Most expatriates find South Korea to be a very safe country. The main threats to personal safety that expats will come across are either related to the weather or petty crimes such as pickpocketing in crowded marketplaces.
Generally, the risk of terrorism in South Korea is considered low, although tensions between North and South Korea mean that foreign residents should keep up to date with the political situation by following news media.
Local laws for some crimes may be harsher than Western expats may be used to. For instance, any car accident involving a motorcyclist or pedestrian that is injured could see the driver prosecuted, even if they weren’t at fault.
Expats should take care especially when driving around South Korea's cities as motorcycles, scooters and pedestrians can behave erratically.
As it's likely that expats will need to undergo a medical check on arrival if they plan to work in South Korea, it is important to keep in mind that drug use or possession isn't tolerated and the results of a drug test could result in detainment or deportation.
Crime in South Korea
The crime rate in South Korea is low, although there are incidents of bag-snatching, pickpocketing and petty theft in larger cities such as Seoul and Busan. As with any major city, there are some areas that are considered unsafe at certain times, although for the most part cities such as Seoul are safer than large American cities.
Expats should follow normal safety precautions such as locking doors, being aware of personal belongings in crowded areas and tourist hotspots, avoiding walking alone at night through isolated areas, and only using reputable taxi companies.
Women in South Korea
In general, South Korea is extremely safe for female expats. It is even possible to walk around late at night without feeling scared. That said, inappropriate touching and comments are a reality.
It's not uncommon for Korean men to follow expat women around, especially when they've been drinking. There have also been cases of men exposing themselves to women on subways or buses or touching women inappropriately. In most cases, these men will back off when ignored or if they're firmly told to stop. The South Korean police are also helpful with these situations and are usually more than happy to escort women home if they're feeling uncomfortable.
Natural disasters in South Korea
June to November is monsoon season in South Korea. Although monsoons in Korea aren't as bad as they are in some other Asian countries, schools and businesses sometimes close due to the severity of approaching storms, but this is generally restricted to southern parts of the country. Expats visiting the country during the monsoon season should monitor weather reports from news media and stay indoors if advised to do so.
Though South Korea isn't known for earthquakes, the southern part of the country has had a few minor ones in recent years.
Political tensions between South Korea and North Korea
There is a long-standing political stand-off between the two halves of the Korean Peninsula. Although tensions are occasionally inflamed, in reality, there's little chance of the situation escalating to the point that it affects expatriates. Expats should keep abreast of the political situation by following the news media, just to be on the safe side.
Expats who intend to live, study or work in South Korea are also advised to register with their country's closest embassy.
Emergency telephone numbers in South Korea
Emergency response is swift and call centres usually have someone on staff who can speak some English.
Foreigner emergency information service: 1345
Ambulance and fire: 119
►Culture Shock in South Korea provides a good insight into cultural difference experienced by new arrivals to the country.
"To be honest, as a male, I don’t face any safety issues living in this country. The worst thing that has ever happened to me was a taxi driver attempting to take the “long route” to where I wanted to go in order to run up the fare. Women, on the other hand, face more issues. Sexual equality is still an issue in South Korea. Many female friends have experienced objectification and harassment." Read more about Patrick, an American expat, and his move to South Korea in his interview.
Are you an expat living in South Korea?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Korea. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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