SOUTH KOREA

Essential Travel Information

Entry/Exit Requirements

You must have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea. U.S. citizens can enter the Republic of Korea without a visa for a stay of 90 days or less for tourism or temporary business purposes. If you are visiting the Republic of Korea for employment, for any profit-making reason, to teach English, or for stays longer than 90 days, you must get a visa at an ROK embassy or consulate prior to entering the Republic of Korea. In addition, if you plan to stay for longer than 90 days, you must apply for an Alien Registration Card.

For more updated and other information please visit:

http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/korea-south.html

 

Please note:  Each traveler is fully responsible for bringing and acquiring travel documents (e-tickets, hotel and travel vouchers, etc.) necessary for his or her itinerary. If you are not a citizen of the United States, your entry requirements may vary—please contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the country or countries to be visited and obtain the specific requirements for entry.

Arrival Information

Please refer to the instructions given in your itinerary confirmation. If in the event that you are unable to locate our representative, please call the local contact number as specified on your voucher or confirmation itinerary for immediate assistance.

Map of South Korea

Country Information

 

Capital: Seoul

Population: 51,302,044

Location: East Asia

Largest Cities: Seoul, Busan & Incheon

Religion: 31.5%, Christian 40% (Protestant majority), Buddhist 38%, Confucianism 0.2%, other 1%

System of Government: Presidential Republic

Timezone

South Korea operates on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), plus 9 hours.

At 9:00 am anywhere in South Korea, it is:
7:00 pm the previous day in New York- Eastern Standard Time (EST).
6:00 pm the previous day in Chicago- Central Standard Time (CST).
4:00 pm the previous day in San Francisco- Pacific Standard Time (PST).
1:00 pm the previous day in Hawaii- Hawaii Aleutian Standard Time (HAST).

*Note: Add one hour to local time during Daylight Savings Time.

Practical Information

A good source of health information for travelers is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.

 

You should be up to date on routine vaccinations while traveling to any destination. Please be advised that high-standard medical care is not available in the more remote areas of South Korea. Please ensure that we are aware of any physical disability or frequent of ongoing medical requirements. Sightseeing may require, at minimum, the ability to walk at a moderate pace for a mile or two, and the balance and agility necessary to climb stairs, enter and exit buses and boats, and navigate uneven or cobble-stoned streets. Some sightseeing stops do not have elevators or wheelchair access. Bring medications in their original, clearly labeled containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing your med­ical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity. When on vacation, it is always wise to watch what you eat and drink, but please do not drink the tap water while traveling in other countries.

Currency

The currency of South Korea is the won (₩), written 원 in hangul. As of April 2016, the exchange rate was approximately KRW1,100 per USD1.00.

Coins come in denominations of ₩10, ₩50, ₩100 and ₩500, while banknotes come in denominations of ₩1,000 (blue), ₩5,000 (red), ₩10,000 (green) and ₩50,000 (yellow). ₩1 and ₩5 coins, while they exist, are very rare. The largest bill currently in circulation is only ₩50,000 and somewhat uncommon in ATMs, which makes carrying around large sums of currency a bit of a chore.

A new series of notes was released in 2006/2007. As of 2013, older notes (issued before 2006/2007) are nearly non existent.

Credit cards

Credit card are widely accepted, some of restaurants only accept Visa and MasterCard.

ATM

ATMs are ubiquitous, but most Korean ATMs don’t accept foreign cards, foreign bank ATMs however do, e.g. Citibank.  Having said this, there are nevertheless many special Global ATMs around. They can generally be found at Shinhan (or Jeju) Bank (remember the logo), airports, in areas frequented by foreigners, in major cities, some subway stations, and in many Family Mart convenience stores – most of the time indicated by the “Foreign Cards” button on the screen.

Sometimes however even the Global ATMs may not accept your foreign card, so it is wise to have a second source of money for those times or to ensure your card is fully accepted. Be sure to stock up on cash before heading to the countryside or other remote areas.

Some banks have a fee of KRW3,500 for foreign cards, especially Citibank – just opt for a different bank.

Electrical service in South Korea is supplied at 220 volts and 60 hertz (C & F type “German” plugs). Bringing an adaptor is a good idea if you are planning on using electronics (i.e. cell phones, laptops, cameras, etc.) during your trip.

Korean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular outside of Korea, especially in other parts of East Asia and the U.S. However, those unfamiliar with Korean cuisine will have to be wary for the many spicy and fermented dishes in Korean cuisine. Nevertheless, it is addictive once you get used to it and Korean food is definitely in a class of its own, mixing spicy chilies and copious amounts of garlic with delicate ingredients like raw fish. Although Korean food is quite low in fat, a fact attested to by the observation that very few South Koreans are overweight, those with sodium-limited diets should beware, as Korean cuisine can be heavy in salt.

A Korean meal is centered around rice and soup and likely a fish or meat dish, invariably served with a vast assortment of side dishes known as banchan (반찬). The humblest meal comes with three types while a royal banquet may well feature twenty types of banchan. In addition to kimchi (see below), typical side dishes include bean sprouts (콩나물 kongnamul), spinach (시금치 shigeumchi), small dried fish, and much more.

