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Destination Guides


South Korea


General   Money   Entry Requirements   Health & safety   Weather   Embassies   Etiquette   Public Holidays   Attractions   Map  

Introduction

An intriguing land of ancient ruins, romantic legends, natural wonders, breathtaking landscapes and teeming modern cities, the Republic of Korea can trace its history back half a million years.


Tourists are discovering with delight the hidden treasures of the southern half of the mountainous Korean peninsula, which pokes southwards from the eastern end of the Asian continent. South Korea has been separated from North Korea by a demilitarised zone since 1953, and has flourished to become a stable and mature democracy, home to 50 million people who are spread across its nine provinces, concentrated in seven mega-cities. Previously dubbed 'the hermit kingdom', South Korea is now flaunting its bright plumage like a proud peacock.


Largest of the metropoles, and the area most frequented by visitors, is the capital, Seoul, the world's tenth largest city, where ancient shrines nestle beneath soaring skyscrapers. This seething city, ringed by mountains, offers hundreds of attractions and experiences, vibrant nightlife and unforgettable dining.


Another area rich in tourist attractions is the southeastern region, with its wealth of archaeological treasures. Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom, is an open-air museum boasting tombs, temples, pagodas and ruins dating from as early as 57 BC. The Bomun Lake Resort, with its luxury hotels, is a fine base from which to explore the area. New resort complexes are currently under construction to open up this fascinating area even more to tourism.


The least populated area of the country is Gangwon-do Province, on the eastern side of the peninsula, where remote forested mountains and valleys are studded with small towns. This area, which played host to the Asian Winter Games in 1999, is fast becoming one of the world's most sought after skiing destinations. The rest of the year visitors are drawn to the province's magnificent beaches and scenic hiking trails.


Those seeking a romantic getaway should head for South Korea's resort island, Jejudo, known as 'little Hawaii' because of its subtropical vegetation, volcanic landscape, sandy beaches and sparkling waterfalls. The island is dominated by the towering Mount Halla volcano, but visitors need not fear a natural disaster - the volcano was last active in 1007.


Communications

The international dialling code for South Korea is +82. Telecommunications are well developed and internet cafes are widely available. Although mobile telephones are widely used by locals, there is no GSM network and some foreign phones will not work in South Korea, even when on international roaming. It's possible to hire a local mobile phone.


Emergencies

112 (Police); 119 (Ambulance and Fire)


Languages Spoken

The official language is Korean.


Duty Free

Travellers (over the age of 19) arriving in South Korea may bring in the following items free of customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco products; 57g perfume; 1 litre of alcohol (only those over 20 years old); and gifts valued at not more than 400,000 won. Products from communist countries are prohibited, as are fruit, seeds and any published or recorded material deemed to be subversive or obscene.


Electricity

Electric current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin round plugs are standard.


Climate Info

The climate in Korea is temperate, with four very distinct seasons. South Korea has a continental climate characterised by very cold, dry winters and very hot, humid summers. Spring and autumn are relatively short and temperatures are mild and generally quite pleasant, making these the most comfortable seasons to visit South Korea. Spring is generally quite short and occurs in late March and early April. South Korean summers arrive suddenly in late April and are warmed by moist prevailing winds from the Pacific Ocean. Typhoon season is from June to September, and while South Korea doesn't experience typhoons like those in Southeast Asia, the southern parts of the peninsula do experience a lot of rain. In fact, most of the rain falls in summer during a monsoon season known as 'jangma'. Autumn passes through the peninsula from late September through October, with winter setting in sooner in northern areas such as Seoul, and autumn lasting longer for the southern cities, such as Busan. South Korean winters are harsh with temperatures dropping below freezing and icy winds blowing in from Siberia. Mountainous areas as well as the northern areas of the country experience some snowfall but the southern parts and coastal regions experience little to no winter snowfall.


Passport

All visitors require a valid passport, a return or onward ticket, sufficient funds, all documents for the next destination and a contact address in South Korea. Those requiring a visa should obtain one from a Korean Embassy or Consulate before entering the country or, if they qualify, apply for an e-visa and carry their Electronic Visa Issuance Confirmation. Visas are not required for passengers holding APEC Business Travel Cards, provided the back of the card states validity for travel to South Korea. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


Entry Requirements

A valid passport is required for entry. A visa is not required for stays of up to six months.

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Health

There are no required vaccinations for entry to South Korea and standards of medical care are high. Payment for treatment is usually expected in advance. Medical insurance with provision for repatriation is recommended. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B should be considered for all travellers, and typhoid inoculations are recommended for those who plan to spend prolonged periods in rural areas. There is a small risk of malaria is some areas. Tap water is chlorinated but may cause stomach upsets, therefore it is preferable to drink bottled water. Food should be well cooked and milk boiled.


