Are you traveling to South Korea soon? We’re glad you’re here. But while South Korea is a beautiful country in East Asia with moderate temperatures and plenty of tourist activities, there are also some things to be aware of.
Travelers visit South Korea from across the globe, and visitor numbers soared to over 967,000 in 2021 alone. You can experience the bustling capital in Seoul, hit the sandy beaches in Busan, or go shopping in the Incheon city center.
South Korea has endless things to do for people of every taste. However, safety is a number one priority, so read on to learn about staying safe on your trip to this amazing country.
Is South Korea Safe to Visit?
Yes, South Korea is a safe country to visit overall. While there are a few safety concerns (like petty theft), the country generally has a low crime rate and plenty of security.
It’s a great place to visit for families, solo travelers, and women, as long as you take the appropriate safety measures. South Korea is safe to visit, especially compared to other similar countries.
The United States federal government lists South Korea as a Safety Level 1 country, which means travelers only need to follow typical safety procedures. While you should always travel with safety in mind, most tourists find a trip to be a stress-free experience with little danger.
The Government of Canada also lists South Korea as a low-risk country to visit. Crime generally occurs in metropolitan areas after dark, and most places are safe to visit without concern.
The Canadian government states that public transport, such as buses or trains, is generally safer than taxis at night. Even though South Korea is generally safe, travelers should be aware of a few concerns, such as pickpocketing and traffic collisions.
Also, South Korea is a coastal country on the Yangsan Fault line and is susceptible to tsunamis, earthquakes, and typhoons. Read on for a breakdown of the top concerns you might face on a trip here.
Crimes in South Korea
In this section, we’ll cover the top crime concerns in South Korea. Learn what the most prevalent crimes are in the country and how you can avoid becoming a victim. Furthermore, we’ll provide tips on how to stay away from shady areas that might take you into harm’s way.
Petty theft, like pickpocketing, is the most prevalent tourist crime in South Korea. Fortunately, it’s easily preventable. Theft generally occurs in large cities.
Seoul is the country’s largest city, with over ten million people and the highest number of tourists, Busan has around 3.5 million citizens, and Incheon and Daegu are roughly 2.5 million. Exercise additional caution if you visit one of these cities, as pickpocketers are on the lookout for tourists.
Much of South Korea has public transport. You can take advantage of the trains and buses to make your trip more manageable, but stay vigilant and don’t leave your possessions alone. Go cashless in South Korea, and you can reduce your theft risk.
South Korea is quickly becoming a cashless nation, with only 17% of transactions involving cash currency in 2019. It’s easy to find locations that take domestic or even international credit cards, and you can freeze the cards if they are lost or stolen.
Unfortunately, scams are another crime common in South Korea. As a tourist, it’s easy to assume people have good intentions. Overcharging is a common scams you’ll encounter.
Shops and restaurants sometimes make tourists pay more because the tourists don’t know what things typically cost. There may be a separate menu for tourists with higher prices or a different item price shopkeepers offer visitors.
Don’t be afraid to ask locals what things cost or do your research online. The South Korean government prohibits false advertising, but it still happens and is a prevalent scam. Merchants may sell fake products to tourists who don’t know better or even inflate prices.
Look out for unfair labeling or counterfeit products, and always inspect items for quality before purchasing. This will help you shop with confidence.
Avoiding Bad Areas
In general, most crime concentrates in metropolises like Seoul and Incheon. The safest areas of South Korea are the eastern coast, the southeast shoreline, and the Jeju Island province.
Head to the safer places for a relaxing countryside vacation in an area like Naejangsan National Park or the riverside village of Andong. But you don’t have to retreat to the countryside for a safe trip.
Cities like Seoul are generally safe and have lots of CCTV and law enforcement. However, staying in a city requires extra preparation to avoid rough areas.
Seoul does have some rough areas, and the Gangnam district is the most dangerous spot in Seoul. Try to avoid the area and other places like the Gangseo Yeongdeungpo districts. These areas are famously crime-ridden and see around ten or twelve murder cases yearly.
Whether in Seoul or another big city, you can stay safe with these simple tips. Consider booking a hotel in a residential district, a student zone, or a place with well-kept houses and businesses.
If you like walking and sightseeing, observe the streets around you and leave the area if you come to a rough, run-down spot.
Check South Korea’s official crime safety map for the most updated information. It’s a great resource and shows crime statistics by area and type of crime.
Things to Consider
Consider these tips when visiting South Korea. You’ll fit in with locals better and have an easier time understanding your environment while on the vacation.
- Learn some helpful phrases in Korean. For example, thank you is ‘Kamsahamnida,’ and hello is ‘Annyeonghaseyo’ or simply ‘Anyo.’
