After living in South Korea for two years in different regions of the country, here are my ultimate suggestions on what to pack to travel to South Korea or if you’re going to teach in South Korea.
First, don’t stress. Korea is the land of shopping! You have your passport, bank card and a decent backpack, you’re ready for South Korea. No matter what you do or don’t pack – you’ll be just fine. Anything you need or forget, you can buy here.
As always, my best packing advice is this: don’t overdo it! Pack light, especially if you’re hopping from city to city you’ll see in a moment, I highly recommend traveling with a backpack instead of a roller suitcase for optimal city-hopping.
when you pack, think about the weather, particularly if you’re coming in winter. For winter months, bring a couple Long-sleeve tees (thermal are best), a couple of heavier sweaters, and a warm coat. Buy your scarves, hats and gloves here!
Double-and triple-check where your passport is before you book your flight. Make sure you have at least 6 months validity as well so you don’t get turned away when you land. For example, if it’s January 1st, 2024, and your passport expires before June 1st, 2024, they might not let you in the country and you’ll have to return home immediately.
Yes, you do need it.
Everything from minor bouts of food poisoning to helicopter medevac off a mountain, a standard travel insurance policy is a non-negotiable in my (literal) book.
Check your current medical insurance plan. They might already cover South Korea. If they don’t, here is what I use.
▸World Nomads which offers super full-coverage, best for short-term travel packed with adventure.
▸Safetywing is the super affordable option if you’re traveling long term.
Have a secret stash of cash and a backup credit card in case you get in a sticky situation. Keep this emergency money source separate from your other cards and cash so that if you lose your wallet, you won’t lose the secret stash, too
Generally speaking, you can use your debit and credit cards just about everywhere in South Korea (although I definitely recommend pulling out some cash when you land for street vendors).
But please take the time to get the correct travel-friendly cards before you fly. They will save you money and provide you extra travel insurance as you travel.
As a rule of thumb: Travel with two debit cards and at least one credit card. – either 2 debit cards or 1 debit + 1 credit. That way, even if something happens to your debit card or credit card, you’ll still be able to move around the country and get yourself home.
And, remember to call your bank(s) before you travel to let them know you’ll be leaving the country so they don’t flag the activity as fraudulent and shut down your card.
In South Korea, you’ll be taking planes, trains and taxis to get around. You don’t want to be lugging a roller suitcase with you. Instead, carry a traveler’s backpack.
It’s been over 5 years that I’ve been using this bag. I love it so much that I just bought the exact same model again to use for another 5 years.
1. I use this bag as a carry-on
2. It’s extremely comfortable to wear
3. The open-zip style means that you can keep your clothes organized
4. I swear it’s got Mary Poppins magic because I can fit 3 months of clothes in one tiny space
South Korea uses 220 voltage (as opposed to the standard 110v used in the U.S.). You’re generally okay to plug in the basics, like your phone charger. But if you have anything that can’t handle 220 voltage or anything with a three-pronged plug, like some laptops, you’ll need a universal adapter. Pick up a cheap one from REI, Target, and Amazon.
Hostel girls! Hostels usually don’t provide towels so it’s nice to bring a travel towel of your own. Not all hostels provide towels, so this is a good way to save a few extra bucks instead of paying a fee to rent one. A microfiber towel is nice to have, especially during the rainy season when the heat isn’t there to dry things quickly. Plus, it can double as your beach towel!
If you plan to be in South Korea from July through September, you will 100% need some rain gear! Be prepared for at least a day or two of wet weather during your stay.
Get a compact umbrella like this:
And a lightweight rain coat, one that is actually waterproof, like this:
You can find tampons in South Korean pharmacies and convenience stores but if you’re particular about your brand, it’s better to just bring your own.
I started using a menstrual cup last year and will never go back to tampons!
You’re going to be in a bathing suit on the beach and out on the water! And if you’ve never used a menstrual cup, they are a game changer. Save money every month, go 12 hours with no leaks & swim with no drips.
The one I use is called Saalt.
You’ll be walking a LOT in South Korea, even if you aren’t hiking up a mountain! So bring shoes that will be comfortable for a long day on your feet, as well as shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Pair of Cute/Dressy Sandals
Pair of Walking Sandals
1 Pair of Hiking / Running Shoes
Bonus: In the winter, bring waterproof boots!
If you’re in South Korea during the summer months, you’ll likely be going sleeveless a large part of the time. Be culturally sensitive and throw a pashmina or a light wrap into your purse to toss over your shoulders when visiting temples or shrines.
This is a fabulous wrap that doubles as a blanket!
From Naver Translate to Naver Maps, you’ll be using your phone a ton. Carry a portable charger with you to make sure you’re never caught without battery life. There’s nothing worse than watching your phone die and realizing you don’t know how to get back to your hotel!
This is the one I use nonstop
South Korea’s weather can be a challenge for your skincare routine, so be prepared! From greasy foundation and running mascara in the summer to scaly, red cheeks in the winter, you need back-up! I say, bring a couple of your makeup essentials but plan to go makeup shopping at stores like Etude House or Innisfree when you arrive!
(maybe even some nail polish)
In Korea, the state of your feet matter. Chances are, you’ll be going barefoot at least once or twice on your trip. So, make sure your feet look the part! Make sure your socks are clean and without holes (don’t bring your favorite old pair!) and your toe nails are trimmed (and painted, if that’s your thing). It’s a respect thang.
It took me 5 years to learn that the less stuff you have, the more free you are. You are free to pick up and move around, free to shop for souvenirs, and free from relying on porters and taxis to help you carry your luggage. Plus, you’re going to need space for all that extra shopping over here.
Tons of Skincare – Korea is the skincare capital of the world and you’ll want a reason to shop!
South Korea takes drug use very seriously and they have some strict limitations when it comes to medicines and ingredients that you can bring into the country.
Prohibited OTC medicines:
CBD oil/gummies and hemp-derivative products
Any medicine containing Codeine
Other prescription medications:
For prescriptions that don’t contain narcotics or amphetamines, you can bring up to six bottles (or the equivalent to a three-month supply). You’ll need to bring the original prescriptions, a letter from your doctor specifying the medical condition the medicine is used for, and a statement from your doctor specifying which medicines you will be carrying. Keep all medications in their original bottle.
Other OTC medicines:
You can bring up to a 60-day supply of any non-prohibited OTC medicine, including vitamins.
Prohibited prescription medications:
Amphetamines/methamphetamines, including medications for the treatment of ADD/ADHD (Adderall, Vyvanse, Dexedrine)
Locally Available Medications:
If you get a cold, headache, or sore throat, you may obtain therapy in South Korea because there are many pharmacies in the country’s major cities. Although the active components and brand names may vary, you can use Naver Translate to speak with the pharmacist and get what you need.
Note: If you are coming to South Korea as a teacher, congratulations – you have medical insurance and access to some amazing doctors and hospitals who can help you sort out your medications!
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I'm a bestselling author, hotel reviewer and pickleball player. I teach women how to travel the world solo without going broke or getting kidnapped.
In 2011, I left Seattle with just $200 in my pocket to travel the world solo. Today, I'm the founder and creator of The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide, the #1 travel guide book series for women - and the author of The One-Way Ticket Plan.