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Is it illegal to have tattoos in Seoul?


In recent years, tattoos have become increasingly popular in South Korea, especially among younger generations. However, there has been confusion and controversy surrounding the legality of tattoos in South Korea, particularly in the capital city of Seoul. This article will explore the topic of whether or not it is illegal to have tattoos in Seoul and provide an in-depth analysis of the issue.

The History of Tattoos in Korea

The history of tattoos in Korea goes back to ancient times when they were used for medicinal purposes. However, during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), tattoos were associated with criminals and outcasts. This negative perception continued into the 20th century when tattoos were outlawed by the Japanese colonial government. After the Korean War, tattoos were still seen as taboo and only started gaining popularity in the 1990s.

The Legal Status of Tattoos in Korea

The legal status of tattoos in Korea is somewhat ambiguous. Technically, there are no laws prohibiting tattoos. However, tattooing is only legal if it is done by a licensed medical professional for strictly medical purposes. This means that most tattoo shops operate illegally and could potentially face fines or even imprisonment.

Tattoo Culture in Seoul

Despite the legal ambiguity, tattoo culture is alive and well in Seoul. There are numerous tattoo shops throughout the city, many of which are popular among locals and tourists alike. Some shops even feature renowned international artists who travel to Seoul to work with clients.

The Perception of Tattoos in Korean Society

While tattoos are becoming more accepted in Korean society, there is still a stigma attached to them. Many older Koreans associate tattoos with gangsters and criminals, and some employers even require employees to cover up any visible tattoos while at work. However, younger generations are more accepting of tattoos and see them as a form of self-expression.

The Role of K-Pop and Celebrities

K-Pop and celebrities have played a significant role in shaping the perception of tattoos in Korea. Many K-Pop idols and celebrities have tattoos, which has helped to normalize them to some extent. However, some fans still criticize their favorite idols for getting tattoos, and there have been instances where K-Pop stars have had to cover up their tattoos for public appearances.

Tattoos and the Law Enforcement Community

One group that is particularly affected by the legal ambiguity surrounding tattoos in Korea is the law enforcement community. Police officers are not allowed to have visible tattoos, as they are seen as unprofessional and could potentially damage the reputation of the police force. This has led to some officers having to cover up their tattoos while on duty.

The Health Risks of Tattoos

Aside from legal issues, there are also health risks associated with getting a tattoo. If not done properly, tattoos can lead to infections, scarring, and even blood-borne diseases like hepatitis or HIV. It is important to research potential tattoo artists thoroughly and ensure that they follow proper sanitation procedures.

Tattoo Removal in Seoul

For those who regret getting a tattoo or want to get rid of one for professional reasons, there are options for tattoo removal in Seoul. Laser tattoo removal is the most common method, although it can be expensive and painful. There are also some natural remedies like lemon juice or salt scrubs that claim to fade tattoos over time.

The Future of Tattoos in Korea

As attitudes towards tattoos continue to evolve in Korea, it is possible that the legal status of tattoos could change as well. There have been calls for a more relaxed approach towards tattoos, especially since they are becoming more mainstream. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the government will take action to address the issue.

The Bottom Line on Tattoos in Seoul

While there is no clear-cut answer to whether or not it is illegal to have tattoos in Seoul, it is important to understand the legal ambiguity and potential risks associated with getting a tattoo. As tattoo culture continues to grow, it is likely that attitudes towards tattoos will continue to shift, but for now, it is best to proceed with caution.


In conclusion, the topic of tattoos in Seoul is complex and multifaceted. While there are no laws specifically prohibiting tattoos, the legal status of tattooing is still somewhat ambiguous. However, this has not stopped the growth of tattoo culture in Seoul, and there are numerous shops and artists catering to both locals and tourists. As attitudes towards tattoos continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see how the government and society respond to this unique form of self-expression.

Is it OK to have tattoos in South Korea?

While tattoos are not against the law in South Korea, it is illegal to actually get a tattoo. The country considers it a medical procedure and only allows it to be performed by licensed medical professionals. Nonetheless, many young people still choose to display their tattoos in public.

Is it illegal to have tattoo in Korea?

In South Korea, creating art through tattoos is considered illegal without a medical license according to a law that has been enforced since 1992. Those who violate this law can face hefty fines of up to $40,000 or even imprisonment.

What is the legal tattoo age in South Korea?

In South Korea, the minimum age to get a tattoo is 18, but a person named Young lied about her age and said she was 20 in order to get a tattoo. By the time she turned 20, she was studying fashion in college, but she was struggling with depression and stopped attending classes.

Can Korean girls get tattoos?

Despite the fact that tattooing is prohibited in South Korea, some courageous women choose to get tattoos as a form of self-expression. While it is legal to have tattoos as an individual, it is against the law to work as a professional tattoo artist.

How do Koreans view tattoos?

Tattoos were once seen as a form of mutilation or as a punishment or ownership mark. During the time of Japanese occupation, Korean gangs adopted the yakuza’s style and used tattoos to identify themselves as gang members. This has resulted in older Koreans finding it difficult to dissociate themselves from these cultural and legal associations.

Are K pop idols allowed to have tattoos?

To comply with South Korea’s conservative stance on tattoos, performing artists must conceal any visible body art using either clothing or flesh-colored patches. In South Korea, tattoos are generally illegal except when performed by medical professionals.

Despite the legal ambiguity and stigma associated with tattoos in some parts of Korean society, there are also many individuals who view tattoos as a form of art and self-expression. Some Koreans choose to get tattoos that reflect their cultural heritage, such as traditional Korean motifs or calligraphy. Others opt for more modern designs or personal symbols that hold significant meaning for them.

As tattoo culture continues to grow and evolve in Seoul, it is important for individuals to do their research and seek out reputable tattoo artists who follow proper safety and hygiene procedures. This includes using sterile equipment and ink, properly disposing of needles, and providing aftercare instructions to prevent infection and scarring.

It is also crucial for individuals to understand the potential implications of getting a tattoo, particularly if they work in certain professions or industries where visible tattoos may be frowned upon or even prohibited. It is important to consider the potential impact on career advancement and job opportunities before getting a visible tattoo.

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo is a personal one that should be made after careful consideration of all the factors involved. While tattoos may still face some legal and social hurdles in Korea, they are becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate form of self-expression and art. With proper research and caution, individuals can safely and responsibly explore this unique aspect of Korean culture.

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