What should I avoid doing in South Korea?

South Korea is known for its rich culture and traditions. As a tourist visiting South Korea, you’ll want to be respectful of local customs. While most South Koreans are very welcoming to foreigners, there are some actions that are considered rude or unacceptable. Being aware of these will help you avoid offending locals during your stay.

Avoid Using Chopsticks to Point at People

In South Korea, it is extremely rude to point chopsticks at someone. Chopsticks should only be used for eating, not gesturing. Pointing with fingers or hands is acceptable, but refrain from pointing chopsticks at others.

Don’t Blow Your Nose in Public

It is considered quite rude in South Korea to blow your nose in public. If you need to blow your nose, do so as discreetly as possible while turned away from others. Better yet, excuse yourself to the restroom. Always carry tissues with you to avoid having to audibly blow your nose in public.

Avoid Touching Someone’s Head

In South Korea, the head is considered sacred. Therefore, touching someone else’s head, especially an elder’s, is extremely offensive. Keep your hands to yourself to avoid disrespecting locals with unwanted head touching.

Don’t Use Your Index Finger to Beckon Someone

Pointing at someone with your index finger to call them over is considered very rude in South Korea. Instead, wave your whole hand towards yourself palm down if you are beckoning someone. Using just your index finger is seen as demeaning.

Avoid Discussing Politics

Politics is often seen as a sensitive topic best avoided in South Korea. As a foreigner, it’s wise not to bring up or debate political issues. Don’t criticize or insult politicians or policies. Locals likely won’t be offended, but you could attract unwanted attention from authorities.

Don’t Show the Bottom of Your Feet

In South Korea, the bottom of your feet are considered lowly and dirty. You should avoid showing the bottoms of your feet or the soles of your shoes to others. Keep your feet pointed away while seated and be careful not to prop bare feet up. Wear shoes in homes and places of business.

Avoid Over-Displaying Public Affection

South Koreans are generally quite reserved when it comes to public displays of affection. Holding hands is okay, but avoid intimate touching, passionate kissing, hugging, and other overt displays. Keep public affection to a minimum to avoid making locals uncomfortable.

Don’t Skip Lines

Line etiquette is very important in South Korea. Never attempt to skip ahead of others in a line, even if you are in a hurry. Locals will likely get very upset with those who ignore queueing rules and cut in front of others patiently waiting their turn.

Refrain from Loud Talking

South Koreans tend to speak in soft, gentle voices. Speaking loudly in public is considered very rude. Avoid raising your voice excessively, even if you feel you aren’t being heard. Similarly, avoid boisterous laughter in quiet settings.

Don’t Pat Children on the Head

As mentioned before, the head is considered sacred in South Korea. Patting a child on the head seems affectionate to Westerners but is very inappropriate in South Korea. Refrain from touching children’s heads to avoid offending parents.

Avoid Exposing Tattoos

South Korea has a much more conservative view of tattoos than Western countries. You should avoid exposing tattoos while in public as much as possible. Cover up with clothing and wear shoes that conceal ankle/foot tattoos. Tattoos still carry a very negative stigma.

Don’t Blow Out Candles at Restaurants

If served a dish with candles, do not blow them out as you might elsewhere. Let the candles burn out, as blowing them out symbolizes burning bridges. Simply let candles extinguish themselves to avoid appearing offensive.

Avoid Overdrinking in Public

Public drunkenness is frowned upon in South Korea, much more so than in other countries. Avoid drinking excessively when out in public. Know your limits, control your alcohol intake, and don’t become loudly intoxicated. Drunk tourists lose respect.

Don’t Photograph Random People

South Korea has strict privacy laws, so photographing people in public without their consent is very rude. Don’t take photos of others without asking first. Be especially respectful of not photographing older Koreans without permission.

Avoid Direct Eye Contact with Elders

In South Korea, sustained direct eye contact can be seen as challenging or disrespectful, particularly with elders. Avoid staring into the eyes of older Koreans. Brief glancing eye contact is okay, but don’t lock eyes.

