With the rise in popularity of the Korean pop music, South Korea has become a place that many want to visit. It has sandy beaches, rocky mountains, and flowery landscapes that you could stare at for an eternity.
However, knowing the relations it used to have with North Korea and the recent events in which the two presidents met, it really leaves you wonder “Is South Korea safe to visit?”. Thankfully, this South Korea safety guide was created for you, so you have an easy access to safety information about the country.
That being said, let’s jump right into it and explore the South Korea safety travel tips, thus letting you determine if this destination is the ideal one for your next vacation.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting South Korea
Overall Risks in South Korea: LOW to MEDIUM
Generally, South Korea is safe to visit but, just like any other country, there are some dangers that you must think about. For one, public demonstrations can occur at any time, and they are usually peaceful and without incidents. The risk of violence still stays, though, and it can be dangerous in a crowded place.
South Korea is has a typhoon season that runs from June to November. It can be dangerous being in areas that are affected by it, which is why tourists should check the weather condition before they decide to go.
It isn’t unknown that there were tensions between South and North Korea, which grew in 2017 because of the North Korean nuclear and missile tests. However, in 2018, there was an inter-Korean summit where the countries pledged to agree a peace treaty in order to end the Korean war. The treaty is also meant to build the ties between the two and reduce military tensions.
However, in the past, North Korea has failed to sustain the treaties and still continued doing their thing. Everything went back to how it was, with nuclear or missile tests, which led to more instability in the region. As such, the tension can still change and go back, which is why visitors should monitor the local news before they decide to go. Still, heightened tensions haven’t affected daily life in the past.
Crimes can happen too, and while foreigners are rarely targets of attacks, the risk still remains. There are isolated cases where people were mugged, and some had their money, credit cards and passports stolen. Also, there have been some rare cases of sexual assaults too, especially around nightlife areas and bars.
Accidents can happen on the roads, and usually motorbike and car drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents that involve pedestrians and motorcycles. There will be heavy penalties and criminal charges if someone is injured in the accident, even without proof of the guilt.
Even in terms of terrorism, attacks are possible despite no recent history of such events. Considering there is a global risk of terrorist attacks, these need to be taken into consideration too.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in South Korea: MEDIUM
Asking yourself “Is South Korea safe to visit?” is something usual, especially if it’s your first time visiting the country. In terms of crimes, theft is the most common one taking place when it comes to foreigners. Although it doesn’t mean that you’re most likely going to be held at gunpoint and stripped of your belongings, the possibility of being robbed is still there.
In these situations, thieves were usually taking the money, credit cards and passports of the tourists. These incidents happened either through pickpocketing or plain theft. In crowded areas, the pickpocketing risk increases because of so many unknown faces passing by and involuntarily touching you.
Being alone on the streets at night can pose a risk because there’s nobody else to help you in case of a thief who wants to mess with you. If you’re in quiet areas, it can be unsafe for the same reason.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in South Korea?
What you have to do to protect yourself from pickpocketing and theft is pretty much common sense, because they are things you’d do in your home country as well. First of all, you shouldn’t keep anything of too much value in your pockets, especially in crowded areas. If you like carrying a backpack or handbag around, make sure you are always careful with it and hold it tightly in front of you.
Be careful in areas frequented by foreigners, because some people may just look for the right opportunity to approach you there, waiting to steal your money. When traveling alone, especially at night, only use public transport or legitimate taxis. Don’t accept offers from strangers. Reading minds is not possible, so you wouldn’t be able to know if they are really helping you or have something else in mind.
If you like going to bars or nightlife areas, be careful there because some may look for the right opportunity to benefit off you as well. Considering you’re a tourist, it may be harder for you to know what’s going on or how to seek help, which is why some may target you.
Civil Unrest Risk: MEDIUM
When thinking about South Korea’s political situation with North Korea, you can’t help but ask “How safe is South Korea for tourists?”.
The Korean peninsula has been divided since the end of the war in 1953, and it’s divided by the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Peace has been maintained because of an armistice agreement, but if you’re in the area of DMZ, you should be very careful and listen to the local authorities’ advice.
In 2018, North and South Korea have signed a declaration at the inter-Korean summit, and they both pledged to agree a peace treaty to end the Korean War. The North Korean leader has also met the US president Donald Trump, and after an agreement, NK agreed to denuclearize.
Although North Korea agreed to give up on missile and nuclear testing, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they it doesn’t respect the treaty. It has done it in the past, so it is possible to happen now as well, leading to tensions.
You should check the local news and see what the situation is in the country before your trip. If there are ongoing demonstrations at the time of your arrival, do your best to avoid them, and take distance. While most of the demonstrations in South Korea are peaceful and under the watch of the authorities, the risk of violence shouldn’t be ruled out. It usually doesn’t take long for a situation to escalate and be out of control. Also, foreigners aren’t allowed to participate in political demonstrations either, so you shouldn’t join.
