|Preface Last Updated: 8/5/2005
Welcome to "The Land of the Morning Calm," a country with a
people obsessed with nature, and with mountains in particular.
Wherever you travel, you will see them out in the open air, clad in
the latest adventure fashions.
According to the Koreans, the first of their kin was born in 2333
B.C.E. Less aesthetically-minded scientists believe Korea was first
inhabited around 30,000 B.C.E., when tribes from central and
northern Asia migrated to the peninsula. Under constant pressure
from China, these tribes banded together to found a kingdom in the
1st century C.E. By 700 C.E. the Silla Kingdom of Korea was at its
cultural stride, proliferating the country with palaces, pagodas,
and pleasure gardens. But in the early 13th century, the Mongols
reached Korea and pursued a scorched-earth policy. When the Mongol
Empire collapsed, the Choson Dynasty succeeded, and a Korean script
In 1592 Japan invaded the country and was followed by China. The
Koreans were routed, and the Chinese Manchu Dynasty established
itself. Turning its back on a hostile world, Korea closed its doors
to outside influence until the early 20th century, when Japan
annexed the peninsula. The Japanese occupied Korea until the end of
World War II. After the war, the U.S. occupied the south of the
peninsula; the U.S.S.R. occupied the north. Elections to decide the
fate of the country were held only in the south, and when the south
declared its independence, the north invaded.
By the time the war ended, 2 million people had died, and the
country had been officially divided. After a few years of
semi-democracy in the south, martial law was declared in 1972. The
next 15 years rollercoastered between democracy and repressive
martial law, hitting a low in 1980, when 200 student protesters were
killed in the Kwangju massacre. By the late 1980s, the country was
at a flashpoint student protests were convulsing the country and
workers throughout Korea were walking off the job to join them.
Among the demands were democratic elections, freedom of the press,
and the release of political prisoners. The government did not budge
until President Chun suddenly decided to grant everything the
protesters asked for.
Korean society is based on the tenets of Confucianism, a system
of ethics developed in China around 500 B.C.E. Confucianism
emphasizes devotion and respect or parents, family, friends, and
those in positions of authority. Many Koreans attribute their
country's remarkable success in recent decades to this attitude. In
modern Korean society, Confucianism is most noticeable in relations
between people. The Five Relationships prescribe behavior between
ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, old and young,
and between friends. If you fall outside any of these relationships,
you do not effectively exist.
South Koreans have turned their hand to all artforms. Traditional
music is similar to that of Japan and China, with an emphasis on
strings. Traditional painting has strong Chinese and calligraphic
elements, with the brush line being the most important feature. Most
traditional sculpture is Buddhist, and includes statues and pagodas.
Seoul is also a showpiece of modern and traditional architecture,
including the city gates and the Chosun-era Kyongbok Palace.
The Republic of Korea represents a fascinating blend of the past
and present. The Korean people are proud of their long history and
unique cultural traditions, and they remain committed to preserving
their heritage into the next millennium.
Korea and its capital, Seoul, offer a wide range of both cultural
and recreational opportunities. By providing a lifestyle that
includes a combination of both the unique and familiar, Korea will
prove to be a fascinating place to live and work for anyone
considering an assignment here.
The Host Country
Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 8/5/2005 2:13 AM
Located on a peninsula squarely between China and Japan, Korea is
a mountainous and ruggedly beautiful land of diverse geographical
features. The Republic of Korea encompasses 34,247 square miles, or
an area roughly the size of the State of Indiana. Seas form three of
its boundaries: to the east is the East Sea; to the south, the
narrow Korean Straits, and to the west, the Yellow Sea. The
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) forms the northern boundary, separating the
Republic of Korea from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
The capital city of Seoul lies some 30 miles south of the DMZ. In
addition, there are the regional capitals for various provinces in
the country. There are also several important seaports in Korea.
Pusan, about 300 miles southeast of Seoul, is Korea's main seaport.
Inchon, about 40 miles west of Seoul, is the second most active
port. The cities of Pohang, Ulsan, and Chinhae are also key sites in
Korea's climate is marked by four very distinct seasons. The
winters are dry and cold, with snow usually appearing in January.
The advent of the cherry blossoms heralds spring season that can
also be somewhat unpredictable. A brief monsoon season and high
temperatures combine to make city life rather humid in the
summertime. Autumn is easily the best time of year in Korea, when
both the cities and the countryside benefit from clear skies and
vibrant fall foliage.
Only 19% of the country is flat enough to be arable, and that
land is farmed intensively. In addition, there has been a steady
shift away from the farm and into urban areas. Two-thirds of Korea's
population now live in its cities.
Population Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:39 AM
Korea is one of the world's most densely populated countries.
Government figures from 1999 estimate South Korea's population to be
46.8 million, and the city of Seoul's is figured to be more than 10
million. The average age of the population has increased slightly,
but the numbers who have first-hand memory of the Japanese
occupation or the Korean war continue to decline.
Since 1945, exposure to Western influences has increased
dramatically, bringing with it a corresponding evolution in
lifestyles, thought, and behavior. Western-influenced attitudes and
dress are now common throughout Seoul, but the traditional ideals
still hold considerable sway, particularly in the countryside.
Religious freedom is one of the tenets of Korean law. Buddhism
(23%) and Christianity (25%) show the most adherents. Others combine
practices from Confucianism and Shamanism in their faith.
The Korean language is very distinct from Chinese, but shares a
similar grammar and word order with Japanese. The Department of
State classifies Korean as a "super-hard language." Han-gul, the
phonetic alphabet, is used almost exclusively in all facets of daily
life, with occasional Chinese characters finding their way into
various publications. Although not a tonal language (such as Chinese
or Vietnamese), Korean relies heavily on the Confucian idea of rank
and status within society, using various forms of address,
expressions, and grammatical nuances to convey those ideas. However,
as with any language, a working knowledge of the Korean script and
basic phrases will certainly be ample for most residents.
