The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a peninsula that shares borders to the north with the demilitarized zone (separating it from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), to the east with the Sea of Japan (East Sea), to the south with the Korea Strait (separating it from Japan), and to the west with the Yellow Sea. There are many islands and bays in the Korea Strait, including the largest, the volcanic island of Jeju-do, which lies off the southwest coast and is also home to South Korea’s highest mountain, Mount Halla, at 1,950m (6,397ft). Most of the country consists of hills and mountains with the 30% of flat plain home to the majority of the population and cultivation. Most rivers rise in the mountains to the east, flowing west and south to the Yellow Sea. The Naktong River flows into the Korea Strait near the southern port of Busan, Korea’s second-largest city after Seoul. The eastern coast is rocky and steep with mountains rising from the sea.
The first unified Korea was under the Silla, a Gyeongju-based empire that stretched over most of the peninsula. During this period arts, architecture, and culture flourished. The empire fragmented around AD 870, giving way to the Koryo dynasty, which allied itself with the Song dynasty in China. The Koryo emulated the Song in establishing an advanced cultural and technological society (including the invention of printing in 1234, two centuries before its discovery in the West).
However, the peninsula fell to the Mongols in the 1230s. It took until the early 14th century, and the assistance of the Chinese Ming dynasty, to recover Korean independence. The Koryo dynasty was then followed in the late 14th century by the Choson who governed Korea until the early 20th century. The early years of the Choson saw Korea enter a period of outstanding cultural and intellectual achievement; however, during this time, the country suffered invasions by the Japanese and then the Chinese Manchu dynasty, which brought Korea under Chinese control and saw it remain, in effect, a satellite of the Chinese empire for almost 200 years. The shrines, palaces, and temples you visit today are almost all rebuilt from the ashes of originals that were burned to the ground.
At the end of WWII, as Japan was stripped of its colonial territories, the Soviets and Americans agreed to divide Korea along latitude 38°N (the 38th parallel). As the Cold War evolved, the Korean border – one of the few direct meeting points between the Soviet and American spheres of influence – became a key flashpoint. Cross-border incursions increased until full-scale war broke out between the two sides in 1950. The three-year war which followed engaged all the major powers and came closer than is often realized to provoking a nuclear conflagration. By 1953, a stalemate had been reached and an armistice was signed (although the war was never officially brought to an end and technically, the two countries are still at war). For the next three decades, locked into opposing Cold War blocs, the two Koreas went their separate ways.
South Korea developed a successful capitalist economy and current GDP stands at $1 trillion but until the early 1980s had failed to develop a political system of comparable sophistication – prior to then, South Korea was governed by a series of dictatorships, both civilian and military, under which political dissent led to imprisonment. However, at this point, the country’s political leaders, with their powerbase in the monopolistic Democratic Justice Party, realized that some relaxation of the existing tight political control was necessary. In 1981, martial law was lifted and within five years, a powerful parliamentary opposition had emerged in the form of the New Korea Democratic Party (NKDP), led by the veteran dissident Kim Dae-Jung. However, it was not until December 1997 that Dae-Jung won the presidential poll.
In 2002, South Korea’s international profile, as well as national morale, received a boost from co-hosting the World Cup football competition with Japan although this was marred by a political corruption scandal around the same time. Lee Myung-bak has been president since 2008, following the impeachment and subsequent suicide of previous president Roh Moo-hyun.
A slight thaw in North-South relations was followed in 2010 by the arrest of two US journalists and other events including the sinking of a South Korean warship (and the deaths of 46 sailors on board) and North Korean bombing of DMZ adjacent towns, has put any hopes of reunification on temporary hold.
Perhaps most importantly for those visiting Korea, history – both recent and ancient – remains very much a part of present day South Korea, something many Koreans feel strongly about, and especially after a few sojus have gone around, the topic can get heated.
South Korea is a very homogeneous country, with nearly all native residents identifying themselves as ethnically Korean and speaking the Korean language. The largest resident minority are the Chinese, numbering around 20,000-30,000. However, there are a number of foreign laborers from China, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and other parts of world as well as English teachers from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa.
