A Traveler's Guide to Customs and Etiquette in Korea

A Traveler's Guide to Customs and Etiquette in Korea

Traveling to South Korea soon? Discovering a new culture is a thrilling adventure, but appreciating and honoring local customs and traditions is crucial. Korean culture is vibrant and diverse, and respecting these customs can significantly enrich your trip. In this article, we'll explore key cultural customs and etiquette in Korea to help you make the most of your visit while avoiding cultural missteps.

1. Greetings and Politeness

Korean culture highly values formalities and respect. Starting a conversation with a gentle bow and a warm "안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo)" sets the right tone.

Tip: Bow slightly and use "안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo)" to greet. Adjust the depth of your bow and level of politeness based on the person's age or position.

2. Removing Shoes Indoors

Taking off your shoes at the entrance is customary in Korean homes and traditional places like temples. Ensure you have clean and presentable socks.

Tip: Observe if others are removing their shoes. If they are, follow suit and wear clean, presentable socks.

3. Dining Etiquette

Korean meals often involve shared dishes. Wait for the eldest or the host to start eating. To pass or receive items, use both hands.

Tip: Begin eating after the eldest or the host. Hold the spoon in your right hand and chopsticks in your left. Trying a bit of everything is polite.

4. Respecting Elders

Korean culture places significant emphasis on respecting elders. When giving or receiving something, use both hands or your right hand to support your left forearm.

Tip: Hold the bottle or cup with two hands when pouring drinks as a sign of respect. Address elders using honorifics and appropriate titles.

5. Proper Use of Chopsticks

Avoid sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, resembling a ritual for the deceased. When not using them, rest them on a chopstick rest or the edge of your plate.

Tip: Don't point with chopsticks or pass food directly to someone's chopsticks. Place the food on their plate instead.

6. Public Behavior

Maintain a moderate volume and avoid causing disruptions in public places. Practice patience in queues and respect personal space in crowded areas.

Tip: Lower your voice, especially in public transport. Koreans appreciate a peaceful public environment.

7. Gift Giving

Bringing a small gift like fruit or flowers when invited to a Korean's home is courteous. Gifts are usually exchanged with both hands.

Tip: Offer and receive gifts with both hands. Express a bit of hesitation when receiving a gift to show modesty.

8. Visiting Temples

Dress modestly and speak softly when visiting Buddhist temples. Avoid touching religious artifacts or taking photos without permission.

Tip: Dress modestly, covering your shoulders and legs.

9. Tipping and Bargaining

Tipping is not common in Korea, especially in restaurants or stores. Bargaining is also rare, particularly in regular stores or establishments.

Tip: While not common, bargaining is acceptable in specific situations, especially in traditional markets.

10. Understanding Social Hierarchy

Korean society emphasizes a strong hierarchical structure. Consider a person's age, position, and appropriate formality level when addressing them.

Tip: Use proper titles and honorifics, especially for older individuals or those in higher positions, to convey respect.


Respecting and comprehending Korean customs and etiquette is fundamental for a delightful trip to this beautiful country. By embracing their culture and showing respect, you'll not only steer clear of cultural misunderstandings but also create lasting memories and connections with the locals.

Berlitz offers Korean language courses with cultural training, preparing you for your Korean adventure. Safe travels, or as they say in Korean, "안녕히 다녀오세요 (annyeonghi danyeoseyo)!"