In Korea, the first name is the family name, followed by a given
name. Married women continue to use their maiden names but add the
prefix "Mrs." Only when associating with Westerners will women
occasionally identify themselves by their husband's surname. Koreans
seldom address one another by their first names. It is very common
practice here to exchange business cards upon introduction.
Traditionally, Korean homes were built of brick or stone around a
courtyard, and had three to four bedrooms, a living room, and a
kitchen. Bedrooms had charcoal-heated floors called "ondol." Windows
were of glass, and sliding doors between rooms in the homes were
latticed frames of wood covered with rice paper. Today, very few can
claim to live in such housing. Most city dwellers live in high-rise
apartments or in homes of cement block with tile roofing.
Traditional Korean food consists primarily of rice, soups, and
the ubiquitous "kimchi," which is a mixture of pickled vegetables,
red pepper, and garlic. Grilled meats, such as barbecued beef and
ribs ("bulgogi" and "kalbi," respectively) are always popular. As
with most of Asia, rice figures prominently in the Korean diet, not
just as an essential part of one's meal, but also in traditional
drinks. It is used to make "makkoli" (a light rice wine) and "soju"
(a considerably stronger libation).
A Brief Political History. Throughout most of its history, Korea
has been invaded, influenced, and fought over by its larger
neighbors. To protect themselves from such buffeting, the Yi Dynasty
kings finally adopted a closed-door policy, which earned Korea the
title of the "Hermit Kingdom." Although the Yi kings showed nominal
fealty to the Chinese throne, Korea was, in fact, independent until
the onset of Japanese colonialism in the early 20th century. Japan
actually annexed Korea in 1910, beginning an era of almost total
control from Tokyo. This era was marked by an effort to replace the
Korean language and culture with those of Japan. Japanese colonial
rule continued until the end of World War II.
With the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, the peninsula
was divided along the 38th parallel. Soviet troops accepted the
surrender of the Japanese in the North, and U.S. troops accepted it
in the South. This division was cemented when the U.S.S.R. refused
to allow a U.N. Commission to enter the North and supervise free
elections. Thus, the Republic of Korea was established only in the
South. The U.S.S.R. established a separate government in the North,
the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.), headed by Kim
In June 1950, the D.P.R.K. launched a massive invasion of the
Republic of Korea, which was halted at the Naktong River near the
southeastern city of Pusan, and then reversed by the historic U.S.
Marine landing at Inchon that September. Three years of bloody
fighting followed, with massive numbers of troops from the People's
Republic of China aiding the North, and troops of 16 U.N. member
nations assisting the South. The truce signed on July 27, 1953
established a demilitarized zone along the 38th parallel.
A peace treaty has never been concluded. U.S. military forces
remain in the Republic of Korea today to help enforce the Armistice
and to deter aggression, pursuant to the Mutual Security Treaty
concluded between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea in 1954. While
an uneasy peace has been maintained on the peninsula since the
Armistice, large armed forces confront each other across the DMZ and
incidents continue to occur.
The Republic of Korea has had a stormy domestic political
history. After 1948, short interludes of instability punctuated
three long periods of authoritarian rule under Presidents Syngman
Rhee (1948-1960), Park Chung Hee (1961-1979), and Chun Doo Hwan
In 1987, a new constitution was drawn up in concert with all
political parties. In the December 1987 election, a split between
major opposition figures allowed Roh Tae-Woo of the Democratic
Justice Party (DJP) to become Korea's first directly elected
President since 1971, with just 36% of the vote. In the April 1988
legislative elections, the opposition parties together gained
control of the National Assembly for the first time. In January
1990, however, the ruling DJP and two of the opposition parties
merged to form the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP), which gained
control of more than two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly.
In December 1992, Kim Young-Sam, former leader of one of the
opposition parties that had merged to create the ruling DLP, was
elected as the first civilian president in three decades. In his
first year in office, President Kim implemented sweeping political
and economic reforms, which signified a fundamental policy break
from the previous administration, and which ended the political
careers of several key officials from that administration.
President Kim Dae-Jung's historic election in 1997 represented
the first time in Korean history that an opposition leader reached
the highest office in the land. An internationally recognized human
rights and democracy advocate, President Kim has made political and
economic reform, together with the promotion of democracy and human
rights, the watchwords of his Presidency. He has also reached out to
North Korea with his policy of engagement, and, thus far, progress
in expanding private-sector North-South contacts and cooperation has
been great. He has also successfully pursued summit diplomacy with
the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia, as well as other countries in
Public Institutions Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:41 AM
Under the constitution, the Government is divided into three
branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The President
administers the country with the assistance of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, whom he appoints. All provincial and local officials
are appointed and work under the administration of the Ministry of
Home Affairs. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court,
three appellate courts, three district courts, and one family court.
In addition, the military services have special courts.
The one-house National Assembly has 299 members. Three-quarters
of the Assembly members are elected from single-member districts,
while the others are chosen via a nationwide representative system.
Each party receives one proportional seat for every three seats won
in the election districts. The constitution provides for direct
presidential elections every 5 years and National Assembly elections
every 5 years.
Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:42 AM
Korea's 5,000 years of history have produced a rich and vibrant
artistic heritage. The handiwork seen, for example, in ceramics,
woodworking, architecture, needlework, and calligraphy showcases the
high level of craftsmanship evident here. Indeed, Korea has
designated several artisans as "Living National Treasures," to honor
their contributions to the arts and crafts of Korea, and to pass
their skills on to the next generation.
Museums and galleries located primarily in Seoul, but also
scattered throughout the country, display the works of the Koguryo,
Paekche, and Shilla Dynasties. These displays reflect the different
impacts of regional interests and conflicts.e.g., Chinese influence
during the Koguryo, Buddhist influence during the Shilla. Later on,
the Yi Dynasty (C.E. 1392-1910) illustrated the Confucian mores.
Traditional music in Korea is quite distinctive, and is used
primarily in religious rituals, combined with prayer and dance.
Concerts showcasing traditional court and temple music are quite
popular. The art of "Pan'sori," where a lone singer relates a story,
often lasting for up to 8 hours, is also unique to the region.
