A First Timer's Guide to an Unforgettable Trip to Korea

A First Timer's Guide to an Unforgettable Trip to Korea

Planning your first trip to Korea can be an exciting and enriching experience. From its vibrant cities to its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, Korea offers a myriad of unforgettable experiences for travelers. In this blog post, we will walk you through essential information and tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable first-time trip to Korea, including what to expect, visa requirements, and necessary documentation.

Korea Namsam tower in Seoul with cherry blossoms

Do I need a visa to visit Korea? 

Visa Requirements: 

  • Passport: As an international traveler, you will need a valid passport with an expiration date beyond your planned departure from Korea. Ensure that your passport has sufficient blank pages for immigration stamps.
  • Visa Exemption: Depending on your nationality, you may be eligible for a visa exemption for tourism purposes. For example, citizens from the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and many other countries can typically stay in Korea visa-free for up to 90 days. However, it's essential to verify the specific visa requirements based on your citizenship by checking with the Korean embassy or consulate in your country.
  • Visa Application: If you are not eligible for a visa exemption, you will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance. Contact your nearest Korean embassy or consulate for detailed information on the application process, required documents, and visa fees. It's advisable to apply for a visa well in advance of your travel dates to allow for processing time.
  • K-ETA: As of April 1, 2023, US citizens don't need a Korean Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) to visit Korea for 90 days or less for tourism or business purposes. However, a visa is required for all other purposes, including employment, teaching English, and stays longer than 90 days.

Korean traditional Market

What should I pack for Korea?

Climate and What to Pack: 

  • Seasons: Korea experiences four distinct seasons, with hot and humid summers, cold winters, and pleasant spring and autumn. Pack clothing suitable for the season you are visiting and consider layering options to adapt to temperature changes. I like to look at geotagged photos of people visiting the few days before my trip to get an idea of what people are wearing, and checking the weather app for the predicted temperatures.
  • Essential Items: Regardless of the season, it's advisable to pack comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, and a hat. East Asian monsoon season lasts from the end of June through the end of July which brings a short season of heavy rain and winds. You'll need an umbrella or raincoat, or avoid planning your trip during this time if possible. If you plan to visit during the winter, pack warm clothing, including a coat, gloves, scarf, and hat. We traveled during March/April and needed a warm coat for the chilly weather, and a light jacket on warmer days. 
Korea cherry blossoms

What are some cultural differences to expect to see in Korea?

Cultural Etiquette and Customs:

  • Bowing: In Korean culture, bowing is a common form of greeting and showing respect. When meeting someone for the first time or when receiving or giving something, a slight bow is appropriate.
  • Removing Shoes: In many Korean homes, traditional restaurants, and temples, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering. Look for shoe racks or follow the lead of locals to determine if shoe removal is required.
  • Dining Etiquette: If traveling for business it might be helpful to know that when dining in Korea, it is customary to wait for the eldest or most senior person to begin eating before you start. Additionally, it's polite to use both hands when giving or receiving items, such as business cards or money.

How to get around in Korea?


  • Public Transportation: Korea has an efficient and extensive public transportation system, including subways, buses, and taxis. Consider purchasing a T-money card for convenient payment across various modes of transportation. My full guide to navigating Korea as a tourist goes over bus, subways and taxis.
  • Subway and Bus Etiquette: While using subways and buses, it's important to stand in designated queues, give up seats to the elderly or pregnant passengers, and keep conversations at a moderate volume. Be mindful of others and avoid eating or drinking on public transportation.
Korean Bossam meal in a traditional hannok

How to pay for things in Korea? Do I need Cash for Korea? 

Money & Currency:

  • Cash: Credit cards, debit cards, and cash are all accepted without issue in South Korea, with cash becoming less common. However, we still suggest to carry some cash on hand. We used the most cash on taxis, refilling T-Money public transit cards, and at street / traditional / night markets. 
  • Apple Pay  / Google Pay: Some places do accept Apple Pay, though credit card was still the most convenient option. 
  • ATM / Bank Exchange: There are ATMs at airports to withdraw cash. You can also find ATMs at some connivence stores, and popular tourist area' subway stations. Exchanging at banks in Korea is also possible, though note they are generally not open on weekends. You are required to present a passport or residence card when exchanging currency, up to $10,000 at a time. We did not find many hotels that exchanged currency, but some larger & foreigner focused hotels do (like Four Seasons). 
  • Credit Cards: Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants, hotels, and stores. Most large purchases we made were on credit cards. Make sure you have a chip card and notify your bank of your travels. Check your credit and debit cards for international transaction fees and ATM fees. I always change in local currency as generally your bank will give you the best rate. 
  • Exchange rate: I recommend downloading an app like Xe that can quickly do conversions for you so you have a good idea of how much you are spending. 

Is it difficult to travel in Korea without knowing Korean?


  • Korean Language: While many Koreans speak at least basic English, learning a few Korean phrases can greatly enhance your travel experience. Simple greetings like "hello" (annyeonghaseyo) and "thank you" (kamsahamnida) can go a long way in establishing a friendly connection.
  • Translation Apps: To overcome potential language barriers, consider downloading translation apps on your smartphone. Apps like Google Translate and Papago can help with basic communication and understanding signs or menus. I love the feature were you can point your camera at a menu or sign and it will translate for you! ChatGPT in voice mode can help you translate audibly which is pretty amazing! Say "When you hear English, translate to Korean, and when you hear Korean, translate to English."

Do I need a SIM card to travel in Korea? 

SIM Cards, Data, Free Wifi: 

  • SIM Card: When traveling in Korea, having a SIM card or pocket WiFi can be very useful for constant internet access, especially for navigation and staying connected. This is a good option if you like having a dependable access to data.
  • Pocket WiFi/ WiFi egg: You can rent a pocket Wifi device during your trip. You can shop around online, and most airports have pickup/ drop off locations. You can chose this over a SIM card if you don't care to make phone calls, but you do have to be mindful of pickup/drop off rental times. 
  • Free WiFi:  Korea has extensive free Wi-Fi coverage in public places, including cafes, restaurants, hotels, airports, train staions, and city buses. This means you can stay connected and save money. When checking for free WiFi there are two options: the general connection ‘SEOUL/Public Wifi Free’ and the secure connection ‘SEOUL_Secure/Public WiFi Secure’. The second one you have to log in but then it will automatically connect when you are in an area with free WiFi, making it a convient way to stay connected. However, this can get tricky if you're stuck in an area without free WiFi. 
  • International Data: Check your phone plan to see if there is international data covered. There are many options that can make international data very affordable, or may even be included with your current plan. There may be limits on the amount of high speed data, so it can be smart to reserve data for areas with no free Wifi, for things like hailing a taxi and navigation, and not be scrolling on your feed on data! 



Embarking on your first trip to Korea is an exciting adventure filled with captivating experiences. By understanding the visa requirements, packing appropriately, respecting cultural customs, and familiarizing yourself with the transportation system, you'll be well-prepared to immerse yourself in the wonders of Korea! Have a wonderful time! 


Karin is the co-founder of Arden Cove and co-creator of the Anti-Theft Waterproof Crossbodies - bags created for women who want all the practicality and safety features without compromising in style. Shop ArdenCove.com.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Travel With Confidence

With Arden Cove

As travelers, we know how important it is to have a bag that is both secure and practical. Thats why we use water-resistant materials to keep belongings safe and dry, and anti-theft features, like lockable zippers and RFID blocking technology. See how we help travelers around the world have peace of mind.

Shop Now
Featured Products