Facts about South Korea: First time at Seoul

In South Korea

So here we are, South Korea, another language, another culture and another world of what we may be used to, especially talking about manners and politeness. South Korea is known for a society which has a hierarchy and depending on which level you are is the grade of politeness you must use. So first things first.
 Main entrance to a Temple in Seoul

Korean politeness

First of all, since we are talking about an Asian country I guess is implicit that manners and politeness is a must to know when we are traveling to South Korea. The first thing you will notice besides everyone looking at you because of your obvious difference is that many Koreans are very polite and warm when interacting with foreigners, they have this thing about being a good host and they will do everything to help you even if both have the language barrier.
Words should be picked wisely, you don’t want to make angry or insult the other person, but Koreans appreciate that foreigners are interested in their culture and that we try to get into it, so my advice is to greet everytime you arrive at a place or if you want to ask for something, the word for say hello at any time of the day is, 안녕하세요 or Annyeonghaseyo, it is pronounced “anion-sio”, and for thanking you will use 감사합니다 or Gamsahabnida, and it’s pronounced as “kam-sam-nida”, now you can go to a convenience store and say Annyeonghaseyo and then ask for the thing you want and say thank you with Gamsahabnida and do not forget to do the little bow when thanking, that’s the korean way, so there you go, now you shouldn’t struggle when arriving in Korea.

Korean manners

This is an important topic, cause not doing the things properly may be a cause for offending a Korean, especially the elders and those with higher hierarchy than you, so it is important to keep your manners when saluting and thanking people, Koreans know that as a foreigner you won’t know everything about their manners and culture but it is important that you don’t miss this tips because is a sign of  respect to their culture and also because they are open and patient with us when we are in their home country. So these are some tips about manners:
  • Do the bow when saluting or thanking anyone, they will appreciate it
  • When receiving things, as money, some products, cards, etc, you should receive them with both hands
  • When giving money, cards, etc, you should give it either with both hands or your left hand holding your wrist
  • When using public transportation, DON’T sit on the red seats, those are reserved for elderly
  • People in public transportation don’t ask for a chance to pass through, they will push you, so don’t get mad if you get pushed, better watch out
  • And this one is very important too: when entering a house, apartment or some buildings is a must to take off your shoes and go barefoot, so be sure to wear clean socks and put some talcum powder so you avoid smelling foot


What you should get almost immediately

If you are staying for more than a week, it is recommended to buy a sim card, maybe your home country chip is lack of signal here and you may struggle if you depend on the internet, but do not worry too much, Seoul has one of the biggest Wi-Fi networks and most of the public hotspots are free, but for the good ones you need a local sim card, so be sure to get one.

Also if you are planning to use public transportation you should buy a T-card, which is a prepaid card for using at the subway and bus networks, and remember about the red seats, just for elder, not you naughty boy jaja. If you are a huge fan of K-pop or another Korean cartoons characters, you will be interested in getting a T-card with your favorite character printed on it.

T-card for public transportation T-card for public transportation

Subway and Bus are easy to use, everything is in Korean with its translation into English in small letters so you can understand where are you heading to, there are maps every station and if you ask for help, people will assist you, as I wrote before, they will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable . Something important when going on the subway if you are not used to how the dynamic is, pay attention to this:

  • When going on electric stairs, the left side is for the people who are in a hurry or walk while the stairs move forward, if you are late to miss the next train you should walk in the left side, but if you are plenty of time just stay on the right side and don’t be an obstacle
  • When waiting for the train and it arrives, you must first wait on the sides of the doors for people to go outside the wagon and then you can go in
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Facts about Korea

Part of the culture shock is to adapt to the new environment, so you may be impressed by some things as I was when I first arrived, here are some of those things:

Note (if you live in a small city in your home country you may struggle or love these things)

  1. Korean people are extremely warm and patient with foreigners, the will help you whenever you need it
  2. I was not able to see small buildings along the way from Incheon Airport to my apartment in Seoul, so the city is full of big buildings
  3. All buildings and bedrooms either have a code lock at the entrance or a card detector so you can access the building and/or the dorm.
  4. Wi-Fi is everywhere and there are too many hotspots which are free, but it is better if you have a local sim card
  5. Starbucks are all around the city, too many of them
  6. Pollution is an issue here, so be sure to wear a mask if necessary in the worst days, there are some phone apps that advice you about the pollution status
  7.  Kakao Talk is the Korean Whatsapp/ messenger, so if you want to make friends, be sure to download it and create an account



And the last and most important thing is to dare to do explore and get lost in the city, there are so many tours with special prices for tourists and foreigners so be sure to take advantage of them. Do not be afraid and free yourself, although Korea is very safe don’t be confident at all, and be safe through your stay.

If you want more tourist information you should check the official site



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