Traditional dance is usually court, temple dance, or folk
dancing, with highly stylized moves and musicals interpretations.
Again, festivals and performances highlighting these dances are
Korean research and development activities are centered in the
scores of research institutes located in Seoul and elsewhere. These
include the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
(KAIS), the Korea Institute of Industrial Economics and Technology
(KIET), the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), the
Agency for Defense Development (ADD), and the Korea Educational
Development Institute (KEDI).
Education at all levels is a highly emphasized facet of Korean
life. School children take their studies seriously, and there is
enormous pressure from the family and friends to succeed. Government
and private investment in education is heavy, particularly in
technical schools and colleges, both of which have expanded
exponentially in the last decades.
Numerous institutions of higher education were originally
established through missionaries' assistance: Ewha Women's
University (Methodist), Yon-sei University (interdenominational),
Soongjun University (Presbyterian), and Sogang University (Jesuit).
Of these, the most prestigious is Seoul National University (SNU).
These institutions introduced Western culture to Korea during the
early part of the 1900s, and many national leaders have since
received their education from them.
Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:42 AM
Korea is one of the largest of the U.S. trading partners, and,
currently, our sixth largest export market, surpassing those of
Australia, Brazil, China, France, and Italy. Imports to Korea are
returning to precrisis (1997) levels, with strong growth expected
throughout 2000. Concurrently, Korea also has been described as one
of the toughest markets in the world for doing business, a place
where firms must do their homework and take nothing for granted.
In response to the late-1997 economic crisis, the administration
is implementing structural reforms, especially in the financial and
corporate sectors aimed at putting the Korean economy on a more
open, market-oriented basis. With the rapid improvement in the
nation's economy, however, the pressure to press on with reform and
restructuring has abated somewhat.
Despite these challenges, there are many outstanding export
possibilities for U.S. goods and service providers, and new
opportunities continue to abound. For instance, Korea will be Asia's
third largest e-commerce market by 2002. Korea's e-commerce market
is forecast to grow to almost $10 billion by 2003, making Korea the
10th largest e-commerce market in the world. The number of Korean
Internet users is now estimated to be about 10 million more users
than exist in Australia, Taiwan, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, and
Spain, and rapidly gaining on Canada and the U.K. The Korean market
for U.S. nonmemory-integrated circuits and microassemblies continues
to expand. Korea imports more integrated circuits than it does gas
In sum, Korea is undergoing a fundamental and revolutionary
period of change. Although barriers remain, it is clear that Korea
is gradually evolving into a more competitive, more transparent,
more user-friendly business environment. U.S. exporters realize the
strategic importance of being active in this key market and
contribute to the vibrant commercial environment that is Korea.
Automobiles Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:45 AM
Although public transportation in Korea is generally quite good,
almost all employees import a vehicle or purchase one locally.
Embassy employees with diplomatic status including A & T staff can
import a personal car duty free at any time during their tour. They
may also purchase a second vehicle if accompanied by their spouses.
Prior restrictions on the value or model of vehicle that could be
imported into Korea have been lifted. Employees now can import the
vehicle of their choice as long as it is for the bona fide personal
use of the employee or family member. Given the narrow streets and
crowded traffic conditions here, small, maneuverable vehicles that
are easy to park are best. Employees having questions regarding the
appropriateness or ease of maintaining a particular model should
contact the Embassy's General Services Office (GSO).
Vehicles shipped to Korea should not be crated, and all-risk
maritime insurance is recommended. The Embassy arranges for the
pick-up of privately owned vehicles at the port of entry and for
delivery to the GSO compound pending registration and licensing.
However, the temporary vehicle plates may be issued after clearing
customs upon request by an owner. Before driving a vehicle, an
employee must have third-party, property damage, and liability
insurance, which can be purchased locally.
To obtain a local drivers license, a valid drivers license issued
elsewhere (U.S. or foreign) is needed. Otherwise, the local drivers
test, which is considered difficult, must be taken. A Korean license
is valid for 9 years & 3 months and is renewable. The fee for both
initial issuance and renewal fee is 5,000 won.
Traffic accidents in Korea are a serious problem. The Republic of
Korea has one of the world's highest traffic fatality rates per
number of cars on the road, well over 10 times the rates in the U.S.
and Japan. Pedestrian casualties are also high. There are many
streets with unmarked crosswalks, and many crosswalks that are
marked yet not observed by drivers. Pedestrians often exacerbate
traffic problems by jumping into the street to hail taxis.
Motorcycles make the situation even more hazardous, with a marked
tendency to drive wherever there happens to be room which can even
include the sidewalks.
Local Transportation Last Updated: 8/5/2005 2:18 AM
Official Transportation. Motor pool vehicles with drivers are
available for official travel. Additionally, new arrivals can
request official transportation for five trips, free of charge, to
help them with settling in. Departing personnel can also request
three official free rides.
Public transportation between Embassy housing on South Post and
the Chancery is available, but considered inadequate. Therefore,
there is a work shuttle bus service, provided to employees at cost.
Schedules follow regular work hours. Additionally, there is a
shuttle service between the Chancery and the GSO/Public Affairs
Local Bus Service. Local bus transportation in Seoul is
inexpensive (for example, W800-900 per ride on a city bus) and
offers an easy alternative for getting around town. However,
schedules per se are nonexistent and buses can be extremely crowded
during the rush hour. Routes are printed on the sides of buses-but
in Korean script. A basic knowledge of the local language will be a
great help in navigating your way around.
Subway. Seoul has a fast, safe, and inexpensive subway system,
which is easy to understand. Routes handle both major city stops and
areas well beyond the city boundaries. As with any large city, the
subway is crowded at rush hour.
Taxi Service. There are three types of taxi service available for
use by Embassy employees: local taxis and deluxe taxis are available
throughout the city, and taxis run by AAFES are available for use on
Local cabs are convenient and reasonably priced; all taxis are
metered so bargaining is not necessary. Tipping is also not
expected. Taxis can be hailed from anywhere on a street, although
there are some taxistands near the larger hotels. When hailing a
cab, beckon with your hand facing down. Cabbies will not pick up a
rider if they do not wish to go to that destination; they will also
be disinclined to pick up fares during their shift change (usually
late afternoon). Local cabs are allowed on the military bases only
to Embassy housing through Gate 52.
