South Korea consists of over 4,000 islands, each with its own unique story and history. Not long ago, South Korea was a small, developing nation closed off to much of the world. However, these days that is rapidly changing and is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations due to its rich history and fantastic food scene (among other things).
South Korea has been getting an increasing amount of publicity around the world. In East Asia, it’s a lot about K-pop, cosmetics, and Korean dramas. In the West, people often hear news about their neighbors up North (although that’s changing too, thanks to the Korean wave).
People worldwide hear about South Korea’s love for plastic surgery. These factors have led to a greater interest in South Korea and studying Korean.
Without further ado, here are the most interesting things about South Korea!
South Korea Facts
Besides the popular reasons for the country’s fame, there are many unique facts about South Korea that you don’t hear about until you are experiencing everyday life here. The good news is, you don’t have to wait for that!
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the most interesting facts about South Korea.
Note: We realize that many people who read this may be interested in learning some Korean. Therefore, in addition to some facts, we have added some important Korean vocabulary words related to that point. If you can’t read 한글 (Hangeul | Korean alphabet) yet, you can learn it for free in about one hour by downloading a free guide here.
1. It’s common in Korea to ask about blood types
One of the common facts is that Koreans think there is some significance to their blood type. Their neighbors in Japan are also similar in that way. While people in other countries may or may not know their blood type, every South Korean certainly does know theirs.
One of the interesting facts about blood types in South Korea is that they are thought to contribute to a person’s personality and characteristics. Blood types can be used to help choose a spouse since your partner’s blood type may not be a good match for yours.
For example, Type B females should look for Type O males. Type AB males will also do, but stay away from Type A’s! While not everyone believes in this, expect to hear about it while you’re in South Korea.
The Korean word for blood type is 혈액형 (hyeoraekyeong | blood type). If you’re on a date in South Korea, it’s one of many questions you’ll want to ask your potential partner.
2. South Koreans are one year old when born
One of the unique facts about Koreans is that they’re automatically one year old at birth. A newborn baby is considered one year old in South Korea.
There are different schools of thought as to why this is. One explanation is that people think it’s because the baby is in the mother’s womb for nine months, which is about one year. Therefore in South Korea, the baby is one year old when born.
The method for calculating this is a little tricky since it can vary with the lunar calendar, solar calendar, and your birthday. The simplest way to answer the age question in South Korea is to tell Koreans the year you were born. If you want to use a simple Korean age calculator, this formula should do the trick:
(Current year – your birth year) + 1 = Your Korean age
(2017 – 1985) + 1 = 33 years old
(2017 – 1991) + 1 = 27 years old
In Korean, a helpful word you may want to learn about age is 만 나이 (man nai | international age). And remember next New Year’s to tell your South Korean friends Happy Birthday!
3. Fan death is a superstition
An urban legend in South Korea started years ago that electric fans left on while you are sleeping in a room with the windows and door closed can cause death. It is believed that the fan can lower body temperature and cause hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature).
Koreans also believe that the fast-moving air caused by the fan makes it difficult to breathe, causing people to choke. Because of these beliefs, automatic shutoff timers on fans in South Korea are seen as a life-saving feature.
Not all people in South Korea believe this, but it’s best not to try to sway them for those who do. Even if you can scientifically prove your point, you’re still likely to be doubted by superstitious people in South Korea.
The Korean word for “fan death” is 선풍기사망설 (seonpunggisamangseol), a good word to know if you want to ask about this South Korean phenomenon! It’s just one of many Korean urban legends
4. Koreans are the largest drinkers in Asia
It’s said that when South Koreans try something, they go hard at it. Football (soccer), spicy food, and drinking! Many are surprised to see that Koreans are considered one of the top drinkers in Asia by far. South Korea has a strong drinking culture compared to its neighboring countries in Asia.
This can be rooted in their tradition and culture, where most holidays are celebrated with alcohol. According to the World Health Organization, Koreans consume an average of 12.3L of alcohol per year and are ranked #17 globally!
Koreans drink more alcohol per person per year than other countries like Germany, the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and Australia. The country is considered one of the world’s top consumers! A big contributor to this esteemed award is the consumption of soju. Soju is usually around 19% alcohol content and is commonly drunk with main meals in South Korea.
Have you had a long night out in South Korea? If you’re out at a restaurant in Korea, look for the word 해장국 (haejangguk | hangover soup). This is one of many South Korean hangover cures!
5. North and South Korea are still at war
By now, you are aware that Korea is a region in East Asia divided between two countries: North Korea, officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and South Korea, which is called the Republic of Korea.
We often hear news about possible threats from North Korea; most Koreans don’t think much of it. While living here in South Korea, it almost feels like a completely safe situation. The two Koreas may not be battling it out on a day-to-day basis, but they still haven’t made up.
