The Quick Facts for USFK and Foreigners living in South Korea

Quick Facts for USFK members and their families who are moving to South Korea

  • Personally Owned Vehicles (POV’s)
    • Vehicles are driven on the right side of the road, just like America.
    • USFK personnel and SOFA civillians can obtain a USFK driver’s license and drive a POV on military installtions under the following conditions:
      • (1) All command sponsored service members, regardless of grade, and their family members.
      • (2) Joint domicile status service members authorized to ship a POV at government expense, regardless of grade, and their family members.
      • (3) A member of the U.S. Armed Forces in the grade of E-7 or above.
      • (4) Members of the Armed Forces in the grade of E-6 or below who receive approval from the first O-5 in their chain of command. 5 USFK REG 190-1, 10 May 2012
      • (5) Department of Defense (DOD) civilian employees in the grades of GS-5, WG-5, WL-2, WS-1, NA-5 and CC-3 or equivalent and above; USFK technical representatives, and family members of the aforementioned personnel.
      • (6) U.S. Invited Contractors and third-country national employees employed as Invited Contractors who also have SOFA privileges and their family members as long as they are first in possession of a ROK driver’s license or valid international driver’s permit prior to obtaining the USFK Form 134EK.
      • Taken directly from USFK Regulation 190-1.
    • South Korea does not allow Google mapping services due to old, outdated laws a grudge. Read here. It is best to get a map app like Waze or Naver for driving directions.
  • Currency
    • The currency used is Won 원. The quickest way to convert it is to move the decimal to the thousands place. For example: $1=1,000w. Of course that’s not accurate but it’s a good approximation. Go to my front page to see the current exchange rate. As of 2017, a decent rate is 1,100won to the dollar. A rate of 1,200won is exceptional and would be a good month for transferring cash. 
    • Prices are in cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) so it’s easy to shop without speaking Korean. When shopping at the markets, using fingers to tell each other the price is a common way to overcome the language barrier.
  • Time Zone
    • South Korea is 13 hours ahead for the East Coast and 16 hours ahead for California. During Daylight Savings Time it is 12 and 16 hours ahead. Thank Goodness Korea does not practice Daylight Savings.
    • When trying to decide if it’s a good idea to call home to the states, subtract 13, 14, 15 or 16 hours. It’s easiest to think that it’s the opposite time of the day. If you are having lunch, everyone is asleep and when you have breakfast, family in the states are getting ready for dinner and bed.
    • Koreans use the 12hr and the 24hr clock.
    • When you fly back to the states you’ll find yourself landing only a few hours after you left Korea. Wibbly Wobbly, Timey, Whimey…
  • Life in South Korea
    • South Korea has a population of just 50million people compared to the United State’s 322million. What’s impressive is South Korea’s Population Density which ranks ranks 23 worldwide with 1300 people per square mile. Check out the map to see how tiny South Korea is, it fits inside of New Mexico.

      Korea v America

      South Korea fits inside New Mexico!

    • Western Media paints South Korea as a disaster waiting to happen because of their North Korean neighbors. Ask anyone and you will be surprised to see that South Koreans, and even USFK personnel, just aren’t worried. This stalemate between the two Koreas has been ongoing since the end of the war in 1953 and at this point it’s the boy who cried wolf, no one is listening anymore. This is not to say something couldn’t happen. North Korea could try but I have faith that US forces and the ROK army would make quick work of the North.
    • The violent crime rate is very low here. I am comfortable with letting my kids play outside and I can walk around at night with almost no fear.
    • It is legal to drink alcohol outside. Everyone should sit outside a convenience store and enjoy a bottle of Soju at least once in Korea. It’s a wonderful experience.
    • All men in South Korea are conscripted into the Republic of Korea Armed services and are trained to fight. With conscription, ROK soldiers experience a lot less benefits of the military than their foreign counterparts. Don’t be surprised when USFK personnel pay for their ROK soldier’s lunch, they only make somewhere around $200 a month while serving. 
    • South Korea is known for its technological innovations, intellectual properties, K-Pop, high university graduation rates, Fashion Industry, incredible Cosmetics and their Chaebols 재벌, huge corporate families that are known around the world like Samsung, LG and Hyundai.
    • South Korea recycles everything, including food waste. Offpost dwellers will be surprised how little trash they create, I put out a gallon ziploc bag of trash each week. Learn more here. 
    • South Korea has the cleanest, cheapest and fastest public transportation in the world. They even have a MagLev train! News Article
    • Guns are illegal in South Korea – this includes paintball guns and airsoft. Any brought to the country during a PCS will be confiscated. However, it is very easy to buy paintball and airsoft guns while in Korea.
    • Pornography is illegal in South Korea. Sort of. Well, they say it’s illegal but it’s not hard to access it. I’ll leave that up to you.
    • South Korea has strict anti-defamation laws. Badmouthing businesses or persons on social media is a bad idea.
    • There are no/few Good Samaritan laws in Korea. I am not saying you shouldn’t step in when you see something wrong but be prepared to go to JAG and defend yourself if someone takes you to court.
    • South Korea’s air quality has been getting worse and it is particularly bad on the West Coast. In addition to factory emissions from the peninsula and pollution from China, there is Yellow Dust during the spring from China and Mongolia that puts fine particulates into the air. The Korea4Expats blog has a nice write up on Yellow Dust.
  • Pets
    • South Korea requires all pets entering the country to undergo a certified test called FAVN to prove they are free of rabies. This test is expensive and it takes awhile to ship out the sample and receive the results so get started right away.
    • Pets are a relatively new lifestyle choice for Koreans. Most dogs are smaller/ toy sized or you will see a lot of the Korean Jindo breed. Cats are slowly being accepted as pets. Like America, Korea suffers from pet mills and a high stray population. There are pet rescues and adoption agencies in Korea.
    • Owning dogs in South Korea can be more difficult because of a lack of backyards. Some people give their pets a place to releive themselves on their balconies or bathroom floors (all bathrooms have drains in the floor) but expect to walk a dog multiple times a day.
    • As far as I can tell there are no leash laws in Korea but dog parks are becoming more prevelant.
  • Weather
    • South Korea has all the seasons so bring your winter and summer clothes.
    • South Korea is cocooned in between China and Japan so the weather is overall very mild. For natural disasters there are Typhoons, Landslides, Flooding and Earthquakes. Earthquakes are far and few between and come in below a 5.0. Typhoons are another word for hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean but they usually hit Japan of Taiwan first. Here is a list of Typhoons that have made landfall in South Korea: It’s a very short list.


See anything need fixing? Am I missing something really important for first time visitors to Korea?

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Last Updated: May 1, 2017

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