South Korea is an extremely popular destination for tourists from all over the world, and most people that haven’t yet visited this beautiful country surely have it on their list. While in recent years it has gained a popularity it has never known before, thanks to its array of highly popular boy bands and TV shows, South Korean culture is still a mystery for many westerners.
While, surely, you won’t find out all there is to know about the Land of the Morning Calm, here you can start to discover some of the many curious and wonderful things that await you if you want to travel to South Korea. Strap in and enjoy these interesting facts about South Korea.
- Visa-Free Countries for Qatari Passport Holders in 2023
- Visa-Free Countries for South Korean Passport Holders in 2023
- Visa-Free Countries for Vietnamese Passport Holders in 2023
- Visa-Free Countries for Armenian Passport Holders in 2023
- Visa-Free Countries for Malaysian Passport Holders in 2023
- Visa-Free Countries for Saudi Arabian Passport Holders in 2023
- Visa-Free Countries for Nepali Passport Holders in 2023
1. In South Korea you are considered 1 year old at birth
In South Korea, babies are considered 1 year old when they are born. Because of this, when asked about their age by a foreigner, Koreans will often answer with two numbers: their “international age” and their “Korean age”.
Moreover, they all age on New Year’s Eve. So, in some cases, a Korean born on the exact same date as you will be considered two years older than you!
This system has its roots in the Chinese numeral system, once widely used in Korea.
2. Half of South Koreans share the same three surnames
You might have noticed that a surprising number of South Korean people are named either Kim, Park or Lee. Does this mean they are all related? Of course not.
The reasons for this go very far back in history, all the way back to the Silla kingdom (57 BCE – 935 CE) and are tied to their relations with China and Japan, which weren’t quite so peaceful.
Statistics show that throughout the whole population, only around 250 surnames are currently in use (compared to the 100.000 in most similarly sized countries), with Kim being the most common surname.
3. Asking about blood types is very common
Apart from “how old are you?”, “what’s your blood type?” is going to be the most common question you’ll be asked in South Korea. They are not prying about your medical history, though.
Koreans believe that blood types are tied to personality, so asking about it is just a way to get to know you quickly.
They even have accurate blood personality charts, with specific traits for every type. Through blood types they also determine compatibility between different people, so “what’s your blood type?” is a common first date question.
4. Number 4 is considered unlucky
Given the similarity of the pronunciation between the word for the number 4 and the word for “death”, in South Korea 4 is considered to bring bad luck. Just as you might not find a number 13 bed in a western hospital, in many Korean buildings you won’t find a button for the fourth floor on the elevator, it will be marked as “F” instead.
Not everyone shares this superstition though, while it’s rather common between older generations, many younger people don’t have such strong feelings about number 4.
5. Plastic surgery is completely normal
Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the World. In the neighborhood of Gangnam alone, you can find around 500 esthetic clinics. While in other countries it’s often taboo, plastic surgery is more than accepted in Korea.
It’s pretty common for parents to encourage their children to undergo some kind of procedure before they go to university.
The “Caucasian look”, popularized by celebrities, is held in high esteem, for both men and women. A high number of people in their 30s admit that they have had some work done, and many people travel to Seoul to go to one of the many clinics.
6. No facial hair
Any kind of facial hair is highly frowned upon in South Korea. People seem to consider beards and mustaches as a sign of poor self care, and beauty standards for men lean towards a clean-shaven and youthful complexion.
Having facial hair can even prevent you from getting a job, as employers will definitely have a bad impression of you.
What about the Imperial Palace guards, with those long, well shaped beards? Well, those are fake.
7. They have Asia’s #1 drinking culture
Even if it might sound surprising to many, Koreans are Asia’s top drinkers, and according to recent surveys they are in the World’s top 20! Most holidays are celebrated with copious amounts of soju, a strong distillate made from rice or grain.
Getting completely wasted is not frowned upon in South Korea and there is a mandatory tradition to drink with your boss and colleagues after work.
They even have a very expensive line of hangover cures, often sold in convenience stores all around the country.
8. Valentine’s Day is for the guys
Opposite from the rest of the World, on February 14th Korean men are the ones receiving gifts and attention. Although in recent years the holiday has sometimes been defined as more of a couples’ day.
Women need not worry though, there is another day specifically for them one month later on March 14th, the so-called White Day.
And it doesn’t stop there! South Koreans have a total of 12 love days, one on the 14th of every month.
9. Women mostly have 3 hairstyles
If you travel to South Korea, you will quickly notice that almost all women have the same three hairstyles, with some minor variations. They generally style their hair according to their age and marital status.
Young single women generally wear long hair, newly married women cut their hair around ear level, and older women have a perm. There are, of course, a few exceptions, but in almost all cases, this is the rule.
10. Esports are a big thing
South Korea is the birthplace of esports and the matter is treated very seriously. There are even esports academies, in which young Koreans can enter this very selective world.
