Korea (Republic of)
|Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 21 December 2010
On 23 November 2010, following a South Korean live artillery firing exercise, the DPRK launched an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island, killing 4 people. On 20 December 2010, South Korea conducted a further live firing exercise on the island. To date, the DPRK has not responded militarily but we continue to advise against travel to Yeonpyeong, or to the other North West Islands of Baengnyeong-do, Daecheong-do, Socheong-do and Woo-do. We assess that there is no substantially increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to other areas of South Korea as a result of current tensions. However, you are advised to continue monitoring news reports.
The South Korean authorities normally hold nationwide civil emergency exercises on the 15th day of the month, eight times a year (not January, February, July or December). Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter in metro stations or basements. There was also a special exercise on 15 December. You should check local announcements for further exercises.
Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
See our Terrorism Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Crime
Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, there is a higher incidence of pick pocketing, purse snatching, assault, burglary (in hotel rooms and private residences), and other crime in major metropolitan areas, such as Seoul and Busan, than elsewhere in Korea. Exercise normal safety precautions and ensure valuables are secure especially in known tourist areas, such as Itaewon and other large market areas.
Incidents of rape have been reported in popular nightlife districts of Seoul, as well as in private residences. Exercise caution when travelling alone at night and you should use only legitimate taxis or public transportation. See our rape and sexual assault abroad page.
For emergency assistance, call 112 for police (an interpretation service is available during working hours) and 119 for ambulance and fire. The Korean National Police operates a 24-hour, seven day a week Central Interpretation Centre where foreigners can report crimes (through 112).
See our victims of crime abroad page.
Safety and Security - Political situation
Republic of Korea country profile
Safety and Security - Political situation - Armistice Agreement
An Armistice Agreement has been in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Relations between South and North Korea have fluctuated following the election in 2007 of President Lee Myung-bak in South Korea and missile and nuclear tests by the DPRK in 2009 and are currently tense following the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan on 26 March 2010, in which 46 sailors perished. South Korea conducted an investigation into the sinking with the assistance of experts from the US, UK, Sweden and Australia. On 20 May 2010, the South Korean government announced that it had firm evidence that a DPRK torpedo attack was the cause. The DPRK has denied this. On 23 November 2010, North Korea fired a number of artillery shells across the western inter-Korean maritime border, with some landing on the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two marines, and causing numerous injuries. South Korea responded with its own artillery and has strengthened its military presence in the area. The South held a further live artillery firing exercise on Yeonpyeong Island on 20 December. To date the DPRK has not responded militarily.
Safety and Security - Political situation - Demonstrations
Avoid demonstrations, which can be common in South Korea and have occasionally turned violent. Most demonstrations, however, are peaceful and take place in the City Hall/Seoul Plaza/Cheonggyecheon Stream area of central Seoul. Follow the advice of the local authorities and monitor local media for developments.
Safety and Security - Local Travel
For Travel Advice on visits to North Korea, please clink on the following link
You cannot travel directly to North Korea from South Korea, unless making an official visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Taxi drivers tend to speak little or no English. Have your destination written in Korean, with a map for private addresses, as it can be difficult to locate them otherwise.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Road Travel
An International Driving Permit is needed to drive in South Korea. Ensure that you also have fully comprehensive insurance.
In 2009 there were 5,838 road deaths in South Korea (source: DfT). This equates to 12.0 road deaths per 100,000 of population compared to the UK average of 3.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2009.
Car and motorbike drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents involving motorcycles or pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common when accidents result in injury, even if guilt is not proved. Watch out for motorcycles travelling at speed on pavements.
See our driving abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel
The revised aviation security measures that came into effect for all passengers departing from UK airports in November 2006 are also being implemented in South Korea. For more details about this please see: DfT - Airline Security Update
The European Commission has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the European Union. This is regularly updated. Check the European Commission website to see whether this will affect your travel. At the time of writing no South Korean airlines feature on this list.
English is not widely spoken in South Korea.
You are subject to local laws, which can be more severe than in the UK for similar offences. A serious violation may lead to a jail or a death sentence.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs can result in long jail sentences and heavy fines. This applies even to personal use of small amounts of marijuana. British nationals have been detained solely on the basis of drug tests.
