The land of K-pop, K-drama, and a zillion hike-able mountains, South Korea is a contrast between traditional and ultra modern. Gawking at the shiny skyscrapers of Seoul, discovering the ancient temples of Gyeongju, eating all the kimchi you want; we love it!
But of course, there’s the elephant in the room – North Korea. Whilst one of the major tourist destinations of South Korea is, in fact, the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), tension and mistrust remain between the two Koreas. It’s all a bit unnerving.
So we totally get why you might be wondering if South Korea is safe or not. That’s why we’ve created this epic insider’s guide to staying safe in South Korea. You’ll find a whole lot of tips and info in here that’ll help you travel smart. And that’s what we’re all about.
We’ll be assessing how safe it is to drive in South Korea, whether or not the food is safe in South Korea, and just about everything in between. There’s going to be a whole load of topics aimed at making your time away AWESOME.
With the threat of North Korea always present, you may (understandably) be wondering if it’s safe to visit South Korea right now, or you may be worrying about heading to South Korea as a solo female traveller. Whatever it is, our epic guide has you covered.
How Safe is South Korea? (Our take)
We’re not going to lie – backpacking and traveling South Korea is cool. Everything from the bustling big cities to the myriad mountains here that are perfectly poised for hiking. Let’s not forget the Buddhist temples and tasty food. All of this makes South Korea an extremely fascinating destination.
And it’s safe! That’s right, South Korea is safe. Violent crime and petty theft are basically non-existent, especially against tourists.
But there are some things to note. Speedy drivers are definitely a problem; when we say “speedy,” we mean really speedy. Political protests are ALSO something that you should keep an eye out for.
Of course, the North Korea situation is always looming, but we’ll get into that in a moment.
Is South Korea Safe to Right Now?
South Korea is so safe that you could accidentally leave your phone on a table and no one will take it. Seriously. That sounds pretty good to us.
A lot of people are worried about the threat from North Korea and hesitate to visit because of it. Whilst it’s a genuinely tense border situation, the security here is high, to say the least. The DMZ is very secure, albeit touristy at times, and is run by the US Military, who, we all know, mean business.
But with South Korea’s change in government in 2017 (ending decades of what is often called the Park Dynasty), communications between North and South have opened up again for the first time in years.
They’ve even agreed on a peace treaty. (What?) Yep, the Korean War never OFFICIALLY ended but now it has. And that can only be a good thing. So with Kim Jong Un finally committing to de-nuclearisation in April 2018, it seems like things are getting better.
There’s still tension though and things can always change quickly. Currently, the international situation is stable and South Korea is safe to visit.
South Korea Travel Insurance
Do you need Travel Insurance for your trip? Even if you’re only going for a few days, that’s more than enough time to get smote by wrathful angels. Have fun in South Korea, but take it from us, overseas medical care and canceled flights can be seriously expensive – insurance can, therefore, be a life-saver.
Travel mishaps can and do happen and it is well worth thinking about insurance before you leave home.
We have used World Nomads for years now and I have personally made several claims. Why not get a quote from them yourself?
Do be sure to read the terms and conditions to make sure that the policy covers your needs.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Safest Places in South Korea
We’ve already discovered that South Korea is pretty safe. However, you can add another level of security during your visit by staying in the right neighborhoods. The following three areas are the safest places to stay in South Korea.
Seoul’s urban areas are an amalgamation of the old with the new, and there are heaps of cool places to see around the city. Peaceful Buddhist temples exist nearby bustling nightlife districts. Seoul is indeed a fascinating city of contrasts and surprises. The city proper is home to nearly 12 million, while the greater metro area has a whopping 25 million. That’s more than half of the country’s population in one city alone!
Most famous destination
Most famous destination
Seoul is one of the most advanced cities in the world, yet it keeps South Korean tradition alive. It’s a massive city with a population of over 10 million.
The ROK’s 2nd largest city, Busan, is mostly known for its beaches, as Koreans flock here over the summer holiday for sun and sand. That’s not all that’s going on in Busan, though. The city is also home to some amazing temples, nature reserves, and hot springs. Busan is also famous for its many festivals throughout the year. The Busan International Film Festival runs for the first ten days of October and draws quite the crowd.
