South Korea Country Guide

If you're looking for a country whose people live in complete harmony with one another, it's Korea. Koreans as a people are warm, welcoming and very approachable. As long as one remembers to respect its different cultures and traditions, Korea is one of the friendliest countries in the world. The economy has taken large strides in the last couple of decades to make the Republic of Korea (ROK) a name to be reckoned with on the list of the world's most powerful economies. However, this little Asian country has managed to strike the right balance between economic and scientific progress while retaining its cultural identity and instilling a sense of peaceful co-existence in its people.

South Korea is actually very cosmopolitan and the Western tourist shouldn't have any trouble getting acquainted with Koreans in cities like Seoul, which is a huge melting pot of cultures, race and ethnicities.

Below in our South Korea Country Guide is some useful travel information for your holiday in South Korea. If you are looking for things to see and do, visit our South Korea Destination Guide for more detailed information about different cities in South Korea and to book accommodation; or visit our South Korea Tours page for some great value tour options to see the country.

Check out the latest South Korea Travel features on YouTube.

South Korea Country Guide

Useful information on this page includes:

Climate/Weather Top

Follow the link to our South Korea weather page for South Korea climate and weather details and a six-day Seoul weather forecast.

Communication Top

Telephone
If you’re looking to get a telephone connection while in Korea, you’ll need to get in touch with KTF (Korea Telecom Services). However, add-on services like caller ID are charged. If you need to make a lot of long distance and international calls, Skype would be a better option. You can also choose to buy phone cards at convenience stores and KTF outlets. Public phones are not at all easy to come by.

Mobile Telephone
While getting a temporary cell phone connection is not impossible, it can be quite complicated for a foreign tourist. First of all, there’s lots of paperwork involved – and even then, a post-paid connection is almost impossible to get. While you can get a pre-paid connection, call charges are extremely high. Most mobile networks are CDMA and not GSM. However, you can rent a cell phone during your Korean visit at an LG, SK and KTF booth at the Incheon International Airport.

Internet
If you’re looking for Internet connectivity, you’ll find many cyber cafes all over the country.

Currency/Money Top

South Korea’s currency is the won, which is further broken down into 100 jeon, though that is more or less a defunct denomination now.

To view the current South Korea exchange rate, click on this link to OANDA.com - The Currency Site.

Electricity Top

110/220 volts AC, 60Hz. Government policy is to phase out the 110 volt supply and many South Korea hotels now have a 220 volt supply.

Embassy Information Top

To view a list of South Korea embassies around the world, as well as foreign embassies within South Korea, click on this link to http://www.embassy-worldwide.com/.

Geography Top

South Korea is also known as the Republic of Korea and it has the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (an entirely different state) to its north, the Korea Strait to the south, demarcating it from Japan, the Yellow Sea to the west and the Sea of Japan to the east. Off the southwest coast, you find the very scenic volcanic island, Cheju-do. Less than a third of South Korea is flatlands, where most of the population and agricultural produce can be found. The majority of the country is hilly. The eastern coast is especially rocky, marking the very jagged edge that you see on the world map – it’s beautiful and green, and has the most renowned mountains of South Korea. Near Busan, which is a port in the south, is the Naktong River that flows into the Korean Strait.

Health Top

Though there are medical facilities within reach in most cities and a local doctor is usually available (just enquire with the concierge in your hotel), it is advised that you undertake travel to Korea with some sound health insurance in your travel kit. Some of the recommended clinics are Asan Medical Centre, Samsung Medical Centre and Severance Hospital. Almost all medical facilities will ask for a registration fee, even if you’re in the country for just a couple of weeks. And the hospital is another place where your Korean-English dictionary will come in handy – most medical personnel don’t speak much English.

Be warned, though – cholera is still a risk in most parts of Korea. Suitable precautionary measures must be taken and vaccination is highly recommended. Approach the consulate for further advice before your trip. Malaria is another risk, though this is confined to mostly the demilitarised and northern rural areas. Tourists planning a slightly longer trip, of up to 3 months, are required to produce a HIV negative certificate within one month of arriving in the country.

