Is South Korea safe to visit in 2024?
South Korea is very safe to visit, with low crime rates, especially against foreigners. Despite tensions with North Korea, the likelihood of conflict affecting visitors is nearly nonexistent. The main concerns are minor crimes like pickpocketing and sexual harassment. Travelers should exercise common-sense precautions and be aware of extreme weather conditions.
South Korea has plenty to offer the approximately 25 million people that visit each year. Visitors come to check out the beautiful nature, including miles of coastline and islands, and traces of thousands of years of history.
Many younger visitors are drawn by the wave of pop culture produced by South Korea’s bustling cities, including thumping Seoul, such as K-pop and K-dramas.
But while this amazing country is an international cultural leader thanks to its music, film, shopping, and its food, is South Korea safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is South Korea Safe to Visit?
Yes. South Korea is very safe to visit. In fact, many people who come are impressed by the clean streets, friendly atmosphere, and low crime rate.
Crime rates, especially against foreigners, are low. When they do occur, crimes are minor incidents of opportunity such as pickpocketing and sexual harassment.
Some people are concerned about visiting South Korea due to tensions with South Korea’s neighbor, North Korea. The peninsula was unified as one Korea until it was divided after World War Two and there was a war between the communist North and US-allied South from 1950 to 1953.
Although a truce was declared then, the war was technically ongoing until 2018 and the countries are divided by a thick militarized border, or the DMZ. Tensions are high but steady.
Occasional missile strikes and military exercises do happen and governments such as the Irish one advise their citizens that tensions escalate during this time. However, you shouldn’t let the conflict deter you from visiting South Korea.
After all, millions of Koreans have lived in the country for decades and go about their daily lives without breaking down worrying about the threat of war. Although you should keep the potential in mind and monitor news reports carefully, don’t let it dictate your trip itinerary.
If you need more reassurance, just look at travel advisories from foreign governments. For example, the American government has South Korea under a Level One travel advisory, the lowest possible advisory.
Besides exercising the same precautions, you probably would when walking around an unfamiliar area of your own hometown, you don’t need to take any special precautions when visiting South Korea.
As with any place, crime happens — remember that places such as Seoul are massive cities home to millions of people, not just tourist attractions.
However, tourists are rarely victims of crimes more severe than some pickpocketing. It is worth mentioning that South Korea has a sexual harassment problem, and local women have been agitating for years to make public spaces safer for them.
Harassment affects local women as well as foreigners. Finally, when visiting South Korea, you should keep in mind that you might have more to worry about from the weather than the locals.
South Korea’s weather is very intense, with very cold winters and very hot summers (things are milder in the south). Be sure to dress weather-appropriate.
In the spring and summer, air pollution and allergies get very bad, especially as winds bring yellow dust pollution to Korea. Finally, typhoon season is from June to August, and the big storms can cause floods, landslides, and other problems. Avoid traveling during this season.
To recap, the main concerns for visitors to South Korea are:
- Bag snatching
- Sexual harassment
- Extreme weather
While many are concerned about war with North Korea, the likelihood of conflict with the country’s neighbor affecting a foreign visitor is nearly nonexistent.
Crime in South Korea
The crime rate in South Korea is overall very low. Most incidents of crime are non-violent, such as petty theft and scams. The violent crime rate in South Korea is very low, especially considering that it is a pretty big country.
According to MacroTrends, the violent crime incidence rate in 2020 was 0.60 incidents per 100,000 people. This is much safer than the global average, which hovers around 7 incidents per 100,000 people. That shows you just how safe South Korea is.
Crime in South Korea has been rising since 2000, but this is not that concerning considering that the incident rates are still very low. In 2021, incidents of crime were at a rate of 1,774 incidents per 100,000 people.
Experts explain that the perceived increase is not very drastic at all and is at least partially explained by changes to the law that included more offenses under the definition of a crime.
Perhaps the best indication of what the crime rate will mean for you on the street is public perception of safety. According to Cost of Living surveys, the perception of crime in South Korea is low, at 23.89%, even though some people think crime has been increasing in the past few years.
People consider the overall crime rate to be low and don’t worry about common crimes such as violent crime, car break-ins, and even pickpockets.
While you obviously shouldn’t walk down an unfamiliar street all alone late at night while drunk and waving around hundred dollar bills, the chances that you will have an unsafe experience in South Korea are very low.
While most tourists visiting South Korea come away with only positive experiences, some are victims of crime. The most common crime tourists are victims of is pickpocketing. Other crimes of opportunity such as bag snatching, and scams also occur.