Ideal for Nightlife Lovers
Ideal for Nightlife Lovers
Busan is known for its rich history, neon lights, vibrant nightlife, and mouthwatering street food. It’s also the second-most populous city after Seoul.
Home to South Korea’s tallest mountain, the longest lava tube in the world, plenty of sandy beaches, some quirky theme parks, and even some chill hikes, Jeju Island is a pretty epic place to visit. Most Koreans choose to vacation on Jeju Island. It’s definitely the top choice for honeymooners, but you don’t have to be a newlywed to enjoy a trip here. Jeju Island is for backpackers as well; there are plenty of social hostels on Jeju Island to meet other travellers at.
An Idyllic Paradise
An Idyllic Paradise
Jeju is a subtropical paradise full of nature activities, a fascinating culture, and great nightlife. With gorgeous beaches and breathtaking landscapes, it’s a real paradise.
Places to Avoid in South Korea
While most of the country is pretty safe, there is one area that comes with trouble. In order to have a non-problematic stay, it’s best to avoid this place completely.
It’s really not hard to guess, but the DMZ, the area between the South and North Korean border is probably the most dangerous place in the country. While you can take guided tours to see a bit more of it, we really wouldn’t recommend joining one. If one thing goes wrong or even if you just step out of line, you might get into some real trouble with the government. That can be simply avoided by ignoring the DMZ zone completely. We promise that you’re not missing out on anything.
20 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to South Korea
So, whilst South Korea may be a pretty safe place to travel around, it always pays to have a few travel tips under your belt. As we learned from the Singapore police: “low crime doesn’t mean no crime.”
Just because it’s super safe in South Korea, doesn’t mean you should be taking unnecessary risks. As with everywhere in the world, you just have to make sure you travel smart.
- Don’t get involved in protests – anti-American, pro-Park, pro-North Koreans, whatever – it’s illegal for foreigners to join in.
- Keep up to date with the news – you’ll know if things start to get tense again, so you should know what you need to do.
- Watch your bags and valuables in crowded tourist areas – pickpockets DO exist. Some people are still very poor. If it would make you feel better, bring a money belt with you.
- Crowds and alcohol = more crime – let’s be honest – mobs and booze don’t usually mix well. So if you’re out drinking in busy areas, like Itaewon in Seoul, stay at least partially alert.
- Koreans like to drink – a lot. If you’re out drinking, knowing your limits is a good idea.
- Steer clear of drugs – they’re pretty strictly prohibited in South Korea. We wouldn’t advise it.
- Air pollution can get pretty bad in the Spring – staying inside as much as possible is a good idea if it’s really bad.
- Careful of ticks – tick-borne diseases, like encephalitis, are nasty. It’s best to cover your arms and legs when hiking.
- Learn a bit of Korean – some say that hangul (the Korean script) is not that difficult to comprehend; at least, not as bad as Mandarin or Japanese.
- Don’t mention the war – no really, don’t. It’s still a very sensitive subject, especially for older South Koreans.
- Be aware of typhoon season – this is from June to September. Typhoons can be pretty scary and sometimes dangerous.
- If you do go to the DMZ – DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID. The smallest thing can hold up the tour and cause a genuine security issue.
- Take your shoes off when you go inside people’s homes – standard practice.
- Rules and signs are to be obeyed – on trains, on buses, wherever. People might not do so in your own country, but they DO here. Follow suit.
- DO NOT sit in seats reserved for older people on trains – you’ll get pushed off.
- … Because older Koreans are tough – especially the ajumma (older ladies). They’ll push past you with vigour to get on/off trains. They literally do not care.
- Watch out for overfriendly strangers – people are really friendly. But if someone seems weird, they may well be.
- The roads can be SCARY – for example, bus drivers sometimes drive like maniacs. Use your seatbelt.
- Don’t be reckless when hiking – the approach may seem easy, but then suddenly there’s a fraying rope and sheer cliff to climb up. Research the routes beforehand.
- Be respectful at temples – dress modestly. You may be excited, but yelling and being stupid is disrespectful in these venues.
South Korea’s crime rate is one of the lowest in comparison to other developed countries. There’s not a very high chance of anything crime-related happening to you.
