommodation prices double. There is also the chance of a typhoon or two." Lonely Planet

5. Look out for public demonstrations

Public protest is part of everyday life in South Korea, but occasionally they can turn violent. You should also bear in mind that large gatherings have an extra degree of risk these days due to COVID-19.

"News listings about demonstrations should be checked, especially near US Military bases." - Keith from GeckoGo.com

Learn the local lingo

It always helps to know a little bit of the local language. We know that Korean isn't exactly a language you can pick up overnight, so here are a couple phrases to get you started:

Yes: YE





It is nice to meet you: BAN-GAP SUP-NEE-DA

Take me to my hotel: HOTEL-LO GAP-SEE-DA

Please: No direct translation. Has to be used in context.

Want to avoid faux pas and causing offense? Get more etiquette tips for South Korea here.

Learn more about South Korea on the World Nomads podcast. How hikers might find themselves invited to a family picnic - beyond barbecue (and the secret 'man food') - and how to score yourself the best value round-the-world ticket.

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  • Chris said

    I wish I had known more basic phrases to get around the city, it'd make vacation much easier. I didn't know it was so easy for people from the UK and Canada to get a tourist visa. I didn't know Korea had such an intense rainy season in the late summer... watch out!

  • Irene said

    Thanks for the vital Info.
    It helps having the local area maps too, for quick referencing.
    Recommend subway transport, it is cheaper.

  • Chris said

    A little help on the basic phrases

    Yes - Ne
    No - A-ni-yo
    Thank you - Go - mop - su - mnida
    Nice to meet you - man -nesso pan-gap-su-mnida

  • Karen Leanne Sandberg said

    Before leaving CANADA and United Kingdom tourists visa,. passport., did not know how they had understanding for summer season,. Language SOUTH KOREANS will be helpful., traveling basic phrases,..?

  • Steven said

    Great tips and i agree that before we visit sout korea we should learn their culture and some korean words too

  • a person said

    when asking for something : ju-saey-o
    example - mul ju-saey-o ( water please)

  • Esse said

    Korea seems pretty cool. Visiting Seoul is on my bucket list ???? #OneDay

  • S.S. said

    I lived in South Korea for 13 years. Living in there was lot better than just visting. You should spend more time at shopping and make some Korean friends. They speaks English fluently and helpful. (but women over 40 years aren't). To learn few words would be great. I really recommend to go South Korea, especially if you're interested in K-pop.

  • Furaha Nyagawa said

    Am so happy and jealous for you I wish to visit Korea I love that country so much

  • Laila said

    Woooow~! this is kinda helpful. I definitely want to go to South Korea one day! :3

  • Pasio said

    Wow~ Fantastic!!:) It's really so helpful. When I traveled to Seoul, Korea, I played with Korean local friends who are sooooo kind and really soooooo funny. I want to share the website http://tourmatekorea.kr ! Enjoy your Trip!:)

  • 심준호 said

    I'm Korean, and Some Local lingo were be rude in Korea. If you want to ask where can I find Hotel,
    You must say "Hotel lo ga nun gill zom al su it ul ga yo?"
    And Koean Taxi is not too expensive to traval.
    I believe half of U.S or Japan.
    If You visit korea contact me I'll answer you.
    skpe ID: wokoung2002.
    And If you have a question, Ask Me, or who is not over40. Because Korea developed very very fast, So almost them Lived poor conditions.And worst Learning condition.But now, you may see how the Korea amazing.

  • Samaher said

    Hi ,

    I am from Egypt basically I will visit Korea in June or July still thinking about the month and am a little bit confused cause I don't know which places to visit and stuff like this . So if any one can help this is my kakotalk ID samaherxox .

    Thank you

  • Al said

    Hello there am an African lady ,,been to all Asian countries but s.korea.i want to visit there next year can someone tell me how they relate to Africans.

  • Rachel said

    I'm going to Korea when im a bit older, my question is what places should I add on my bucket list apart from Seoul & Busan?

  • Rebecca Thering said

    I lived in Korea from 2013-14, and wish I had known more about ordering food at restaurants + street food. Korean cuisine is SO delicious, but restaurants can be intimidating when the only menu is a picture-less plaque on the wall in Korean.

    That's why I created <a href="http://www.rebewithaclause.com/p/korean-food-restaurant-guide.html">The Beginner's Guide to Korean Food and Restaurants</a>, to help fellow travelers have a much more comfortable, traditional dining experience while in Korea.


