Updated on September 1, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
Below, you’ll find a South Korea packing list, along with sections on what to wear in South Korea, what NOT to bring, and answers to FAQs.
What to Pack for South Korea – 16 Essentials
There is nothing worse than your phone or camera dying while in the middle of a full day of activities. This portable charger connects with a standard USB cable and holds multiple charges, so you can use it several times before needing to charge it again.
Korean outlets have two rounds holes instead of two prongs, so it’s important to bring a power adapter if you want to charge any electronic devices. This one will allow you to charge a few devices at once, and can also be used in many other countries.
No matter how much you may plan ahead, you’ll always have to expect the unexpected. This inexpensive and reliable travel insurance helps cover hotel cancellations, lost baggage, and unexpected medical emergencies.
While in South Korea, there is always a decent chance it might rain on one of the days you visit, especially if you visit in the summer. I used this reinforced umbrella during my trip, and it was the perfect size to fit in any day-bag and carry on.
We all know that plastic water bottles can be especially wasteful. Public trash cans are also few and far between in South Korea, so a reusable water bottle is a great option for travellers. This one comes in a variety of colors, and is also insulated, so water stays cold all day long.
Korean fashion is much less casual than in America, and you can definitely stand out as a tourist by wearing old t-shirts and leggings while travelling. This jacket is both comfortable and stylish, and can be paired with many different outfits.
Though South Korea has an extensive public transportation network, you’ll be walking quite a bit. Many places in South Korea are also very hilly, so sneakers that you’ll be comfortable in for long periods of time are essential. You should also make sure you can slip them on and off easily, as many religious sites don’t allow shoes inside.
While travelling during the day, you’ll need a bag that can hold all of your essentials while also being small and relatively unobtrusive. This one is a great compromise between practicality and style.
9. Neck Wallet
While travelling, it’s important to keep copies of your important documents, along with credit cards and your passport, on you at all times. This passport pouch or ‘neck wallet’ can be worn under your clothing, and therefore out of danger.
10. Solid Shampoo
11. Packing Cubes
Let’s be honest: most of us have a tendency to overpack. Combined with all the Korean clothing and beauty products that make great souvenirs, your luggage could be overflowing. These packing cubes save so much space while also keeping your belongings well organized.
While Korea offers extensive internet access, it’s not a bad idea to get a VPN to add an extra level of security to your online interactions, especially if you’re going to be using Wi-Fi in public or unsecured places.
13. Long Skirt
For visits to Korean religious sites, you need to wear more conservative clothing. While long pants, especially during hotter days, may be constricting, a long skirt is a great compromise. You can look cute and stylish while also being respectful.
14. Jet Lag Relief
For most, the flight to South Korea is long, and you don’t want the first few days of your trip tainted by symptoms of jet lag. This natural relief will help both prevent jet lag and help treat it if it happens.
Other South Korea Packing List Items Not to Forget
First aid kit
Hard copies of documents
ATM and credit cards with international usage
Swimsuit cover up
Any feminine hygiene products, like Thinx or menstrual cups
Memory Card/Flash Drives
Korea Rail Pass
What to Wear in South Korea
Dress a little more formally than you normally would, with clean, slightly more conservative clothing, and avoid especially loud prints and bright colors. While it’s easy to not spend time into your appearance if you’re traveling extensively, putting in a little extra effort will be appreciated. Remember, South Korea is a fashion and beauty mecca, with great deals on clothing, makeup, and skincare, so make sure to leave a little extra room in your suitcase for items you can’t easily get back home!
Below is a sample women’s clothing list.(All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Comfortable sneakers are essential for all seasons, as you’ll be walking quite a bit while visiting Korea. Sunglasses, sundresses, and hats are recommended for the hot, humid summer season. Sweaters, light jackets, and long pants are best for the cooler springs and autumns.
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Still, you can’t go wrong sticking to clean, modern basics. White t-shirts, comfortable shoes, and dark pants are appropriate for most activities. Bomber jackets and denim jackets can add a bit of style to any look. Long sleeve, button down shirts are great options for both nightlife activities and more conservative temple visits and homestays.
Spring – March, April, May
With cool mornings and evenings, and sunny, warm days, spring is a great time to visit South Korea! The spring blooms make it a very popular time to visit, so be prepared for crowds. Make sure to bring comfortable sneakers and a denim jacket for cooler nights.
Temperature: 51°F to 74°F (10°C to 23°C)
Summer – June, July, August
Summer is the rainy season, and tends to be hot and very humid. This could be a good time to visit if you want to avoid big crowds, and don’t mind the heat. Make sure to pack a hat, an umbrella, and light layers for places with air conditioning.
Temperature: 81°F to 86°F (27°C to 30°C), though it often feels hotter.
Autumn – September, October, November
Autumn is an ideal time to visit South Korea, with more temperate weather than summer and winter, and less crowds than spring. It is cool and dry, with warm days perfect for seeing the beautiful changing leaves! cool, dry, beautiful changing leaves (50s to 60s, 40s in November). You can get away with wearing long sleeves and light sweaters during the day, but bring a heavier jacket and a scarf for the evenings.
