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South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, forms the southerly part of the Korean Peninsula and lies around 680miles (1100km) from the Asian mainland. At its northerly border lies North Korea and China is on its west and Japan to the east. It is a very mountainous country, with bustling cities and peaceful rural areas.
In general, road conditions in South Korea are very good, with road signs in English as well as Korean. The road network is generally clear and easy to navigate. Left turns, in general, are not allowed unless a green arrow specifically permits it and drivers should be aware that they are permitted to turn right on a red traffic light, provided they have come to a complete stop first.
Driving licences: you will require an International Driving License to drive in South Korea. You must have one year's experience, have a valid passport and be over 25 years of age.
Which side does South Korea drive on: the right.
Expressways: 100kph (60mph)
Highways: 80kph (50mph)
Rural roads: 60kph (40mph)
Urban zones: 50kph (30mph)
Alcohol Limits: you are legally drunk in South Korea with a blood alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. If found to be driving above this limit, you could face withdrawal of your license, a suspension and a large fine.
Driving age: 18 years for a car or 16 for a motorbike.
Seatbelts: seatbelts are compulsory and children travelling in the front seat must wear one or be in a suitable car seat. Rear passengers must only wear a seatbelt on the motorway.
Mobile phones and GPS: you can use a hands-free phone if you don't have to use your hands to answer a call.
Cost of fuel in South Korea: as the country must import all its fuel you can expect prices to be slightly higher than the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: car hire can be paid for with cash or a card but in more rural areas cards are not always accepted so be sure to carry cash.
Insurance: insurance in South Korea is compulsory for cars but not motorbikes. You can purchase it from your car hire company but may choose to arrange it before leaving the UK.
Traffic and parking: there is a high volume of traffic within South Korea's cities but the public transport systems are superb. The recommendation is to park outside the city and travel in and spend your driving time exploring coastal routes and mountain passes. In Seoul there are five types of parking zone and the time limits and costs vary. Payment can usually be made to a parking attendant.
The rail system in South Korea is extremely modern, competitively priced and efficient. Connections are good between cities but rural areas can still be difficult to reach. Stations are generally clean with English and Korean signposting. Book in advance for weekend travel as the trains can be busy.
Taxi drivers generally don't speak English, but taxis are plentiful. They can be expensive, though. To flag a taxi down, wave with your fingers extended downwards rather than upwards as this is considered rude.
The bus system is fast and efficient and most parts of the country can be reached using it.
South Korea is very close to Japan. Ferries run regularly from Busan Port International Passenger Terminal.
South Korea has seven international airports, with the largest being Incheon International Airport close to Seoul.
The roads in South Korea are well paved and maintained. Coupled with the country's small size, this makes it a great place to explore by road. Drivers can reach tranquil rural areas in no time after visiting the hustle and bustle of Seoul and the country's second-largest city Busan. Spend some time exploring the stunning countryside, including the Andong in its traditional glory as well as the coastline and Seoraksan National Park on the north-east coast or Haeundae Beach on the southern coast.
There are numerous public holidays throughout the year:
- Lunar New Year in January or February
- Memorial Day in June
- Liberation Day in August
- National Foundation Day in October
South Korea has a very humid climate with four seasons. The temperature can vary dramatically year round, with August being extremely hot and December and January sub-zero. There is a monsoon season bringing downpours in mid-summer.
Though South Korea receives lots of tourists from East Asia, there is very little Western influence so don't be surprised if the locals tend to stare at you during your stay. The nation is generally very warm and welcoming.
South Korea Contact Numbers
- International dialling code: +82
- Police: 112
- Ambulance: 119
- British Embassy: 2 3210 5500
- Traveller's helpline: 1330
Health & Safety
Medical facilities in South Korea are of a high standard but this is reflected in the price of the treatment. Ensure you have enough travel insurance cover before travelling. Malaria is an issue only in rural areas between March and December. Contact your GP eight weeks before travelling to ensure your vaccinations are appropriate. Take adequate precautions against the effects of the sun and heat. Avoid tap water in South Korea and instead use bottled water which is readily available.
Visas for South Korea
British citizens travelling as tourists to South Korea can enter the country for no more than 90 days without a visa. Your passport must be valid for at least three months from the date of entry. Note that it is compulsory for foreign passport holders to be photographed and fingerprinted on entry to the country for biometric registration.
The official currency of South Korea is the won. Each won is broken down into 100 jeon. Banknotes in circulation are found in 1000, 5000, 10,000 and 50,000 won denominations. Coins come in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 denominations. Note that if you have a foreign credit or debit card, you will need to use a cash machine with a global sign. Also beware that cash machines in South Korea are often only open from 9am to 10pm.
Electrical sockets in South Korea can be one of two European socket types and the voltage is 220V.
Normal business hours in South Korea are the standard Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Supermarkets and malls have longer opening hours. Department stores tend to close on one day every month, but each store determines its own day so it's very hard to predict. Public holidays include the Lunar New Year in January or February and the Moon Festival in September or October. Consult a South Korean calendar to check dates as they differ each year.
Though children in South Korea are now learning it in school, English is rarely spoken other than in establishments with frequent foreign visitors so it's useful to learn key phrases. South Korea is a very respectful society so do familiarise yourself with customs before your visit to avoid causing offence. When meeting a group of people, always address the oldest person first. Never sit in a position where the soles of your feet are pointing at anyone as this is considered very rude. Remove your shoes when entering anyone's home.
Kamsa hamnida - Thank you
Olma eyo - How much (please)?
Anyong haseyo - Hello or How are you?