Safety

Most visits to South Korea are trouble-free. The crime rate against foreigners is low, but it is still advisable to use sensible precautions, particularly in safeguarding passports, money and credit cards in crowded areas, and travellers should be cautious, particularly at night, travelling only in legitimate taxis or public transport. The political situation is generally stable but since the Korean peninsula was divided by a demilitarised zone in 1953, tensions have risen and fallen on occasion. It is wise to be informed about current conditions. You should carry some form of identification at all times.


Emergency Phone Number

112 (Police); 119 (Ambulance and Fire)



* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov

Money

The official currency is the South Korean Won (KRW). Currency can be exchanged at most banks and at casinos. Most merchants in the cities accept major credit cards, but Koreans traditionally prefer cash. ATMs at banks are usually accessible only during banking hours, and instructions on the machines are generally only in Korean. Most public ATMs at convenience stores and subway stations are available 24 hours. US$ are accepted in a limited number of major locations and hotels.


Exchange Rate

1 KRW = 0.0012024 CAD

Embassies of South Korea

South Korea Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 5600.


South Korea Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7227 5500.


South Korea Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 244 5010.


South Korea Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6270 4100.


South Korea Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 460 2508.


South Korea Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 8800.


South Korea Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 9073/4.




Foreign Embassies in South Korea

United States Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 397 4114.


British Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 3210 5500.


Canadian Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 3783 6000.


Australian Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 2003 0100.


South African Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 792 4855.


Irish Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 721 7200.


New Zealand Embassy, Seoul: +82 (0)2 3701 7700.


Customers

English is not widely spoken or understood, so if you plan to use taxis or other local services it is wise to have instructions written down in Korean. It is advisable to carry some form of identification at all times. Social harmony is crucial, and public anger or criticism that causes an individual to 'lose face' or dignity is a serious breach of etiquette. Koreans will go out of their way to maintain a comfortable situation.


Business

The increase in trade with Western countries has meant that Koreans do not expect visitors to understand all the nuances of their culture; however, attempts to respect traditions are appreciated. Koreans dress conservatively and formally and it is important to do the same. Koreans like to do business with people whom they know and often introductions via a third known party are necessary. Greetings often consist of a bow, followed by a handshake. Introductions are very important and ascertain the hierarchy, often according to age, which is to be observed and respected. Usually the most important person will be introduced first. Greetings and pleasantries in Korean will be appreciated, including 'an-yong-ha-say-yo' (hello), and 'kam-sa-ham-ni-da' (thank you). Business card etiquette is vital: cards should be given and received with both hands, with the details translated from English into Korean or Chinese on the alternate side, and must be treated with the utmost respect. Each one is to be read carefully and the name acknowledged. It is important, when issuing cards, not to stack them or keep them in one's wallet or purse. Koreans are referred to by their surnames or family names first and then their given names second and it is best to ask in advance how to address the person. The giving of gifts is appreciated and often reciprocated. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.


Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Korea. Sometimes, expensive restaurants and luxury hotels may add a service charge of 10 percent. Taxi drivers are usually tipped small amounts if they assist with baggage.


Public Holidays in South Korea

20172018
New Years Day1 Jan1 Jan
Seollal (Lunar New Year)27 Jan15 Feb
Independence Movement Day1 Mar1 Mar
Labour Day1 May1 May
Orininal (Childrens Day)5 May5 May
Buddhas Birthday3 May29 May
Memorial Day6 Jun6 Jun
Kwang Bok Jul (Independence Day)15 Aug15 Aug
Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival)4 Oct23 Sep
Kae Chun Jul (National Foundation Day)3 Oct3 Oct
Christmas Day25 Dec25 Dec

Overview

Centuries of relative isolation on the world stage have allowed South Korea to develop and maintain a distinct and unique culture, and the past few decades have seen the country flexing its economic muscles and transforming into a global force to be reckoned with; this combination of ancient tradition and cutting-edge modernity is a huge pull for travellers.


Despite being a small country, South Korea is home to 11 UNESCO-listed sites, 10 of which are cultural and one of which is natural. These are the Changdeokgung Palace Complex, the ancient dolmen structures found at various sites, the Gyeongju Historic Areas, the Haeinsa Temple, the historic villages of Hahoe and Yangdong, Hwaseong Fortress, Jeju Island, the Jongmyo Shrine, Namhansanseong, the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, and the Bulguksa Temple.


These ancient treasures aside, the Korean Wave has seen a massive appreciation growing internationally for Korean pop culture, with South Korean music and fashion hitting the mainstream. The main attractions in urban centres are therefore often the booming entertainment, nightlife and restaurant scenes, not to mention the availability of high-tech gadgets.


Travellers spending time exploring South Korea should consider purchasing the Korea Pass, an all-in-one travel card, used like a credit card, which can be used for transport, accommodation, entrance fees and even shopping, and entitles the holder to certain discounts.


Map of South Korea



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