History Top

Korea has its mythological origins in 2333 BC, with Emperor Tangun, also said to be a god. Korea has gone through numerous invasions in its 2000-year history, especially from its closest neighbours, Japan and China. Known far and wide for its in-your-face brand of opposition to any kind of external influence, Korea has earned the name of “Hermit Kingdom”. Just about a century back, in 1910, Japan began its notorious colonial rule of Korea, which lasted for about 35 years. After World War II, Japan lost the rights to its colonial territories and Korea gained its own independent latitude, along 38°N.

Unfortunately, Korea’s borders were not able to stop infiltration during the cold war. This led to an outbreak of war between the two Koreas in 1950, which continued for 3 years. A deadlock was then declared and a treaty was signed between the two sides to end the violence. However, till date, because of the violent history attached to both, the borders remain sealed, and South Korea and North Korea function as two separate countries.

Language Top

Korean is the official language of South Korea, which has some similarities with Japanese and Vietnamese and is mostly derived from Chinese. In fact, over 60% of the vocabulary has its origins in the Sino-Korean language. Both spoken and written Korean sound strikingly similar to Chinese.

Korea is probably one of the few countries in the world where English is not used much. For the tourist a Korean-English dictionary is essential – without it, communication will be difficult, especially if you plan to spend a good chunk of your trip shopping. Keep your ears open to vague non-committal phrases like “we’ll see” or “I’ll think about it.” And yes, learn to say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ in Korean.

Location Top

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is located in northeast Asia, between China and Japan. To view a map of South Korea, click on this link to WorldAtlas.com.

People/Culture Top

The Koreans you see today are descendants of Mongolian tribes that migrated from Manchuria and Siberia somewhere around 4000 BC. Koreans have gradually turned into a mostly homogenous race. The family is the fulcrum of Korean society, which is patriarchal. The father provides for the family and is the chief decision maker. The mother nurtures and cares for the family. Age is respected above all – the older you are, the more respect you’ll receive.

The Korean brand of humour can be seen in most of their art forms, be it song, folk art, literature or even day-to-day conversations. Koreans are an open people – what they feel is what they show.

Practical Information Top

Population – 49 million people
Total Area - 99,313 sq km (38,345 sq miles, excluding demilitarised zone).
Capital – Seoul (10.3 million people)
Time Zone - Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +9 hours.

To view the current time in Seoul, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.

Public Holidays Top

Follow the link to view a current list of public holidays in South Korea.

Religion Top

Close to a half of Korea’s population has decided not to belong to any particular religion – they show no religious affiliations and prefer to just be known as Koreans. Of the rest, around 30% are Christian – with a 65:35 ratio of Protestants to Catholics, around 23% follow Buddhism and 10% follow Islam. The remaining 1-2% of the population consists of new sects and sub sects like Wonbuddhism, Cheondoism, Jeungism, and Daesunism.

Visas/Passports Top

If you belong to Britain, Australia, USA, Canada and the EU countries, and you have a passport that’s been valid for at least 3 months – that’s your first step to visiting Korea. Visas are not required for nationals of these countries. Only Latvians need one to gain entry into Korea. However, the periods of time that you can stay in Korea differ from country to country. If you’re a Canadian, you can stay up to six months. If you’re Australian or European, you are welcome for 3 months, Italians can stay for 2 months and Americans for just one month at a time. Tourists of other nationalities will need to get in touch with the Korean embassy for visa requirements.

Types of Visa and Cost
A single entry visa for up to 90 days costs £16.50. For more than 90 days, it’s £27.50. A multiple entry visa costs around £45. For up-to-date rates, you will have to check with the embassy – however, the same fees are applicable for both tourist and business visas. If you’re British and plan to be in Korea for more than two weeks, you’ll need to register with the British Embassy beforehand.

You cannot gain entry into South Korea from North Korea. For latest and up-to-date information and conditions, you’ll need to get in touch with your local consulate.