Shoes must be removed before entering a Korean home. Small gifts are customary; traditional etiquette requires using the right hand for giving and receiving. Seniority should always be respected – don’t eat before the oldest person at the table has started. Koreans often ask your age and marital status to quickly gauge societal seniority. They can be very reserved, shy and resistant of body contact until they get to know you.
Never leave chopsticks in your rice, and never beckon anyone with palm up using one finger, as this is the way Koreans call their dogs. Writing someone’s name in red is bad as this symbolizes death. The number four is considered unlucky and to give gifts in multiples of four is considered taboo; giving seven of an item is considered lucky.
Traditional costume, or hanbok, is mainly worn on holidays and special occasions. For men it consists of a short jacket and loose trousers, called baji, that are tied at the ankles. Women’s hanboks comprise a wrap-around skirt and a bolero-style jacket and is often called a chima-jeogori.
Korean (Hangul), with English widely taught in school and generally understood in major centers.
The government of South Korea is a Unitary Presidential Constitutional Republic.
It is divided into executive, judicial, and legislative branches.
South Korea is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).
The standard voltage in Korea is 220 volts, 60 Hz. The outlet has two round holes. If you do not have a multi-voltage travel adapter, you can borrow one from your hotel’s front desk. If you want to buy one in Korea, you can do so at a duty-free shop, convenience shop at Incheon International Airport.
South Korea’s weather is temperate but can be extreme — the summer can be as hot as 45 C with humidity in the high 70s. Nights in November can drop suddenly and be sub-zero with Siberian winds. It’s best to bring layers or (even better) take advantage of the great shopping malls and buy clothes that suit the season while you’re there. It is important to note too that weather in Seoul (in the north) can be quite different from that of Busan or Jeju.
South Korea has moderate climate with four seasons, making any season a fine time to visit as long as you wear appropriate clothing. The hottest part of the year is during the rainy season between July and August, and the coldest is December to February. Occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods. Spring and autumn are mild and mainly dry and are generally considered the best times to visit.
CLOTHES TO WEAR
Lightweight cottons and linens are worn during summer, with light- to medium weights in spring and autumn. Medium- to heavyweights is advised during the winter.
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.
The Government of the Republic of Korea strictly enforces immigration laws and regulations. If you plan to stay in Korea past your visa expiration date, you must contact the Korea Immigration Service (KIS) as soon as possible to apply for an extension. If you stay in the Republic of Korea beyond your visa expiration date,
you will be required to pay a fine before you can leave the country. In most cases, you cannot change the status of your visa from one type to another (for example, from tourism to teaching) within the Republic of Korea. If you want to change your visa status, you must depart the Republic of Korea and apply for a new visa at an ROK embassy or consulate in another country.
The KIS collects the biometric data (digital photo and fingerprints) of foreign visitors at ports of entry (international airports and seaports). Children under the age of 17 and foreign government and international organization officials and their accompanying immediate family members are exempt from this requirement. Questions about this requirement should be directed to the nearest ROK embassy or consulate.
For ROK-born or Ethnic Korean Visitors: If you were born in the Republic of Korea, if you once held ROK citizenship, or if you are an ethnic Korean (whether or not you previously held ROK citizenship), you may qualify for residence status in the Republic of Korea. If you think you may qualify for this status, you should check with the Korean Immigration Service to determine what documents the ROK government will require in order to grant you this benefit. For additional visa information in English, please visit the ROK’s website on visas.
For Military Personnel/DOD: U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians have different entry requirements, which are governed by the DOD Foreign Clearance Guide. DOD travelers must consult the Foreign Clearance Guide and follow all instructions before traveling to the Republic of Korea.
U.S. military personnel traveling to Korea on orders, including leave orders, may enter the Republic of Korea under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) using only their DOD identification card and travel orders. However, while en route to Korea, military personnel should not transit countries (such as China) that require a passport unless they also have a passport and, if necessary, a visa.
Family members/dependents of active-duty personnel assigned to U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) must have valid passports to enter the Republic of Korea and should obtain an A-3 SOFA visa before arriving in the Republic of Korea. DOD civilians, DOD contractors supporting the U.S. military in the Republic of Korea, and their family members/dependents must also have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea and must obtain an A-3 visa and SOFA stamp within 90 days after arriving in the Republic of Korea.
