Traveling to South Korea for the first time: useful travel information (2023)

Are you planning a trip to South Korea? Good! Here are all the useful travel tips for South Korea you will need to make your vacation careless and memorable.

When we first visited Seoul as tourists for 3 days back in 2019 we didn’t have much time to go outside of the tourist hot spots. Even so, we still had to know a few things to manage to navigate the city.

Seoul is a huge metropolis, with over 30 million inhabitants and no matter how long you spend here, you won’t be able to do and see it all.

Start here when planning a trip to Korea and it will all be a breeze.

Planning a trip to Korea – Useful Information

Money/ Local currency

The local currency in South Korea is the Korean WON – KRW.

1 USD is roughly 1400 KRW.

You won’t need cash almost anywhere, because shops and restaurants accept payment by card for any amount, unlike in most places in Europe.

Local Language

The local language is Korean.

In most touristic places you will find information also in English, but as you step outside of Seoul this gets a bit more uncommon.

People usually understand English but don’t speak it. However, you will manage to get around just fine.

Weather – the best time to visit South Korea

South Korea has 4 delimited seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

As a general rule this is the split between seasons by months:

Spring – from March to May, one of the nicest times to visit South Korea, with mild temperatures, cherry blooms, and many activities around this. Read the complete guide for visiting Seoul in spring!

Summer – from June to August, hot and humid, longer days, but not precisely the best time to visit.

Autumn – from September to November, the best time to visit, with stunning landscapes, perfect temperature, not too much rain, and not so much pollution.

Winter – from December to February, temperatures drop fast and you will want to spend more time inside than outside. South Korea has snow and you can visit mountain resorts for skiing. Read the complete guide for visiting South Korea in winter!

(Video) THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING SOUTH KOREA

Visa (K-ETA)

Depending on where you are traveling from, you will or won’t need a visa. Check your Visa requirements here!

Currently, South Korea has in place a visa-free online application process for certain eligible countries (you can check the list here) that you must obtain before your trip.

K-ETA or the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization must be obtained before boarding a flight or ship. Here is some useful information regarding the K-ETA visa:

  • The approval process takes more than 72 hours, thus it is useful to apply in advance;
  • You will need to have accommodation booked before applying for the K-ETA, the address is one of the required information.
  • The validity of the K-ETA visa is of 2 years from the date of approval;
  • With the K-ETA you can stay in South Korea for 30 to 90 days;
  • However, if you are visiting for travel purposes, and plan to return after your first visit, you will have to come back and update your visa with the new hotel address;
  • One person can apply for up to 30 persons and can pay for all at once;
  • K-ETA price: 10.000 won (around 9-10 USD)

Getting to South Korea

If you are traveling from Europe, you will most likely need an overlay either in Turkey or in Dubai/Doha.

If you are traveling from the US, direct flights are linking some of the most important towns to Seoul.

Use Skyscanner to check for the best flight options and prices.

Seoul is served by 2 airports, but most international flights land and depart from Incheon International Airport. Read the complete guide on how to get to Seoul from Incheon Airport!

Internal flights and some international flights (leaving for Japan for example) land and depart from Gimpo Airport.

Read also: How to get from Incheon to Hongdae, Myeongdong, and Bukchon Hanok Village

Internet / SIM Cards

When traveling to South Korea you will need a SIM card and internet. Even though there is free wifi almost anywhere in Seoul or other major towns, you don’t want to risk being stuck without translation or directions.

The easiest solution is to rent a 4G Pocket Wifi and pick it up from Incheon Airport as soon as you land. You get high-speed internet access anywhere, you can choose the number of days, and you can connect up to 3 devices for the price. Get your WIFI here!

(Video) Korea Travel Vlog: Traveling to SEOUL, KOREA for the First Time!

Another option is to get a Traveler SIM and Public Transportation Card. Choose between 5 and 60 days of validity, get unlimited 4G data, and a T-Money transportation card that can be used on public transportation anywhere in South Korea. Get your card here!

On my first trip to Seoul, I chose to buy a SIM card and it came in really handy. While you might find free wifi in many places around town, I felt much safer knowing I don’t depend on any location for my internet, especially since I was traveling alone for most of my trip.

Read the complete guide for choosing the best SIM Card or Pocket Wifi in South Korea!

Getting around in Seoul and South Korea

Infrastructure and public transportation are amazing in South Korea and will easily get you almost anywhere.

You will need aT-Money card– a rechargeable card you will be able to use on all public transportation means (subway, buses, trains), but also at different convenience stores. You can buy the card online before your arrival, and from any subway station or convenience store such as 7Eleven, GS25, EMart24, CU.