The ubiquitous kimchi (김치 gimchi), made from fermented cabbage and chili, accompanies nearly every meal and may be a bit of an acquired taste for visitors as it can be quite spicy. In addition to the common cabbage type, kimchi can also be made from white radish (깍두기 kkakdugi), cucumbers (오이 소박이 oi sobagi), chives (부추 김치 buchu gimchi) or pretty much any vegetable that can be pickled. Many different dishes are made using kimchi for flavoring, and kimchi is served as a side dish as well. It is not uncommon to find Korean tourists carrying a stash of tightly packed kimchi when travelling abroad.

Two more condiments found in almost every dish are doenjang (된장), a fermented soybean paste akin to Japanese miso, and gochujang (고추장), a spicy chilli paste.

Common Dishes: Korean Barbecues, Rice Dishes (bibimbap), Soup & Stews, Noodles & Seafood.

Dietary restrictions

Vegetarians will have a tough time in Korea. As in most of East Asia, meat is understood to be the flesh of land animals, so seafood is not considered meat. If you ask for “no gogi” (고기) they will probably just cook as usual and pick out the big chunks of meat. One good phrase is to say you are chaesikjuwija (채식주의자), a person who only eats vegetables. This may prompt questions from the server, so be prepared!

Most stews will not use beef stock, but fish stock, especially myeolchi (멸치, anchovy). This will be your bane, and outside of reputable vegetarian restaurants, you should ask if you are ordering any stews/hotpots or casseroles.

Spicy (red) kimchi will almost certainly have seafood, such as salted tiny shrimp, as an ingredient. Since it disappears into the brine, you will not be able to visually identify it. Another type of kimchi, called mulgimchi (물김치, “water kimchi”) is vegan, as it is simply salted in a clear, white broth with many different vegetables.

On the bright side, vegans and vegetarians are perfectly safe at Korean monastery cuisine restaurants, which uses no dairy, egg, or animal products, except perhaps honey. There has been a recent vogue for this type of cuisine, but it can be rather expensive.

There is an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants in Korea – most are in the larger or medium-sized places. Some of these are run by religious groups. The most prominent franchise is probably Loving Hut, which is vegan and rather low priced. While, you probably wouldn’t make this a destination restaurant, it’s a good backup plan (if you’ve noted the locations and closing times in advance).

Drink

The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 19.

Drinks are cheap and Koreans are among the heaviest drinkers in the world. Due to the strict social norms in effect at the workplace, the drinking hall tends to be the only place where inhibitions can be released and personal relationships expressed. Significant business deals are closed not in the boardroom, but in the bar. Promotions, grants, and other business advancements are secured over drinks at singing rooms, late night raw fish restaurants, and restaurant-bars. Many Korean men are what would be considered heavy drinkers in the west, and as alcoholism is being recognized as an ailment, public moves have begun to attempt to curb alcohol intake. Don’t be surprised to see businessmen in suits lying around sleeping it off, and be careful not to step in the puddles of vomit common on the sidewalks in the mornings.

Koreans speak Korean, and knowing a few words of this will come in very handy. Unfortunately the language is rather drastically different from any Western language in its grammar, and pronunciation is rather difficult for the English speaker to get right (though not tonal). Depending on which part of the country you go to, various different dialects are spoken, though standard Korean, which is based on the Seoul dialect, is understood and spoken by almost everyone. Most notably among the dialects, the Gyeongsang dialect spoken around Busan and Daegu is considered to be rather rough and aggressive compared to standard Korean, and the Jeju dialect spoken on Jeju island is known for being almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard Korean, although the pure Jeju dialect is becoming less common.

Written Korean uses a unique phonetic writing system called hangul (한글 hangeul) where sounds are stacked up into blocks that represent syllables. It was designed by a committee and looks like, at first glance, all right angles and little circles, but it is remarkably consistent and logical and quite fast to pick up. Many Korean words can also be written with much more complex Chinese characters, known as hanja (한자, 漢字) in Korean, and these are still occasionally mixed into text but are increasingly few and far between. Nowadays, hanja are mainly used for disambiguation if the meaning is ambiguous when written in hangul. In such instances, the hanja is usually written in parentheses next to the hangul. Hanja are also used to mark janggi (장기, 將棋) or Korean chess pieces, newspaper headlines, as well as personal names on official documents.

Nearly all Koreans under the age of 40 have taken English lessons as part of their education, and the English level of the country is being improved by government policy and investments. However, due to lack of practice (as well as fear of mispronunciation), most Koreans have little more than a very basic grasp of English phrases in actual conversation. If you’re in a pinch and need someone who speaks English, your best bet would generally be the high school or university students. Reading and writing comes much easier however, and often people will be able to read and understand a considerable amount of English even without any practice with real conversation. Many employees at airlines, hotels and stores catering to international tourists are likely to speak at least basic English. Consequently, travellers can get by in major cities with English only, but it goes without saying that learning basic Korean phrases will make your travel experience more convenient and enjoyable.

