Anytime you travel across the world and visit another country, the anticipation for all the fun and memorable experiences you’re about to rack up in a new city can get pretty overwhelming but in a good way.
Take visiting Seoul, for instance, a bustling megalopolis you’re probably considering if you’ve landed here. Just thinking about exploring Gyeongbukgong Palace, taking a trip to the DMZ, partying all night in Gangnam, and eating Korean street snacks Gwangjang Market is enough to have you tripping over your feet to get to the airport.
But, perhaps there’s one item you’ve skipped over, and it’s possibly the most important thing to consider when traveling abroad: Is Seoul safe to visit?
Is Seoul Considered Safe?
Yes, Seoul is a pretty safe place to visit. Crime, or rather, violent crime is relatively low. Guns and drugs are strictly prohibited in all of South Korea and there are harsh penalties set in place for violators.
It’s recommended to exercise normal precautions when visiting Seoul, like keeping guard of your belongings, traveling in groups—especially at night—and straying away from use of illegal taxis.
Moreover, there are a few key safety concerns you should be aware of when visiting Seoul as a tourist.
Just Don’t Debate North Korea
There’s a warning about living in China as an expat that, fortunately, I was told early on. “Don’t talk about the three T’s: Taiwan, Tiananmen Square, Tibet”. These places in China are plagued with controversy, and if you’re caught speaking inappropriately about these sensitive topics in public or across social media, you may land yourself in trouble with its citizens and/or government.
The same principal applies in Seoul, Korea’s largest city and capital, in regard to North Korea. North and South Korea have, technically, been at war for decades with no signs of reunification occurring anytime soon. It’s best not to get involved in public debates over delicate political issues in the big city where national pride is strongest.
Drinking and Fighting in Itaewon
Itaewon is a popular international dining and nightlife hub in Seoul catered towards expats and foreign tourists. What’s more, Itaewon is frequently visited by U.S. military personnel stationed in the region. The area, although typically safe, has held a reputation for being host to a number of fights and drunken brawls between locals, expats, and soldiers.
What’s more, although prostitution is illegal in Korea, you should note that Itaewon’s “Hooker Hill” is a prominent location for seedy bars and brothels.
So, is Itaewon a safe place to visit? Yes. It’s highly popular and a great entertainment destination to explore if you’re looking for more international flavor in Seoul. But, of all the neighborhoods in Seoul, it’s definitely one area you’ll need to stay attentive in, especially at night.
Beware of Scams
Unfortunately, every corner of the world has countries thriving with scam artists that are set on ripping you off any way possible. In Seoul, stay safe from taxi driver scams by making sure their meter starts only once you’ve began your ride. You can also download Naver, a GPS mapping system used in Korea, to check that you’re taking the shortest route to your destination.
Also, many of Korea’s scams, like the notorious ATM help, bird poop, cult ceremony, bar tab, and photograph scams, start with locals approaching tourists for conversations, being incredibly friendly, and/or asking for or to give help. Be vigilant. Do your research and watch your surroundings.
According to the US Department of State website, “the Embassy regularly receives reports of sexual assault from U.S. citizens” across all of South Korea. The site states that “alcohol is often involved”. Korean people are generally nice and very welcoming, however, there will always be threats in every society, especially in major cities. Make sure to have emergency numbers stored in your phone and take precautions when meeting people through social media and apps.
Should You Visit Seoul?
Yes! Please, don’t let this list scare you. Seoul is a fantastic city brimming with history, cultural landmarks, beautiful architecture, gorgeous nature escapes, innovative technology, delicious food, and friendly people. It’s a relatively safe place to visit, and to best prepare for your safe trip in Seoul, remember to check blogs, forums, and government websites. Now, go ahead and enjoy yourself. Gam-sahab-nida!