The cost of the card itself is 4000 KRW (3.6 USD) and you can top up at any of the above-mentioned stores – just know that you will be able to pay by card for the card itself, but you will need cash to top up.

Once you have charged it with money, you will have to validate it once you get on and off the bus or subway.

Seoul City Pass is another option for when you won’t be traveling outside of the capital city. It offers free unlimited transportation for 24, 48, or 72-hour, along with free entry to 40+ attractions and discounts to over 60 attractions.

Traveling between cities is easily done by train. KTX is extremely fast and can get you from the north of South Korea to the south in roughly 2.5 hours. Buy your tickets online ahead of time if you want to get the best prices.

Another option when you are planning to travel by train is to book aKorea Rail Passes for 2/3/4/5 days– the days don’t have to be consecutive, you can use KTX and KTX-Sancheon High-Speed Trains, along with other types of trains.

Another way of getting to the south of Jeju Island is by plane. There are plenty of internal flights departing and arriving at Gimpo Airport.

Inside Seoul, but also in other cities, you can rent a bike and do sightseeing on two wheels. In most areas of Seoul that will be a breeze because you will find well-maintained bike lanes. You will need to go to SeoulBike, register and create an account, connect your T-Money, and use it to purchase a rental voucher on the site.

Inside the app, scan the QR code of any bike and it will be released for use. You can leave it at any drop-off point in town, and inside the app ( for IOS | for Android), you can find a map with all the ones available around you.

Read the complete guide for Getting around Seoul here!

Tipping in South Korea

Tipping is not a thing in South Korea and you are not expected to leave anything at restaurants, cafes, or for tours. The same is valid for taxis because in most cases you will be paying by card either way.

Driving in South Korea

While many Koreans told us that driving in South Korea is challenging, coming from Romania we found it extremely easy and organized. People usually follow the rules, and roads are in exemplary shape, even though they can get extremely crowded at times.

(Video) Traveling to SEOUL, Korea for the First Time! 2022 Travel Guide 🇰🇷

They drive on the right side of the road in South Korea.

What you will need to rent a car in South Korea:

  • A valid international driving permit
  • Your driver’s license
  • You must be above 21 years old
  • Passport
  • A valid credit card in the name of the driver
  • A visa for South Korea

While most local websites are in Korean and will offer car renting services only if you have a local credit card, here are a few options for tourists:

  • RentalCars – is an aggregator that will help you save up to 70% on the car rental price. Unlike many aggregators, this one actually has cars in South Korea.
  • Klook – if you use this service you will also have to bring the printed version of the voucher.
  • Hertz is an international company operating car rentals, their website is in English and you can book your car by using an international card. They have 14 pick-up locations in Seoul, but also in other cities around South Korea.

Read the complete guide for Driving in South Korea here!

Useful apps to have

It is worth knowing that South Korea makes most things differently than the rest of the world, that’s why you will need to install certain apps before you go.

Since you won’t be able to use Google Maps, you will need Naver Maps (for IOS | for Android) or Kakao maps (for IOS | for Android). I found Naver easier to use and have it installed on my phone.

For translations, Papago is your savior. Use it on pictures or copy and paste the text. (for IOS | for Android)

Subway is another great app you will find handy when you travel by subway in Seoul. (for IOS | for Android)

The same is valid if you plan to travel more by bus – you must have the KakaoBus app (for IOS | for Android) which will show you bus maps but also arrival/departure times.

If you are planning to travel by taxi, in South Korea is easy and safe to get a cab off the street. However, it will be much better to book it through a dedicated app like KakaoTaxi (for IOS | for Android), especially when you don’t speak Korean (chances are the taxi driver will not understand your destination address in English).

Eating in South Korea

Why should there be a section about eating in South Korea? Well, because we want you to have all the possible information you would need to make your trip as carefree as possible.

Unlike in other tourist places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and even Vietnam or Thailand, in South Korea, you will find it hard to get a hold of a fork at a restaurant. Korean chopsticks are unique and different from the ones in other Asian countries, looking more like tweezers.

If you know you are not used to eating with chopsticks, make sure to bring your fork.

Another thing worth knowing is that some traditional restaurants will ask you to take off your shoes at the entrance.

Paying at restaurants or cafes in South Korea:

  • at most cafes, you will order at the desk and pay before the meal. You will either pick up your food/drinks or they will bring them to the table. Once done, you will be required to clean the table and bring the tray back.
  • at restaurants, you must wait to be seated by the staff. As soon as you order, they are very efficient and bring the food very fast, along with the check. When you are done eating, you will pay before exiting and don’t have to waste time waiting for the check or change.
  • in both cases, tipping is not custom.

