Republic of Korea (South Korea)
Tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated considerably last Spring, culminating in the closure of the Kaesung Industrial Complex operated by South Korean industry in the DPRK. While the high level of tension has abated, the potential for rapid escalation remains.
It is the assessment of the Department of Foreign Affairs that these developments have not resulted in an increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to South Korea. We continue to recommend that any travellers planning to visit the Republic of Korea register with the Embassy of Ireland in Seoul.
South Korea (Republic of Korea, pop. 50million) is the world's 13th largest economy and an important Asian country, culturally, politically and economically.
Situated at the South end of the partitioned Korean peninsula, South Korea comprises about 70% of mountainous land, with lowlands located primarily in the west and southeast. The coasts of South Korea are extraordinarily beautiful, sprinkled with rocky islands.
Koreans, like other North East Asian peoples, are of Mongolian lineage. While Korean history is intertwined with that of China and Japan, Koreans differ from their neighbours ethnically and culturally with their own language (and alphabet, hangul) and customs. Korea is one of the most homogenous ethnic nations in the world, its people regarded as generous, ebullient, family orientated and hardworking.
Local currency is the ROK Won. Credit cards are not always accepted outside major cities. ATMs are widely available but may not always accept foreign cards.
Non-Korean mobile phones do not generally work in Korea; temporary mobiles are available at Incheon Airport for hire. Some smartphones will function.
Safety and Security
For emergency assistance, call 112 for police (an interpretation service is available during working hours) and 119 for ambulance and fire. The Korean National Police operates a 24-hour, seven day a week Central Interpretation Centre where foreigners can report crimes (through 112).
The South Korean authorities normally hold nationwide civil emergency exercises on the 15th day of the month, eight times a year (not January, February, July or December). Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter in metro stations or basements. You should check local announcements for further exercises.
Korean cuisine is unique, with a range of different ingredients and often very spicy. Normal care should be taken when eating out. Fish is a major part of Korean cuisine and while safe for the most part, it is strongly advised not to eat shellfish.
There are international clinics at the major hospitals where English is spoken and it is advisable to be aware of their location [http://www.embassyofireland.or.kr/uploads/documents/Embassy/Seoul%20EM/a%20list%20of%20doctors.pdf]
Should an overnight stay be required, be aware that customarily in Korea it is expected that a friend or relative will also stay with the patient and attend to his/her non-medical needs (which contrary to Western practice do not fall to the nursing staff).
An armistice continues in effect between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The border between North and South Korea, the Demilitarised Zone or DMZ, is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world. Relations between the two jurisdictions on the peninsula are subject to various degrees of tension, notably naval clashes in the Western Sea. However, the situation at this stage does not merit any cautionary advice about travelling to South Korea, though travel in the waters near the Northern Limit Line is not advisable.
South Korea has not been a target for terrorism in recent years, though North Korea has been accused of terrorist acts in the past.
Local Laws and Customs
English is not widely spoken in the ROK so a phrase book can be very useful when wishing to communicate essentials. As noted, mobile phones bought outside the ROK do not normally work there.
It is important to have personal ID available at all times. It is recommended that personal identification and next-of-kin information should be entered into the back of passports.
In general, taxi drivers do not speak English, though some companies offer in-car translation. It is best to have written directions (in Korean) and a map. Some Korean taxi drivers are reluctant to pick up foreigners and this reluctance can be exacerbated at night or during inclement weather. Given often-heavy traffic conditions, advice should be sought about travel times.
The Seoul metro is an excellent form of transport; quick, cheap and extensive. Ticket machines operate in English as well as Korean.
Natural Disasters and Climate
The Republic of Korea lies between 38ºN and 33ºN latitude and 126ºE to 132ºE longitude. The country has a continental climate of very cold, dry winters and very hot, humid summers which include a rainy season in July (sometimes extending into August). Winters are influenced by westerly winds from Siberia and the Mongolian plateau, while summers are generally characterized by an oceanic climate due to moist, warm winds from the Pacific Ocean. Autumn and spring are very pleasant but can be short. The hot and humid summer begins in June and lasts about four months. The summer rainy season lasts from the end of June to mid July. Summer ends in late September, giving way to crisp, clear autumn days that last until the end of October. It becomes colder in November, and a very cold, bleak winter sets in during December and lasts until the end of February.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) examines and reinforces national disaster prevention systems to ensure that those systems remain safe, effective and reliable. Further information is available from the KIS at the following link: - http://eng.nema.go.kr/
Additional Country Info
For entry requirements, please contact the nearest ROK Embassy or Consulate.
It is advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. During your stay, you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.
The Korean Immigration Service (KIS) has formally announced that from 1 January 2012 all non-Korean nationals, with some limited exceptions, will be required to provide biometric information on entering the Republic of Korea. Further information is available from the KIS at the following link: - http://immigration.go.kr/indeximmeng.htmlTop