Some General Safety Tips from the OG Broke Backpacker
Is South Korea safe to travel alone?
South Korea is safe for solo travellers, absolutely. Truthfully, we would be devoid of a lot of worries if we were to travel alone in South Korea.
We’re definitely up for the idea of solo travel – all this amazing, worldly stuff to see and no one to answer to. Plus it’s the challenge of doing something epic and all the rewards that come with it. But still, there are always some things you should know.
- Don’t be afraid to wander as most areas are pretty secure. Walking around the cities, especially Seoul, is easy. You can explore the different neighborhoods of Seoul with your phone in hand and you’ll be totally fine.
- Korean restaurants are usually for big groups of people. Unless you hit up a local dak-galbi place with a group of travel buddies, be prepared to head into the orange tented street food stalls instead. Much more suited to someone by themselves and you won’t be taking up a table meant for 4.
- With that in mind, book yourself into a hostel with good reviews. The more social, the better – if that’s what you’re looking for, of course. There are some great hostels in South Korea, but be forewarned they often aren’t the most outgoing places.
- Since it’s not on any well trodden backpacker trail, South Korea can feel lonely at some points. Keep in touch with people at home and let them know you’re having a great time.
- Young Koreans are super friendly and easy to make friends with. Hang out with other people on beaches, on boardwalks, on steps, busking and drinking. Chatting with strangers is actually pretty normal in South Korea.
- Know your limits when it comes to alcohol. Soju – Korean rice wine – is strong and cheap and it’s very easy to find someone to drink with. But being able to return home and not getting absolutely wasted is sensible when there’s nobody else watching your back.
South Korea is safe. Super safe. There’s nothing to stop you completely bossing this country since there are basically no places you shouldn’t go by yourself.
Get off the beaten track, see what untravelled towns you can find, pick a point on the map and go for it. Remember to be sensible though: it’s all on you out here!
Be prepared for what life throws at you on the road. Pick up an AMK Travel Medical Kit before you head out on your next adventure.
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Is South Korea safe for solo female travelers?
South Korea is totally safe for solo female travellers. In fact, you won’t even get too much hassle from guys if you’re out by yourself. Koreans are often out late in the cities, drinking and eating, and a lot of women walk around by themselves without a care in the world.
South Korea is not a place you’re going to have to stress about how you’re dressed. Granted, you should know that Koreans (men and women) dress really well. So if you feel like showing off with some sharp outfits, here’s the place to try ’em out. But other than that…
- Sexual abuse does happen in South Korea so it’s not to say that women here don’t face challenges – they do. Maybe in the past, things like this were underreported, but recently more and more allegations of harassment have started coming out.
- So get chatting to some Korean women: at hostels, when you’re out and about, wherever. Striking up a conversation is a great way to learn more about the country.
- Book yourself into a hostel with good reviews and which preferably comes with a female-only dorm. It’s a good way to meet other female travellers from all over the world, who are quite often from East Asia.
- Take something like a walking tour, a hiking tour or a cooking class (honestly, we highly recommend the latter). You can learn some stuff whilst meeting some cool people.
- Make friends online. Join Facebook groups that organise wine-tastings for foreigners, food and farm tours in Seoul, and more.
- Don’t be afraid of temple stays as a solo female. You’ll be put into a room with other women, who are cool to chat with. Plus, there are some amazing female monks out there to learn a thing or two from.
- Always keep an eye on your drink and don’t leave it unattended, no matter how safe a situation might seem, it’s just not worth it to take risks with your drink.
- Speaking of which, don’t ride a taxi when you’re super drunk alone. If in doubt, get in with friends. It may seem 100% safe, but taxi drivers around the world can be sketchy.
- Keep in touch and let people know about your plans. It’s not like you’re travelling around a war zone, but just check in with family and friends back home every few days.
- Even though South Korean society is mainly hassle-free, nowhere is without sketchy areas and people. It’s never a good idea to walk around deserted areas of a city at night. And with that in mind…
- … If you’re heading out for a night out, make sure you know how to get home, what time the metro finishes, if you can get an Uber, etc.
- Trust your gut. If someone you don’t want to talk to is annoying you, or you’re getting weird vibes from someone, know that it’s ok to be firm and then remove yourself from the situation.