Read the complete guide for Dining in South Korea here!

(Video) Travel Guide 2022: Where to Stay in South Korea

Toilets in South Korea

You might find this funny, but we thought this needs a paragraph of its own.

Usually, toilets in South Korea are extremely clean, even if we are talking about public toilets or the ones in shopping malls or cafes, or restaurants.

In some places, you will find “intelligent toilets” with heated seats, and an incorporated bidet. Flushing is done through a centralized panel you will usually find on the wall, written only in Korean. Make sure to have your phone with you!

Smoking in Seoul

If you are a smoker, Seoul might pose a few challenges.

As a rule, smoking outside designated areas is prohibited, even in open spaces; for example, you can’t smoke on the streets. Likewise, smoking in a bar or a terrace is out of the question! Still, circa 30% of Korean males are smokers (women less so). So how do they smoke, you might ask?

Most city neighborhoods, especially around office buildings or shopping malls, maintain smoking areas nearby – a small fenced place containing few benches and ashtrays, in most cases. Also, you might note a lot of cigarette butts on the ground, usually, at the corners of residential buildings or nearby restaurants or coffee shops; those are ‘unofficial’ smoking places. It is still illegal, but enforcement is less stringent.

Still, be aware that some fancier districts south of the Han river, like Gangnam, enforce a ‘smoke-free’ environment, meaning there are no smoking places at all! Fines are high, so I would urge you to respect the law.

The safest course of action is to ask the reception at your hotel or the waiter at the restaurant – they’ll guide you towards the closest smoking area.

Seoul Travel Guides

2 days in Seoul Itinerary

3 days in Seoul Itinerary

4 days in Seoul Itinerary

Best area to stay in Seoul

The best Day Trips from Seoul

Busan Travel Guides

Weekend in Busan itinerary

The Best Things to do in Haeundae Beach

FAQs

What do I need to know about traveling to South Korea? ›

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to South Korea
  • The Korean Alphabet is Easy as A-B-C.
  • Transportation is Efficient and Inexpensive.
  • It's Okay to Shout at Your Server.
  • Tipping isn't Necessary.
  • Public Bathrooms Can be a Bit Confusing.
  • South Korea is One of the Safest Countries in the World, but…
  • Wear Shower Shoes.
23 Jan 2017

Why South Korea is the best place to travel? ›

South Korea has a lot to offer: a rich and unique Asian culture, amazing Buddhist temples, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, delicious and healthy cuisine and a world-class city: Seoul, with everything from luxury hotels, high-tech stores and places to go out at night.

Is South Korea easy to travel? ›

Travelling around the country is simple – even if the train won't take you where you want to go, there's almost always a bus that will; should you have a choice, it's usually faster but more expensive to take the train.

Is Korea good for travel? ›

South Korea has become one of the top destinations for travelers to Asia in the last decade or so. It's not as expensive as, say, Japan, but it's also not somewhere you can live on a few pennies each day. It's great for solo travelers and its size means you can see a lot in a relatively short stay.

What is the best way to go South Korea? ›

How To Reach South Korea
  1. By Air. Air travel is the best way to travel to South Korea from India. ...
  2. By Rail. There are no direct roads connected India to South Korea, nor are there any trains that connect both countries. ...
  3. By Sea. If you like long luxurious holidays, then Cruises are the truly the best way for you to travel.

How long do you need to travel South Korea? ›

However, we recommend a two-week trip for you to fully experience and appreciate this small slice of heaven! A two-week tour in South Korea should allow you to visit most of the country's highlights at a relaxed pace, with plenty of time to shop and enjoy delicious local cuisine.

What should I bring for a trip to Korea? ›

Moving to Korea: The Ultimate Packing List
  • Power Strip. A small power strip is a must! ...
  • Unlocked Phone. Research whether you will need your phone unlocked before you come. ...
  • Pictures of home. Photos take up hardly any space, so pack a ton! ...
  • Bed sheets. ...
  • Towels. ...
  • Deodorant. ...
  • Tampons. ...
  • Pain Medication & Vitamins.
15 Jan 2015

What is special about South Korea? ›

100 days after their birth, a celebration is held for the baby. South Korea is the world leader in internet connectivity. Approximately 92% of the country's population are internet users, and they boast the world's fastest average connection speed. Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea.

Why do people go to Korea? ›

In 2021, around 47 percent of tourists stated that they chose South Korea as a travel destination in order to take food or gourmet tours. Other popular reasons included experiencing nature and going shopping.

