Personal · Places

Things to Know Before Traveling to Korea

Seoul, South Korea —

Traveling can be a leisure, stress or both. If you aren’t quite familiar with the language and culture of the country you’re visiting, don’t be surprised if you’ll end up saying your trip wasn’t that exciting. So, here are some tips (based on my personal experiences only) before traveling to the Land of the Morning Calm, specifically the capital, Seoul.

Visa

Secure a visa beforehand from the Korean embassy in your country or the country you’re currently living in (ie: tourist, student, work, spouse etc.) whichever is applicable to you.

How to get a Korean tourist visa (C3) for Filipinos?

How to get a Korean spouse visa (F6-1) for Filipinos?

Itinerary

If you plan to visit many tourist spots in Korea, plan a detailed itinerary ahead. Make sure the places are near to each other and include to note entrance fees, operating days and hours, directions, etc. It saves time, effort and fares.

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SAMPLE ONLY

If you’re too lazy to plan for the trip, worry not, the City Tour Bus will save the day or night. Head to Gwanghwamun Square to buy tickets. It’s a hop on-hop off bus with different routes to choose from that’ll take you around the city.

When is the best time to visit Korea? Check out THIS LINK.

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Two-Pin Round Plug

If your chargers aren’t round then, don’t forget to pack adapters, too. Charges are in 220 volts. Although convenience stores sell it for unreasonable price and some guesthouses do let you borrow adapters, too. But, better be prepared than sorry.

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Flat Chopsticks

So, you learned how to eat with chopsticks. But did you know in Korea they use flat chopsticks? Some people find it challenging to grip the food with flat ones especially if they are used to square or round-shaped. However, forks may also be available in most restaurants.

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Etiquette

Putting your arms around the shoulder or waving hello and goodbye to someone older than you (ie: parents, grandparents, boss, etc.) is impolite for Koreans.

How Koreans greet is by bowing with a 45 to 90-degree angle. Shaking hands after bowing can also be seen among men.

And sure, you may wanna greet the staff upon entering or leaving the restaurant and convenience store.

Koreans line up in cashiers, bus stops, subway and even toilets. Never cut in line if you don’t want to get humiliated in public. 

Koreans may offer to take your group photo. Likewise, they ask you to take theirs. 

Common conversation openers are “How old are you?” and “You got skinnier or bigger.”

Transportation

Purchase a transportation card (T-money) upon arrival. It’s convenient and cheaper for commuting via bus, subway and taxi.

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If you are on a budget, take the airport limousine or Arex instead of black taxis.

Riding a city bus in Seoul can be scary. Be sure to hold on to your seats. 

If you’re going to take the public transportation, be prepared to walk A LOT.

Comfort Rooms and Bathrooms

Most, if not all, public toilets provide tissue paper. Other establishments also install bidets for the comfort of the customers. One thing that annoys me about using public toilets is that there are a number of women who closes the lid after using. So, better flush it first before using. You might be surprised what’s inside.

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You may also find squat toilets in several subway stations and establishments. According to a survey last year, more than 50% of women in Seoul prefer the squat toilet compared to 20% who prefer the sitting type due to sanitation.

If you’re planning to stay at an inn, guesthouse or a motel, you may find big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash in the bathroom instead of the typical sachets or travel sizes. Please don’t take them home.

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Bath towels are rather small. They can barely cover your entire body but rest assured some guesthouses or inns still do provide big ones.

Food

Eat where the locals eat, not where there are many tourists. It’s less expensive and more portions. 

Customers are provided with wet tissues or wet towels in many cafes and restaurants before the food is served.

Typically, one person one order policy and the portion is not a joke.

You can’t find raw fish at any pork barbecue house or kimchi soup in a chicken resto. Restaurants don’t serve variety of selection, sometimes a menu has up to three (3) choices only.

You may find a number of restaurants which has low tables, keep in mind that you have to take your shoes off and place them on the rack before entering.

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Most restaurants have a bell on each table. Use this to call the attention of the waiter.

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You don’t need to ask for the bill. Automatically, they’d put it on your table after they’ve served all your dishes. It’s your responsibility to pay at the counter before leaving. Giving tip is not ideal, too.

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Self-service — “SELF”

Most cafes provide vibrating pagers after you’ve placed and paid your order. Once it vibrates, it means your order is ready for pick-up at the counter. Other restos still do the number calling. In addition, side dishes and water are also self-service. Also, you may find self-service gas stations and self-service counters at supermarkets. But, the staff are ready to help you.

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In the Philippines, it’s uncommon practice to clean after your mess in food chain restaurants. But in Korea, you are expected to do the cleaning and return the trays especially in food chains and food courts.

Garbage Disposal

They say, “monkey see, monkey do.” If you want to help save mother Earth, please mind your trash. Ironically, they do after care in cafes and fast food chains but not their take aways. 

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Korean Language and Konglish

Locals do appreciate if you speak the language. But, body language is also understandable. If you want to learn some words and phrases, please learn the most polite way of saying it. They mostly end with “-yo, -seyo, -imnikka?, -imnida (-요, -세요, -입니까?, -입니다)”.

Example:

안녕하세요 (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo) – Hello

죄송합니다 (jue-song-ham-ni-da) – Sorry

반갑습니다 (ban-gap-sum-ni-da) – Nice to meet you

감사합니다 (kam-sa-ham-ni-da) – Thank you

실례합니다. (shil-le-ham-ni-da) – Excuse me. (getting attention)

얼마예요? (ol-ma-ye-yo) – How much is it?

예/네. (ye/ne) – Yes

아니요. (a-ni-yo) – No

영어를 하십니까? (yeong-o-reul ha-shim-ni-kka?) – Do you speak English?

한국말 잘 못해요 (han-guk-mal jal mot-heh-yo) – My Korean isn’t very good.

cola or cider = soft drinks 

service = free of charge

self = self service

talent = TV stars

one piece = dress

autobike = motorcycle

selca or self camera = selfie

health = health club

Always remember, when in Rome Korea, do as the Romans Koreans do. 

At the end of the day, all you want to do is to catch some zzzs ’cause eventually, you’ll get tired, really tired from all the walking, waiting in lines, catching trains and traffic jams. That’s all I can think for now. If you have any questions, you know the drill, I’m just a message away. Thanks for reading and enjoy your trip to Korea! 🙂

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