Deluxe cabs are clearly marked. Geared primarily for foreign
tourists, the meter starts at W3, 000, and the drivers are said to
have a grasp of Japanese and some English-language skills.
The Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) operates a fleet of
cabs that have access to military installations and housing areas.
Fees are metered, payable in dollars, and tipping is customary. The
price usually can be two to three times the amount charged by local
Regional Transportation Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:46 AM
Both highways and city streets are often heavily congested with
cars, taxis, and buses. Construction projects are continuous. There
are good roads from the airport into Seoul proper, and also to
points south and east.
Intercity bus transportation is available throughout Korea.
Modern, air-conditioned coaches provide inexpensive transportation
to major cities. Schedules are available at both the Seoul Express,
Dong Seoul Express, Sang Bong Express and Nam Bu Bus terminals.
The Government owns and operates the entire railway system and
continues its efforts to modernize and expand railroad facilities.
Korea has entered into the super high-speed train era with Korea
Train Express (KTX), operating at speed of 300 km per hour. The
well-developed system has first-class coaches available at
reasonable fares. There is train service to all major cities. Night
express trains have Pullman sleeper cars, and long-distance trains
have a dining car. Licensed vendors are authorized to come aboard to
Sea transport is essential to Korea because there are no open
land borders. Shipping services are well developed, and almost all
major foreign shipping lines regularly call at ports here. Usually,
these are cargo or cargo/passenger ships. The principal ports are
Pusan, on the southern tip of the peninsula, and Inchon, northwest
Many international airlines operate in Korea, and Korean carriers
(Asiana and Korean Airlines) fly domestic routes. The schedules are
convenient and the airfares are usually quite reasonable.
Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 8/5/2005 2:19 AM
The Republic of Korea has made great strides in both its
telephone and telecommunications services. Cellular phone service is
available with many carriers and options to choose from. A wide
variety of Internet services is available and prices are comparable
to those found in the U.S. Prepaid phone cards are available at all
AAFES concessions, and the price per minute back to the U.S. ranges
from 8 to 10 cents a minute. The Embassy also provides International
Voice Gateway that can be accessed from both the Embassy and your
home. Rates are based from Beltsville, Maryland, using your ATT,
MCI, or SPRINT card.
Telegram service is also available at post. International
telegrams should be addressed to the employee, American Embassy
Seoul. Personal telegrams received during office hours are delivered
to the mailroom and forwarded to the employee. After duty hours the
telegram is delivered to the Marine Guard on duty, who will contact
the employee by telephone. The Embassy also has several fax
machines, including one located in the mailroom; the number is
Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 8/5/2005 2:20 AM
Embassy Seoul relies almost exclusively on the military postal
service, which provide parcel and letter delivery between Korea and
the U.S. in 7-10 days. The mailing address for employees should be
noted as follows:
Employee Name American Embassy Unit #15550-Section APO AP
Pouch services are also available. The pouch address is:
Employee Name Department of State 9600 Seoul Place Washington,
Radio and TV Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:48 AM
Korean radio stations offer a wide variety of good musical
programs particularly classical on both AM and FM stations. In
addition to these local Korean channels, the Armed Forces Network
Korea (AFN-K) broadcasts news, music, sports, and some U.S. radio
programs. Voice of America programs and National Public Radio are
available as well. Some employees use shortwave radios to pick up
the BBC, CBC, Deutsche Welle, and others.
Cable TV, some with foreign programming, is widely available. The
four Korean television networks offer a variety of programming, with
a few either in English or with the benefit of subtitles for foreign
viewers. The AFN-K-TV transmits a choice of CNN newscasts and U.S.
television programs. The NTSC system is used in Korea, so a
U.S.-make television set can receive local broadcasts. Hong Kong's
Star TV Network is also available.
VCRs can be purchased and serviced at the military's Post
Exchange on base. In addition to the video shops run by the Post
Exchange, there are plenty of locally run video shops, which also
carry popular releases.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated:
8/5/2005 0:48 AM
The Korea Times and the Korea Herald are the two English-language
newspapers published in Seoul, with an obvious emphasis on Korean
news. The U.S. military newspaper, the Pacific Stars and Stripes, is
published daily in Japan and shipped to Seoul. All these
publications are available for home delivery/subscription. In
addition, the International Herald Tribune (Asia edition), and the
Financial Times are now printed locally. Asian Wall Street Journal,
and USA Today arrive a day late.
Most popular American magazines and recent paperback novels are
available at the post exchange. Osan Air Base, about a 1-hour drive
south of Seoul, also has a well-stocked bookstore.
The military libraries have good facilities, including reading
rooms with magazines and newspapers. They carry a comprehensive
assortment of technical journals and microfiche on numerous
subjects. The Foreign Commercial Service has a library section open
to the public, as does the Public Affairs Office.
In addition to these options, the Kyobo Building? block from the
Embassy as well known for its wide selection of English-language
titles. Although prices may be higher than in the U.S., the
selection is usually quite good.
Health and Medicine
Medical Facilities Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:49 AM
The main Health Unit is located on the fourth floor of the
Chancery. An American-licensed full-time nurse practitioner, a
registered nurse, staff the unit. The Health Unit provides basic
medical treatment and immunizations. Referrals are made for more
complex illnesses that require additional diagnostic procedures.
There is a satellite clinic in the Embassy housing area on South
Medically speaking, Korea is an advanced country. Hospitals are
usually well equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic and
therapeutic equipment. Many Korean physicians have trained and
practiced in the U.S. Direct-hire Embassy employees and their
dependents are authorized to use the U.S. military facilities, 121
General Hospital. That facility offers treatment for routine
illnesses and conditions. The fee schedule at the 121 General is
subject to change; be sure to check with post's Health Unit to get
the most updated prices. Specialized care is available at Korean
hospitals, as well.