Temperature: 53°F to 72°F (12°C to 22°C), but evening temperatures can dip to 40°F (4°C)
Winter – December, January, February
Winter in South Korea is cold and dry, with a lot of frost and the occasional snowfall. There are many winter activities available for those who visit in winter, like ice skating and skiing, but since many historic sites are outdoors, make sure to bring a coat that you can easily travel with, gloves, and a heavy scarf.
Temperature: 35°F to 40°F (2°C to 4°C), though temperatures can dip below freezing (32°F, or 0°C)
Nightlife – One of the biggest draws of South Korea is its bustling nightlife. In terms of a dress code, it tends to vary depending on which area of Seoul you’re in. Bars and clubs in Hongdae and Itaewon, for instance, are much more relaxed than the ones in Gangnam. Shorts and open-toed shoes are not advised in all places and don’t be afraid to bring a coat in the winter, since coat check is much cheaper here than in other cities. the most strict, and Hongdae and Itaewon being more relaxed.
Temple Visits – While visiting Buddhist temples, it’s important to be respectful of the space by not wearing anything too revealing or dirty. Bright colors and excessive makeup and perfumes may be frowned upon. Make sure to wear shoes you can slip on and off easily, as shoes are not allowed in many temple buildings.
DMZ – Many visitors to South Korea use their time to try and get a glimpse of its northern neighbor by taking a day trip to the much-contested Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ. Dress codes for these tours, especially ones run by the USO for American citizens, are very strict. In general, you shouldn’t wear ripped jeans, shorts, short skirts, open-toed shoes, sleeveless shirts, or crop tops. You should also stay away from anything very oversized, t-shirts with big logos, and athletic or military attire. In general, you should dress clean, plain, and conservatively, or else you’ll be left behind!
What NOT to Bring to South Korea
2) DON’T PACK A GUIDEBOOK: Bringing hardcover books will only make your bags heavier. South Korea is such an internet savvy nation that you can easily look up maps, recommendations, and extra information online.
3) DON’T BRING VALUABLE JEWELRY OR CLOTHING: As is the case with most travel, you should think twice about bringing anything especially expensive or dear to you in the rare event that your belongings are lost or damaged on the trip.
5) DON’T BRING PHYSICAL BOOKS OR MAGAZINES: Similar to not bringing a guidebook, consider bringing a Kindle or other e-reader instead of a few new hardcovers.
6) DON’T PACK ALL OF YOUR TOILETRIES: Bringing travel size samples of your favorite products will save important space.
FAQs about South Korea travel
1. How prevalent is English in Korea?
In South Korea, most people, especially younger ones, have at least a basic grasp of English, with English being more commonly understood in urban centers rather than the countryside. Regardless of their English level, most South Korean people will readily try and help you if you’re lost or in trouble. In major cities, all public transportation announcements and signs are shown in many languages, including English.
2. How safe is South Korea for solo travelers?
South Korea is an extremely safe place, especially for solo travelers. In large cities, violent crime is incredibly low, and there are many kiosks and information centers set up to help foreign visitors. Solo travel may be slightly more difficult in rural areas if you do not speak Korean, since much fewer people will understand English.
3. What is the best season to visit South Korea?
In terms of cost, it is cheapest to visit South Korea in the summer and the winter, mainly because the weather tends to be more extreme during these seasons. Spring and autumn are more popular times to visit, for good reason. There are amazing festivals unique to South Korea in both seasons, and the spring blooms and autumn changing of leaves are gorgeous experiences.
4. What is the best way to travel around South Korea?
The South Korean public transportation system is incredible, with its network of buses, subways, and commuter rail covering almost every corner of the country. Within big cities, like Seoul or Busan, subways and buses run at almost all hours of the day. For day trips and traveling between urban centers, trains will be the quickest option. Signage and announcements on all public transportation are usually in several languages, including English. Though fares are already quite cheap in South Korea, you can save money by investing in a KoRail Pass and a T-Money Card.
5. How can I save money on my trip?
Thankfully, South Korea is much cheaper than many expect it to be, so it’s easy to save money while there. If you have an especially strict budget, South Korean hostels and even South Korean spas, or jjimjilbang, are great, cheap options that usually offer lockers for your belongings and some inexpensive food for sale. In terms of food, foreign or ‘Western’ food that you may be more used to tends to be pricier, so do as the locals do and stick with authentic South Korean food to save.
6. How can I take a tour of the DMZ?
Many are surprised to find out that it is relatively easy to take a tour of the DMZ, with many full-day and half-day tours leaving from Seoul daily. It’s important to note that the only way to visit the DMZ is with a tour, so do some research on different companies and what they offer, along with which sites they visit before you book. For example, some tours may visit the Joint-Security Area — the closest place you can physically get to North Korea — while others may visit the Freedom Bridge connecting the North and the South.
7. How can I get into a K-Pop show?
K-Pop, or Korean Pop Music, has recently exploded in popularity internationally, with many fans going to South Korea to try and see their favorite artists. Each week, artists and groups with new music perform on different music shows, which are essentially broadcasted concerts. To get into most of these shows, you need a South Korean permanent resident card, making them difficult for tourists to attend. The easiest to get tickets to is M! Countdown, where audience members are admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can find details on how to attend different music shows here.