Area Codes -- Seoul, Gwacheon, Gwangmyeong (in Gyeonggi-do), 02; Incheon, Bucheon, Siheung (in Gyeonggi-do), 032; the rest of Gyeonggi-do, 031; Daejeon, 042; Chungcheongnam-do, 041; Chungcheongbuk-do, 043; Jeollanam-do, 061; Jeollabuk-do, 063; Gwangju, 062; Ulsan, 052; Gyeongsangbuk-do, 054; Gyeongsangnam-do, 055; Daegu, 053; Busan, 051; Gangwon-do, 033; Jeju-do, 064. Drop the zero in front of the city/region code when dialing from overseas.
Business Hours -- Banks: Monday through Friday 9am to 4pm. Major department stores: Daily 10:30am to 8pm with extended hours on weekends. Smaller shops: Hours vary, but usually early morning to late evening; stores catering to younger people generally stay open until 10pm; neighborhood convenience stores often stay open until midnight. Restaurants: Most open daily from 10am to 10pm. Government offices (including tourist info): Monday through Friday 9am to 6pm (Nov-Feb close at 5pm), Saturday 9am to 1pm.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age is not strictly enforced in South Korea. Underage drinking is curbed more by the reluctance of bartenders to serve youth than by strict enforcement of the law. Still, the legal drinking age is 20 (or more specifically Jan 1 of the year the person turns 20, since everyone is considered a year older when the year turns). The legal drinking age for U.S. military stationed in South Korea is 21. Bars and nightclubs generally open from 6pm to midnight daily with longer hours (some opening from noon to the early-morning hours) on Friday and Saturday. In some areas of Seoul (like in Itaewon or Hongik) and other large cities, some bars stay open 24 hours. Beer and soju (South Korea's infamous vodka-like liquor) are widely available in grocery and convenience stores, while wine is more likely to be found at specialty wine shops. Traditional Korean liquors (like makgeolli) can be found in traditional restaurants and some trendy bars. Alcohol is sold in department stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores.
There are no open-container laws in South Korea, so you may see plenty of people enjoying their beverages on the beach, picnicking in the park, or walking out of a bar. However, don't even think about driving while intoxicated.
Electricity -- Most of South Korea is on a 220-volt, 60-cycle system (the plugs with two round prongs), but a few major hotels have 110-volt, 60-cycle systems. Check before plugging in any electronics. It's very difficult to find universal plug adapters, so it's best to buy your own before you arrive.
Embassies & Consulates -- The following are in Seoul: U.S. (tel. 02/397-4114; http://seoul.usembassy.gov), U.K. (tel. 02/3210-5500; http://ukinkorea.fco.gov.uk/en), Canada (tel. 02/3455-6000; www.korea.gc.ca), and Australia (tel. 02/2003-0100; www.australia.or.kr). There are Honorary British (tel. 070/7733-1055), Canadian (tel. 051/246-7024), and Australian (tel. 051/647-1762) consulates in Busan.
Emergencies -- Dial tel. 112 anywhere in the country for the police. Dial tel. 119 for the fire department and medical emergencies, or tel. 1339 for medical emergencies (although most operators speak only Korean). Hotel staff can also arrange for a doctor or an ambulance.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Among the oil companies in South Korea, the most prevalent are SK and GS. You will also see S-oil and Hyundai Oilbank gas stations, although a bit less frequently. A liter of unleaded will cost you between W1,500 and W1,720. All gas stations are full-service. Rest stops are frequent between cities, and most have gas stations, but do be careful not to put LPG (diesel) fuel into your regular vehicle.
Hospitals -- There are many hospitals in the larger cities where some English is spoken, but they are harder to find in rural areas. The following is a list of hospitals in Seoul with international clinics: Samsung Medical Center (tel. 02/3410-0200), Sinchon Severance (tel. 02/361-6540), Asan Medical Center (tel. 02/2224-3114), Kang Buk Samsung Medical Center (tel. 02/723-2911), Hannam-dong International Medical Center (tel. 02/790-0857), Seoul Foreign Medical Center (tel. 02/796-1871), Samsung First Medical Center (tel. 02/2262-7071), Yeouido Catholic Medical Center (tel. 02/789-1114), Gangnam Catholic Medical Center (tel. 02/590-1114), CHA General Hospital (tel. 02/558-1112), Soonchunhyang Hospital (tel. 02/709-9881), and Seoul National University Hospital (tel. 02/760-2890).
Insurance -- Although South Korea is a safe place to travel, you may consider purchasing travel insurance, especially if you plan on traveling for an extended period.