High-quality dental care, both general and specialized, is
available in Seoul at costs comparable to those in the U.S.
U.S.-trained orthodontists are available.
Optical services, including American board-certified
opthamologists, are available at major university-affiliated
hospitals at reasonable costs. The military Post Exchange stocks a
wide selection of contact lens supplies. If special supplies are
required, however, it is best to bring them.
The Health Unit neither stocks nor distributes over-the-counter
medications. Prescribed medications for chronic conditions can be
procured through the mail-order programs of most health insurance
companies. The Health Unit can assist with this.
In general, specialized medical needs can be handled, but there
may be cultural differences that can affect overall satisfaction
with services. You may find Korean medical practices (bedside
manners) somewhat different from what you are accustomed to: be
prepared to discuss your medical needs and medical history. In
Korea, it is normally regarded as the patient's responsibility to
inform the doctor of any potential medical concerns. Don't wait
until you are asked; you may not be.
Korean doctors do not always volunteer information about their
diagnosis or treatment options. When asked, they are usually
reluctant to give the patient such information. The doctors and
medical facilities that we use, having considerable experience with
foreigners, tend to be more forthcoming.
Korean doctors rarely tell the patient the nature of the
medicines prescribed. The name of the medication, too, will most
likely not appear on the package. You may wish to ask your doctor
the name and type of medication he is prescribing before having the
prescription filled at the pharmacy; the pharmacist may simply refer
such questions to the doctor. In Korea there is no primary care
system; all doctors are specialists. Be prepared to pay, in cash, at
the completion of each visit.
Health and Medicine
Community Health Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:50 AM
Seoul has air pollution levels that are considered moderate by
U.S. standards. Hazardous levels are episodic and seasonal, not
continuous. Photochemical pollution or smog results from the action
of sunlight on motor vehicle exhaust producing ozone. This type of
pollution predominates in summer. In winter, particulate and sulfur
oxides, which result from coal-fired heating and industrial
processes, predominate. Overall levels of winter pollution have
decreased in Seoul by 50% in the last 5 years largely due to the
switch to natural gas for heating and in industry. However,
summertime smog has increased due to the increased number of
vehicles in Seoul.
Respiratory problems are the major cause of clinic visits. The
cold, dry winters are responsible for recurrent sinusitis,
bronchitis, otitis media, and pneumonia. The best protection against
these winter illnesses is humid air. Sturdy, cool-mist humidifiers
are the best way to replace the moisture in the air. Humidifiers are
available locally and in the Post Exchange. Employees would be well
advised to purchase a unit for each bedroom before departing the
Food sanitation is not always up to U.S. standards. The food
service facilities on military installations are inspected regularly
and comply with U.S. requirements. Using off post restaurants needs
some precaution. Locally purchased fruits, meats, vegetables need
extra cleaning to be on the safe side.
Water on U.S.-owned property is potable. Water in the Yongsan
Embassy Housing contains added fluorides at adequate levels. Water
on Compounds One and Two do not contain fluoride and children under
age 13 residing in these areas should take fluoride supplements. The
Health Unit stocks fluoride drops and dispenses them on request.
Health and Medicine
Preventive Measures Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:50 AM
Gastrointestinal illnesses are not generally a problem, but the
incidence of Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and tuberculosis is rising.
Anyone traveling to other parts of East Asia (e.g., China and
Thailand), should get two series of Hepatitis A and three series of
Hepatitis B vaccinations as they are prevalent in those regions. All
American employees, dependents, and household help should be checked
annually for TB status. The Health Unit also provides influenza
vaccinations every October.
The regional medical officer makes regularly scheduled visits
from Manila. The regional medical officer/psychiatrist from Japan
also schedules regular visits.
Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:50
The Korean Government allows special permission for spouses of
U.S. diplomats to work for Korean employers. Foreign firms hire
spouses who have appropriate business qualifications. Teaching
English as a second language to businesses and private citizens can
be a lucrative option as well; contact the CLO for the most recent
American Embassy - Seoul
Post City Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:51 AM
Seoul has a population of more than 10 million people. It is
located in the northwest part of the Republic, about 30 miles south
of the DMZ, which separates North and South Korea.
The name derives from "Sorabol," the capital of the Shilla
Kingdom. Seoul was established as the capital in 1392 by the first
emperor of the Yi Dynasty. At that time, Seoul was surrounded
entirely by the four hills that now simply form the boundaries of
the downtown area. Today, the urbanized area extends well beyond
those boundaries. The Han River flows through the southern part of
the city and into the Yellow Sea.
As mentioned earlier, Seoul is the repository for Korea's history
and culture. Part of the city's charm is the juxtaposition of
traditional characteristics with modern life. For example, three of
the major palaces in the city, Kyongbok, Changdok, and Toksu are all
located in downtown Seoul within walking distance of the Embassy and
the Compounds I residential areas. A walk in almost any city
neighborhood will reveal not only concrete, high-rise apartments,
but also small parks and traditional homes. Shops range from those
high-dollar establishments catering to the expatriate community, to
local "mom and pop" stores and streetside vendors peddling
Seoul was a major casualty of the Korean war, with 80% of the
city razed. Since that time, modern buildings have sprung up
everywhere, and factories and industrial areas have mushroomed
throughout the city and beyond. Hosting the 1986 Asian Games and the
1988 Summer Olympic Games boosted Seoul's image as a major venue for
international conferences (hotels, tourist services, etc.). Seoul
now looks forward to cohosting the APEC in 2005.
The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:52 AM
The U.S. Mission in Korea is housed in the chancery located in
downtown Seoul. The building, originally part of the AID mission in
Korea during the 1960s, has eight stories, limited parking, and sits
squarely on one of the city's major thoroughfares, Sejong-Ro. GSO
and Public Affairs have separate offices, located nearby on the
Yongsan military base in favorable traffic, about a 15-minute drive
from the Chancery.