Jail sentences are served in South Korea although, especially for less serious offences, foreigners may instead be deported. If you are deported you may be banned from returning to South Korea for several years.
Carry some form of identification at all times and ensure your next-of-kin details have been entered into the back of your passport.
There is no legal barrier to homosexual relationships, but some prejudice exists among the older generation. Younger Koreans are more liberal and gay rights organisations are gaining support. The gay scene, although relatively small, is well established and growing in visibility.
See our Your Trip page.
Entry Requirements - Visas
Holders of British Citizen passports can enter South Korea for tourist purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. You must also have an onward or return ticket.
Visas are required for all other purposes. It is illegal to work on a tourist visa in South Korea, whether as a teacher or in any other capacity. If you wish to work contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission before you travel for information on obtaining the appropriate documentation. In addition, research the educational establishment or company where you intend to work as thoroughly as possible. If you are considering a teaching job in South Korea. See General - Employment below.
Holders of all other types of British passport should contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission before travelling for information about visa requirements - Embassy of the Republic of Korea, London.
Entry Requirements - Passport validity
Your passport should be valid for at least six months after the date you intend to enter South Korea.
Entry Requirements - British males of Korean origin
If you are a British male of Korean origin, whose name appears on your Korean family register, you should be aware that you may be liable for military service, even if travelling on your British passport.
Entry Requirements - Travelling with children
For information on exactly what will be required at immigration please contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission - Embassy of the Republic of Korea, London.
Medical and dental care in South Korea is usually of a good standard but can be expensive; staff often do not speak English.
In the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 13,000 adults aged 15 or over in South Korea were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at less than 0.1% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. Exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.
Seek medical advice before travelling to South Korea and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) and NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
See our Travel Health page.
Natural Disasters -
Travellers to South Korea should be aware that typhoon season normally runs from June to November. Pay particular attention to local weather and travel information and consult the Korean Meteorological Administration website, which has information in English.
See our Tropical Cyclones page for more detailed information about what to do if you are caught up in a typhoon.
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before departure. Ensure that your insurance covers the costs of medical repatriation if you need complex hospital treatment. Check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. See our Travel Insurance page.
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then see our When Things Go Wrong page.
General - Mobile phones
Mobile telephones purchased outside South Korea will not normally work in the country. For those visiting South Korea phones can be rented at the airport on arrival.
Registering with the British Embassy
If you are staying for more than two weeks, we strongly encourage you to register with the Consular Section of the British Embassy. You can also find contingency guidance information on the Consular Services Section of the British Embassy website British Embassy website.
Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.
General - Money
The local currency is the South Korean Won. It is almost impossible to change Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes. Credit cards are not always accepted outside major cities. ATMs, whilst widely available do not always accept foreign cards. ATM’s with a sign saying 'Global' will normally accept foreign cards.
General - Employment
If you are considering a teaching job in South Korea, be aware that it is not possible to obtain a visa to teach English in South Korea without a three-year university degree – a TEFL qualification alone is insufficient. If you are found to have obtained a teaching visa by submitting fraudulent documents, even if unknowingly produced by a third party, you will be detained and deported. You should also be aware that complaints are frequently received from British nationals teaching English in South Korea about problems arising from living or working conditions that do not meet expectations, complications and over obtaining the correct visas and residence permits. There have also been complaints of breach of contract, confiscation of passports, and of payment being withheld also of inadequate or no medical insurance. Check that all terms and conditions of employment are clearly stated before accepting an offer and signing a contract. Where possible ask to speak to other teachers from the educational establishment when you plan to work before accepting any offer. Written contracts are not necessarily considered binding documents and verbal agreements often take precedence. It is illegal to work in South Korea on a tourist visa. For those in possession of a work visa all employment changes must be authorised by Korean Immigration.
General - Consular Assistance Statistics
Many British nationals visit South Korea every year. Most visits are trouble-free. 16 British nationals required consular assistance in the Republic of Korea in the period 01 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incident; one death; nine hospitalisations ; and two arrests, for a variety of offences. During this period assistance was also requested with regard to lost or stolen passports (36 cases).