Whether you’re vacationing or moving to South Korea (the Land of the Morning Calm), here’s a quick guide to what you should pack and what you can leave at home.
DO pack deodorant and tampons. These are weirdly hard to find, and when you do, it’s likely they’re going to be expensive and the selection will be limited. If you end up in Korea without these items, you can usually find a small, pricey selection at most grocery store chains (LotteMart, Home Plus, E-Mart), or in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul — which is basically foreigner central and home to a world of imported items.
DON’T pack a ton of low-cut and/or sleeveless dresses or tops. While showing cleavage is becoming slightly less scandalous with the 20somethings of Korea, if you’re wearing something low-cut, you will still get the stink eye from various strangers. Short skirts and shorts aren’t an issue — Koreans love showing off their legs. But cleavage? Not so much. Sleeveless tops aren’t as offensive as I was led to believe prior to moving to Korea in 2011, but still be mindful. I avoid spaghetti straps unless I have a little cardigan or shrug to cover it up with. However, that being said…
DO pack appropriately for the weather. Be warned: summer in Korea is very, very hot. We’re talking what feels like 1 million% humidity and temps averaging somewhere in the 90s Fahrenheit. This is a time when less people seem to mind if you have bare shoulders, simply because it’s logical. The heat gets kind of miserable, and this is coming from someone who grew up in the South. In July to August, you can also expect monsoon season, meaning it could be very, very rainy in addition to the stifling heat and humidity. Then, in the winter, it gets really cold: single digit temperatures and biting winds. Also, Korea doesn’t always clear snow and ice from walkways, so you may find yourself skating down sidewalks. Winter lingers into spring, resulting in chilly evenings. Fall, however, is delightful and seems to be the common favorite season. Keep all of this in mind when packing, because Korea has ALL the seasons.
DON’T stress about packing toiletries. Things like shampoo/conditioner, body wash, makeup, nail polish, etc. etc. — you can find all of that in Korea. If you’re just visiting, don’t worry if you have to find replacements for any of your travel-sized toiletries. And if you’re moving to Korea, bring travel sizes to help you get settled in, then explore the numerous makeup stores. Korean cosmetics are amazing, so whether you’re replacing your shampoo or shopping for new hair pomade and BB cream, you won’t have any trouble. (Note: While Korean makeup is amazing and I recommend it, be aware of “whitening” creams — they contain small amounts of bleach, and are used to lighten skin tones.)
DO pack comforable shoes. First off, no matter your business in Korea, chances are you’ll be on your feet quite a lot. And unless you have feet smaller than U.S. size 8, you’re going to have a tough time finding shoes here. Stores like Forever21 and H&M will carry larger sizes, as do Western brands like Converse and Nike, but otherwise, us ladies with bigger feet are outta luck. However, if you’re one of the lucky ones with smaller feet, you are going to find so many amazing shoes. Check out some of the shopping in the subway stations and with street vendors — I’ve seen some steals on very, very fashionable shoes.
DON’T overpack your suitcase! Almost as a continuation of my previous point about great shoe shopping, Korea is an excellent place for updating your wardrobe! You can expect Western stores to have a full range of sizes, just like they would at home. You can also find amazing pieces in underground shopping centers that are attached to subway stations (Bupyeong Station in Incheon and Express Bus Terminal in Seoul are my two favorites), but the clothes are often “free size,” meaning one size fits all. Don’t let that discourage you from shopping there, though — oversized shirts are popular right now, and you’ll find more than just clothes: hats, scarves, sunglasses, jewelry, bags, shoes, and even some textiles and souvenirs! Even if you don’t want to shop for clothes and accessories, you’ll find great, inexpensive souvenirs while you travel around, so leave room in your suitcase! I recommend the Insadong neighborhood in Seoul — lots of traditional arts and crafts, which make great keepsakes for friends and family! (And yourself!)
That’s all I have for basic dos and don’ts!
Do you have any advice to add? Leave it in the comments below!
I find it a bit puzzling that so many travel suggestions for South Korea mention tampons, as there were tampons available in nearly every convenience store I checked when I visited Seoul in November 2014. I ended up buying a box at a tiny convenience store in Yeouido next to 63 City.
Good to know!!