DOD civilians, DOD contractors supporting the U.S. military in the Republic of Korea, and their family members/dependents must also have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea, and must also obtain an A-3 visa and SOFA stamp within 90 days after arriving in the Republic of Korea.
All DOD personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy and their family members/dependents must enter the Republic of Korea on either diplomatic or official passports with the appropriate ROK visas, obtained through their sponsoring DOD agencies. In addition, all DOD travelers on official business require a country clearance through the DOD APACS system.
U.S. government Executive Branch personnel traveling to the Republic of Korea on official business must obtain a country clearance via the Department of State’s eCC system. Official travelers on official business should enter the Republic of Korea on either diplomatic or official passports. A diplomatic or official visa from the nearest ROK embassy or consulate is required.
For Third-country DOD employees: If you are a non-U.S. citizen DOD employee traveling on a passport from one of the following countries, you must obtain an ROK visa, regardless of the reason for or duration of travel: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia And Herzegovina, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cuba, Georgia, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
HIV/AIDS Restrictions: The Republic of Korea no longer restricts tourists with HIV/AIDS from visiting. However, foreigners working in Korea as teachers on E-2 visas should be aware that many private and public schools require applicants to submit a negative HIV/AIDS test result as a condition of employment. For further information, please contact your nearest Republic of Korea Embassy or Consulate.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please see our Customs Information page. Visit the Embassy of the Republic of Korea website for further information on other types of visas.
For information on entry and exit requirements for South Korea, please visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/korea-south.html
U.S.A. Embassy South Korea
188 Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu,
Seoul, Republic of Korea-110-710
Telephone: + (82) (2) 397-4114 (from within Korea, dial 02-397-4114)
Emergency After-Hours Telephone :+( 82) (0) (2) 397-4114.
Fax: + (82) (2) 397-4101
Embassy of Canada to South Korea
21, Jeongdong-gil (Jeong-dong), Jung-gu
Seoul, 100 – 120, South Korea
Tel. (International): 82-2-3783-6000
Tel. (Domestic): 02-3783-6000
Fax (International): 82-2-3783-6239
Fax (Domestic): 02-3783-6239
Hospitals in the Republic of Korea are generally well-equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. High quality general and specialty dental care is available in Seoul. Western-style medical facilities are available in major urban areas of Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and a few other large cities. However, not all doctors and staff in these major urban areas are proficient in English. Most clinics in rural areas do not have an English-speaking doctor. A list of hospitals and medical specialists who speak English is available on our website. For information on medical evacuation from Korea, please see the State Department’s brochure on Air Ambulance/MedEvac/Medical Escort Providers.
Pharmacies are plentiful and first-rate, and most prescribed medications, except psychotropic medications, can be obtained with a prescription. See information on importing prescription medication in the section on Special Circumstances under Customs Regulations. Medicines often have a different brand name than that in the United States. When you visit Korea, you should bring with you an adequate supply of any medication you require in its original container, which should be clearly labeled. You should also carry a copy of your prescription from your doctor in case immigration or customs authorities ask for it. ROK ambulances do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, and the ambulance personnel do not have the same level of emergency medical training as do those in the United States. However, ambulances operated by the fire department (dial 119) will respond very quickly and take patients to the nearest hospital.
Please note: Some medications may not be permitted in the country. Please check if the medication you are bringing is permitted in the country you are visiting
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
BANKS AND CURRENCY
Won (KRW; symbol ₩). Notes are in denominations of ₩50,000, 10,000, 5,000 and 1,000. Chon means ‘one thousand’. Coins are in denominations of ₩500, 100, 50 and 10.
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted at major hotels, shops and restaurants in the larger cities. You may not be able use credit cards at small businesses and in rural areas. You may also want to check whether your credit card is accepted by looking at door signs before you enter an establishment. ATMs are available in all major cities, but not all of them will accept international cards. Just keep trying different outlets until you see a logo you recognize on the machine. Cards with the Plus and Cirrus logos are the easiest to use and most widely accepted in Korea.
ATMs are available in all major cities, but not all of them will accept international cards. KB bank is one of the most reliable for foreign cards. Many of the ATMs in Seoul subways accept foreign cards as well.
Accepted, but may be difficult to change in smaller towns. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take traveler’s cheques in US dollars.
