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What should I avoid in South Korea?

The Dos and Don’ts of Traveling in South Korea


South Korea is a beautiful and culturally rich country, but like any foreign land, there are certain things to be aware of when traveling there. As a tourist, it’s important to be mindful of cultural differences and customs in order to avoid offending locals and ensure a pleasant trip. Here are some tips on what to avoid during your stay in South Korea.

Avoid Being Loud and Obnoxious

Koreans value quiet and peace, so being too loud or boisterous can be seen as rude or disruptive. When riding public transportation or walking in public spaces, try to keep your voice down and avoid unnecessary noise. This also means refraining from playing loud music or videos on your phone in public.

Don’t Leave Chopsticks Stuck in Rice

In Korean culture, leaving chopsticks stuck in a bowl of rice is associated with funerary rituals and death. It’s considered bad luck and disrespectful to leave chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice. Instead, when you’re finished eating, place your chopsticks on the side of the plate or bowl.

Avoid Wasting Food

Korean cuisine places a lot of emphasis on sharing and communal eating. It’s considered impolite to waste food, so try to only take what you can eat and finish what’s on your plate. If you can’t finish your meal, ask for a takeout container or offer it to someone else at the table.

Don’t Wear Shoes Inside

In Korean culture, removing your shoes before entering a home or certain public spaces is a sign of respect and cleanliness. It’s important to pay attention to signs and follow the lead of locals when it comes to removing your shoes. Make sure to wear clean socks or bring slippers to wear inside.

Avoid Public Displays of Affection

Korean culture is generally more conservative when it comes to physical touch and public displays of affection. It’s considered inappropriate to engage in kissing, hugging, or other forms of PDA in public. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and keep physical contact to a minimum.

Don’t Get Too Drunk

While drinking is a popular pastime in South Korea, getting too drunk in public is frowned upon. It’s important to know your limits and pace yourself when drinking with locals. If you do get drunk, make sure to avoid causing a scene and seek assistance if needed.

Avoid Political Discussions

Politics can be a sensitive subject in South Korea, especially when it comes to relations with North Korea. It’s best to avoid discussing politics or making any controversial statements that could offend locals or stir up tensions.

Don’t Ignore Social Hierarchy

Respect for authority and social hierarchy is deeply ingrained in Korean culture. It’s important to be mindful of age, status, and position when interacting with locals. Always use appropriate titles and honorifics when addressing someone older or in a position of authority.

Avoid Pointing with Your Feet

In Korean culture, pointing with your feet is considered rude and disrespectful. It’s important to use your hands or verbal cues to indicate something instead. Also, try not to sit with your feet pointed towards someone as it can be seen as aggressive.

Don’t Forget to Tip

Tipping is not a common practice in South Korea, but it’s still appreciated in certain service industries such as restaurants and hair salons. If you do decide to tip, make sure to do so discreetly and without drawing attention to yourself.

Avoid Crossing Your Arms

Crossing your arms is seen as a defensive posture in Korea and can be interpreted as being closed off or unapproachable. It’s important to maintain an open and friendly demeanor when interacting with locals, so try to keep your arms relaxed at your sides.


By being mindful of cultural differences and customs, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip to South Korea. Remember to be respectful, polite, and open-minded when interacting with locals. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to navigate Korean culture with ease and make the most of your travels.

What things are not allowed in South Korea?

The list of illegal drugs includes opium, marijuana, and cocaine, among others. This also includes items such as medicines, handbags, wallets, stoles, taxidermy, and ivory from animals like elephants, leopards, and alligators. Additionally, forms of payment such as cashier’s checks, overdraft checks, and postal money orders are also prohibited.

What should I be careful of in Korea?

Avoid large public gatherings and take extra care in any crowded space. South Korea remains safe for most travellers, with a relatively low crime rate. However, petty crime happens, especially in major cities such as Seoul and Busan. Watch your belongings.

Are tattoos allowed in South Korea?

In South Korea, only licensed medical practitioners are allowed to operate tattoo parlors by law, while those without medical degrees cannot. However, having a tattoo is not against the law except in the military, where tattoos are prohibited. Those who have served in the military are allowed to have tattoos.

Is kiss allowed in South Korea?

Public displays of affection such as kissing are considered inappropriate and immodest among older generations in South Korea. Although the younger generation is more accepting of such behavior, it is still discouraged by elders.

What to wear and what not to wear in South Korea?

If you are dining at a restaurant with floor-style seating, it’s recommended to wear a long and loose skirt or pants to maintain modesty. Local women typically wear shorts and t-shirts instead of swimwear at the beach, so it’s suggested to avoid wearing a bikini and instead opt for a one-piece swimsuit and a sarong, especially if you are not in a tourist beach area.

Which Korea is safe for American tourists?

Is it safe to visit South Korea? Yes, South Korea is a very safe place to travel to. Tourists often remark on the clean streets, welcoming environment, and low incidence of crime, including crimes against non-residents.

Do Learn Basic Korean Phrases

While many Koreans speak English, it’s always appreciated when visitors make an effort to learn some basic Korean phrases. Simple greetings like “annyeonghaseyo” (hello) and “kamsahamnida” (thank you) can go a long way in showing respect and building rapport with locals. In addition, learning how to order food or ask for directions in Korean can make your travels much smoother and more enjoyable.

Do Dress Appropriately

South Korea is known for its fashion-forward culture, but it’s important to dress appropriately for different situations. When visiting temples or other religious sites, make sure to wear modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Similarly, when visiting more formal establishments like restaurants or clubs, it’s important to dress up a bit to show respect for the establishment and its patrons.

Do Follow Social Etiquette

Social etiquette is highly valued in Korean culture, so it’s important to be mindful of your behavior when interacting with locals. For example, it’s considered impolite to interrupt someone while they’re speaking or to speak too loudly in public spaces. Additionally, taking off your shoes before entering someone’s home is a sign of respect and cleanliness.

Do Try Local Foods

Korean cuisine is famous for its bold flavors and unique dishes, so don’t be afraid to try new foods during your stay. From spicy kimchi to savory bulgogi, there are plenty of delicious options to choose from. If you’re not sure where to start, ask locals for recommendations or try a food tour to sample a variety of dishes.

Do Be Open-Minded

Traveling to a new country can be challenging at times, but it’s important to stay open-minded and embrace new experiences. South Korea has a rich culture and history that’s worth exploring, from traditional tea ceremonies to modern K-pop concerts. By being open to new experiences and learning about Korean culture, you’ll be able to make the most of your trip and create lasting memories.

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