World ? Asia ? South Korea

South Korea: Fast Facts

American Express -- American Express has travel offices in Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Bucheon, Changwon, Chungju, Gu-mi, and Pyeongtaek. The main office in Seoul is in the Kwang Hwa Moon Building, 15th floor #64-8, 1-KA, Taepyung-ro, Chung-gu (tel. 02/399-2929; 24-hr. emergency card replacement 02/1588-8300; general service center 02/1588-8100).

Area Codes -- For cities: Seoul (02), Incheon (032), Busan (051), Daegu (053), Gwangju (062), Daejeon (042), Ulsan (052), Suwon/Yongin/Icheon (031), Gangreung (033), Buyeo/Gongju (041), Jeonju/Namwon/Buan (063), Changwon (055), and Jeju (064). For provinces: Gyeonggi-do (031), Gangwon-do (033), Chungcheongbuk-do (043), Chungcheongnam-do (041), Jeollabuk-do (063), Jeollanam-do (061), Gyeongsangbuk-do (054), and Gyeongsangnam-do (055). Remember, you drop the "0" when dialing internationally.

Business Hours -- Government offices: Monday through Friday 9am to 6pm (Nov-Feb close at 5pm), Saturday 9am to 1pm. Banks: Monday through Friday 9:30am to 4:30pm; Saturday 9:30am to 1:30pm. Major department stores: Daily 10:30am to 7:30pm. Smaller shops: Hours vary, but usually early morning to late evening.

Trading at the Korea Stock Exchange is open Monday through Friday. There are three trading sessions: 9am to noon, 1 to 3pm, and 3:10 to 3:40pm. At KOSDAQ, the regular trading session Monday through Friday is from 9am to 1pm. Orders can be placed 8am to 3pm.

Drugstores -- Pharmacies can be found in all neighborhoods in South Korea. Most display a large green cross symbol, but all of them have the Korean word for medicine (?). None of them are open 24 hours, but a few stores in hotel lobbies and convenience stores are open around the clock. Pharmacists will help you with everything from a minor cut to severe allergies.

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; www.britishembassy.or.kr), Canada (tel. 02/3455-6000; www.korea.gc.ca), and Australia (tel. 02/2003-0100; www.australia.or.kr). There is a Canadian embassy in Busan (tel. 051/246-7024).

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 ambulance.

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).

Hot Lines -- The Tourist Assistance Center can be reached at tel. 1330 (or from a cellphone, dial the area code of the region plus 1330). In areas other than the 22 registered cities, call tel. 080/757-2000 (toll-free).

Language -- Korean is the official language of South Korea. Although most school children 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 and announcements are usually only in Korean.

Laundromats -- There are no such things as Laundromats in South Korea, but coin-operated washing machines can usually be found in major hotels, some hostels, and near some universities. More common are laundry and dry-cleaning services, where you drop off your clothes and they do the laundry for you.

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.

Liquor 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 rather than strict enforcement of the law. Still, the legal drinking age is 19 (or more specifically Jan. 1 of the year the person turns 19, since everyone is considered a year older when the year turns). Officially, the closing time for bars and nightclubs is midnight in Seoul, but some bars stay open (especially in Itaewon or Hongik) 24 hours. Beer and soju (South Korea's infamous vodkalike liquor) are widely available in grocery and convenient stores, while wine is more likely to be found at specialty wine shops.

Lost & Found -- If you lose something, South Korea has two online lost-and-found services: http://english.lost114.com and www.boomerang.co.kr. In Seoul, contact the Police Lost and Found Center, 102, Hongik-dong, Seongdong-gu (tel. 02/298-1282 or 02/299-1282, Korean only). If you lost your passport, notify your embassy or consulate immediately. If you lost your traveler's checks or credit cards, report this loss to the agency that issued them as soon as possible and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Major credit cards companies in Seoul are MasterCard (tel. 0079-811-887-0823; www.mastercard.com), Visa (tel. 00818-00-908-8212; www.visa.com), and American Express (tel. 02/1588-8300 24-hr. card replacement).

If you need emergency cash, you can also have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com). Money wired through Western Union is accessible at any branch of Kookmin Bank (tel. 02/899-9520; www.kbstar.com).

Mail -- Post offices in South Korea can be easily spotted by their red signs with a white symbol of three stylized swallows on it. They're open 9am to 6pm Monday through Friday (until 5pm Nov-Feb). International rates are as follows: postcards W350 (3.7Ţ/1.9p); airmail letter up to 10 grams W480 (52Ţ/26p); printed matter up to 20 grams W500 (54Ţ/28p); and registered mail up to 10 grams W1,780 ($1.91/96p). 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 (65Ţ/35p). 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.

Passports -- Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.

For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.

For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).

For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525) or at most main post offices.

For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency, or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.

For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.

Police -- Dial tel. 112 anywhere in the country for the police. Police stations are clearly marked in English.

Restrooms -- There are free public restrooms available at most subway stations, bus terminals, train stations, and some 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 temples, which are usually just squat pits). Not all of them provide toilet paper or paper towels. It is 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 (55Ţ/30p). American-style fast-food restaurants, large department stores, bookstores, and hotels have the best public restrooms.

Smoking -- Although South Korea has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, the government has been aggressive in its anti-smoking campaign in the past several years. Smoking is banned in public buildings, hospitals, schools, subway platforms, 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 ($22-$32/ţ11-ţ16).

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 Zone -- 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 riding a taxi, it's not necessary to tip the driver, but do let him keep the change.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory: tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.); U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline: tel. 404/332-4559; Tourist Information Center (Seoul): tel. 02/735-8688 or 02/731-6337; Tourist Assistance Center: tel. 1330 (or from a cellphone, dial the area code of the region you want info for plus 1330); Tourist Assistance in areas other than the 22 registered cities: tel. 080/757-2000 (toll free).

Water -- Tap water is not potable in South Korea, 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 to W600 (55Ţ-65Ţ/28p-35p).

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