South Korea International Dialing Code is +82.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food and Drink:
South Korea has its own very distinctive cuisine, quite different from Chinese or Japanese. Rice is the staple food and a typical Korean meal consists of rice, soup, rice water and eight to 20 side dishes of vegetables, fish, poultry, eggs, bean-curd and sea plants. Most Korean soups and side dishes are heavily laced with red pepper.
- Bibimbap(boiled rice mixed with vegetables and chilli peppers).
• Kimchi (Korean national dish, highly spiced pickle of Chinese cabbage or white radish with turnips, onions, salt, fish, chestnuts and red pepper).
• Bulgogi (marinated, charcoal-broiled beef barbecue).
• Grilled galbi (seasoned ribs).
• Haemultang (seafood stew)
Most major hotels will offer a selection of restaurants, serving Korean, Japanese and Chinese cuisine or Western-style food. The most common type of drinking establishment is the suljip (Korean-style wine bar), but there are also pubs serving well-known European brands. Koreans offer glasses of liquor to each other as a gesture of camaraderie; never fill your own glass and remember, juniors pour for seniors.
Yakju (refined pure liquor fermented from rice).
Soju (like vodka and made from potatoes or grain).
Korean beer: Cass, Hite and OB.
Makgeolli and dongdongju (milky liquor).
Ginseng wine is strong and sweet, similar to brandy.
South Korea’s nightlife offers a mix of traditional (spellbinding performances of music, dance and theatre) with Broadway/West End-styles shows, or pop icons like Boa, a Korean singer who has achieved worldwide renown. Hotel bars are popular in cities; but their nightclubs tend to be expensive. Larger hotels may also have their own private theatre restaurants.
Seoul’s fashionable areas are Hongik University area and Apgujeong. Itaweon is aimed squarely at foreigners and the local population of American soldiers, but it is quite a tacky area. Koreans sing their hearts out in karaoke bars, or noraebangs, as they are known here. There are also many cinemas. Operas, concerts and recitals can be seen at the National Theatre and performances of Korean classical music, dances and plays can be seen at Korea House. There are several licensed state-of-the-art casinos throughout the country.
For daily listings of events, consult South Korea’s English-language papers.
The best shopping districts and markets are in the capital, Seoul, and include:
• Namdaemun: Korea’s largest general wholesale market.
• Dongdaemun: One of Seoul’s oldest markets, good for bargains.
• Myeongdong: Korea’s fashion district and home to countless mid-market brands, boutiques, malls and an underground shopping passage leading to Namdaemun.
• Insadong: Delightful street for crafts, antiques and art.
• Itaewon: A modern shopping district popular with foreign tourists, where shopkeepers speak English and sell all kinds of stuff; known for its many tailors, who can whip up shirts and suits.
• Yongsan Electronics Market: Largest electronics and computer market in Korea.
• Koyndang: Oriental medicine, spice and herb market.
• Hwangkhakdong: Flea market, good for second-hand shopping.
• Ahyondong: Home to more than 120 wedding boutiques.
• COEX: Asia’s biggest shopping mall is all underground.
• Apgujeong: The poshest shopping district in Korea with designers from Armani to Versace having stores in the area.
Seoul’s various markets are the perfect place for a shopping spree. Insadong is the place to go for Korean craft items ranging from the simple to priceless antiques. Namdaemun offers alleyway after alleyway of cheap clothes and household items. Yongsan is the top spot in the country for cameras and electronics. And Myeongdong is the favorite of fashionistas everywhere. Buy clothes here and you’ll look like you’ve stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. While most tourists can find everything they’d ever dream of in Seoul proper, Korea is a shopper’s Mecca and you’ll find great buys almost everywhere you go. Favorite tourist items include hand-tailored clothes, textiles, leatherwork, jewelers, ginseng, tea; lacquer ware, woodcarvings, baskets and screens. Major cities have foreigners’ duty-free shops where people can use foreign currency with a valid passport.
Mon-Sun from 10:30am till 8pm. Some shopping areas are open 24 hours.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.
There is no public laundry on the streets. Laundry services are available in hotels and cruise ships, usually through the floor attendant or housekeeping. One-day dry cleaning and pressing services are offered at better hotels.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.