Monitor the news in case there is something happening around North and South Korea. Tensions may arise around the South Korean-US military services, so be careful.
Moreover, the South Korean authorities have civil emergency exercises sometimes, with sirens included, as well as stopping transport and tell people to take shelter. Whereas your participation is not mandatory, you could join to see what to do in case of a disaster. Knowledge can’t do you any wrong, can it?
Shelters in Seoul are usually marked with a special symbol, so you know where to go. There is also a smartphone app which gives you advice, such as the types of alarms, emergency and medical services and shelter locations.
Scam Risk in South Korea: MEDIUM
As with any other country out there, there will be people trying to scam you in South Korea as well, especially when they see that you are a tourist.
Some of the most common scams that are practiced in this country are those involving unlicensed taxis, taxis that take indirect routes, fake deals, fake products, false tourist prices, fake monks, and a few other.
Most of the aforementioned involve strangers approaching you and asking something from you - either a product they want you to look at, directions, or money for a noble cause.
- How to avoid getting scammed in South Korea?
In order to avoid getting scammed in South Korea, you should not engage in conversation with any stranger that approaches you - even if they seem to be a monk or look official, so to say.
Moreover, make sure that you always get inside a licensed cab and that you have a maps application available and ready on your smartphone so that you can check if the taxi driver is on the correct/ shortest route.
When it comes to item prices, it is recommended that you browse around more and compare the prices of different shops before you go all-in and buy everything that you think of as a deal.
In short, it is better to act a bit suspicious when you notice that something might not be what it actually seems - always be aware of your surroundings; by doing so, you should have no problems at all.
Kidnapping Risk in South Korea: LOW
If we were to look at the kidnapping rates between 2006 and 2014, we would find out that the peak of the occurring of such incidents was in 2009, with 0.6 cases per 100,000 population. Obviously, this is a low number, especially when compared to other countries.
The country's kidnapping rate seems to be continuously decreasing, making this type of cases the last thing a tourist should worry about when visiting this beautiful country.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in South Korea?
In order to increase your safety when it comes to kidnapping, there are some simple precautionary measures that you can take. First of all, you should avoid going out late during the night, especially if your hotel is not located in a populated areas.
Moreover, you should stay away from the city slums and poorly lit areas, as they can shelter individuals with malicious intents. In short, if you keep an eye out on your surroundings and avoid areas that look dangerous, you should be just fine and have overall a great time in South Korea.
Terrorism Risk in South Korea: LOW
If you were wondering “Is South Korea safe to visit regarding terrorism?”, you will be happy to know that terrorism is rarely something that happens in the country. There were no recent terrorist attacks, so for now the situation is safe.
At the same time, you can’t just rule the attacks out, because there is a heightened threat of terrorist attacks globally. This risk should be something you take into account, because attacks can be indiscriminate. Therefore, a terrorist doesn’t care that you’ve put comfy clothes on and you’re ready to enjoy staying in a luxurious hotel. If he attacks, he just does, without any warning.
- How to avoid terrorism in South Korea?
Just in case, you should stay vigilant in public areas and look out in case there is anyone suspect. Take care in public places, especially those frequented by foreigners, which can be targeted as well. Anything that minimizes the risk is good, because your safety is what’s important.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in South Korea: LOW
“Is South Korea safe for solo women travelers?” you may ask yourself. Well, traveling alone as a female is never easy, because there are many things you worry about, such as theft and assault. You either fear those scenarios, or the scenario of getting lost without anyone to count on nearby.
South Korea is generally safe when it comes to women traveling alone, but small risks still stay, because there are always rotten apples. Foreigners are rarely the targets of crimes, but in some situations, there have been cases of incidents such as sexual assaults. If you are the type of person who loves going to bars or just night life in general, you should be very careful.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in South Korea?
Not only you should take care at everyone surrounding you, but if anything, you should always guard your drink and not leave it alone on the table. In addition, don’t accept drinks from strangers, because you never know their true intentions. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly, but not too friendly either.
As a rule of thumb, don’t walk alone at night and stay away from quiet areas, especially around that time. You should be back at your hotel during the night, so you avoid any possible bad situation.
Rape Risk in South Korea: LOW to MEDIUM
At the moment, South Korea has a rape rate of 13.5 cases per 100,000 population, two times less than the United States - the latter having a rape rate of 27.3.
This makes South Korea the 20th country in the world when it comes to rape cases - in comparison, USA is ranked 9th. These being said, there are some possible dangers in terms of rape, but they are not that worrisome, so to say.