With being a woman and all, there’s that shitty phenomenon of becoming more of a target for theft and sexual harassment. We reckon that, while these things do exist in South Korea, it is safe for female solo travellers. AND it’s even a great destination for first time solo female travellers.
More About South Korea’s Safety
We’ve already covered the three main questions in safety in South Korea above. But there is loads more to know. Read on for more detailed information on how to stay safe during your South Korean trip.
Is South Korea safe to travel for families?
YES, South Korea is safe for families. Super safe.
Koreans LOVE children. Kids all over Korean TV and they are the literal focal point of families.
Children stay up late in South Korea as well and are welcomed in restaurants. You’ll often see families out eating together until late, all diving into some tasty stuff.
You might want to think about what food your kids will eat though. A lot of Korean food is spicy and very meaty, so do some research on what you fancy trying and everyone should be happy with their meal. Also, kids’ portions don’t exactly exist, because the food is a sharing experience – the entire family is meant to order a big pot of dak-galbi (or whatever) together.
Is it safe to drive in South Korea?
Well, yes it is safe to drive in South Korea, as many Koreans obviously do, but it may not be worth it.
If you’re thinking of going on a road trip, but haven’t driven abroad before, we wouldn’t recommend it. Its much more stress-free to just take public transport, which is more reliable and runs all over the country.
Drivers in South Korea are also crazy fast. It’s so bad that there’s actually a huge rate of road traffic accidents. The government has been trying to clamp down on speeding, which means there are loads of cameras on the highways.
That said, there are some nice road trips to be had and rural areas are a lot safer. Just watch out for those speedy highway buses and wear your seatbelt.
Is Uber safe in South Korea?
Uber IS safe in South Korea…
… But it’s heavily restricted by government regulations. This means you can only get UberX, which is unnecessarily expensive. And only available in Seoul.
Are taxis safe in South Korea?
Taxis are safe in South Korea and you’ll find them just about everywhere: at taxi ranks, airports, bus stations…
Taxis come in two general types: standard and premium. Standard taxis are white, orange or silver. The premium ones are black and are obviously more expensive.
Drives tend to differ a lot – some may drive slowly to rack up the meter; others might drive crazy fast. Most often don’t really know where they’re going and tend to neglect GPS navs.
Make sure you have your hotel already marked on a maps app in case your taxi driver gets lost. This does happen.
Oh and don’t expect your driver to know English; speaking or reading. Have your destination written in hangul and show them, unless you’re confident with your Korean pronunciation.
Is public transportation in South Korea safe?
Public transportation is safe in South Korea. And ultra comprehensive. It is also cheap – like most things in South Korea.
No less than six of South Korea’s city’s come complete with their own metro systems. These are new, cheap, clean, and hassle-free services.
Other public transport in South Korea is efficient and cheap too. Seoul’s metro system travels way outside of the actual city, allowing you to explore further afield.
Buses in the cities and towns are safe but can be slow because of traffic. They can also be a little hard to figure out without some hangul skills under your belt. Do some research on routes or go to tourist information to learn about popular routes.
As for getting around the country of South Korea, the train network is pretty good. It is cheap, clean and safe. There are a few high-speed routes as well.
Long-distance buses go everywhere else that the trains don’t. These aren’t always the newest or safest way to get around. Plus, the drivers speed, which can be a bit scary.
Keep everything on you in transit!
When moving from place to place, you shouldn’t store travel documents in a bag, even if it’s under your seat or overhead.
A full-sized money belt that stays tucked under your clothes keeps your documents and cash organized during your travels and assures nothing critical gets left behind or stolen.
Is the food in South Korea safe?
South Korea boasts a lot of food that’s pretty famous worldwide.
All Korean food is super tasty. But it can be very spicy, very strong, and very meaty. Being a vegetarian in South Korea is going to be pretty tricky.
South Korea also gets a bad rep with the whole dog meat controversy. We’ve never seen it on sale, to be honest. In general, the food in South Korea is safe, but it pays to be sensible on any food odyssey…
- Ease yourself in as you can get pretty ill if you’re not used to spicy food. If spice isn’t your thing…
- … Make sure you know a little bit of Korean so you can ask for dishes “without chilli sauce.” This also helps if you’re a vegetarian. Simply saying “no meat” in Korean or saying you’re a “vegetarian” will help a lot.
