So you’re going to South Korea for the first time, and your friends are asking you “Is that the good one or the bad one?” Tell them not to worry! South Korea is a sprawling, developed democracy and a key ally to the United States– South Korea is the good guy. But before you go to South Korea, there are still some things you should know to make your trip as efficient and fun as possible!
1. Don’t be shy
Koreans love Americans. Okay, not just Americans… Koreans love all foreigners and treat them like royalty! You are constantly singled out and admired. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking around the streets of Seoul or in a small town coffee shop, people will come up to you and want to get to know you. They are fascinated by foreigners’ stories and love befriending people from different countries. Don’t be shocked by how many people ask to be your friend in person and on Facebook.
2. Get T-Money Right Away
You’re going to need a way to get around when you’re finally there. That’s why one of your first purchases in Korea should be a T-Money Card. You can use this card for all forms of transportation. The T-Money Card can be purchased at convenience stores for around ₩5,000. It can then be filled with as much Won as you want, and you can get it filled almost anywhere including gas stations, convenience stores, subway stations and bus terminals
Using T-Money makes your trips more efficient as you just scan and board. No waits in line, no tickets (which do cost more than T-Money rates), and an all around hassle-free experience.
3. Don’t Worry About North Korea
It’s scary going from the United States to a country that is technically still at war with its neighbor to the north. It’s even scarier when that neighbor has loose-cannon rulers, nuclear weapons, and, in recent years, has attacked South Korean soldiers and civilians unprovoked (this is exactly why you should cherish Canada).
The upside? The U.S. Military has an astounding presence in South Korea. There are bases everywhere, American and South Korean troops are always holding joint military drills, as helicopters fly overhead, their jets roaring. At first it can be a little worrisome, but the fact is, these are the things that keep you safe. Best of all, as a perk of being a U.S. citizen, know that that there is an escape plan in place just for you, in case something does go wrong. In fact, you’ll find that people pay more attention to North Korea back in the States than they do in South Korea. Most of the time, it’s a non-issue.
4. Don’t be offended by pushing
Koreans are always on the go. Being first does matter to a lot of people. If you are in line for a bus, anticipate being pushed out of the way by a group of elderly Koreans once the doors open. Expect to get bumped into with every other step you take when walking around the streets. Don’t freak out when you’re in the middle of a mosh-pit of business people and schoolchildren inside the jam-packed subways during rush hours. Don’t get offended by pushing and shoving because it does happen a lot!
On a related note, if at all possible, avoid the subway during rush hours, which usually run from 7am to 9am and 5pm to 6pm. This is prime time for pushing and shoving!
5. Pack The Essentials
Bring toiletries! South Korea has plenty of pharmacies but it’s not always easy to find what you want. If by some lucky chance you can find what you need in South Korea, it will probably be more expensive and come in a smaller package than what we have in the States.
Take your medicines with you: Tylenol, cold medicine, sinus medication, and a good quantity of any prescription medication. If you like to chew gum, pack as much American gum as customs will let you take, because you will have a lot of trouble finding that too. Ladies, pack feminine hygiene products. Simply put, they only sell pads. Tampons are near impossible to come by.
6. Foreign Registration ID Card
If you’re going to be in Korea for longer than 90 days, you will have to get a foreign registration ID card. Getting it is like spending a day at the DMV. It’s a blast! Best of all, you will never use this card for anything– that is, however, until you’re at the airport going through security to head home.
Don’t make the mistake of putting this card in your checked baggage. You will be pulled out of the security line, have to run around the airport watching the clock tick down as your flight nears departure, and then be told you have to pay a ₩40,000 fee. Please, just keep your Foreign Registration ID card on you and be sure to give it to security at the airport. It’ll save you a lot of trouble.