If you have a decent personal dress code and act with caution when going out, you should not experience any unwanted scenarios.
- How to avoid getting raped in South Korea?
Some reports tell that cases of sexual assaults are rare and that they usually happen around nightlife and bar areas. Thus, you should be careful when going out during the night, especially if you plan on visiting a bar or a night-club.
Moreover, try to draw as little attention to you as possible - we all know that a petty theft can escalate, depending on what the victim is wearing and on how he/ she is acting.
Make sure that you are not left alone, especially on your way back to the hotel - if you call a taxi, ensure yourself that it is registered.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in South Korea: LOW
As you probably already know, South Korea is one of the top destinations for tourists/ travelers - after all, it is one of the countries that shelters both impressive technological and architectural advancements, as well as astonishing culture, history, and traditions.
Therefore, the only thing you should fear for when traveling with your children is losing them in a crowd of tourists - if they are left unattended, people might push them over until they are no longer in the place you left them.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
If you know that you are going to travel in a crowded place, it is better to take someone with you that will take care of your children while you browse the shops or such - you might consider taking one of your friends with you in your trip or employing a guide to assist you.
Other than that, there are little to no dangers that could threaten the little ones - just make sure that someone is keeping an eye on them at all times.
Natural Disasters Risks in South Korea: MEDIUM
If you’re wondering “Is South Korea safe to visit regarding natural disasters?”, it all comes down to the period you choose to travel in. There is a typhoon season running from June to November, which can be very dangerous.
To stay safe from this, monitor the local weather news so you are up to date with the situation in the country. If you happen to be there during the typhoon season, follow the advice given by the local authorities.
Transportation Risks in South Korea: MEDIUM
If you want to drive in South Korea, you will need an International Driving Permit, and also a fully comprehensive insurance. Make sure you have them with you all the time.
You should always wear seatbelts and make sure you also take precautionary measures when you park on slopes or hills. These things come in effect as a change to the Korean Traffic Law from 28 September 2018.
One thing you should be aware about is that motorbike and car drivers are usually held at fault for accidents with pedestrians involved. So, if you happen to cause an accident, you may face criminal charges and heavy penalties if it ended in injuries. It isn’t really something to look for during a relaxation trip.
Road travel accidents are not really uncommon, and you should be very careful while on the road, and respect the driving rules. Even if you do so, there are others who may not be as attentive as you are, thus causing incidents. In South Korea, there were 4,899 reported deaths on the road. This is equal to 9.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population. Therefore, you don’t want to be one of the situations that increase the number. Furthermore, your safety comes first.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in South Korea: MEDIUM
As mentioned before, most cases of crime take place around bars, pubs, and night-clubs - after all, it is much easier to steal something from a half-drunk tourist, right?
In this respect, we recommend you to be extra cautious when visiting such facilities - naturally, you should drink responsibly and try not to numb your senses for good.
Theft is common in South Korea and occurs almost everywhere throughout the country - however, sexual assault and plain assault cases have reportedly occurred around night-clubs and bars.
Therefore, if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might experience more than just a simple theft - if you fancy a drink, you should have one during the day or in the evening, and avoid doing so late in the night.
Also, make sure that, if you call a taxi, to tell the driver to pick you up from somewhere quite close to the night-club or bar - wandering around these locations while waiting for your ride could signal certain individuals and mark you as their target.
Health Risks in South Korea
Healthcare in South Korea comes at good standards, but it can get quite expensive at times, depending on the injury and/ or treatment. Also, note that the medical staff may not speak English.
In case of an emergency, you can request medical assistance by dialing 119 - make sure that you come equipped with proper travel health insurance and with enough funds to cover the medical bills/ treatment.
If you travel to South Korea during Spring, make sure to avoid sitting on grass - if you want to do this, however, wear long-sleeved tops and trousers. This is because Spring comes with a risk of tick-borne diseases.
Common in South Korea is air pollution, especially yellow dust pollution - you are advised to monitor the media and, in case of a warning, make sure to stay indoors and avoid going out at all. Keep your windows closed and keep yourself hydrated as well when air pollution has been confirmed.
List of Vaccines You Need in South Korea
Going to the doctor may not put you in the best mood, but it’s essential to do it weeks before the trip. This way, you can find out if you need some vaccines before the departure. Here are some vaccines you may need:
- Routine vaccines
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
Most Dangerous Areas in South Korea
- Daegu City
- Gwangju City
- Ulsan City
- Jeju Island
Concluding Remarks: Is South Korea Safe to Visit?
You’ve read up to the end of this South Korea safety guide, which means you now have the knowledge about the safety in the country. If you decide that this is the vacation that could change your life, then hopefully these South Korea safety travel tips were helpful.