What makes Korea, South a unique country to travel to?
The Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK) is a highly developed, stable, democratic republic with powers shared between the president and the legislature. Korea is a modern economy where tourist facilities are widely available. English is rarely spoken outside the main tourist and business centers.
You can find more information about tourism in the ROK through the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) website (in English) or by calling 1-800-868-7567 from the United States and Canada. The KTO also operates a telephone information service within the Republic of Korea, that you can reach by dialing 1330 (02-1330 from cell phones) anywhere in the country. The KTO telephone service has English speakers and is available 24 hours every day of the year. The Seoul Global Center (SGC) assists foreigners with an English-speaking help line at (02) 1688-0120. The SGC is open from 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low. The crimes that occurmost frequently(e.g., pick-pocketing, purse snatching, assault, hotel room and residential crime)occur more often in major metropolitan areas, tourist areas, and crowded markets. Please use caution in all crowded entertainment, nightlife, and shopping districts throughout Korea. Exercise caution when traveling alone at night and use only legitimate taxis or public transportation. Reduce the likelihood of becoming a crime victim by exercising the same type of security precautions you would take when visiting any large city in the United States.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only is buying bootleg goods illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law, too.
While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Persons violating the Republic of Korea’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Republic of Korea can be severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences, heavy fines, and deportation at the end of their sentence. U.S. citizens in the Republic of Korea have been arrested for past use of illegal drugs based on evidence from urine tests and hair sampling. ROK authorities frequently arrest U.S. citizens on drug charges based on suspicious packages sent through the mail or information provided by other persons charged with drug possession or use. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested after accepting international mail packages that contained marijuana-laced items. ROK authorities thoroughly screen international mail for illegal items and substances. See also information on drugs in the section on Special Circumstances under Customs Regulations. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct or using or disseminating child pornography is a crime in the Republic of Korea, but it is also prosecutable in the United States.
Korean is spoken in both North and South Korea and is written in a phonetic alphabet created and promulgated in the mid-15th century. While the alphabet is called Hangul in South Korea, it is known as Chosongul in North Korea. Although the Korean language is replete with words adapted from Chinese, the North Koreans, unlike the South Koreans, do not use Chinese characters with Chosongul in their newspapers and publications. They prefer to use only Chosongul, which is sufficient for most needs.
There are also some difference in vocabulary between the North and the South, influenced somewhat by politics and also by the contact each country has had with other nations. Russian, Chinese, and English are taught as second languages in the schools.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Hospitals in the Republic of Korea are generally well-equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. High quality general and specialty dental care is available in Seoul. Western-style medical facilities are available in major urban areas of Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and a few other large cities. However, not all doctors and staff in these major urban areas are proficient in English. Most clinics in rural areas do not have an English-speaking doctor. A list of hospitals and medical specialists who speak English is available at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Pharmacies are first-rate, and most prescribed medications, except psychotropic medications, can be obtained with a prescription. See information on importing prescription medication in the section on Special Circumstances under Customs Regulations.
ROK ambulances do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, and the ambulance personnel do not have the same level of emergency medical training as do those in the United States. However, ambulances operated by the fire department (dial 119) will respond very quickly and take patients to the nearest hospital.
Safety and Security
When you travel, be alert to any unusual activity around your home, hotel, or business, and report any significant incidents to the local police. For emergency assistance in the Republic of Korea, dial 112 or, from a cell phone, 02-112.
Public Demonstrations: The Republic of Korea (ROK) is a modern democracy with active public political participation, and political demonstrations are common. While in recent years there has been a decrease in violence associated with political demonstrations, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational. You should avoid demonstrations whenever possible and exercise caution if you find yourself in an area with active demonstrations.
North Korea (DPRK):An armistice agreement, monitored by the United Nations, has maintained general peace on the Korean peninsula since 1953. Tensions have occasionally flared up because of provocative acts by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, including ballistic missile tests, nuclear tests, and limited armed incursions into ROK-held territory. Some of these provocations have escalated into geographically limited skirmishes taking place primarily around isolated islands off the northwest coast of the ROK.
The Republic of Korea maintains a high level of readiness to respond to any military threats from the DPRK. Military training exercises are routinely conducted throughout the Republic of Korea during the year and include civil defense drills, which are normally held four times a year. U.S. citizens should stay informed through local media about upcoming military exercises and civil defense drills that sometimes occur at short notice. The DPRK often issues strongly-worded and threatening messages in connection with these exercises. Please see our Fact Sheet on North Korea.
Emergency Preparedness:The U.S. Embassy in Seoul maintains a page on its website with local information about emergency preparedness. Travelers can stay informed by bookmarking this site and following local current events during their time in Korea.
During the monsoon season from June - August and the typhoon and hurricane season from May - November, heavy rains and flooding sometimes occur in the Republic of Korea.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the Republic of Korea, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The ROK's roads are well paved, traffic lights are functional, and most drivers comply with basic traffic laws. However, the Republic of Korea has a significantly higher traffic fatality rate than does the United States. Causes of accidents include excessive speed, frequent lane changes without signaling, running red lights, aggressive bus drivers, and weaving motorcyclists. You should be aware that motorcyclists sometimes drive on the sidewalks, and drivers of all types of vehicles do not always yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. It is safer to use pedestrian underpasses and overpasses where available.
Some traffic laws in the Republic of Korea differ from traffic laws in the United States. Left-hand turns are generally prohibited except where a green arrow indicates otherwise. You may turn right on a red light after coming to a complete stop. Seat belts are mandatory. Children riding in the front seat of vehicles must wear a seat belt or use an appropriate child car seat. Passengers on motorcycles must wear helmets. If you are a short-term visitor and wish to drive in the Republic of Korea, you must have an international driving permit issued in the United States by the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Otherwise, you must have an ROK driver's license.
In all accidents involving an automobile and a pedestrian or motorcycle, the driver of the automobile, regardless of citizenship, is presumed to be at fault. Police investigations of traffic accidents usually involve long waits at police stations. Police may take the passport of a foreigner involved in a traffic accident if there is any personal injury or a dispute about the cause of the accident. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common in accidents involving injury, even if negligence is not proven. If you are arrested due to an accident involving serious injury or death, you may be detained until the conclusion of the police investigation and legal process. When driving in the Republic of Korea, you may wish to carry a disposable camera to document any traffic accidents, even minor ones.
You are considered legally intoxicated in the Republic of Korea when you have a blood-alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. The ROK police actively enforce drunken driving laws and set up DUI checkpoints that are difficult to avoid. All drivers are required to submit to a breathalyzer test. Refusal to take the breath-test can result in cancellation of your license. Driving while intoxicated can result in significant fines and license suspension or even cancellation.
For specific information about ROK driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you can refer to our Road Safety page. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) or call the office at 1-800-868-7567 and contact the national authority responsible for road safety.