20 Mistakes Tourists Make When Visiting South Korea

Planning a trip to South Korea? Awesome! This fabulous country offers so much, from yummy food to stunning sights. But hold up, before you pack your bags, let’s talk about the most common slip-ups tourists make.

Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been before, it’s easy to goof up if you’re not careful. Don’t worry, though! I’ve got your back with this list of 20 mistakes to avoid.

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1. Ignoring subway etiquette

In Seoul’s busy subway, don’t forget to give up your seat for older folks or pregnant women. Also, keep your voice down and don’t eat smelly foods. Koreans value peace on public transport.

2. Wearing shoes indoors

Many places in Korea, like homes and some traditional restaurants, are no-shoe zones. Always check if you need to take off your shoes. Wearing socks is a good idea to avoid walking around with bare feet.

3. Tipping at restaurants

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Unlike in some countries, tipping isn’t expected in Korea. In fact, it might confuse or even offend your server. Just pay the bill as it is- no extra cash is needed!

4. Sticking to tourist areas

Seoul isn’t just about Myeongdong or Gangnam. There’s so much more to see! Try exploring local neighborhoods for a real taste of Korean life. You’ll find cool cafes, markets, and parks off the beaten path.

5. Not trying street food

If you’re saving money, you can try Korean street food. It’s amazing, cheap, and it introduces you to authentic taste. Don’t be scared to try tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) or fish-shaped pastries filled with red beans. It’s a big part of the culture and super tasty!

6. Expecting everyone to speak English

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While many Koreans learn English in school, not everyone speaks it well. Learn a few basic Korean phrases. Locals will appreciate your effort, even if you mess up a bit.

7. Missing out on jimjilbang

These public bathhouses are a must-try Korean experience. Don’t be shy about using the facilities to relax while visiting the country. Enjoy the different pools, saunas, and relaxation rooms.

8. Being rude to elders

Respect for older people is super important in Korea. Use polite language, bow slightly when greeting them, and offer your seat on public transport. Small gestures go a long way.

9. Eating only Korean BBQ

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Korean food is way more than just grilled meat. Try bibimbap (mixed rice bowl), samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), or jjigae (stew). Your taste buds will thank you!

10. Not using a T-money card

This handy card works for subways, buses, and even some stores. It saves time and money compared to buying single tickets. Get one at any convenience store or subway station.

11. Skipping Korean history

Korea has a rich past. Visit places like Gyeongbokgung Palace or the War Memorial to understand the country better. It’ll make your trip more meaningful and interesting.

12. Forgetting to bow

Bowing is a big deal in Korea. A slight bow when saying hello or thank you shows respect. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly- even a small nod is appreciated.

13. Misusing chopsticks

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Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in rice – it looks like a funeral ritual. Also, try not to use it to point at anyone or wave them around. Use the special spoon for soup, not chopsticks.

14. Overlooking Korean beauty products

Korea is famous for skincare and makeup. Korean face masks make great souvenirs even if you’re not into beauty. They’re fun to try and often have cool packaging.

15. Being too loud in public

Koreans generally keep their voices down in public places. This is especially true on public transport or in restaurants. Try to match the volume of those around you.

16. Not exploring outside of Seoul

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Seoul is awesome, but don’t forget about other cool places. Busan has great beaches, Jeju Island is beautiful, and Gyeongju is full of history. Try to see more of the country!

17. Drinking solo

In Korea, drinking is often a group activity. It’s less common to see people drinking alone at bars. So, to get a full experience, join a food tour or pub crawl to experience Korean drinking culture with others.

18. Ignoring cafe culture

Korean cafes are next-level cool. They often have themes or amazing designs. Don’t just stick to chain coffee shops that you see in your hometown- try local cafes for unique drinks and Instagram-worthy spots.

19. Not trying noraebang

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Are you keen on singing? Karaoke rooms, called noraebang, are super fun in Korea. You get a private room with friends to sing your heart out. Don’t be shy – it’s a great way to experience Korean entertainment.

20. Forgetting about cultural differences

Remember, some things that are okay at home might not be in Korea. Couples shouldn’t be too touchy in public, and showing anger openly is a big no-no. Stay open-minded and respectful.


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Mary Apurong

Mary Apurong is an experienced editor and ghostwriter who enjoys writing and reading. She loves researching topics related to life and creating content on quotes, gardening, food, travel, crafts, and DIY. Mary spends her free time doing digital art and watching documentaries.

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