In the year 1953, the two sides agreed to a truce. However, as you head to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone border) in South Korea, you’ll notice that there is still quite a bit of tension there. Despite this, South Korea is still surprisingly safe.
6. The DMZ is a wildlife haven
The Demilitarized Zone is a 4km wide by 248km long stretch of land that separates North Korea from South Korea on the Korean peninsula.
While most natural wildlife and rare plants have been killed off in the South, the DMZ hasn’t been touched in over 60 years. That means that unique species of plants and wild animals have been able to flourish unharmed by the hand of man.
Photographers have been able to enter the DMZ and take photos of flora and fauna long before the peninsula became heavily populated with people. If the two Koreas are ever united, there have been talks of making the DMZ a peace park or a national park to continue to preserve the wildlife.
Unfortunately, some residents of South Korea are indifferent to what happens to the DMZ. With soaring house pricing in Seoul, it’s a possibility that the area would be demolished to build more apartment complexes.
An easy word to learn is 아파트 (apateu | apartment), which also sounds like the word “apartment.”
7. Valentine’s day is for guys
Just when you thought there were enough Hallmark holidays, South Korea upped the ante and introduced “White Day.” White Day is essentially another Valentine’s Day, held a month later, on March 14th.
One of the interesting, fun facts about South Korea is that Valentine’s Day is when the males receive chocolate from females, while girls receive sweets on White Day.
Mark your calendars and brush up on your Valentine’s language; that is one day in South Korea when you don’t want to make a mistake with your significant other!
8. Couples at Christmas, families at New Year
For many people worldwide, Christmas is a time to return to your hometown and spend time with family. New Year’s Eve, on the other hand, is typically a party environment spent with friends at a pub, club, or house party. Both holidays are well-celebrated by many countries in the world.
Many people take their time off travel during these times. South Korea is almost the opposite. Koreans spend their Christmas day with their significant other. It’s not that critical that they see their families on this day.
While New Year’s is celebrated in South Korea, it’s not a huge celebration. Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year and is celebrated in the first two months of the year (depending on the lunar calendar).
Around this time, a large percentage of Koreans travel to their hometowns to visit family. If you’re planning to do any road trips around that time, make sure to factor in a few extra hours of road time!
9. Koreans prefer titles over names
One of the most interesting fun facts about South Korea that often gets confused is when to use names or titles. Culture in South Korea is very hierarchical, much of it based on age.
Only in specific situations are you allowed to call someone by their first name. Otherwise, you need to refer to them by title. This can be somewhat confusing at the workplace, especially if you’re managing someone older than you.
This is also the case for home and family life. Getting the titles right is critical and can be a point of strife if family members don’t recognize rank.
The good news is that these situations make for great drama storylines. Just when you thought that discovering your long-lost twin brother while battling through amnesia wasn’t enough, you get some bonus conflict!
In case you’re not up on your phobia lingo, tetraphobia means avoiding the number four. One of the interesting, fun facts about South Korea is that 4 is an unlucky number. Therefore, in elevators, you’ll often see floors 1, 2, 3, and F.
Apartments in South Korea with multiple 4s (ex. 404) in their house number are often avoided, and the property values are lower. This is because the word for 4 in Korean is similar to the word for death.
In Korean, the number “four” is 사, which also means “death.” For more on numbers and counting in Korean, check out our complete guide here.
11. Spam gifts are a thing in Korea
Shortly after the Korean War, there were few refrigerators or protein-dense foods. Koreans would barter with American troops for the canned delight and come up with a recipe called bujae jiggae (army stew).
As South Korea continued to develop, Spam turned into a staple food and now occupies a warm place in the hearts of Koreans.
One of the interesting, fun facts about South Korea is that Spam is often a common gift given during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). So the next time you’re in South Korea in the fall, look out for shelves stocked with deluxe canned meat gift sets.
The word for “Spam” is 스팸 (seupaem). Look for it the next time you visit a local South Korean grocery store!
12. Toilet paper warms the house
Are you moving into a new house in South Korea? If you’re planning on having a housewarming party (집들이 | jipdeuri) after the move-in, don’t bother buying toilet paper or laundry detergent. You’ll get plenty of it as gifts!
One of the interesting, fun facts about South Korea is that people often give toilet paper and laundry detergent as housewarming gifts.
While you may need to clear out some space in your house to stockpile all the extra household supplies, the great thing about this tradition is that it makes picking out housewarming presents a piece of cake.
The hardest decision you’ll have to make is whether to buy Kleenex brand or 깨끗한나라 (kkaekkeuthannara) brand.
13. Live octopus is a delicacy
One thing that certainly stands out about South Korea is its cuisine which is gaining so much attention from the rest of the world. Not only because of its rich flavor and wide variety but also because of Koreans’ love for freshness.