    Enjoy! ^^

  • Patt said

    My 3 super great suggestions for you..
    First, Taxies are fast and cheap, morning and night. Cash, credit cards are all allowed. My fave taxies are orange colored since they're so nice and clean :)
    Second, Prepaid sim card. I highly recommend KRSIM brand from CU Convenience Store in the inches airport. Used couple other brands, but this one has no disconnections.
    Third, keep cash all the time. They sometimes don't accept credit cards.. especially street food market or even in some Taxies.. Cash cash and cash..!!

  • Usman said

    I m from india. I m verry exicted to go to south korea,seoul and i like their culture i may come to visit.
    Thank 2 u all 4 the rule

  • Ambery said

    I also enjoyed you shared all these alluring things while the journey. I have captured a lot of images there. Now my elder brother has a plan to go there after finishing his <a href=http://www.bestbustours.com/3-days-from-new-york-to-acadia-park-maine-tour.html>portland to acadia national park</a> to enjoy some time with his some office colleages. I hope so that it will be a really great time for them.

  • Adejolu adedoyin said

    I really wish to go there but the only one problem i have is that. I don't have anybody there as a friend or family...i have to prepare myself for visit Korea because I like everything about the country

  • Dan said

    @ Al, korean relate very well now with African...Just that the language is a little bit of issue for easy communication...And @ Adejolu adedoyin you can message or talk to me if you want to come korea on my [email protected] or you skype me on walexy58

  • Lua Viet said

    These all look amazing!! Thank you for share

  • Ocean said

    hi, my family (three children ages 12, 8 and 4) are visiting Seoul in July and was wondering if anyone would recommend staying in Gangnam Gu or Myeongdong area. We are open to either to be close to shops, restaurants and access to places where we will be able to visit cultural and historical places plus scenic spots for photos. Any suggestions, most appreciated.

  • clara said

    I am the same as you. Very fond of aoa in Korea. And I really want to vacation in Korea. I like your holiday content. Thank you for sharing your holiday experience.

  • Jay said

    Both my father and I were stationed in Northern South Korea decades apart from each other. He was actually at the DMZ whilst I was at Camp Casey/TDC. I did a tour of Seoul (with a disposable camera) that was very entertaining/interesting. The DMZ was very intimidating. I would love to see how much has changed after nearly 30 years! My Google Translate app (then "World Lens?") did very well in Spain/South America. I am curious to see how well it does with Japanese/Korean. We actually drove straight through a student protest without incident in Seoul once. I walked through a Political one in Buenos Aires not too long ago. They must have thought that I was Brazilian for some reason, but I digress.

  • Mark said

    So good tips there. I would also suggest writing hotel/place names down in Korean if you want to catch taxi as it helps a lot. Definitely a good point about learning the language, it has helped me significantly.

    Another thing is to research the food you want to eat so you don't miss out. I have a list of korean food here which I recommend people travelling to Korea should eat: https://boundforbusan.com/?p=1148

  • Jackson said

    Oh how I long to be in Korea.I have a dream but no one to connect and enable

  • Carolyn said

    Biggest suggestion I have that all people should know when traveling to/from Korea. SAVE A PET'S LIFE by VOLUNTEERING to have a DOG fly on your ticket back home!! There are plenty of shelter's looking for volunteer's to let a dog be added to their ticket, check out https://ypaprescue.wordpress.com/.

    It doesn't cost you anything and there is minimal coordination done on your part. The shelter will get your flight reservation and personal information to contact the airline to add the pet on your ticket.

    On the day of your flight, they will meet you at the airport for check-in with the dog and all the paperwork done to provide to the airline. They check-in to the flight with you and then the airline will issue you a bill to bring over to another counter where the shelter volunteer will pay the fee and you will receive your boarding ticket. When you arrive at your destination, you claim on customs that you brought your dog back and go to baggage to pick up the pet. The adopters will meet you at arrivals to get the dog and you walk away feeling warm and fuzzy that you saved a dog's life.

  • Ayomide Mubinah said

    I really wish being in Korea
    Like ..I love dat place merely from watching there movies and have learn their languages alot

  • Adcel joy concepcion jang said

    Can i ask something ? Now have flight for korea?

  • Sophie said

    I'm Korean and impressed that many foreigners want to visit my country.
    As many K-drama show, the night of Korea never sleep.
    You can watch it just enter the keyword "Gangnam' into YouTube.

    And Korea's security and safety are top of the world.
    Even if you leave your laptop in your seat at the café, it is never disappeared or be robbed.
    When I was in New York, it seems to be weird that everyone protects from danger and keeps their stuff safe all day.

  • samuel otabil said

    very helpful keep it up

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