- Use two hands to accept items, from takeout to personal gifts. In South Korea, using a single hand to take objects is culturally disrespectful.
- Allow other people to pour your alcohol. It’s rude in South Korea to serve drinks yourself. The eldest in the room will likely offer you your beverages.
- Keep in mind that Seoul has plenty of natural beauty. Many tourists come to South Korea’s capital for the city atmosphere, but you can’t miss sights like Cheonggyecheon Stream and Bukhansan National Park.
- You don’t need to tip. Tipping is standard in the west, but it’s a big no in South Korea. Restaurant staff and bartenders will not expect you to leave extra change and may even feel offended if you tip them.
- Be aware of subway seat signs. South Korea has specially reserved seats for pregnant and elderly persons, and you should refrain from sitting in these reserved areas.
- Watch out for common hand gestures. While you might be used to hailing a taxi with one finger, that’s a rude gesture in South Korea. Opt for a palm wave instead.
- Take off your shoes! In most of Asia, it’s expected you remove your shoes when inside someone’s home. Some restaurants may also require this rule, so look around and see what the other patrons are doing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learn more about traveling to South Korea and read these frequently asked questions:
What should I avoid in South Korea?
Avoid the DMZ, the border between North Korea and South Korea. It’s the most dangerous zone in the country and isn’t a place for tourists. Also, avoid the Gangham district in Seoul due to its high crime rates.
Try to avoid taking taxis in South Korea. Many taxis operate without seatbelts, creating a dangerous experience for passengers. Public transport, including trains and buses, are faster and often safer.
Tourists should also avoid breaking local customs. Remember to take off your shoes when in someone’s home, let older people start eating first, and refrain from eye contact. You’ll be set for a great trip in South Korea if you follow the tips on this list!
Are tourists safe in South Korea?
Yes, South Korea is safe for tourists. The US government lists it as low risk, and the country has minimal theft and assault. However, it’s crucial to stay safe. Even South Korea has rough areas. Research your destination and find the safest part of the city with low crime, good lighting, and CCTV cameras.
Is South Korea safe for females?
South Korea is a great place for female travelers. The low crime rate makes it an ideal tourist destination for women traveling alone or in groups. The country is safer than most, but precautions are still necessary. Never walk alone, especially in busy districts like Hongdae, Gangnam, and Itaewon.
Stay in well-lit areas and avoid getting in a car with anyone you don’t know. Female visitors should note that drink spiking, while uncommon, can happen in busy cities like Incheon or Seoul. Keep your glass in hand or pass it off to a friend.
Are Americans allowed in South Korea right now?
Yes, American citizens are currently allowed to visit South Korea. You need a valid US passport, Visa, or an approved Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) to enter the nation.
South Korea does not require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for international tourists from most countries, including the United States. You won’t need a COVID-19 test either, but you can purchase an at-home test while in South Korea.
Is Seoul safe for Americans?
Yes, Seoul is safe for Americans. According to the Canadian government’s travel recommendations, most crime in Seoul occurs between South Koreans and does not involve foreigners. However, public areas like buses, overnight trains, and restaurants can be hot spots for tourist crimes like pickpocketing and harassment.
Americans may face an extra safety concern because of the language barrier. English isn’t prevalent in South Korea, and Americans may struggle to find safe areas if they can’t speak the language. Pick up a Korean-English translation book, or keep a translation app handy.
Do people speak English in South Korea?
Generally, no. English is not an official language in South Korea. You may see some signs and menus in English, but few South Koreans speak fluent English. However, globalization has led to a rise in English speaking in South Korea, and you may meet English speakers in business, university, and financial contexts.
Many companies in South Korea even require their employees to have some knowledge of English. Head to Seoul if you’re concerned about finding fellow English speakers. Major cities typically have more diverse languages, and you’ll have a better chance of finding English-language resources in the capital city.
Is it safe to walk at night in Seoul?
Seoul is safe to walk in at night, depending on the area. Crime in Seoul, especially tourist crime, is low and mainly non-violent. However, crime rates increase slightly during nighttime hours.
As a result, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings. Stay in safe districts like Hongdae, Seodaemun-gu, and Itaewon, and avoid dangerous areas like the Gangnam district, Guryong Village, and the Han River Bridge.
So, Is South Korea Safe to Visit?
South Korea is a top tourist destination with sweeping mountains and beaches, beautiful wood and stone architecture, and low crime. It ranks as the 43rd safest country in the world and is a great place to choose for your next vacation.
With so much to see and do in a relatively safe country, what are you waiting for — book your trip to South Korea today!