Foreign governments warn their citizens about the potential of pickpocketing in South Korea. For example, the Australian government warns its citizens that petty crime happens and to watch their belongings.
Even then, petty crime is rare and happens mostly in certain areas. Pickpocketing is most common in Seoul and Busan, which are the country’s two biggest cities and most popular tourist destinations.
Most incidents of pickpocketing happen in busy nightlife districts, where criminals take advantage of people’s inebriation, or in more remote parts where it’s harder to alert authorities.
In Busan, the rate of pickpocketing increases during the Busan Sea Festival, when crowds provide perfect cover for pickpockets. You can easily protect against pickpocketing and theft through basic common sense.
Most theft in South Korea isn’t actually pickpocketing but theft of unattended objects, so don’t leave your phone out on café or restaurant tables while you wander away.
You don’t need to buy a separate money belt but keep your wallet in a zipped purse or front pocket, where it’s protected from potential theft.
Unfortunately, female tourists will face additional challenges when visiting South Korea, as they would when visiting other places. One of those challenges is sexual harassment and assault.
Despite the perception of South Korea as a safe, polite society, local feminists and other women often agitate against the high rates of violence against women. 80% of local women are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace alone.
Violence against women, including murder, is very common, with nearly 80% of South Korean men admitting that they have been violent against their partners.
Most incidents of violence against women affect local women since they are done by people that these women know. Foreign women are sometimes victims of misogynistic crimes. They are usually limited to street harassment, but assault does occur.
There is no way to prevent or avoid sexual harassment. You can take precautions to avoid it escalating into something more violent, such as not taking taxis late at night and not walking alone.
Be careful in areas with bustling nightlife as perpetrators are often inebriated. Spiked drinks are common, but so are cigarettes, gum, and other offerings, so never accept anything from strangers.
Another problem many women experience in South Korea is the usage of spy cams. Perpetrators install hidden cameras in hotel rooms, public restrooms, and changing rooms, then distribute and even sell the images online.
30,000 incidents were reported to the police over a 5-year period, but the actual incidence rate is probably much higher as South Korean police are notorious for their callousness in sexual harassment cases, deterring many victims.
South Korean women share tips with each other on how to detect these hidden cameras, including buying spy cam detectors online, checking near power sources, and avoiding areas prevalent with spy cams. Sadly, it is hard to avoid this unpleasant aspect of life in South Korea.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Most of South Korea is safe to visit, and there are few areas that are bad per se. In the big cities, you want to stay away from alleyways and poorly lit side streets, especially at night.
Criminals like to operate in areas that are out of the way where it is harder for victims to call for help or alert the police. In Seoul, certain areas attract more criminals, such as the main Seoul Station and the subway system.
These are safe during the day but get a little sketchier at night, although most people still get home safely. In the Busan metro area, avoid Jung-gu as it has the highest crime rate in the country.
The one place you should avoid when visiting South Korea is the DMZ, or demilitarized zone which forms the border with North Korea. This dividing line is highly patrolled and sometimes cross-border clashes occur.
If you want to visit the area, you have to go as part of a guided tour as traveling on your own is illegal. Make sure that you carefully follow the instructions of authorities as they don’t take kindly to broken rules that might endanger the country’s security.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still curious about South Korea? Here is some more information:
What should I avoid in South Korea?
People in South Korea hold politeness in high regard, so avoid doing things that are perceived as rude, such as taking seats reserved for the elderly or accepting gifts with just one hand. Also avoid mentioning the war as many South Koreans lost family in the war and it is an ongoing trauma for the elderly.
Are foreigners safe in South Korea?
Yes, foreigners are generally safe in South Korea. The crime rate is low, especially the violent crime rate, and what crimes do exist rarely affect foreigners.
Is South Korea safe for females?
South Korea is one of the safer countries in Asia for female travelers thanks to the low crime rate and great infrastructure. However, sexual harassment is frequent and South Korean women have been complaining about a growing spy cam problem for years.
How are foreigners treated in South Korea?
Foreign visitors to South Korea are generally treated well. However, the society is fairly homogenous and long-term residents sometimes struggle to fit in.
Is Seoul safe at night?
Seoul is a very lively city, and it truly never sleeps. As long as you stick to bigger streets, you’ll be safe walking at night because you’re never alone. However, the party districts can get pretty rowdy.
So, Is South Korea Safe to Visit in 2024?
Despite concerns about war with its northern neighbor, South Korea is generally safe to visit. Tourists have a good time, and what crimes they encounter are minor crimes of opportunity such as pickpocketing. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!