Stay Safe in South Korea
South Korea is a relatively safe nation, with recorded crime rates that are much lower than those in the United States and similar to those in other European Union countries. Even in the main cities, crime rates are similar to those in other safe locations like as Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and it is safe to stroll about at night. Violent crime against residents and visitors is uncommon. The only foreigners who get into problems in South Korea are those who are intoxicated and start fights in pubs or clubs.
If you get into any difficulty, there are police stations in every area, typically within walking distance of metro stations and bus stops. While most police officers do not speak English, they do have translators on hand who can help you.
South Korea is a highly ethnically homogenous nation, which is a source of pride for many South Koreans. Non-Koreans face systemic prejudice, and there is no anti-discrimination law in place. Despite this, South Korea is evolving. Today, 3.5 percent of inhabitants were born outside of the United States, with that figure projected to grow to 10% by 2020. Foreigners’ negative views are gradually fading. It was formerly considered impolite for a foreign guy to hold hands in public with a South Korean lady, but this is no longer the case. Any horror tales you hear should be seen in the perspective of the good developments.
The sad truth is that being Caucasian almost guarantees you will not be subjected to much, if any, racist abuse. Many companies favor Caucasians over other races when hiring in South Korea, particularly in teaching jobs (this may be one of the reasons they ask for a picture on your application). People with darker complexion face greater difficulties, including being banned from saunas and bars.
The majority of tourists visiting South Korea are unlikely to have any difficulties. If you are the victim of racial abuse, you may seek assistance from the authorities, but realistically, if no other crime has been committed, they will most likely attempt to reason with the abuser.
People from North Korea face prejudice in society, partially due to mistrust (North Korea has dispatched assassins and spies dressed as refugees) and partly due to the difficulties of integrating into a culture that is radically different. Ethnic Koreans from China are often misunderstood because they are linked with poverty and criminality. People from Southeast Asia are also discriminated against since they make up the majority of low-wage immigrant labor.
South Korean motorists will race past pedestrian crossings, run red lights, and approach within a hair’s breadth of pedestrians and other vehicles, despite having one of the worst rates of traffic fatalities in the world. Drivers will not stop even when the signal turns red. So, be cautious. Motorcyclists are especially dangerous on packed sidewalks, weaving in and out. It is up to you to stay away from them.
There is a lot of debate about why this occurs, but it essentially boils down to Koreans seeing traffic regulations as recommendations to be followed rather than rules to be followed.
Pedestrian crosswalks are only green for a brief moment. Do not cross while the walk signal is blinking and you are still at the curb. Instead, you should wait for the light to turn green and be prepared. Wait 3 to 5 seconds after it turns green to observe whether other pedestrians begin to cross, and if all traffic has really stopped, then walk quickly to cross securely. At congested junctions, it is safer to use subterranean tunnels. It’s also worth noting that most mopeds would rather weave past people than wait in traffic.
South Korea likewise follows the American practice of permitting vehicles to turn right at red lights if they yield to pedestrians (in principle). Left turns on green lights, on the other hand, are prohibited unless accompanied by a blue sign pointing left or a green left arrow.
On a three-lane street, stay in the center lane. Without notice, the left lane will likely become a left-turn-only lane (watch for straight arrows painted on the road with an X in them!) Moreover, illegally parked vehicles often obstruct the right lane.
In Korea, there are many zebra (black and white pedestrian) crossings that are mostly disregarded by all vehicles. You may utilize them as a foreigner simply walking onto the crossing and looking down any oncoming vehicles, who will typically yield. It is critical that you be vigilant while crossing roadways. Taxis, buses, freight trucks, and delivery scooters are more prone to break traffic laws because they are under pressure from strict schedules or their clients to do so.
Illegal taxis are an issue, and they may be found even at the airport. Each Korean city has a unique taxi scheme with a distinct vehicle color, so check out the taxi scheme in your target city before you arrive. Ignore anybody at the airport who asks if you want a cab and go straight to the official taxi queue.
Political activists of all stripes may be found in the heart of Seoul’s political district, between Gwanghamun and City Hall, and protests can number in the tens of thousands. You’ll need to exercise caution since political protests may be violent, with water cannons and tear gas often used, and huge crowds can be dangerous. Demonstrators and police are constantly fighting, yet immigrants are never targeted.
Ignorance of the law is not a justification for violating it, and it may even be used to justify heavier penalties. They include hefty fines, long prison terms, and deportation without delay.
With respect to North Korea, South Korea has enacted the draconian National Security Act, which prohibits any illegal interaction with the nation or its people. Although international tourists are seldom affected, you should be cautious since being affiliated with any “anti-State organization” is a criminal crime. With this in mind, you should never exhibit any North Korean insignia or be seen praising North Korean personalities in public, on websites, or on social media, especially Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un. It is not a justification to do this as a joke, and criminal convictions may result in a sentence of up to seven years in jail.
North Korean or North Korean-affiliated organizations’ websites are banned in South Korea. In any event, attempting to access them may be seen as “communication” with an anti-State organization.
