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How to Shop in South Korea: Shopping information for foreigners

What do tourists need to know when traveling and shopping around South Korea?

For tourists visiting South Korea, the best tandem way to get a taste of Korean culture is by trying Korean food and experiencing Korean shopping. This is from somebody who had the opportunity to live in the country for quite some time.

Whether in Seoul, Busan, Jeju Island, or in any popular Korean town, city, or province, shopping malls and markets feature diverse dining establishments and street food vendors within their vicinities. Given such, shoppers don’t go empty on the stomach when strolling around. It is common to walk a lot in Korea, and shopping around also requires much walking, as shopping spots are typically mile-long stretches, especially in Seoul, the country’s capital.

Always wear the right pair of shoes when shopping. It might interest foreigners that Korean women usually wear high-heeled shoes even if they have to walk a lot. However, for people not used to such, it is always better to choose comfy footwear that can allow convenient walking for many miles and many hours.

Here are important information you need to know about this prime shopping hub in East Asia:
Business Hours

Unlike in the United States and Europe, South Korea offers unlimited shopping hours. While many shops are open only until 10 p.m., some malls and markets are open 24/7. To note, popular shopping areas such as Myeongdong and Insadong are usually open until 10 p.m. Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market are open even after midnight. These areas provide tourists a taste of Korea’s late-night shopping culture.

Shopping spots are mostly crowded during holidays and weekends, except during the major Korean holidays such as New Year and Chuseok when most people go to the provinces for family celebrations and most shops are closed.

Payment Methods

Malls, stores, and boutiques follow a fixed price system. They accept Korean Won, the country’s currency. Other than paying in cash, they also accept major international credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, and AMEX).

Street and market vendors can offer bargains and discounts. Generally, they accept cash payments only. Foreigners with Korean friends can ask for assistance on how to get discounts in these stores. Knowing the right things to say (in Korean) can be a plus for a foreigner wanting a bargain buy. Most of these vendors also offer freebies (small free items such as socks and handkerchiefs) as tokens to shopping foreigners.

Currency Exchange

Most banks around Korea have separate booths to exchange foreign currency. Banks provide the cheapest service charges for such transactions. Service charges vary per bank. Banking hours are usually from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays to Fridays. ATM machines are easily accessible around banks, schools, convenience stores, and commercial areas as well.

Korean Sizes

Generally, clothes sizes are measured in centimeters, except for the waist size which is measured in inches. Shoe sizes are measured in millimeters.

Men’s clothes size measurements: S (chest 90 to 95 cm, waist 30/32 in); M (chest 95 to 100 cm, waist 33/34 in); L (chest 100 to 105 cm, waist 34/36 in); XL (chest 105 to 110 cm, waist 36/38 in); and XXL (chest more than 110 cm, waist 38/40 in).

Women’s clothes size measurements: S or 44 (chest 85 cm), M or 55 (chest 90 cm); L or 66 (chest 95); XL or 77 (chest 100 cm); and XXL or 88 (chest 105 cm).

Men’s shoe size measurements (in millimeters): 250, 255, 260, 265, 270, 275, 280, 285, 290, and 295.

Women’s shoe size measurements (in millimeters): 220, 225, 230, 235, 240, 245, 250, 255, 260, 265, and 270.

Size Comparison: Korean to American

Men’s clothes size measurements (Korean to American): S is 15; M is 15.5 to 16; L is 16.5 to 17; XL is 17.5; and XXL is 18.

Women’s clothes size measurements (Korean to American): S is 0 to 2; M is 3 to 6; L is 7 to 10; XL is 11 to 13; and XXL is 15 to 17.

Men’s shoe size measurements (Korean to American): 250 is 7.5; 255 is 8; 260 is 8.5; 265 is 9; 270 is 9.5; 275 is 10; 280 is 10.5; 285 is 11; 290 is 11.5; and 295 is 12.

Women’s shoe size measurements (Korean to American): 220 is 5; 225 is 5.5; 230 is 6; 235 is 6.5; 240 is 7; 245 is 7.5; 250 is 8; 255 is 8.5; 260 is 9; 265 is 9.5; and 270 is 10.

Tax Refund

Tourists can find many shops with “Tax Free Shopping” signs around Korea. These shops offer duty-free shopping and information about tax refunds.

Refunds, Warranties, and Exchanges

While most department stores and large malls offer refunds, some stores don’t offer refunds for purchased products (especially for sale items), but they allow customers to exchange defective items they bought. Warranties usually range from one month to one year, depending on the item. Gadgets and computers usually have the longer warranties.

Sale Periods

Sale periods for duty-free shops typically occur every June to August, and December to February. Many department stores and large malls also hold sales every January, April, July, October, and December. The summer and winter sales offer the most discounts with 20 to 30 percent off the price of regular items and more than 50 percent off the price of older items (those that are more than two or three years old).

Aside from personal insights, additional information are courtesy of:

“Shopping in Korea,” Korea Tourism Organization: The Official Korea Tourism Guide Site.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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