The U.S. Ambassador is the ranking U.S. civilian official in the
Republic of Korea, and the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) is second
in command. Administrative, Consular, Political, Economic, and
Public Affairs Sections, each of which is headed by an officer of
minister-counselor rank, represent the State Department. Other
agencies at post include the IDepartment of Homeland Security's
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA), the Department of Homeland Security's U.S.
Customs Service (CUST), the Defense Attach?' Office (DAO), Foreign
Agricultural Service (FAS), Foreign Commercial Service (FCS),
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Foreign Broadcast
Information Service (FBIS). State's administrative section provides
all administrative services to these agencies as well.
A large Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG-K) is
assigned to the Embassy. A colonel or other 0-6 level officer, who
reports to the Ambassador, commands the unit. This program is
designed to assist Korea's armed forces to maintain a modern,
Although not under Embassy auspices, the U.S. military presence
in-country certainly warrants mention. Some 37,000 troops are
stationed throughout Korea. The headquarters for U.S. Forces Korea
(USFK) is in Seoul and is commanded by a U.S. Army Four-Star
General. That officer's responsibilities also include acting as the
commander in chief, United Nations Command (CINC/UNC), and commander
in chief, Combined Forces Command (CINC/CFC). A U.S.-R.O.K. Status
of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed in Seoul in 1966 went into effect
in 1967. That agreement established conditions for troops stationed
in Korea and for DOD civilians.
Embassy Seoul's working hours are 0830 to 1700, Monday through
Friday. The phone number for the Embassy operator is (82) (2)
Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:53 AM
Post makes every effort to move newly arrived employees directly
to their permanent housing. If necessary, temporary quarters are
authorized. Official temporary duty travelers are usually booked in
hotels, most of which are within walking distance or short cab rides
to the Embassy.
Permanent Housing Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:53 AM
The Embassy Housing Board makes housing assignments with the
assistance of the General Services Office and in accordance with
established policy. There are very few designated quarters, so
specific housing cannot be promised to incoming personnel. As with
any assignment, quarters are based on rank and family size.
Post will provide a Welcome Kit, free of charge, for your use
until household effects arrive. It contains basic linens and
kitchenware; cribs are also available upon request.
The Ambassador's residence, a five-bedroom home blending Korean
and Western architectural design concepts, is located on Compound I.
The house has separate living and dining areas for family, as well
as spacious entertaining areas. The grounds include a swimming pool
and clay tennis court, and the historic Legation House, that serves
as a guest house. The remainder of the compound is being redeveloped
as the site of the planned new chancery building and high-rise
apartment housing units.
All Embassy personnel live in south post or in leased apartments.
South Post: This is an Embassy housing area post of the military
base at Yongsan. Most Embassy staff live here, taking advantage of
proximity to the DODDS schools and various community support
services. Homes here are vintage 1950s cinderblock, ranch-style
duplexes, with two to five bedrooms. They include living/dining
room, kitchen, two baths, small utility room, family room, breakfast
nook, storage area, fireplace, and lawn. Some of the yards are
Furnishings Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:54 AM
All housing is furnished, to include dishwashers, electric range,
refrigerators, microwaves, and washer/dryers. Additionally, lamps;
carpeting; vacuum cleaner; twin; double-and queen-sized beds are
provided. Baby cribs can be issued on a 90-day loan. Those homes
with fireplaces are equipped with firescreens and tools. Power
mowers are provided for those with lawns. Employees are responsible
for maintaining their lawn areas.
Household effects (HHE) shipments should include any items that
may make your stay in Korea most comfortable. Storage space is at a
premium. Embassy issued furniture will not be taken back to make
room for personal furniture. Additionally, a tour in Seoul finds
many employees adding significantly to their weight allowance.
Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:54 AM
Many residences have small fireplaces; occupants are responsible
for providing maintenance and, of course, their own firewood.
Touch-tone telephones are installed in each residence.
Houses on the South Post compound are wired for 110/120 volts, 60
cycles. Those assigned to off post lease units outside will find
them wired for 220V 60c and may require transformers. Electricity is
reliable, so regulators are not a requirement.
Food Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:55 AM
All employees purchase food and sundries from the military
commissary on Yongsan Army Base. This commissary is the largest of
its kind stocks items found in American supermarkets, including
fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen foods, meats, dairy products,
and various canned and packaged goods. Embassy employees are issued
ration control cards upon arrival in order to have access to the
commissary. Most staff find the monthly dollar and quantity limits
Local markets provide an alternative to grocery shopping. Large
supermarkets, usually located in the basement level of major
department stores, have a wide selection of local produce and meats,
as well as imported items the latter being quite expensive.
Residents also have a choice of patronizing the high-end
delicatessens and foreigner's shops, which offer a wide array of
items. Neighborhood vendors will be less expensive, but their
standards of handling and cleanliness may not meet U.S. standards.
Although there have been no reports of serious illness from eating
locally purchased produce, it is always wise to carefully clean all
fruits and vegetables, and to handle meats/poultry/fish with
appropriate care and common sense.
Liquor is readily available in Korea. Most Mission staff purchase
beers, wines, and hard liquors through the military's Class VI
store, which is located on Yongsan Military Base. Alcohol sales
purchased through the military are rationed; most staff find the
limits to be quite generous. Alternatively, liquor can be purchased
from a variety of establishments throughout the city. Korea's local
beer (OB and Crown) is reasonably good. Imported wines are available
at various delicatessens and shops throughout the city; expect to
pay an extraordinarily high price, however.
Clothing Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:56 AM
In addition to dressing for a relatively conservative
environment, employees should come prepared for the four very
distinct seasons that Korea offers: from hot, humid summers to cold,
dry winters. Fortunately, Korea exports a wide array of clothing
items. It is easy to supplement a wardrobe here: from purchases at
the military's Post Exchange, mail-order catalogs, local
tailoring/dressmaking, and the local markets. Many American/European
designer names can be located in the markets of Seoul (Itaewon,
Namdae-mun, Tongdae-mun). These items are usually "seconds,"
however, and you need to be on the look-out for glaring flaws.
