South Korea is a country located in East Asia, on the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The country is a mountainous peninsula, which can be divided into four regions: an eastern region with high mountain ranges and narrow coastal plains; a southwestern region of mountains; a western region of broad coastal plains, and a southeastern region dominated by the broad basin of the Nakdong River. Surrounded by powerful neighbors, it has come under attack on numerous occasions; however South Korea has developed its own unique culture in isolation, a fact that keeps tourism level high. Today, the country is a place of festivities, amazing scenery and unique culture. The land is wonderfully diverse, with spectacular national parks, sandy beaches, hot spring islands and rugged mountain peaks.
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc as these are subjected to change without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.
Best time to go: South Korea has four distinct seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter. Winters are summers are long with short but enjoyable spring and autumn which are considered as the best time to visit South Korea. Spring season is between March – May and during then the city erupts with budding trees and cherry blossoms and the temperature is mild. Autumn months are between September to November and the weather is moderate. Although rain is unpredictable, most days are dry with clear skies. Summer season can be very warm and humid, while winter is very cold. The wettest months are from late July through mid-August.
The spring and autumn are the best seasons for South Korea, although winter sports enthusiasts should consider visiting the country during winter months from November through March.
Visa: New Zealand citizens do not need a visa to visit South Korea. The maximum duration of stay on a tourist visa is up to 90 days and passports must be valid for at least 6 months on the date of entry.
Currency: Currency of South Korea is Won (W). Bank notes are available in the denomination of W1000, 5000, 10000 and 50000. Coins come in denominations of W10, 50, 100 and 500. Credit cards, foreign currency and travelers cheques are not always accepted outside major cities and can be difficult to change in rural areas. While ATMs are widely available, machines do not always accept foreign cards. ATM Machines signed saying ‘Global’ will normally accept foreign cards.
Health: There are no special requirements for vaccinations or immunizations for entry to Korea however it is advisable to consult a health care provider preferably six weeks before you travel.
The medical services and facilities are generally very good. In major cities, there are international clinics in general hospitals however Korean medical institutes insist payment for treatment in paid in full before the patient is discharged. There is a small risk of malaria in some rural areas; therefore it is advisable to take precautions. Avoid tap water unless it has been boiled. Its best to buy water bottled. Be highly selective when eating food from street vendors. Ensure the food is well cooked and milk should be boiled before consuming.
Although the medical standards are good, it can be expensive and staff may not always speak English. Therefore, travel with adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover any cost of medical treatments.
Food and Drinks: Eating out in South Korea is reasonably cheap. The lotus plaque outside restaurants is a sign of quality. South Korean food is quite different from Chinese and Japanese and South Korean cuisine is well-known throughout the world. It is mainly based on rice, tofu, noodles, vegetables and various meats. The most popular ingredients and flavorings are: sesame oil, soy sauce, doenjang (fermented bean paste), salt, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and gochujang (fermented red chili paste). Korean soups and side dishes are mostly heavily laced with red pepper. Korean food is spicy as almost everything involves red pepper paste. Ingredients and dishes vary from region to region, however barbeques, noodles, stew and dishes prepared from rice are most popular food items. A lot of vegetables are used in dishes and a little meat is usually added.
Tap water is generally considered safe to drink, however as precautions against upset stomach, it is advisable to drink bottled mineral water, which is readily available from shops, restaurants and hotels. There are no restrictions on drinking alcohol in the country and the national drink is Soju (similar to vodka). Other popular drinks of South Korea include rice wine, sikhye, beer, boricha, coffee and tea.
Safety and Security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.
Clothing: March to May during spring season and September to November during autumn season the temperature is moderate, therefore it is advisable to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and pack sweater or a jacket. During summer months from June to August, it is hot, humid and wet therefore pack lightweight, loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics such as linen and cotton that will work well. December to February are very cold months so pack coat and also snow is common on higher elevations of South Korea, therefore be prepared for cold and dress accordingly.
Language: The official language is Korean (Hangul), with English widely taught in school and generally understood in major centers.
Gratuities: Hotels and restaurant generally levy a 10% service charge in their bills; hence tipping here could be avoided. You may tip your local guide and driver for their services.
Airport tax: Your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departure.
Internet: South Korea is renowned for its advancement in IT, especially when it comes to the internet. Most Hotels have internet facility in rooms (in few Hotels free of charge) and/or in Business Centers. Internet cafes are located in all commercial areas.
Telephone: Dialing code for South Korea is +82 and if you are calling New Zealand from South Korea, the code is +64. The area code for Seoul is 02. To place an outgoing direct-dialed international call, dial 001 or 002 plus the country code followed by the number.
Time Difference: South Korea is 3 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 4 hours from October to March.
Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited – please check with your local guide if you are not clear about any particular building
Electricity: Voltage supply in Hong Kong is either 110 or 220 volts and different varieties of plugs are used in South Korea – two flat pins (110 volts) or 2-round pins (220 volts). Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home.
Cities of Interest
The capital of Korea, Seoul has over 600 years of history. Seoul is heart of Korea’s culture and education as well as politics and economics. Seoul is home too many old historic sites like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces, and places of traditional culture like Bukchon Hanok Village, Insa-dong, and Namdaemun Market. Asia’s largest underground shopping centre COEX Mall draws a large number of tourists every year.
Also known as the ‘Island of the Gods’, is a popular spot for Koreans and many Japanese. The island’s mixture of volcanic rock, frequent rain and moderate climate makes it very similar to the Hawaiian Islands. Hiking, catching sunrise and sunset over the ocean, viewing majestic waterfall, riding horses, exploring the beaches are some of the activities options at the Island.