Safety

Safety

Generally speaking, South Korea is an extremely safe place to live. Walking around town late at night, for example, is certainly something we’ve done regularly and become extremely comfortable with, though the same common sense rules used in any situation should still apply. The local population is generally friendly and welcoming, and while some visitors can be frustrated – especially in the smaller towns – by the tendency to stare at foreign visitors, it’s more an act of curiosity than malice.

Some visitors worry about the threat from North Korea, and while that’s not something we’d want to dismiss too lightly, it is worth considering the statistics: in several decades, there have only been minimal border skirmishes between the two sides, and the North Koreans specifically target South Korean citizens. While Seoul is only 50-odd kilometers from the DMZ, attacks are so rare as to be very ignorable, and the break down of the previous ‘sunshine policy’ – which aimed to pacify North Korea – by the new South Korean government has had a very limited effect on the lives of real people. It has, however, caused a few foreign embassies to recommend visitors are a touch more careful. Here are a few tips to consider:

-       Given that South Korea is technically at war, it’s more important than normal when traveling here to register with your national consulate, which can then provide updates in the event of any change in the political situation. It’s unlikely there will be, but it’s a silly safety option to pass up on. Most consulates recommend registration for any visitors who is staying for more than two weeks.

-       Like most countries, it would be unwise to travel in South Korea without good insurance. If you’re working, your employer should organize this and contribute to it through your salary (assuming everything is above board). If you’re not, medical treatment in South Korea is expensive, and some hospitals have a tendency to rip off foreigners. It’s essential that you make sure you’re covered.

-       Cases of rape are not unknown in Korea, and often target foreign women, particularly in part because of the abundance of foreign prostitutes in Korea, which leads to negative and ‘slutty’ reputations. As long as basic common sense is adhered to, you should be okay. Having said that, women drinking too much alone or walking through particularly shady areas is not recommended.

-       Demonstrations: political and union-based demonstrations by South Korean citizens are extremely common, and while the locals rarely object to the presence of foreigners, they can sometimes turn violent. You won’t be a target (unless, perhaps, the event is one of the surprisingly common demonstrations against imported meat), but it’s always best to stay out of the way rather than be stuck in the thick of things.

-       Homosexuality is legal in South Korea, but open displays of affection in public can lead to strong adverse reactions at times. It’s best – at least outside of the more liberal major nightlife districts – to keep things to yourself. Having said that, Korea’s not without its ‘gay’ areas, in particular Itaewon’s notorious ‘homo-hill’ (not our name!), so it’s not an entirely unsuitable destination.

-       Pickpockets are common, particularly in the tourist areas, though they are also punished extremely harshly compared to in our own culture, so tend to be very careful in their targets. Reasonable vigilance should be more than enough, but don’t leave any obvious opportunities for theft open.

-       Driving in South Korea is generally not too stressful. Koreans drive on the right, and aside from the central roads in Seoul, which are manic, the driving style is generally not all that different to our own. Be aware that driving motorbikes is a big risk, though, as are Seoul’s multi-lane highways for the inexperienced city driver.

Above all, though, enjoy yourself. While South Korea is not without its risks, they’re less substantial than in most countries, and you can enjoy yourself in relative comfort.