Are you thinking about moving to South Korea? Or playing with the thought of visiting the country for a longer period of time? Great! You have come to the right place. I have been in South Korea now for a bit over two months and my life has kind of turned into a routine. I got used to things now that might have seemed a little weird to me at the beginning.
And I also thought now would be the perfect time to write my: “25 things you should know before traveling to South Korea” post. This list might differ depending on where in South Korea you will go, but these are just things that I personally noticed and wanted to share with you guys (I’m in Busan by the way, so all the way in the South). I won’t keep you any further, let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
- The metro system is awesome
- Koreans often brush their teeth everywhere
- The food is pretty spicy
- You will probably end up eating Kimchi with every dish
- The shopping malls are department stores
- Koreans put a lot of effort into their appearances
- People eat a lot of fish and seafood
- Karaoke is a big deal on a night out
- You are expected to eat everything with chopsticks
- Hygiene products are really expensive
- This country is coffee heaven
- Tattoos are illegal
- Korean phones need to have the sound on when taking a picture
- Shopping is really cheap
- People sometimes cut the line
- Most people do not speak English
- You are allowed to drink on the street
- Soju, which means “burned liquour” made of rice is the most common alcohol
- KakaoTalk is like Whatsapp
- Baseball is a big deal
- Korean BBQ is the best thing ever
- Korean couples wear matching clothes a lot
- There are a lot of Love Motels
- And also there are a lot of gaming halls
- It’s really difficult to find trash cans
The metro system is awesome
The metro pretty much takes your everywhere in the big cities. It’s always on time and arrives really regularly as well.
It was a little bit confusing at the beginning but if you have figured it out, it actually makes a lot of sense. Tickets can be purchased at the station or to make your life a little easier T-money cards can be purchased at every convenient store. You can top them off with any amount of money and just scan the card when entering the station.
A typical metro ride in Seoul or Busan is usually around 1300 to 1500 KRW ($1.15 – $1.33)
Koreans often brush their teeth everywhere
So I don’t know what is up with that, but it is totally normal to see people brushing their teeth in the university bathroom or at the train station. I read that Koreans brush their teeth after every meal. I even saw some people walking around through the hallways with toothbrushes. Still not used to that one!
The food is pretty spicy
Even if you are not looking for spicy food, everything is going to turn out spicy eventually. So get used to your mouth burning all the time.
You will probably end up eating Kimchi with every dish
Kimchi is like the traditional Korean side dish, and you guessed it right, it is spicy as well. It is made out of fermented vegetables, mostly caba cabbage.
Most Koreans even have a separate fridge in their homes dedicated to Kimchi. I didn’t even like Kimchi at the beginning but I’m pretty sure I am going to miss it when I go home at some point.
The shopping malls are department stores
South Korea is home to many big shopping malls. However, they are a little different from what you might be used to from other countries. These malls are like department stores so all brands are somehow together and every floor is just a like a new massive store.
It’s common to find other non-shopping related activities in these department stores. An example for that might be a cinema or am ice-skating place. So random!
Koreans put a lot of effort into their appearances
I always feel really under-dressed when walking around on the streets in Korea. Especially in Seoul! Did you know that Seoul is the world’s capital of cosmetic surgery?
Korean people are always dressed so nicely and they look like they take a lot of time in the morning to do their make-up.
People eat a lot of fish and seafood
Maybe that is a Busan thing, since Busan has the tenth largest port in the world and one of the biggest fish markets. But at least, down here people eat a lot of fish and seafood.
As someone who does not eat fish nor seafood, this can get difficult at times as you will find it in the most random places.
Karaoke is a big deal on a night out
You have not had a proper night out in Korea if you didn’t end up drunk in a Karaoke bar. Now, I sound like a dying pig when I sing but even I gave it a go (sorry, about all the One Direction songs to whoever was there).
It’s not as bad as it sounds, it’s not an actual bar but several different rooms where you get to choose the songs yourself and only embarrass yourself in front of people you know.
You are expected to eat everything with chopsticks
This probably does not come as a surprise but I have been getting really good in eating everything with chopsticks by now: salad, apples, pasta,.. You name it!
Hygiene products are really expensive
Shampoo or Deodorant can be really expensive in Korea. I know that is the case in a lot of countries, but coming from Germany where everything is really cheap and I can get Shampoo for a $1, this is quite shocking.