Do Not Photograph Buddhist Temples and Shrines Without Permission

You must have permission to photograph inside Buddhist temples and shrines in South Korea. Do not simply snap unauthorized pictures of temple/shrine interiors. If uncertain, ask before bringing out your camera to avoid causing offense.

Don’t Use White Colored Gifts for Funerals/Condolences

White flowers, gifts, clothing, and decorations are associated with death in South Korea. Always avoid wearing white when attending a funeral or offering condolences. Black, dark blue, or grey are safer colors for funerals.

Avoid Entering a House with Shoes On

It is customary to remove shoes upon entering a house in South Korea. Never wear shoes inside someone’s home. Remove shoes at the door and put on provided slippers. Wearing outdoor shoes inside is extremely disrespectful.

Don’t Give Red Ink Pens as Gifts

In South Korea, the color red and items like pens can symbolize severing ties. Gifts like red pens should be avoided. Similarly, don’t write someone’s name in red ink, which can be misinterpreted as wishing them harm.

Avoid Slouching and Yawning in Public

Maintaining proper public posture is important in South Korea. Avoid slouching, yawning loudly, stretching, or otherwise being overly casual in your bearing. Remain upright and attentive in public, especially when conversing.

Do Not Throw Out Garbage on Fridays

There is a traditional superstition in South Korea about taking out garbage on Fridays. It is thought to bring bad luck. Avoid throwing out trash or waste on Fridays to accommodate local customs.

Never Pour Your Own Drink

In social settings, you should not pour your own drink in South Korea. Wait for others to pour for you. Pour drinks for others before pouring your own. There are strict etiquette rules around pouring that foreigners should observe.

Do Not Tip at Restaurants or Taxis

Tipping is seen as inappropriate in South Korea. Do not leave tips for waiters, taxi drivers, or other service industry workers. While intended as a kind gesture, tipping may be met with confusion or offense.

Avoid Exposing Shoulders or Cleavage

South Korea tends to be a modest, conservative country. Revealing tank tops, short skirts/shorts, or exposing cleavage is frowned upon. Dress modestly when in public to avoid appearing disrespectful.

Do Not Blow Your Nose at the Table

As mentioned earlier, avoid blowing your nose in public in Korea. Never blow your nose at a restaurant table, even if you need to. Excuse yourself to the restroom instead to tend to nasal needs.

Avoid Criticizing or Insulting South Korea

Of course, you should avoid insulting your host country. Do not criticize or verbally attack South Korea, even if you have complaints as a tourist. You may risk legal issues with such disrespect.

Do Not Unnecessarily Expose Feet in Public Restrooms

Public restrooms in South Korea have special slippers to wear inside restroom stalls. Always wear these slippers instead of entering barefoot to avoid exposing bare feet.

Do Not Sing or Hum in Public Restrooms

Singing, humming, or making unnecessary noises in public restrooms is considered quite rude. Use restrooms silently without bringing attention to bodily noises and functions.

Avoid Proposing Overly Casual Meet-Ups

South Korean communication and meet-ups tend to be more formal. Avoid proposing super casual hang outs with locals, as this may seem disrespectful. Maintain some degree of formality when arranging meet-ups.

Do Not Bargain Over Small Purchases

Bargaining is acceptable for large purchases like electronics, but avoid trying to negotiate over small items. Bargaining over inexpensive goods may be seen as tacky, so know when to bargain appropriately.

Avoid Criticizing Other Countries or Cultures

As a guest in South Korea, you should avoid disparaging other cultures or countries. Don’t belittle customs you dislike from other places. Remain open-minded and respectful when discussing other societies.

Do Not Use Honourifics Casually or Incorrectly

South Korea has strict rules around honourifics based on age, social status, and context. Only use honourifics if you thoroughly understand their usage, as improper use will seem ignorant.


While most South Koreans will be very gracious with unintentional cultural misunderstandings, being aware of major taboos and etiquette differences can help you avoid offending locals during your stay. Be observant, do some research beforehand, and err on the side of being respectful and conservative. Use common sense, and don’t stress too much over minor issues. Focus on enjoying your time in this wonderful country!

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