Our company gets a lot of questions from guests that are coming to Seoul for the first time as tourists. I try to answer their questions as often as possible. Here is a checklist of things they should know when tourists come to Seoul for the first time.
Surviving Seoul: Tips
1. Rent a cellphone or get roaming on your phone when you come to Korea. It’ll save yourself a ton of headaches and there is a foreigner helpline you can call 02-1330 24-hours a day.
2. Having the address doesn’t mean anything in Korea unless it is a major hotel or attraction. Taxi drivers have GPS Navigators, but often won’t use them. Find out which subway station and exit that is closest to and tell drivers to go there. If that doesn’t work ask them to call where you are going and they can give him directions.
3. Korean metal chopsticks are thin and can be difficult for some to handle. You might consider bringing a fork or disposable wooden chopsticks.
4. It is not customary to tip in Korea. Many 5-star hotels and upscale restaurants might charge you a 10% tax and a 10% service charge. If a taxi driver has been especially nice such as picking me up when it rains, I tend to let the driver keep the change or tip a dollar or two.
5. Most franchised stores, restaurants, and convenience stores accept credit cards. At these places you can’t barter. You can exchange money at most banks, but be sure to bring your passport. If you need cash right away, usually the ATM’s at the 7-11 convenience store or KEB Bank will let you withdraw cash.
6. At markets such as the fish market, electronics market, or Dongdaemun fashion market it is ok to barter. They will go down about 10 to 20% if you pay cash. Korean shopkeepers tend to want to give you something free if you buy lots of stuff instead of discounting. If the shopkeeper walks away from you and doesn’t come back, you know you’ve offered an insulting price.
7. At restaurants, the button on your table is to call your server. If they can’t be seen, it is ok to yell out “Yogiyo!” Oh, and you pay your check at the counter.
8. At the seafood market, you are charged a fee per person to sit and eat at the restaurant. There is also a cooking charge (usually by weight) for each item you want cooked, so it might not be cost effective to have 1 abalone steamed. There is no extra charge for raw items.
9. At barbecue restaurants, if you ask for rice, it will be accompanied with side dishes and soup. Koreans eat rice after eating the meat.
10. Finally, don’t get offended if someone bumps into you or pushes you on subways or while walking. Seoul is small and many people have places to go.
11. Relax. It’ll all be fine.