Is Korea cheap to travel? ›

Between its vast and affordable transit system, wide range of dining options, and abundance of low-cost activities and attractions, South Korea can prove a relatively inexpensive travel destination.

Which country is the best to visit? ›

The best countries in the world: 2022 Readers' Choice Awards
  • UK. Score 89.12. ...
  • Denmark. Score 89.62. ...
  • Greece. Score 89.79. ...
  • India. Score 90.01. ...
  • Singapore. Score 90.09. ...
  • Thailand. Score 90.46. ...
  • Japan. Score 91.17. ...
  • Portugal. Score 91.22.

Is South Korea a safe place to travel alone? ›

If you plan to visit South Korea but don't have a travel companion, don't hesitate to do so! As someone who has traveled solo to more than 20 countries, Korea is one of the safest countries I've been to. And my trip was so much fun!

What is the best time to travel Korea? ›

The best time of year to visit South Korea is generally considered to be the spring months of April, May & June, and the autumn months of September, October & November. During these two seasons days are typically sunny and dry with comfortable average temperatures.

Is Korea a beautiful country? ›

South Korea is an extraordinary country filled with beautiful beaches, thriving cities, ancient temples, remarkable natural scenery and most importantly, friendly people. South Korea has come a long way since The Korean War ended in 1953.

Where is BTS house in Korea? ›

The house is located in PyeongChang, South Korea, and features world-class amenities such as an outdoor swimming pool, an in-house gym, a spacious kitchen, and several bedrooms. The mansion, hidden away from the noise of the city, was built from scratch last year and the members had a ball during their stay.

How much money do you need for a month in Korea? ›

Below is a look at the average monthly living costs for each place. On a national level, a family of four can expect to spend an average of 2,300,000 KRW per month (2,000 USD) in living expenses (excluding rent). A single expat can expect to pay 652,000 KRW (560 USD) per month (excluding rent).

How much money do you need when Travelling to Korea? ›

If you are traveling on a budget you can probably get around with 80 000 krw a day but you might not be staying in the nicest hotels or have the best food. For those on a mid range budget, 120 000 krw should be enough and for those on a luxury budget, a minimum of 200 000 krw should be ok.

How much money do I need for 10 days in South Korea? ›

How much money will you need for your trip to South Korea? You should plan to spend around ₩118,323 ($84) per day on your vacation in South Korea, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors.

What should I wear in Korea now? ›

The weather in spring (March, April and May), and Fall (September, October and November) is cooler, so long-sleeved shirts, pants and a sweater or jacket will work well. In summer (June, July, August) it is hot, humid and wet – so natural fabrics work well.

How much can I bring to Korea? ›

Foreign currency declaration upon arrival. If you bring in means of payment not exceeding USD 10,000 to Korea, you do not need any permission or declaration. In addition, there is no need to report or authorize the importation of promissory notes, letters of credit, or bills of exchange.

Do I need show money to go to Korea? ›

How much money should I show in my bank account? The South Korean Embassy did NOT mention any minimum balance requirement, but some people have been saying that you need to have at least Php 10,000 per day of your stay — you can use this as a standard but of course, it's always best if you have more.

What is the best thing about living in Korea? ›

Pros
  • Housing. Korean housing is well-made, high-tech and comfy. ...
  • Things to do. Korean history stretches back 5,000 years and is well-documented. ...
  • Infrastructure. Korea has 9 cities with over a million people and many are recently built. ...
  • Health and Safety. ...
  • Food. ...
  • People. ...
  • Opportunities. ...
  • Quality of life.
9 Mar 2021

Which thing is most famous in South Korea? ›

Top Attractions in South Korea
  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace. 10,682. Historic Sites • History Museums. ...
  2. Busan Gamcheon Culture Village. 2,972. Neighborhoods • Flea & Street Markets. ...
  3. Apsan Park. 204. Parks. ...
  4. Udo. 1,071. Islands. ...
  5. Songdo Central Park. 639. Parks. ...
  6. Seongsan Ilchulbong. 2,028. ...
  7. Jeju Olle Trail Routes. Hiking Trails. ...
  8. Hamdeok Beach. 517.

What is popular about Korea? ›

South Korea is famous for being the land of kimchi, K-pop, K-dramas, tech giant Samsung, automotive manufacturer Hyundai, soju, Korean fried chicken, Korean barbecue, the 12-step skincare routine, and of course, Gangnam Style. But there's so much more to this East Asian tiger than the trends it has given birth to.

