Is South Korea Safe? What You Need To Know

Political issues on the Korean Peninsula are often in the news, but is it something travelers should be worried about? We take a look at safety while traveling in South Korea.

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Seoul skyline, South Korea Photo © iStock/uschools

North Korea and South Korea officially are still at war. No surrender or peace pact was ever signed. Consequently, the media likes to report about the tension on the peninsula regularly. Things were especially tense in 2017 and early 2018 with sabrer-rattling (or missile rattling) from North Korea, and the US President making undiplomatic comments via Twitter. Despite this, 15 million people visited South Korea in 2018, and it is still considered one of the safest destinations in the world.

Here's everything visitors need to know about safety while traveling in South Korea.

Is Seoul safe?

In South Korea (where reporting North Korean rhetoric is banned) life goes on as usual. They're used to the mad cousin up north and figure he's going through a bad patch (maybe it's the phase of the moon?). In fact, the South Korean tourism board announced they had record visitor numbers in 2018, with no sign of a drop-off in arrivals.

The hotels are full, the flights are heavily booked and you can see plenty of tourists from China on the streets of Seoul.

The US, Australia and UK travel advisories all indicate there is little to worry about and travelers should take precautions as they normally would when traveling.

If you're trying to find the best time of year to travel to South Korea, perhaps avoid typhoon season, which runs from June to November. If you have a trip booked for typhoon season, stay up to date ahead of your flight to make sure there are no cancellations due to severe weather.

It's up to the individual to assess the level of risk and decide for themselves and their particular circumstances if now is the right time to go to South Korea. Keep an eye on developments and travel advisories. But make sure you know the difference between rhetoric, propaganda and real risk.

North Korea: the next-door neighbor

The warning for visitors (and presumably tourists) usually occurs a day after a warning from North Korea, advising foreign governments to evacuate their embassies because their safety couldn't be guaranteed in the event of hostilities.

In response no foreign embassies have closed, no foreign government has issued a travel warning and no foreign government has raised its alert status.

There's been one exception to the diplomatic equivalent of telling North Korea to "talk to the hand", with Japan deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries around Tokyo in February 2016. But this may be a propaganda move. The missiles have been placed in very visible locations in the center of the city when they would be just as effective placed in military installations elsewhere.

How real is the threat of nuclear war from North Korea?

Aside from the continual tit for tat between North Korea and the US and the occasional weapons test, Kim Jong Un hasn't really followed through on any threats.

With one exception there has been no military activity of significance. No massing of troops on the border or activation of hardware. The one exception is the shifting of a missile unit to the east coast for another ballistic missile "test"- another reason why Japan has deployed Patriot missiles. Tensions also tend to heighten when there are joint US-South Korea exercises.

Despite those crazy neighbor style threats from the north, South Koreans tend to go about their lives. 

Recently, there has been a show of diplomacy by both Korean nations with athletes competing together at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Athletes also marched together during the opening ceremony under a unified peninsula flag. It was 12 years ago when this last happened at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Dignitaries including Kim Jong Un's sister made the trip south, the first time anyone from the Kim dynasty has visited its southern neighbor. And with opportunities for future talks between the two nations, it raises some hope for more peaceful times on the Korean Peninsula and potential unification.

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13 Comments

  • Claire Algarme said

    I took the risk and went to Seoul last week on the brink of the news of North Korea closing its industrial zone. Yes, life goes on as usual in Seoul. Now, I'm back home in Manila. Fear does not hold us back. Otherwise, we won't be going galavanting around the world.

  • Arum Lee said

    South Korea isn't dangerous at all. It's only a political tug of war.
    You will enjoy the visiting and will absolutely safe!

  • Fiona Neb said

    I worked with the loveliest and safest people on earth and a very christian country!!!! Yes they ignore the northern threats but you see, the two countries share a province cut by the DMZ and speak the same language and South wants unification of both DROK with its ROK. Night clubs in Seoul are safe and places of energy and relaxation with locals highly interested in the foreigners presence.
    The North only wants American Bases in South Korea to leave in actual fact. Vibrant city and people with all night sauna places where teens meet and socialize overnight in a public place which is cheap accommodation and entertainment for them. Cheap stay for a foreigner with baths and spas....which are separate sex so boys can't get in with the girls naked but can lounge together afterwards in light shorts and Tshirt.Zimzilban!
    Great idea.!!

  • elwyn foster said

    I am leaving Australia on the 3 rd May is it safe to travel ..

  • Dave said

    Here now with wife and 2 young kids. Was contemplating last week to cancel (even notified the hotels to see what my options were) but just bought an additional insurance then went ahead. Lazing in Grand Children's Park now with my kid taking an afternoon nap amongst some oldies singing lullabies whilst wife is out shopping with infant daughter. At least we'd all go together if anything happens and amongst some great company!

  • Lou said

    I could only find this old article about safety in Seoul. I'll be flying to Seoul upcoming Monday for my studies. I'm planning to study 5 months in Seoul (august till january). Still same hassle now in 2017 as in 2013, or should I be worried by now? Hope someone can help me out!

  • Letícia Rollemberg said

    I'm on a similar situation as Lou, i just got the opportunity to study in a south korean university for 6 months as an exchange student, but it starts on the January of 2018. My parents are convinced it is 100% not safe to go, but i know this is a one life-time opportunity and i've been trying my best to learn the language on my own already...Can anyone give recent feedback?

  • Jay said

    Like South Korea is one of the safest country on earth! It is true that there is no crime at all, but a lot of S. Koreans just go around at late night even 2AM or whenever and they just get some milk or snacks at convenience stores! Yeah, it is agreeable that N. Korea makes provocations sometimes, but Korean military is not weak as all Koreans serve military service for two years and we, America, do have strong alliance with S. Korea. Enjoy trips in S. Korea!

  • Nicole said

    A lot of people are asking updates so here’s the deal. Despite North Korea and South Korea being at a stalemate, South Korea is one of the most developed and fast paced countries in the world, especially Seoul. Traveling there, realistically has no danger. No one who lives in South Korea are constantly worried about North Korea, they’ve become desentisied to the old scare tactics (in a good way, since there’s hardly any if ever, follow through). Seoul is a lovely, modern, and beautiful city and there’s so much to do and explore from both the new and the old. There’s buzzing nightlife, incredibly accessible public transportation, both cheap/traditional street food and extravagant restaurants, not to mention the historical palaces and mountains you can visit/hike. Don’t let what you hear stop you from visiting South Korea! There’s a huge foreigner population as well so you won’t feel left out if you go to a bar and mingle with some English speakers (the foreigner town is called itaewon).

  • Susan Colllins said

    S. Korea is very clean and very safe with friendly people.
    One of my favorite places to visit.

  • K8 Russell said

    What about the air quality? Is this a problem for visitors in March 2019?

  • olive kim said

    i am looking to visit south korea soon with my husband

  • Keith Kanak said

    What does it cost to check in to a hotel, or even a hostel?

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