- Even so, you might not even know what you’re ordering! Sometimes you might just have to take the plunge and point to something or ask the staff at the restaurant for help.
- If in doubt, head to a Western-style place. We’re not talking fast food but more like Italian.
- Look online for good reviews, read blogs, or better yet, wander around and look for somewhere that looks busy. Busy = tasty. Busy = food that won’t make you ill.
- You’ll see orange tents along the streets in cities – these aren’t roadworks, these are food stalls. It can be a scary prospect ducking into one of these as people tend to huddle in here and look uncomfortable doing so. Look through the plastic windows and see if it’s busy. If so, the street food is probably good.
- Be careful with seafood. Make sure it’s fresh if you have it. For instance, eating seafood late at night might mean you’re eating food that’s past its prime.
- And another thing that makes you ill is not washing your hands. If you aren’t already doing this before you eat, we want to know: why?!
If you like food, and you’re a carnivore, you’re going to have a lot of fun trying out all the food in South Korea.
As for keeping healthy and not getting ill, just try to go to places that seem to be busy and avoid stuff that looks dirty. Simple as that.
Can you drink the water in South Korea?
Whilst the tap water is safe to drink in South Korea, many Koreans don’t drink it.
They choose instead to either boil or filter it before drinking. You might want to do the same. It isn’t even seen as normal to drink water straight from the tap and Koreans will think you’re weird.
Even so, we still think you ought to bring your own water bottle and at least try the tap. Chances are you won’t get sick and you’ll avoid wasting money on bottled water. Most importantly, you’ll be doing the environment a favor.
If you want to explore the backcountry, we’d suggest boiling and filtering your water or using The GRAYL GEOPRESS.
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Is South Korea safe to live?
South Korea is a very safe place to live in, which makes it attractive; that and the fact that it’s one of the most modern, eccentric, and entertaining cultures in the world. (We submit to you: K-dramas and K-pop.)
It won’t necessarily be the safety that you’ll be worried about though, but the homogenous society.
South Korea still lacks anti-discrimination laws, which means you can be turned down for a job simply for not being Korean. Though these sorts of laws are recommended by the UN, they’ve been stalled numerous times in Korean politics due to a “lack of public consensus”.
As such, it can be difficult to fit into Korean society, let alone be a part of it. You may find yourself hanging out with other expats a lot.
But security-wise, South Korea is safe to live in. It’s got a very low crime rate, so much so that can live probably more safely here than in your own country.
Is it safe to rent an Airbnb in South Korea?
Yes, staying at an Airbnb in South Korea is probably the safest option you have. Not only do you get the typical Airbnb protection with refunds, review systems and customer support, but you can also enjoy an incredibly high standard with cleanliness and style for not a lot of money. Just note that most homes aren’t the biggest…
FAQs on South Korea’s Safety
Planning a safe trip to a country like South Korea can be quite overwhelming, especially if you’ve never been to an Asian country before. To help you out, we’ve listed and answered the most frequently asked questions on how to stay safe in South Korea below.
So, is South Korea safe?
South Korea is more than safe. It already has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. We’ve left money on train counters, forgotten our smartphone, and no one’s touched our stuff. The crime rate is really very low and it’s the sort of place where people don’t really commit petty theft.
As we’ve learned from other countries, having a low crime rate doesn’t mean crime doesn’t exist anymore. Touristy places can still suffer from petty crime because wherever there are strangers with lots of money and little sense, there is always opportunity. And in areas where people are getting drunk, the situation can always awry.
That being said, South Korea is still one of the safest places that you can visit. You’re going to be able to walk around – even at night – and should feel comfortable knowing that no one is out to get you. It’s more likely that you’ll get into trouble hiking and getting lost.
There’s not a whole lot of risk when travelling to South Korea. Even the situation with North Korea seems to be getting better. Who knows what the future holds!
And have you thought about getting Travel Insurance for your trip? You can get a quote from World Nomads by clicking on the link below.
Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…
Disclaimer: Safety conditions change all over the world on a daily basis. We do our best to advise but this info may already be out of date. Do your own research. Enjoy your travels!
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