Raw octopus isn’t good if it’s not squirming around in your mouth, so Koreans skip out on the cooking part. Some will cut up the octopus and put it in a bowl. Others cut off the legs while it’s still alive, eat the legs, and toss the rest of the octopus body into a stew.
If your mouth is watering at the thought of some squirming octopus, you can order some 산낙지 (sannakji | live octopus) when you visit the country. South Korea has plenty more food for the daring!
14. Medical Tourism
One of the interesting, fun facts about South Korea is that it is a popular destination for medical tourism, specifically cosmetic surgery. It’s one of the world’s highest plastic surgeries done per capita. People come from all across the globe to enhance their looks during a short trip to South Korea.
It’s common knowledge that a portion of South Korea’s population is obsessed with some form of cosmetic surgery. It’s hard to walk down the street in a major city like Seoul in South Korea and not see a sign for 성형외과 (seonghyeongoegwa), which means “plastic surgery.”
15. Plastic Cash
Not only is South Korea one of the most wired countries in the world, but it’s also one of the places with the highest credit card usage.
If you’ve visited South Korea before, you’ve probably noticed that it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t accept credit cards. Taxis, food delivery, and almost all restaurants are set up to accept credit cards. If you don’t have a credit card and live in South Korea, getting one is a worthwhile investment.
If you want to ask if a store takes credit cards, you can ask “카드 돼요 (kadeu dwaeyo)?”
16. Urban and natural beauty coexist
Whether you’re a city lover or a fan of adventuring around the outdoors, South Korea truly has something for everybody! While there’s no arguing that Seoul is a fantastic city full of culture, shopping, and food, making it a huge tourist destination, South Korea is also full of great day hikes.
If you visit South Korea, make sure to explore the natural beauty with a trip down to the beach or up the mountains. Hanging out in the city and experiencing Korean culture is an incredible experience. Still, you can’t say that you genuinely know South Korea until you’ve experienced the natural beauty of the countryside!
Another site that you might want to check out is Magic Island inside Lotte World. Lotte World is a very famous recreation complex located in Seoul.
17. South Korea’s internet is blazing fast
Wherever you are in the world, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of slow internet at some point. Whether it’s from being remote or having periodic issues with your internet service provider, internet connectivity problems can be a serious inconvenience and put anybody in a bad mood.
That being said, you’re in for a virtual treat when you visit South Korea! On average, South Korea has the fastest internet connection speed, and they’re beating every other country’s internet speed by a significant amount.
Stop by an internet cafe while you’re in Seoul and experience what it’s like to have super-powered internet. (Or don’t, if you’re worried you’ll be jealous once you return home!)
18. Seoul is a HUGE City
You’re probably aware that Seoul is a huge city — after all, it is the largest city in South Korea by a landslide. It’s the capital city with 25 million people living within the city limits.
It’s not just a large city — it’s the third-largest city in the world! Although navigating a densely populated city can be a little daunting if you haven’t done it before, the city is very approachable and intuitive once you’ve been there for a couple of days.
Having that many people live in one place means a seemingly infinite number of restaurants, shopping malls, and shops for you to check out during your trip.
There’s way too much to do in a couple of days or even in a couple of months, but you’re bound to have a great time visiting as many restaurants, street food shops, the Han River, and shopping districts in Seoul as you can!
Other notable Cities in Korea is Jeju-do (It is the country’s largest island) and Busan (2nd largest City in Korea)
19. Gangnam Style was a record breaker
Surely you remember “Gangnam Style,” the song by the musician Psy that made much of the Western world familiar with K-Pop due to its catchy lyrics and its viral exposure on YouTube.
“Gangnam Style” was so popular that it was the first song to hit one billion views on YouTube, which is a fantastic feat when pretty much anyone can find any song in the universe on the site!
“Gangnam Style” was a global sensation and rightfully earned Psy international fame. Although the song is as popular as it is, many people don’t know that it is about the Gangnam District, an affluent district in Seoul, South Korea.
20. Food delivery is taken VERY seriously
If you’re a fan of ordering food to be delivered, you’ll fall in love with the way South Korea handles food delivery. Food delivery in South Korea can be considered one of the best globally.
Whether you’re ordering from a Korean barbecue restaurant or a fast-food restaurant, you will probably have your food delivered to you via an employee on a motorcycle.
The best part about the motorcycle is that it means they can squeeze in between cars and zig-zag through traffic, so they’ll get to you way more quickly than if your food was being delivered on four wheels instead of two!
One of the unique facts about South Korean food delivery is that once you’ve finished enjoying your meal, you can put the dishes outside of your front door, and the person who delivered your food will swing back later to pick them up. Now that’s what we call fantastic service!
Make sure you order delivery at least once while you’re in Korea to experience what all the fuss is about — most restaurants are open late at night for delivery, so if you’re looking for a snack after a night out, you can call in your order, so you don’t even have to leave your apartment.