You’re ecstatic. The time has come for that much-needed vacation in Seoul and you can’t wait to experience traditional Korean culture, try local street foods, and explore the regional attractions.
And then you land. You’ve grabbed a taxi and arrived safely in downtown. You’re so excited to be there, and since you appreciate the little bit of English the driver tried to muster up for your amusement, you hand him an extra wad of cash after paying the bill, but he politely refuses.
“Wait, what just happened?” Then it hits you: Is it even customary to tip in South Korea? Well, let’s find out …
Here’s a Good Tip …
Nope. Tipping is not required in South Korea. You won’t need to tip at restaurants, bars, spas, taxis, or hotels. And even if you want to leave a tip behind for having received fantastic service, you’ll probably be respectfully denied or handed your money back. If you really push for offering a tip, well, that can come across as disrespectful and insulting.
There’s no special reasoning, either, except that in Korean culture, excellent service has always been considered a standard practice. That is, why expect a monetary reward for exceptional service you should ordinarily give?
Nevertheless, there are some exceptions to the unwritten rules for tipping in South Korea, so let’s break them down.
Keep The Change
If you’ve received a great taxi ride—i.e., safe driving, fun conversation, very helpful—instead of directly handing over cash as a tip, it’s best to tell the driver to “keep the change”. Even then, they may courteously decline the offer, and that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure to over extend your “thank you’s” in a gracious manner. Hey, that just means more money in your pocket to spend!
About Those Western Restaurants And Hotels …
Tipping is not expected in Korea’s local, traditional establishments, but you’ll find that leaving some extra cash for waiters, bartenders, and bellhops at western restaurants and hotels is greatly appreciated.
It’s not uncommon to find tip jars in western restaurants and bars, as you’ll want to avoid hand delivering tips in any circumstance. But, hey, I get it. South Korea’s home to some of the best hospitality in the world. What if you’re so overwhelmed by someone’s exemplary service and still want to tip despite no transaction being present? What’s the etiquette?
If You Do Want To Tip
Here’s what you can do: Arrange money in Korea’s local currency, place it in a convenience store-bought envelope, and leave it with the business’ receptionists, on a table, in the room, etc., depending on the situation you’re in.
Is it a problem if you hand over a tip in an envelope? Not really. The exchange is more formal, but you’ll still want to do so discreetly if you’re in a public setting. And again, do not be surprised if your money is handed back.
The Best Part About Not Tipping …
I know. Now that you’ve learned tipping isn’t required in Korea, looks like you’ll be saving a few extra bucks on your trip. Plus, look at it this way—with the extended amount of gracious “thank you’s” you’ll do instead, maybe your newfound charm can help you escape from having to leave tips back at home… or not. Safe and happy travels!