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 follow the news media to keep up to date with the political situation.
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 it wasn't entirely the driver's 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. As such, the results of a drug test could result in detainment or deportation.
Crime in South Korea
Although there are incidents of bag-snatching, pickpocketing and petty theft in larger cities such as Seoul and Busan, the crime rate in South Korea is low. As with any major city, there are some areas that are considered unsafe at certain times.
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 July is the 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 the 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. Although South Korea isn't known for earthquakes, the southern part of the country has had a few minor ones in the past few 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, 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.
- Police: 112
- Foreigner emergency information service: 1345
- Ambulance and fire: 119