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Is tattooing still illegal in Korea?


Tattoos have been a form of self-expression for centuries. However, in some countries, tattooing is still considered illegal or frowned upon. One such country is South Korea, where tattooing has long been associated with criminal activity. In this article, we will explore the laws and regulations surrounding tattooing in Korea.

The history of tattooing in Korea

Tattooing has a long history in Korea, dating back to the ancient times. Tattoos were once used to mark criminals, slaves, and prisoners of war. However, tattoos also had cultural significance in Korea. Some tribes used tattoos to signify social status or to honor ancestors. In modern times, tattoos have become more mainstream in Korea, but they are still associated with criminal activity.

Why was tattooing illegal in Korea?

Tattooing was made illegal in Korea in the early 20th century. The government associated tattoos with gangs and criminals and banned them as a way to combat crime. The ban on tattoos continued even after the country became more democratic.

Current laws regarding tattooing in Korea

Tattooing is technically still illegal in Korea. However, the law is not strictly enforced, and many people still get tattoos. In recent years, there has been a push for legalizing tattooing, and some progress has been made. In 2016, a court ruled that only medical professionals can legally perform tattoos.

The rise of tattoo culture in Korea

Despite the ban on tattooing, the popularity of tattoos has been on the rise in Korea. Many young people see tattoos as a form of self-expression and rebellion against traditional norms. Some K-pop stars and celebrities have also popularized tattoos, making them more acceptable among younger generations.

The stigma surrounding tattoos in Korea

Even though tattoos have become more mainstream in Korea, there is still a stigma attached to them. Many older generations still associate tattoos with criminal activity and view them as a sign of rebellion. This has led to discrimination against people with visible tattoos, especially in the workplace.

The health risks of illegal tattooing in Korea

Since tattooing is still technically illegal in Korea, many people turn to illegal tattoo artists who operate under the radar. These unlicensed artists often use unsanitary practices that can lead to infections and other health issues. Legalizing tattooing would help regulate the industry and make it safer for consumers.

The economic impact of legalizing tattooing

Legalizing tattooing could also have a positive impact on the economy. Currently, many Koreans travel abroad to get tattoos, which means that money is leaving the country. If tattooing were legalized and regulated, it could become a booming industry in Korea, creating jobs and boosting tourism.

The global perspective on tattooing

While tattooing is still frowned upon in some parts of the world, it has become more accepted globally. In countries like the United States and Europe, tattoos are viewed as a form of self-expression and art. Legalizing tattooing in Korea would bring the country more in line with global attitudes towards tattoos.

The role of social media in changing attitudes towards tattoos

Social media has played a significant role in changing attitudes towards tattoos in Korea. Instagram and other platforms have made it easier for people to showcase their tattoos and for artists to share their work. This has helped to destigmatize tattoos and make them more acceptable among younger generations.


Tattooing may still be technically illegal in Korea, but attitudes towards it are changing. With more young people embracing tattoos as a form of self-expression, there is a growing push for legalizing tattooing. While there are still challenges to overcome, such as the stigma associated with tattoos, the benefits of legalizing tattooing could be substantial for both individuals and the economy as a whole.

Can I show my tattoos in Korea?

Although it is illegal for non-medical practitioners to perform tattoos, it is not against the law to display them in public. Kim emphasized that it is not reasonable to make individuals cover their tattoos in multiuse facilities simply because others dislike them. In South Korea, only medical doctors are permitted to legally perform tattoos.

Can foreigners get tattoos in Korea?

Even with restrictions in place, it is still possible to get a tattoo in Korea without facing any charges as a client. The responsibility falls solely on the tattoo artist. If you want to show support for the rebels and get a tattoo in South Korea, here is how to book an appointment with a tattooist. Follow the process of painting squares.

Are tattoos still illegal in Japan?

In Japan, tattoos are generally accepted and not illegal. In fact, it is even common to see people with decorative tattoos, particularly in Tokyo.

Do Korean schools allow tattoos?

It can be difficult to navigate this issue. Like Japan, Korea has a culture that values conservatism, and schools have rigorous guidelines regarding personal appearance. The most important rule is that tattoos must not be visible (although it is acceptable if they can be concealed by clothing). This policy is effective as of January 10, 2023.

Can Americans get tattoos in Korea?

Although tattoos are not against the law in South Korea and many young people have them, actually getting a tattoo is considered illegal according to Korean law because it is seen as a medical procedure and can only be performed by a qualified medical professional.

How do Koreans view tattoos?

Previously, tattoos were seen as damaging or as a sign of punishment or ownership. During the time of Japanese rule, Korean criminal organizations embraced the style of the yakuza, adopting tattoos as symbols of gang affiliation. For older Koreans, it is difficult to separate these associations from tattoos due to their cultural and legal implications.

One of the driving factors behind the push to legalize tattooing in Korea is the desire to protect the rights of individuals to express themselves. Many argue that it is a basic human right to be able to adorn one’s body in the way they choose, and that criminalizing tattooing is a violation of that right.

Legalizing tattooing would also help to remove the negative associations that tattoos have with criminal activity. By regulating the industry and ensuring that only licensed professionals can perform tattoos, it would help to make tattoos more mainstream and acceptable in Korean society.

In addition to the economic benefits of legalizing tattooing, there are also cultural benefits. Korea has a rich artistic history, and legalizing tattooing could help to foster a new generation of artists who specialize in tattoo art. This could lead to a flourishing of creativity and innovation within the Korean arts scene.

Finally, legalizing tattooing would help to bring Korea more in line with other countries around the world. As globalization continues, it is becoming increasingly important for countries to be open and accepting of different cultures and customs. By legalizing tattooing, Korea would be sending a message that it is a modern, forward-thinking country that values individual expression and creativity.

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