What Not To Do When Visiting South Korea

South Korea may be completely different from your home country, and certain things that are considered normal back home are considered taboo in South Korea. Because of this, if you travel to South Korea for the first time, it’s worth doing some research on the local cultures and customs before you arrive.

We have highlighted some of the biggest no-no’s in South Korea so that you won’t come into any trouble!

Watch How You Act in Public

Being mindful of how you behave in public places, especially on public transport, is very important. The biggest point to be aware of here is the volume of your voice. Talking loudly is not only annoying, but it’s actually considered rude in South Korea too – regardless of what language you are speaking. 

Furthermore, you should reign in showing extreme displays of emotion in public too. Whether you’re angry, joyful, or emotional, you should expect to get some disapproving looks for being boisterous in any form in public. 

It may seem strange, but it is also considered rude to blow your nose in public. If your runny nose is particularly persistent, find a quiet place to excuse yourself to and bring the tissues out there.

Avoid Inappropriate Clothing

Despite the freedom to express yourself, you should still respect local cultures, especially when you’re in a foreign country. ‘Inappropriate’ clothing in South Korea is mostly classed as low-cut tops, vest straps, or open-back tops. Basically, anything that may show off too much cleavage or shoulder. 

The good news is that mini skirts and short shorts are completely fine. In secondary school, most girls’ skirts should come down to or just above the knees. If you do ignore the clothing advice, be aware that you’re likely to be scolded by older female Koreans. 

Don’t Forget Your Dining Manners

In South Korea, you must respect your elders. If you are sharing a meal with locals, then you should be careful to not start eating too early. It is common practice for the elders at the table to begin eating first, then you may join them. Being the first to start eating, especially if you’re young, is considered impolite. 

This goes for many Asian countries, however, you should never stick your chopsticks standing up in your rice. This reminds locals of the incense that they burn at funerals and brings an overall resemblance of death. 

Avoid pouring your own drink. You should pour drinks for everyone else, and wait for one of them to pour a drink for you. Lastly, educate yourself on local cuisine before you arrive. Questioning food or picking at it is a big no-no. 

Know Your Hand Gestures

Doing any hand gesture that involves having your palm up can offend locals. For example; waving, stopping a cab, or cheering. In South Korea, palm-up gestures are how they call their dogs, and whilst most people understand that foreigners are not aware of this, some will still be insulted. To avoid any misunderstandings, you should start the gesture with your palm facing down, then move it upwards. 

A lot of countries use the hand-shake greeting, most commonly using one hand. However, in South Korea, you should always use both hands (a slight bow of the head is polite too). The two-handed theme also applies when giving and receiving gifts or items. For example, passing a plate around the dinner table, or handing money to the cashier

Local Superstitions

Do not write in red ink, especially if it’s on a greetings card. This is considered a bad omen as red ink is used to write deceased people’s names at funerals. 

The number four is considered unlucky as it sounds similar to the word ‘death’ in Korean. For this reason, a lot of places do not include the number four, for example, the fourth floor of a building will instead be called ‘F’.

When you enter someone’s home, you must remove your shoes. However, it goes further than this. You should never linger in someone’s threshold as it is thought that this allows evil spirits to enter. 


Of course, customs change and evolve over time, and the majority of the younger generation will not be offended if you accidentally do any of these things. However, traditions like this remain strong with older generations and therefore are still useful to know.