Weather

Korea has four very distinct seasons: spring from mid-March to the end of May; summer from June to August; autumn September to November; and winter from December to mid-March. Of course the actual weather doesn’t always fit these neat categories.

Temperatures vary hugely between midsummer and mid-winter, with August being very hot and sticky, while December and January are literally freezing. Winters in the north are colder than in the more southerly Busan or Jejudo. Heavy rainfall always arrives with the summer monsoon season (late June to mid-July).

Average Temperatures


All temperatures in Fahrenheit (°F)

CityJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Andong363842506065707467604638
Busan384033576469767972645343
Gyeongju343642526070727270605040
Jeju444451586570778075665748
Seoul283241546470777770584533

Other Information

This will be contingent on your own personal preference and the time of year you are traveling. Korea has four distinct seasons. Autumn and spring are mild and sunny, so comfortable clothes for travel should be fine, along with a light jacket in case it’s chilly at night. Summer is hot and humid, so you will want to pack to dress lightly. You also should bring an umbrella and poncho, as summer is monsoon season. Temperatures below freezing are common in the winter, so you should be prepared to bundle up. You also should pack clothes appropriate to your planned activities: a bathing suit if you will be visiting one of Korea’s beaches, for example, or dressy clothes if you plan to dine in any upscale restaurants. When packing toiletries, take special care to ensure you have enough deodorant for your trip. It can be difficult to find in Korea. Pack sunscreen if you will be visiting the beach or doing any other outdoor activities, as it also is in short supply in Korean stores. You can find most other basic toiletries at large retail locations such as E-Mart in Korea. Pack a guidebook with maps of your destinations in Korea. Though you can pick up maps upon arrival, most of them will be in Korean, not English. A small phrasebook can be handy, since many Koreans, particularly those who are older or live outside major cities, speak little to no English. If you are staying anywhere other than a major hotel, bring along a large towel, because Korean towels are small by Western standards. Korean electrical outlets are European-style, with 220 to 240 volts, so you will need a converter if you are bringing any plug-in appliances. As with any trip abroad, pack photocopies of everyone in your party’s passports, over-the-counter medicines for minor illnesses and some cash for emergencies, although credit cards are widely accepted in Korea.

Korea has four distinct seasons: spring (March-May), summer (June-August), fall (September-November), and winter (December-February). The changing of seasons also means changing of attires. With temperatures varying greatly by season, it is important to dress for the weather. Here are the essential items for each season.

Spring (March-May): Spring is the transition period between winter and summer. Average temperatures in spring range between 44°F and 62°F. The weather remains chilly in March due to the last cold snaps, but begins warming up at the end of the month. Still, even in April and May, temperatures may drop after sunset. Therefore, a light outerwear is essential in spring. Popular spring fashion items include cardigans, scarves, hats and sunglasses.

Summer (June-August): Summer is the hottest season. Receiving the majority of annual rainfall, it is also the wettest season. In fact, summer begins with the rainy season called ‘jangma’, which generally lasts from mid-June until the end of July. During jangma, umbrellas and raincoats are essential. After jangma, the weather begins heating up, with temperatures rising up to anywhere between 95°F to 111°F during daytime. Light clothing, often made with “cooling” fabric, becomes essential for preventing overheating. Popular summer fashion items include light and/or short pants, short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts, hats and sunglasses. Applying sunscreen is also highly recommended.

Fall (September-November): Fall is the transition period between summer and winter. Humidity subsides and cold snaps return. As in late-May, the weather in early September is warm. Then, it turns colder and drier starting late-September, contributing to the changing of colors of leaves throughout October. An outerwear is essential in fall. Popular fall fashion items include trench coats in early to mid-fall, and jackets in mid- to late-fall.

Winter (December-February): Winter is the coldest season. The northern region, largely comprised of Gangwon-do and Gyeonggi-do Provinces as well as Seoul and Incheon Metropolitan Cities, is generally colder than the southern region including Busan Metropolitan City and Jeju Island. After a cold wave passes through the Korean Peninsula, the ‘sam-han-sa-on’, the unique climate pattern of three cold days and four warmer days, repeats. Warm clothing is essential in winter. Popular winter fashion items include winter coats, sweaters, scarves, shawls, beanies, gloves, and boots. Naebok or thermal underwear produced with lighter fabric and in trendy design is also worn a lot.

Hotels may impose a hefty charge on international calls. Check your hotel’s policy before placing any calls. To avoid hotel markups you can use a calling card from your local long-distance carrier. A number of United States cell phones manufactured today have the ability to operate overseas on the GSM (Global System for Mobile) standard. We recommend that you contact your cell phone service provider to determine if your phone operates on the GSM and what, if any, activation may be required. In South Korea, reception on any cell phone can be unreliable and unpredictable. In some locations, transmission is not possible at all. If access to e-mail is of critical importance during your trip, please check availability in advanced. Most hotels have business centers or in room WI-FI service, surcharges may apply.

The nationwide emergency phone numbers are:

Fire, Emergency & Ambulance: 119

Police: 112

Lonely Planet Seoul (Travel Guide) by Trent Holden

Etiquette Guide to Korea by Boye Lafayette De Mente

Frommer’s South Korea by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

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