South Korea

Safety and security – South Korea travel advice

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Political situation

The level of tension and the security situation on the Korean peninsula can change unknowingly. Tensions are likely to increase after North Korea’s missile test and during regular South Korea-U.S. military exercises held throughout the year. You should follow advice from local authorities and stay up to date with the latest developments, including through news broadcasts and this travel advice.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North Korea and the Republic of Korea. The peace was maintained under a truce, but a formal peace treaty was never signed. If you are in the DMZ area, you should exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities.

emergency plan

You should familiarize yourself with local procedures and preparations, including civil emergency drills and advice (see below), when tensions rise.You can also subscribe to our email alert service to be notified of future updates and follow our Twitter and Facebook channel.

As part of your own contingency planning, you should ensure that you have easy access to passports and other important documents, such as nationality documents and birth and marriage certificates, as well as any essential medicines. You can read our overseas crisis page for more information and advice, including what you can do to prepare effectively, what you should do in the event of a crisis abroad and how we can help you.

If the situation worsens, the British Embassy will communicate via this travel advice page and embassy Facebook and Twitter feed.

Civil emergency drills and advice

South Korean authorities sometimes hold civil emergency drills. Sirens sounded, traffic stopped and some people were asked to shelter indoors, including in designated subway stations or basements. The shelters in Seoul are marked with a special symbol. It is not mandatory for foreigners to participate in these drills, but you should follow any instructions from your local government during any drills.

The South Korean government has developed a smartphone app that provides civil emergency advice, including shelter locations, different types of alerts, medical facilities and emergency services. Search for “emergency apps” in the Android or Apple app store.

crime

Crimes against foreigners are rare, but isolated incidents do occur occasionally. While most reported crimes were theft, there were also cases of assault, including sexual assault, especially around bars and nightlife areas. You should be vigilant and take sensible precautions.

Pay special attention to passports, credit cards and money in crowded places, and be careful in places visited by foreigners such as Itaewon. Be careful when traveling alone at night and only use legal taxis or public transport.

For emergency assistance or to report a crime, please call the police on 112 (with 24-hour interpretation service) and 119 for ambulance and fire.

Demonstration

Public demonstrations in South Korea are common. Most of these gatherings are peaceful and well-policed, but you should take extra care as you would in any crowded place. You should also know that under Korean law, foreigners are not allowed to engage in political activities in Korea.

road trip

According to South Korea’s traffic law, the maximum blood alcohol content threshold allowed while driving or in charge of a vehicle is 0.03%. This is different from the statutory threshold in the UK, which is 0.035%.

All passengers in the vehicle must wear seat belts, including the rear seats. City buses without seat belts are not subject to this regulation. The government’s COVID-19 procedures include mandatory mask wearing in public places and on all public transport.

When parking on hills/slopes, drivers need to take precautions (such as placing blocks behind each wheel, or turning the steering wheel to ensure the vehicle’s front wheels are at an angle to the curb).

More information can be found in the Korean Road Traffic Act, although there is currently no official English translation. If you need more advice, please contact the Korean police authorities.

Driving in Korea requires an international driver’s license. Make sure you have comprehensive insurance.

In accidents involving bicycles or pedestrians, car and motorcycle drivers are believed to be at fault. When an accident results in injury, criminal charges and heavy penalties are common, even if no guilt is proven. Watch out for motorcycles traveling at high speeds on the sidewalk.

Taxi drivers tend to speak little or no English. Although translation services are available, if possible, please write down your destination in Korean and attach a map.

In 2020, 3,081 people died in road traffic accidents in South Korea (Source: Ministry of Transport, RAS52001). This equates to 60 road deaths per million population compared to 23 road deaths per million population in the UK in 2020.



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