Top events in South Korea

April
01

Foodies will enjoy this Seoul event showcasing the best traditional and new cuisine from Korea and around the world. Cooks compete in various...

April
07

This curious event occurs due to a once a year low tide, which causes a walkway to appear that offers passage from the mainland to an island...

May
01

Over 100 arts, craft and galleries display their most valuable pieces during this popular annual festival in Seoul, while events include a parade...

Seokguram Grotto, South Korea
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Seokguram Grotto, South Korea

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South Korea Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

99,720 sq km (38,502 sq miles) excluding demilitarised zone.

Population

49 million (2013).

Population density

490.9 per sq km.

Capital

Seoul.

Government

Republic since 1945.

Head of state

President Park Geun-hye since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo since 2015.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 60Hz. Round two-pin plugs are used.

The quantity of beautiful national parks, remote beaches, islands in the south, and rugged mountain peaks make Korea a stunningly diverse country and one that is great for outdoor adventures. Tradition juts up against technology as skyscrapers and temples coexist. No matter how much you know (or don't know) about Korea’s customs or etiquette, if you arrive here with a friendly smile and a sincere and respectful attitude, you will be welcomed with open arms. Koreans are fiercely proud of their country and have good reason to be.

Until relatively recently, Korea was an insular place, existing under dynastic rule for centuries, with hundreds, some say thousands, of invasions over the centuries. However, the 35-year Japanese occupation from 1910, the split of the peninsula after WWII and the subsequent Korean War shattered all that. Difficult times have however made the Koreans a resilient lot, succeeding economically whilst still holding onto their unique traditions and fascinating culture.

The demilitarised zone, the border between North and South Korea is an eerie place - the tension is so trumped up it seems it should be a Hollywood film set, yet there is no denying the barbed wire or the potential attack by the North. In the rest of the country, Korea is littered with fortresses, temples and palaces, many of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, making a trip here rich with discovery.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 05 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, pick pocketing, purse snatching, assault, burglary (in hotel rooms and private residences), and other crime occur, particularly in major towns and cities. Take normal safety precautions and make sure valuables are secure especially in tourist areas, like Itaewon and other large markets.

Incidents of rape have been reported in popular nightlife districts of Seoul, as well as in private residences. Take care when travelling alone at night and only use legitimate taxis or public transport.

For emergency assistance, call 112 for police (an interpretation service is available during working hours) and 119 for ambulance and fire. The Korean National Police operates a 24-hour, 7 day a week central interpretation centre where foreigners can report crimes telephone: 112).

Political situation

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided by a de-militarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement.

The level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice. It increased after the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan and an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, when DPRK carried out two missile tests in 2012, and a nuclear test in 2013. More recently the DPRK threatened to nullify the Korean War Armistice Agreement in April 2013. However, in recent months the level of tension has reduced.

Civil emergency exercises

The South Korean authorities normally hold nationwide civil emergency exercises on the 15th day of the month, eight times a year (not January, February, July or December). Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter in metro stations or basements. Shelters in Seoul are marked with a special symbol. Participation by foreign nationals in the exercises is not obligatory but you should familiarise yourself with the procedures and check local announcements for further exercises.

Road travel

You’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in South Korea. Make sure you have fully comprehensive insurance.

Car and motorbike drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents involving motorcycles or pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common when accidents result in injury, even if guilt is not proved. Watch out for motorcycles travelling at speed on pavements.

Taxi drivers tend to speak little or no English. Have your destination written in Korean, if possible with a map.

In 2012 there were 5,392 road deaths in South Korea (source: DfT). This equates to 11 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2012.

Mobile telephones

Older (non-3G) phones bought outside South Korea will not normally work in the country, and fitting foreign phones with local SIMs (e.g. to avoid roaming fees) is not usually possible.

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