From Becca Piper, Director of Korean Ties

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Korea: What to Know Before You Go

What to pack

Weather in Korea is a lot like it is in the Midwest…hot and sometimes muggy in the summer; cold and sometimes snowy in the winter. In July and August, Korea has a rainy season, its rarely awful. Also, note that the Korean air conditioning situation is a tad on the weak side. So it's best to bring clothes that can be layered and unlayered as temperatures fluctuate.

I am usually most comfortable in a skirt and top in Seoul and casual slacks, shorts or a split skirt outside of Seoul. Although, for the occasional "squatty potty" ladies, a skirt is the best option. For the guys, casual slacks are the best option. At the social service agencies, a dress shirt and a tie are in order. Shorts are okay for men outside of Seoul and less okay in Seoul. If you travel with other children, you should have one nicer outfit for visiting the social services offices, but for anything else, the kids are ok dressed as kids "American style." Comfortable walking shoes are a must for all.

Also, if you are staying anywhere where you plan to swim, swim caps in Korean pools are treated a lot like they were in the U.S. 25 years ago. Many pools require them, and as sexist as it is, some pools require them only for girls and women.

Foot Wear

It is customary in Korea to take off your shoes as you enter many buildings and all homes. Slippers or scuffs are often provided upon entrance. It’s a good idea to have a quick pair of socks to slip on too.

Travel Documents

Each person needs a valid passport. Visas are currently not required for visitors staying less than 30 days. Make a copy of your passport and carry it away from your actual passport. In case it is lost or stolen, you will find it much easier to replace. The same is true of your airline tickets. Do NOT pack your passport in your checked luggage.

Electrical Current

The electricity in Korea varies between 110 and 220 and outlets will have different prongs. Appliances such as hair dryers can be purchased in the U.S. with switches for 110 and 220. Adapter sets can also be purchased to accommodate the plugs. I have had the best luck with a Radio Shack converter made by Archer plus an adapter extension (which essentially is two adapters plugged into one another). Any cordless appliance you can find in the U.S. is worth its weight in gold when traveling. Also, many appliances can be purchased in Korea inexpensively. Another handy tip when traveling is to carry a short extension cord as plugs are sparse.

Finally, Korea has "power surges" and you should never leave an electrical appliance plugged in and unattended.


No vaccinations are currently required. However, you might want to check with your physician before traveling. Changes are made by the Centers for Disease Control and your doctor may see a special need for you based on your health history. Many doctors suggest Hepatitis B, although you need to begin the vaccination about 6 months prior to travel.

Keeping Healthy

FOOD: Eat foods that are cooked, fruits and vegetables that you can wash and peal yourself, and drink bottled water. Koreans have a very good understanding of sanitation and proper food handling and preparation, but any time your body takes in new foods, etc., it is a good idea to take along a supply of Pepto Bismol, Imodium and the like.

WATER: It is best for adoptive families traveling to drink bottled water and use bottled water to brush teeth. Korean people drink bottled water regularly. They undoubtedly use tap water to brush their teeth and you probably could too (I do too when I am in Korea for extended periods of time, finding that I only have a day or two of minor digestive upset while my body transitions to different water treatment chemicals). But, considering most adoptive parents are only in Korea for a few days and for the most important event of their lives, using bottled water to avoid that transition period is a minor inconvenience. Incidentally, when my Korean friends visit at my home, I also encourage them to use bottled water so that they can feel as good as possible while traveling. 

MEDICATIONS: If you are taking any medication, carry enough of that medication to see you through the trip. Medications should be carried in their original containers.

CONTACT LENS: Contact lens solutions are available in Korea, but they may not be the brands you are used to. If you would feel more comfortable using a product you know works well for you, best to bring an adequate supply along. Also, saline solutions in aerosol type cans often will not spray after being at high airplane altitudes. Try to take the kind that simply squirt out of the bottle.


Travelers checks can be changed to won at banks and major hotels. There is not a big difference in the exchange rate from one to another. You will need your passport to change money. Credit cards are also widely accepted, however it is not easy to draw cash (in won or dollars) from your credit card. If you take other children with you, it is a good idea for each family member to carry some won.

SAFETY: While Korea has a better safety record than most cities in the U.S., you should use common sense. Documents and excessive cash should be stored in the hotel’s safety deposit box, if possible. When out and about, carry the name, address and phone number (in Korean) of where you are staying and enough taxi money to get you there.


Taxi rides in Korea are guaranteed to be interesting. While taxis can be hailed from anywhere, there are also taxi stands. To hail one, extend your arm parallel to the street and waive your hand inward. Few taxi drivers speak fluent English so you will want to have your destination written down in Korean. Don’t be surprised if several taxis turn you down based on where you are going. Taxi fares are set and primarily determined by distance, but may also increase by slow traffic or tunnel fees. There are two kinds of taxis…regular and deluxe. They both get you to the same place; the deluxe taxi is a little nicer, but twice as expensive. A "deluxe" taxi says "deluxe" on it …in English.

What's Open and When

Large department stores are open 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and close one day per week. Smaller stores usually keep longer hours and are open daily. Bank Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. Saturdays

Phone Calls

Phone numbers in Korea work a lot like they do in the United States, with an area code, then a 7 digit local number. If someone from home is trying to call you in Seoul, they should dial, 011 822 and then the local 7 digit phone number. If you are trying to call the United States from Korea, the best way to is go to a major hotel. In the hotel lobby, you will find a phone that has a button that says "USA Direct" where you will connected to an AT & T operator and can either call collect or with your calling card.

International calls from your hotel room are VERY expensive as most hotels add a service charge. Local calls from your room are usually very inexpensive.

Departing Korea

Your unused won can be converted back to dollars. As you leave, Korea charges a "departure tax" which must be paid before you can board the plane. Each person departing Korea is allowed $400 worth of personal purchases duty free. Keep your receipts for documentation.

A final thought on flexibility...

You are about to undertake one of the exhilarating and meaningful experiences of your lifetime… traveling to adopt an internationally born child. No such experience comes without a dash of exhaustion and sometimes even a little frustration. I have found over the years that the people who feel most satisfied at the end of the journey are those who are the most flexible.

Let this be a journey that captivates you. Stay open to new experiences. Find pleasure in the happening of the moment. Your love for your child’s country and respect for its people will forever be important.

Becca Piper is the director of The Ties Program, a heritage travel program for adoptive families. She also helps families travel to pick up their children. Reach her at 800/398-3676.

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