Is South Korea clean country? ›

But Korea created the "Miracle on the Han River" and it is one of the cleanest nations on earth. This level of cleanliness was achieved through the efforts of both state and society.

Is South Korea open to tourists now? ›

Country-Specific Information. The U.S. Department of State currently has a level 1 travel advisory (Exercise Normal Precautions) for the Republic of Korea (ROK). Effective October 1, a COVID test, either Antigen or PCR, is not required for international arrivals to Korea, either before travel or after arrival.

What are the rules in South Korea? ›

Meeting & Greeting
  • Bowing is the traditional way to greet in South Korea.
  • Handshakes often accompany the bow among men.
  • Your left hand should support your right forearm when shaking hands.
  • Korean women do not always shake hands and may slightly nod instead of a full bow.
  • Always bow to individuals when departing.

Which is No 1 country in world? ›

The overall ranking of Best Countries measure global performance on a variety of metrics. Switzerland is the best country in the world for 2022.

What is the prettiest country? ›

  • New Zealand. #1 in Scenic. #11 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Greece. #2 in Scenic. #25 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Italy. #3 in Scenic. #14 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Switzerland. #4 in Scenic. #1 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Spain. #5 in Scenic. #16 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Norway. #6 in Scenic. ...
  • Australia. #7 in Scenic. ...
  • Ireland. #8 in Scenic.

Which country is safest to travel? ›

  1. Iceland. Ranked as the world's safest countries to travel to, Iceland is a top tier destination for a stress-free trip. ...
  2. Switzerland. ...
  3. Denmark. ...
  4. New Zealand. ...
  5. Canada. ...
  6. Spain. ...
  7. Portugal. ...
  8. Ireland.

Is South Korea safe for girl? ›

Korea is a relatively safe country for women travellers, and Koreans are generally friendly and helpful to visitors. Local attitude towards women is respectful so you will not be bothered in general.

Is it safe for girls in Korea? ›

A woman traveling alone in South Korea is as safe as in most major cities in the world. Still, you should avoid walking around alone at night in small alleys. If you want to avoid unnecessary stares, be sure to dress conservatively, avoiding crop-tops, miniskirts, or flip-flops.

Is South Korea safe for Alone girl? ›

With one of the lowest crime rates in the world, Seoul is the ideal destination for solo female travellers.

Is it hard to go to South Korea? ›

In general, moving to South Korea is easy as long as you are prepared before your arrival. Although the country has a long history of not preferring foreign migration, those sentiments have changed as Korea has started to welcome more and more international companies through its borders.

How much money do I need for 8 days in Korea? ›

You should plan to spend around ₩118,323 ($84) per day on your vacation in South Korea, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors. Past travelers have spent, on average, ₩30,541 ($22) on meals for one day and ₩17,227 ($12) on local transportation.

How much is visa to Korea? ›

Visa Application Fee for Each Visa Type(in USD)
Type of VisaFee
90 days or less Single-entry visaUSD 40
91 days or longer Single-entry visaUSD 60
Double-entry visa usable up to 2 timesUSD 70
Multiple-entry visaUSD 90

How long can you stay in Korea with a tourist visa? ›

South Korea tourist visas allow the holder to stay in South Korea for up to 90 days. The holder of a tourist visa is not allowed to work or engage in any other renumerated activities.

How much cash can you carry on a plane Korea? ›

Foreign currency declaration upon arrival. If you bring in means of payment not exceeding USD 10,000 to Korea, you do not need any permission or declaration. In addition, there is no need to report or authorize the importation of promissory notes, letters of credit, or bills of exchange.

How much money is enough for South Korea? ›

Couples trip
Flights$1475 per person
Accommodation$2559
Food$300 per day
Activities$300 per day
Total for couple$9,709
25 Feb 2020

How much money can I take out of Korea? ›

There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding US$10,000 or equivalent must be declared.

Is food expensive in Korea? ›

Korean food doesn't have as high of an international profile as some other national cuisines, so once you arrive in South Korea, you will have plenty of new food to try. Fortunately, the food price in Korea is exceptionally low (and the food is delicious), making the cost of traveling in South Korea a pretty good deal.

Do I need a visa to go to South Korea? ›

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements

For travel after September 1, 2021, you must have a valid U.S. passport and a visa or an approved Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) to enter Korea. Most U.S. passport holders traveling to Korea for tourism or business purposes for less than 90 days can obtain a K-ETA.

How much is a month in Korea? ›

On a national level, a family of four can expect to spend an average of 2,300,000 KRW per month (2,000 USD) in living expenses (excluding rent). A single expat can expect to pay 652,000 KRW (560 USD) per month (excluding rent).

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