Larger sizes (be it with clothing or shoes) can be difficult to
find, although there are plenty of tailors and shoemakers in Itaewon
who can happily create whatever designs you have in mind. Items that
are easy to find are: wool and acrylic sweaters, knit shirts,
leather goods, sport shoes, raincoats, jackets, parkas.
Men Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:56 AM
Dark suits are appropriate for summer and winter wear. A
conservative business suit is acceptable for most official
receptions, as well as cocktail or dinner parties throughout the
year. Formal clothing is rarely necessary. Those with definite
preferences or who are hard to fit should bring a good supply or
arrange to receive mail-order catalogs to replenish their wardrobes
as necessary. Many have suits and shirts made on the local economy;
service and standards are usually high, and prices are exceptionally
reasonable. The Post Exchange on the base also carries name-brand
men's wear, although the selections may be somewhat limited.
Women Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:57 AM
Women in Seoul dress more conservatively than they do in the U.S.
In deference to local customs, American women usually wear clothing
that is not conspicuously bare although attitudes toward fashion
styles are changing, showing too much skin is still considered
uncouth. As with men's clothing, the Post Exchange does provide a
good, basic supply of lingerie, stockings, and clothing, but you can
also enjoy the experience of shopping in the local markets. Modern
styles and attractive clothing are readily available and reasonably
priced. Availability, however, will depend on what local factories
are producing at that time. Larger sizes can also pose a challenge.
In response to that, there are good seamstresses available, and many
employees have had clothes made. As always, mail-order catalogs are
a big help
Children Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:58 AM
Various kinds of children's clothing are available at local
markets and are reasonably priced. However, some parents find
shopping for infants and pre-teens difficult. Most use mail-order
catalogs to replenish certain items, although the Post Exchange does
carry a reasonable selection of children's clothing and shoes.
Shopping for teenagers will not pose any problems stylish brand-name
items made for export are readily available and at good prices.
Supplies and Services Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:58 AM
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) offers a sizable
number of services to both the military and the Embassy staff, to
include the Post Exchange, drycleaning/tailoring services, garden
store, furniture store, cafeteria, mail order service from the AAFES
catalog, flowershop, wrap & pack, and other concessions. Most staff
use the Post Exchange at Yongsan for basic supplies and services.
The "PX" carries a wide variety of merchandise, to include
toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, housewares, linens, bedding,
appliances, cameras, CDs, etc. In many ways, the PX is comparable to
a Wal-Mart or K-Mart store in the U.S.
The Seoul American Officers' Wives' Club runs the Chosun Gift
Shop, which is also on the base. Although with limited hours, it
offers a fair range of handicrafts representative of the Asian
region, to include knickknacks, jewelry, china, carpets,
furnishings, and wicker.
Both the military and AAFES run beauty and barbershops, which
provide the standard range of services at good prices. There are
numerous beauty shops and barbershops on the local economy as well.
However, the latter establishments may not have a staff fluent in
English; bring a friend to help out, at least initially.
AAFES and the military have garage/auto maintenance services, but
the quality of work is not always satisfactory.
Supplies and Services
Domestic Help Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:59 AM
The days of inexpensive domestic help are long gone, and although
many staff hire at least one maid, others have entirely foregone
that option. Most domestic help are not Korean, but rather hail from
the Philippines, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. If an employee is
interested in having a maid, either full or part time, it is wise to
start looking early—notify the sponsor ahead of time. For the most
recent information about job descriptions, current salaries, and
legal ramifications, contact the Community Liaison Office.
Religious Activities Last Updated: 8/5/2005 0:59 AM
Yongsan Military Base has services for the following faiths:
Protestant, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, and
non-denominational. Roman Catholic Mass is also offered in Spanish.
American and European missionaries, as well as military chaplains,
can provide religious services and Sunday School services.
Seoul has several churches throughout the city, some of which
provide English-language services. There is a Mosque near Itaewon
market. Other faiths represented are: Seoul Union Church
(interdenominational), the International Union Church of Seoul, and
the Seoul Memorial Baptist Church. In addition, services are
available for the Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Christian Science,
Seventh-day Adventist, Latter-Day Saints/Mormons, Catholic and
Contact the Community Liaison Office for more information on
services and locations.
Education Last Updated: 4/23/2004 3:28 AM
Embassy dependents attend several schools in Seoul. Information
on those institutions used most frequently is noted below. Please
note that several of the following schools do not offer guaranteed
enrollment to Embassy dependents, so applying early is essential.
Information on other educational options is available from the CLO.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DEPENDENT SCHOOLS (DoDDS):
The Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS): It is
located on Yongsan, where the majority of Embassy families live.
DoDDS has both an elementary and middle/high school. Mission
families have automatic eligibility to enroll their children; there
are no waiting lists and no additional school fees. About 80% of
Embassy children currently attend DoDDs. The DoDDS schools on the
U.S. Military Base has Seoul American Elementary School, Seoul
American Middle School, and Seoul American High School. First day of
school usually starts on or about August 30th. Usually orientation
for new students is planned a week before school starts.
Enrollment procedures for these schools will start after your
arrival at Post; early registration is not allowed. However, it is
advisable to contact the school in advance to inform them you wish
to enroll your children, giving ages and grades. To register the
children, you need to appear in person at the school registration
office located in Army Community Service Building #121 on South
Post. Your Travel Orders and the shot records for your children are
required for registration. In case of the registration of
kindergarten or first grade children, either the child¡¯s passport
or birth certificate is also required.
Seoul American Elementary School (SAES): The elementary school
program covers kindergarten to grade five. Children must be 5 years
old by October 31st of the school year to enroll. SAES follows the
U.S. curriculum but has many extracurricular activities. Enrollment
is 1,111 students. Unlike many of the private schools in Seoul, it
offers an extensive educational, physical, and behavioral specialist
program. There is also a talented/gifted program. Afterschool care
is available through the School Age Services (SAS) program.