For information on traveler's insurance, trip-cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Internet Access -- South Korea's Internet connectivity is legendary as it leads the world in Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) hot spots. However, the plethora of hot spots doesn't mean that they're friendly to travelers. Many high-end hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers offer high-speed Wi-Fi access for free or for a small fee. Internet service is offered in public places such as airports, train stations, and bus terminals. PC bahngs (PC rooms), where you can rent an Internet-connected PC, are usually populated by gaming enthusiasts (that is, young, nerdy males), and Internet cafes are easy to find throughout the country. Love motels in large cities and popular tourist destinations often offer in-room PCs with high-speed Internet.
Language -- Korean is the official language of South Korea. Although most schoolchildren learn rudimentary English starting from elementary school, your regular Korean on the street will not be able to speak it. The government has taken great pains to make sure English signs and announcements are available on subways, city streets, and highways, but bus signs, menus, and other signage are usually only in Korean. Consider picking up a Korean-English dictionary and/or phrase book, such as the Lonely Planet Korean Phrase Book.
Legal Aid -- If you need legal assistance, contact your embassy or consulate immediately. Although they aren't lawyers, they may be able to refer you to an English-speaking attorney. If you're arrested, you're not entitled to your one phone call. Although the police are required to contact your embassy, they may do it in writing, which may take up to a week.
Mail -- Post offices in South Korea can be easily spotted by their red signs with a white symbol of three stylized swallows on it, and they say POST OFFICE in English. They're open 9am to 6pm Monday through Friday (until 5pm Nov-Feb). International rates are as follows: postcards W350; airmail letter up to 10 grams W480; printed matter up to 20 grams W500; and registered mail up to 10 grams W1,780. Airmail to North America takes about 5 to 10 days, but delays are not uncommon. For sending packages overseas, UPS (tel. 02/1588-6886; www.ups.com), Federal Express (tel. 080/023-8000; www.fedex.com/kr_english), and DHL (tel. 02/716-0001; www.dhl.co.kr) have branch offices in Seoul and a few other major cities. Within South Korea, a postal code is recommended but mail will be delivered without it.
Newspapers & Magazines -- English versions of two Korean newspapers, the Korean Herald (www.koreaherald.co.kr) and The Korea Times (www.koreatimes.co.kr), can be found at convenience stores; street stalls; hotels; or bus, train, and subway terminals for about W600. News magazines issued abroad can be found in most large hotel bookstores, but for more specialized journals or periodicals, visit the major bookstores in larger cities.
Police -- Dial tel. 112 anywhere in the country for the police. Police stations are clearly marked in English.
Smoking -- Although South Korea has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, the government has been aggressive in its antismoking campaign in the past several years. Smoking is banned in public buildings, hospitals, schools, subway platforms, bus stops, office hallways, and restrooms. Smoking is also banned in stadiums. You can smoke outside or in designated smoking rooms. Restaurants, cafes, Internet cafes, and similar establishments of certain sizes are required to provide nonsmoking areas. Women smoking used to be taboo. Although more and more females smoke these days, rarely are they seen smoking in the open outside of clubs, bars, and restaurants. If you're caught violating the smoking ban, you may be fined W20,000 to W30,000.
Taxes -- Value-added tax (VAT) is levied on most goods and services at the standard 10% rate and usually included in the retail price. You can receive a refund on your VAT if you purchase your item at a shop with a TAX-FREE SHOPPING sign. Ask for a Global Refund Cheque payment slip at the time of your purchase. You can get your refund, within 3 months of purchase, at the Cash Refund Office located at Gate 28 of Incheon Airport.
Time -- South Korea is 9 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). The country does not observe daylight saving time.
Tipping -- Tipping is not customary in South Korea, but feel free to do so if you've received extraordinary service. In most tourist hotels, a 10% service charge is added to your bill (on top of the VAT). In some major restaurants, a 3% to 10% service charge may be added to your bill. When you're riding a taxi, it's not necessary to tip the driver, but do let him keep the change.
Toilets -- There are free public restrooms available at most subway stations, bus terminals, train stations, and tourist attractions. However, many restrooms vary from the usual Western-style toilets to the traditional squat toilets on the floor (the worst being the ones in old temples, which are usually just squat pits). Since not all of them provide toilet paper or paper towels, it's best to carry a small packet of tissues with you at all times. You can buy them at any corner store or in vending machines outside some restrooms for about W500. American-style fast-food restaurants, large department stores, bookstores, and hotels have the best public restrooms.
Water -- Drinking tap water in South Korea is not recommended, although mountain water is considered healthy by Koreans. Filtered or bottled water is always available in restaurants and you can buy a bottle at convenience stores, usually for about W500.