South Korea's economy is dominated by what locals call "the four pillars": Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia.
Seoul operates on Korea Standard Time (KST).
If you are a US, Canadian, or Australian citizen, you may stay in Seoul up to 90 days for tourism or businesswithout a visa. Ensure that you have sufficient funds and a return airline ticket. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your stay.
Incheon International Airport (ICN) is Korea’s largest airport and the primary airport of Seoul. Massive and modern, it holds an impressive record of the World’s Best Airport for 12 consecutive years. For air travelers coming off a long-haul flight, a layover at Incheon International is most welcome.
Enjoy luxuries such as free massage chairs and showers, and lounge/sleeping areas. Been sitting for hours? Get blood flowing back in your legs with a couple laps around the ice skating rink, a stroll through the airport’s gardens, or a free city tour! Have kids? Before boarding your next flight, let them burn off energy in one of Incheon’s seven playrooms and kid-friendly zones.
With nine major subway lines running throughout the capital, Seoul boasts a clean and extremely efficient public transportation system. Trains arrive about every 5 min. or so, and are rarely late. Color-coded maps with numbered stops are conveniently placed everywhere in the subway stations, so it’s easy to track and get to where you need to go.
You can purchase a reloadable T-money card at any convenience store, which you can use to pay for subway, bus, and taxi. You can reload at the convenience store or on a reloading machine.
With CCTV everywhere, Seoul is safe to roam freely both day and night. The bright and bustling capital doesn’t sleep, so wander away into the wee hours. Of course, exercise street smarts and take the necessary safety precautions as you would in any urban area.
To report a crime or contact the police, dial 1-1-2.
For medical and fire services, dial 1-1-9.
In Seoul, the fall (September-November) is fairly warm with limited rainfall — a pleasant season overall. The winters (November-March) are cold and sunny — thankfully, not the worst wintry combination. The wind cuts like a knife though, so bundle up. Snow is relatively rare.
The spring (March-May) is cool with more frequent rainfall. It’s also yellow dust season (blowing over from Mongolian deserts), which may cause eye irritation and breathing problems so you’ll see Seoulites sporting a mask. The summer (June-August) is hot, humid, and rainy.
Standard Korean (that is, the Seoul dialect) is the official language of South Korea. English, Chinese, and Japanese are also spoken by some Koreans in order to cater to foreigners. Although secondary schools teach English as a second language, many do not have a working knowledge of it. Here are some common Korean words/phrases (in formal speech) to help you get by.
Hello = An-nyeong-ha-se-yo
Yes = Ne
No = Ah-nee-eh-yo
Please = Pu-tak-ham-ni-da
Thank you = Kahm-sahm-ni-da /ko-map-sum-ni-da
Good morning = Jo-eun a-chim
Good night = An-nyeong-hee ju-mu-se-yo
My name is… = Jae ileum-eun…
Excuse me = Shil-le-ham-ni-da
Do you speak English? = Yeong-eo-leul hal-su-ee-soy-yo?
Goodbye (if you’re both leaving) = An-nyeong-hi ka-se-yo
Goodbye (if you’re leaving and the other person is staying) = An-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo
Koreans follow a social hierarchy that is largely based on age. Etiquette is extremely important in Korea, but don’t sweat it too much as international visitors are treated with tolerance and patience. Korean are typically polite and reserved — let that be a general guide for your attire and social interactions. Here are a few important tips:
- Do bow. Unless you’re born in the same year, it’s important to incline at the waist for first introductions and subsequent meetings — once or twice will do. For men, a bow is usually followed by a handshake. Do the same when you depart.
- Do use two hands when passing items. This goes for drink, food, gifts, money, or business cards. Or, use your right hand, supported the elbow with your left. Same goes for the receiving end.
- Don’t point with your chopsticks, or stick them in your bowl. It’s rude and doing the latter resembles incense at funeral alters.
- Don’t pour your own drink. When drinking alcohol, wait for someone else to pour for you — usually done by the youngest. The older person may offer to pour for you. Remember tip #2 for this one. If you don’t want to drink, don’t refuse; just leave the glass full.
- Don’t sit in priority seats on buses or subways. Yes, even if they’re empty. Leave them for the elderly, pregnant women, and handicapped. You’ll often hear announcements to let everyone know that these seat need to remain available at all times.
Seoul uses the won (₩) as its currency. International credit and debit cards are widely accepted at retailers and restaurants, and ATMS are accessible to withdraw won from foreign debit cards. Be sure to carry some cash with you for food stalls and refilling your T-money card at the subway station.
You can also exchange money in banks where the staff are trained to speak English — look for KEB Hana Bank, Shinhan Bank, and Woori Bank.
Money changers are also an option. You can find them in major shopping districts: Myeong-dong, Itaewon, and Dongdaemun Market.
Tipping is not customary in Seoul.
In Seoul, the power plugs and sockets are type C and F (two-prong). Both types also work with plug E. You cannot use your electronics in Seoul without a voltage converter, because the standard voltage is 230 V — higher than the US standard of 120 V. Your converter should look like this:
Although you’ll see some locals opting for bottled, filtered, or boiled water, the tap water in Seoul is clean and safe to drink.
For members of the LQBTQ community, it’s best to avoid PDA as Seoul does not have anti-discrimination laws. Although the younger generation is becoming more accepting, older Koreans are still uncomfortable with identities and sexualities outside the binary model.
Although eco-tourism is not really a thing in a bustling city like Seoul, you can find places to enjoy without harming the environment. If you need a breather from city air, here a couple suggestions:
The Ansan Jarak-gil is a 7-km circular walking trail in Seodaemun-gu that takes you through forests and great views of the capital. In hot weather, you can cool off at one of their water springs or under the shade of towering trees while you saunter along the park’s gentle slopes. Pagodas are also an option!
The Seoul City Wall encircles much of central Seoul and was built during the Joseon Dynasty to defend the city against invaders. The ancient wall is perfect for a walk, light picnic, history lesson, and taking in beautiful views.
Republic of Korea proclaimed.
South Korea proclaims independence causing North Korea to invade.
Armistice ends the Korean War, with the number of casualties being 2 million people.
A military coup places General Park Chung-hee into power.
Park is assassinated leading General Chun Doo-hwan to seize power.