South Korean residents are prohibited from gambling, but a small number of casinos are open to foreigners exclusively in Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island. To access these businesses, you will need to carry your passport.
The Asian gigantic hornet (also known as the “commander bee”) is approximately 2 in (5 cm) long and may sting several times, causing severe agony. If you come into a hornet guarding its nest or feeding area, it will emit a clicking sound to warn you away. If you are stung, get medical help right away since prolonged exposure to the venom may result in severe harm or even death. They are most often spotted in the summer.
In Korea, there are just a few additional creatures that may be harmful. On the Korean Peninsula, the Siberian Tiger is no longer found. Large wild boars may be seen in wooded regions on occasion and can be very deadly if attacked. Keep a safe distance from a boar with piglets since the mother will not hesitate to defend them.
Off the coast of South Korea, large sharks such as the Great White and Hammerhead are becoming increasingly common. Although a few abalone divers have been murdered in the last 20 years, there has never been a documented assault on swimmers. The most popular beaches are carefully patrolled, so you are unlikely to be in danger.
Natural disasters are not as common in South Korea as they are in its neighbors. Earthquakes are uncommon in the United States, but small ones may occur sometimes in the southwest. Tsunamis are a known danger in coastal regions, however due to Japan’s strategic location, most Tsunamis never reach Korea. While typhoons do not occur as often in the Philippines as they do in Japan, Taiwan, or the Philippines, they do occur nearly every year and are sometimes known to be fatal and inflict significant property damage.
Conflict with North Korea
The risk of conflict is a reasonable worry while going to South Korea. While conflict has remained a real possibility since the conclusion of the Korean War more than 60 years ago, the North Koreans seem to have honed their skills at sabre-rattling and limited provocations that never turn into full-fledged combat. This isn’t to argue that miscalculations won’t lead to disaster; it’s only to state that a single missile launch or widely reported border closure doesn’t indicate war is imminent.
If a full-scale war broke out between the North and the South, there would almost definitely be numerous civilian and military deaths. If anything like this happened when you were in Seoul, it would be very dangerous. Following the ascension of Kim Jong Un as North Korea’s leader, there has been a lot of brinkmanship, and outright war seems to be increasingly probable. However, no major conflict has erupted, and it is fair to state that the chance of all-out war is very remote, but it is prudent to consider the hazards while arranging a trip to South Korea.
There isn’t much you can do to reduce the likelihood of military action. Find out how to call your embassy and stay informed about the current situation while traveling. In the event of a conflict, most embassies will have a plan in place to evacuate their people. Also, since Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is so near to the North Korean border, it may not be a good idea to rush there in search of a flight out.
- Police: 112 from a phone and region code-112 from a cellular phone
- Fire and ambulance services: 119 and region code-119 from a cellular.
Emergency-service 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, English interpreters are available.
Stay Healthy in South Korea
South Korean healthcare is renowned for its research and clinical medical expertise, and most towns will be able to provide high-quality treatment. The country’s large number of hospitals and specialist clinics will also provide you with more options. South Korea also encourages ‘Health Tourism,’ in which high-quality procedures may be had for a fraction of the cost in many other affluent nations.
- Because physicians in South Korea are among the best educated in the nation, they are fluent in English. Many people have earned their medical degrees in the United States. However, because of their Korean accent, you may find it difficult to understand them, so urge them to slow down and go over everything with you carefully. Nurses, on the other hand, will seldom, if ever, speak English.
- In South Korea, health care is often of excellent quality and cheap cost. It is government-subsidized and quite inexpensive in comparison to other Western nations. Expatriates with the appropriate medical insurance card will be eligible for further savings. Many foreigners go to South Korea seeking medical procedures that are both cheaper and of better quality than those available in their own country.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (along with Traditional Korean Medicine) is highly respected in South Korea and includes acupuncture, heating, and herbal medicine, among other traditional techniques. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a long history, and practitioners must pass a rigorous government certification process before practicing. Koreans often utilize eastern medicine for persistent illnesses like back pain and western treatment for injuries that occur suddenly. It’s difficult to evaluate the efficacy of oriental medicine since it treats the entire body rather than a single illness, yet it’s a generally accepted component of the Korean medical system. It’s important to remember that Western medicine doesn’t always acknowledge the efficacy of Oriental medical treatments.
- Pharmacies may be found nearly anywhere and are identified by a single big word (called ‘yak’ in English). Because hospitals in South Korea are not permitted to distribute take-home prescriptions, a separate pharmacy will almost always be present. Small paper packets are used to distribute prescriptions.
- Hepatitis A is recognized across the country and affects the liver after eating infected food and water, despite the fact that no official vaccines are needed or advised for tourists. Once infected, the only treatment is time. Infection prevalence in South Korea is classified as moderate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Drinking Water. The tap water in South Korea is completely safe to drink, but you may wish to boil and filter it to remove the chlorine odor. When trekking over mountains or visiting monasteries, Koreans are particularly fond of drinking mountain spring water, which is totally untreated. Some areas in Korea have community wells that provide fresh water, and the local government is supposed to examine them periodically to ensure their safety..