This country is coffee heaven
There are so many coffee places here in South Korea, it’s really difficult to decide where to get coffee. It’s also quite cheap! Sometimes it feels like there are five different coffee stores next to each other.
Tattoos are illegal
So in Korea, only people who have a doctor license are allowed to handle needles. This leads to tattoos being illegal, I guess, unless you find a doctor that decided to become a tattoo artists.
Korean phones need to have the sound on when taking a picture
I didn’t even know that until we talked about it in my media class. If you take pictures the sound has to be on if it is a Korean phone to avoid inappropriate pictures being taken without people knowing about it. In most cases you are not able to turn the sound of when you buy a Korean phone. Or some Samsung phones, even when bought overseas, will just switch the loud clicking sound on and you are not able to turn it off again.
Shopping is really cheap
There are so many possibilities to do some shopping here in Korea. And it is really cheap as well if you go to the right places. I bought sweaters for 10000KRW ($8.84). But watch out, some shirts have writing on it that doesn’t make any sense at all and even has grammar mistakes.
People sometimes cut the line
Some of my friends said this has never happened to them, but to me this happened a lot of times. Especially in the first week. I would stand in line at the store and then someone just cuts the line and goes to the cashier desk even thought they saw that I was standing in line.
Most people do not speak English
You will probably tell me now, they do. But no! I get really excited if a Korean can say something like yes or no because that barely happens. In Seoul it is a little better but in Busan I have had a lot of problems with English, even at the Immigration office.
A bit of Korean knowledge might be handy, before coming here I suppose! Even in classes (which are in English) some people don’t speak English. I really did not expect that.
You are allowed to drink on the street
Mostly, I’ve only seen foreigners doing that but it is allowed to drink on the streets.
Soju, which means “burned liquour” made of rice is the most common alcohol
It is also really cheap, about 1600KRW ($1,43) per bottle in the convince store. It is a lot cheaper than beer and usually has about 14% so it is quite cheap to get drunk. They have different flavours, such as blueberry, orange or grapefruit.
KakaoTalk is like Whatsapp
You can always see Korean people being on KakaoTalk. I’m sure there is a lot more to do on it then message, but since it’s mostly in Korean, I wouldn’t know. However, it’s the main communication source, so you might want to download it before coming to Korea.
Baseball is a big deal
Koreans are really huge baseball fans, which I would have never expected. They will show the games everywhere and you can always see people live streaming the games in the metro. Going to a baseball game has been one of my favourite experiences in Korea. I turned into a huge Lotte Giant fan and now the season is over, which is really sad.
Even if you are not the biggest fan of baseball, the atmosphere is really great and you will have the songs stuck in your head for the rest of the day. And you can get tickets for about $10 already!
Korean BBQ is the best thing ever
Another thing that you should know before traveling to South Korea is that Korean BBQ is the best thing even! Be ready to eat a lot of Korean BBQ. You will cook your own meat on your table and then wrap it in salad and some vegetables, it tastes pretty great.
Korean couples wear matching clothes a lot
This is actually a thing and you can see that a lot. Some couples will wear matching outfits or just wear the same colours or something like that.
There are a lot of Love Motels
I guess because a lot of people still live at home or in dormitories, they decided to put a love motel in every corner? You can rent a room for the night or the hour, but not sure what’s up with that.
And also there are a lot of gaming halls
I do not know how else to call them, but there are a lot of places were you can play mario kart or throw basketballs or try to catch Pokemon. These places are really fun but you are also tempted to leave a lot of money behind.
It’s really difficult to find trash cans
And the streets are still so clean! It really takes forever to find a trash can and then you end up carrying around you empty coffee cups for an hour or so. Often there will just be trash bags on the side of the street and then at some point you will see people collecting all the trash at night. It’s surprising how the streets are so clean though without trash cans.
So here you have it! My list of things you should know before traveling to South Korea. Did any one these come as a surprise to you or would you add anything?
If you are looking for something to do in Busan then you might also want to check out my post about the Gamcheon Cultural Village. It’s this really colourful village up the hill and definitely a must-see but have a look yourself.
And for the cheapest accommodation in South Korea, check out Hostelworld, where I book all of my accommodation when traveling 🙂
Have a lovely day,
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