The gaming culture started thriving in the 1990s, and, until the pandemic, thousands of people crowded esports arenas where the competitions took place.
It is the fifth most popular future job for young people, since the top players are generally regarded as stars.
11. Toilet paper is a common housewarming gift
Although they are not extremely common anymore, since people move very often, Korean housewarming parties are different from what you’d expect. If you are moving into a new house, you shouldn’t be surprised if your friends show up bringing toilet paper or laundry detergent.
All types of cleaning supplies are generally considered perfect gifts for the occasion, but toilet paper and tissues are by far the most popular. So, if you are planning to buy a house in South Korea, there’s no need to buy them.
12. People believe electric fans can kill you
Many Koreans will either use their fans with the window cracked or just shut them off for the night. It is a popular belief that leaving a fan on in a closed room can be fatal.
There are different opinions on why it’s supposed to be dangerous. Some say that it will deprive you of oxygen, others that it will cause extreme cold. Either way the dreaded “fan death” is a common fear, and a lot of South Korean people are very careful with their fans, especially at night.
13. They celebrate two different New Year’s Days
While most other Asian countries either celebrate the Lunar new year according to the Chinese calendar or adopt the traditional western New Year’s Day, in South Korea they celebrate the new year both times.
January 1st is generally regarded as a more relaxed and casual holiday, spent with immediate family. They also exchange cards, very similar to the ones we use for Christmas.
The other celebration, however, lasts three whole days, and is celebrated much more noisily, usually according to the Chinese Lunar calendar.
14. The world’s oldest astronomical observatory is in Korea
In Gyeongju, the ancient capital of Korea, visitors can find the ancient tower of Cheomseongdae. While it might not look like an outstanding landmark, the monument has been standing there since the 7th century.
Built during the Silla kingdom, by order of Queen Seondeok, Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in the whole world and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, along with other historical sites in Gyeongju.
Although the structure has remained mostly intact for the last 1300 years, its detailed use is still not fully understood.
15. More than half of all Koreans live in the Seoul capital area
You probably already know that Seoul is an enormous city that needs a lot of time to be fully explored and appreciated. However, many of us still haven’t even begun to understand the sheer size of this colossal city.
South Korea’s capital is the 5th biggest city in the world, with 26 million people living in the city and the surrounding area. That’s just over half of the entire population of the country, which is around 51 million people.
Seoul is a gigantic city that never sleeps, that offers everything visitors can imagine, if they look hard enough. But don’t be discouraged, despite its size, the Korean capital is surprisingly easy to navigate.
Discover more interesting facts:
South Korea visa requirements
To travel to South Korea, you’ll need a visa that allows you to enter the country’s territory. To get the said visa you will need:
- An original passport with at least 6 months validity and three blank pages, together with all of your old passports.
- A filled visa application form.
- Two recent color photographs.
- A personal cover letter.
- Your original updated bank statements for the last 6 months.
- Your income tax returns.
- Return flight tickets.
- A hotel reservation.
Additionally, there is going to be a tax of ₹4,999 (about $66) . The processing time for a South Korean visa is usually between 5-10 days. Note that you might need some different documents, or more, depending on the kind of visa you are applying for.
South Korea has a visa waiver program that allows the citizens of certain countries to enter the country without a visa for a short period of time. However, you will still need to fill in a K-ETA (Korea Electronic Travel Authorization) online at least 24 hours before your flight.
Requirements for a South Korean visa photo
The pictures for a South Korean visa have very strict requirements, and if you don’t follow them, your photo will be rejected. The photos need to be recent, in color, sized 35 x 45 mm, in 600 dpi, with a white background in which your face must cover 80% of the photo. You can only wear prescription glasses; you are not allowed to wear a uniform and only religious or medical headwear is permitted.
Passport Photo Online
As you can see, the requirements for a photo for your South Korean visa are very strict. Taking a picture with such constraints is not easy at all, and a professional photo shoot can be quite expensive.
Fortunately, with the help of Passport Photo Online, you can snap your pictures from the comfort of your home!
PPO has a built-in AI that will quickly fix the photo for your South Korean Visa according to the requirements.
If you already have a picture that you think might work, upload it to Passport Photo Online, and you’ll know right away if it does! And if not, the AI will work its magic! Passport Photo Online (available for iOs and Android) is not just super easy to use, it also allows you to take all the pictures you want, you’ll only pay for the ones that you decide to keep!
Then you can either download the file or have them shipped to your door. Either way, you’ll have perfect pictures in no time.
Michal Jonca is an experienced author of articles concerning biometric photography. He is a travel, food, and trail running passionate who visited 40+ countries on four continents. He is a Travel Leader for the adventurous travel company Solisci and the Community Manager at Passport-Photo.Online. Only this year, he enjoyed his workation in Thailand, Turkey, and the Caucasus mountains.