SAES does not have a preschool for younger children but DoDDs
does offer preschool for those with special needs. Surestart is
similar to the Headstart program, and is available to children aged
4 years or entering kindergarten. It helps with concentration or
social problems, and for children who may require ESL (English as a
Second Language). There is also a DoDDs preschool handicapped
program for children 3-4 years old.
For more information contact:
Seoul Elementary School
Department of Defense Dependents Schools
Unit 15549, APO AP 96205-0005
Tel: 82 2 7916 4378/4613
Fax: 82 2 7916 4606
Website: www.odedodea.edu or
Seoul American Middle School (SAMS): The middle school program
covers students in grades six through eight. The enrollments is
approximately 580. The school follows the U.S. curriculum and offers
a variety of extracurricular activities.
For more information contact:
Seoul American Middle School
Department of Defense Dependents Schools
Unit 15549 APO AP 96205-0005
Tel: 82 2 7916 5087
Fax: 82 2 7916 7349
Website: www.odedodea.edu or
Seoul American High School (SAHS): The high school program covers
grades 9-12. Enrollment is approximately 672. The school follows the
U.S. curriculum and offers a variety of extracurricular activities.
Approximately 80% of graduates pursue higher education. There are
programs available for students with special needs.
For more information contact:
Seoul American High School
Department of Defense Dependents Schools
Unit 15549 APO AP 96205-0005
Tel: 82 2 797-3667/3666
Fax: 82 2 7918 8822
Website: www.odedodea.edu or
Seoul Foreign School. Most Embassy children who do not attend
DoDDS attend Seoul Foreign School. The school is located northwest
of the Embassy, approximately 45 minutes by schoolbus from Embassy
housing. The campus consists of two elementary schools (one American
and one British), a middle school and a high school. SFS American
elementary school provides program for children from Junior-K
through grade 5. Children must be 4 years old by September 30 in
order to enroll in the half-day JK program. All other programs are
full day. SFS British elementary school follows the British system
and accepts children from 3 to 12; it works closely with SFS middle
school and children can automatically transfer. SFS Middle and High
Schools follow the U.S. curriculum and offer a wide range of
programs and activities-SFS has its own pool and auditorium. The
high school also offers the international baccalaureate. SFS has
extremely high academic standards and caters to high achievers. It
does not offer programs with special needs. The school is very
popular with the international community and should be contacted as
soon as possible to secure a place. Currently, parents are out of
pocket $1,000 per year for tuition and transportation. In addition,
for new students there are application and registration fees
totaling USD 500, which are due at the time of application.
In order to apply for admission:
Complete application forms (*)
Provide documents listed on Application Process Checklist (*)
Submit Application Fee (*)
(*) You can download the forms and information from school
admission office website.
The school will not be able to consider your child's application
until they have received all of the listed documents and fees. You
can fax all the documents and mail checks to Admission Office. If
you have more questions regarding application, please feel free to
send emails to school Admission Office at email@example.com.
For more information please contact:
Seoul Foreign School
55 Yonhi-dong, Seoul, Korea 120-113
Tel: 82 2 330 3100
Fax: 82 2 335 1857
British School can be contacted at the same address
Seoul International School (SIS). Post currently has no children
attending Seoul International School. SIS provides programs from
kindergarten through grade 12. JK students must turn 4 by December
31 of the school year. The campus is located about 40 minutes to one
hour's drive from Yongsan base, depending on traffic. SIS follows
the U.S. curriculum and offers a wide range of programs and
activities, however, it does not provide programs for children with
special needs. The school also has a large ESL (English as a Second
Language) department catering to children who do not speak English
as their native language.
For more information please contact:
Seoul International School
Songpa, PO Box 47
Seoul, Korea 138-600
Tel: 82 2 2233 4551/4552
Fax: 82 2 759 5133
Nursery Schools and Child Care. There are a few good preschools
in Seoul, using both Montessori and social learning concepts. You
can get recommendations from the parents of preschoolers and CLO
will also be able to supply information in advance if needed. We
have listed a couple of the programs below. Please contact CLO for
information on others.
OTHER EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES ON YONGSAN:
Mustard Seed Christian Pre-School. This is a South Post Chapel
Program. Register as soon as possible, as the spaces for this school
fill quickly. Check for current information.
Child Development Center. This is a new facility at Yongsan South
Post, near Embassy housing. These facilities provide full-day and
hourly-care programs for children ages 6 weeks through 5 years. The
center can handle about 180 children and includes seven classrooms
for different age groups and a nursery with cribs for 16 infants.
The center's kitchen will prepare meals for children who are
enrolled there. Graduated fee schedules for daily care are based on
family income, which incorporates both rank and family financial
circumstances in determining a family's ability to pay for
childcare. Each family's costs are determined at the time of
registration. All tuition and fee costs are paid at the center where
the child is enrolled.
Special Needs Education Last Updated: 8/5/2005 2:24 AM
NOTE: CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Unfortunately, there are very limited facilities and teachers
available for children with special educational needs. Parents who
have children in this category, and who are interested in bidding or
have been paneled for an assignment to Seoul, must contact and send
an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to the Embassy Health Unit as
early as possible before arrival at Post. The Health Unit will
coordinate review of the IEP with the appropriate school(s) to
determine availability of resources and school acceptance of the
child(s). Health Unit Nurse Catherine Kim's e-mail address is
firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 82 (2) 397-4140/4347, FAX: 82 (2) 397-4566.
We understand and are fully supportive of the educational needs of
all children at Post. However, to avoid complications of families
arriving at Post without fully confirming adequate educational
facilities for children with special needs before arrival in Seoul
could result in non-acceptance of the child.
Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:01 AM
A multitude of educational opportunities is available at post for
spouses and dependents. Many take advantage of the opportunity to
complete undergraduate or graduate degrees, as well as to learn
There are several avenues of educational opportunities available
through the military base. The University of Maryland and Central
Texas College offer undergraduate level programs. For example, the
University of Maryland offers courses in Asian Studies, Business,
Computer Studies, English, Govern-ment/Politics, History, Management
Studies, Psychology, Sociology, and Technical Management.
Alternatively, the Central Texas College offers Associate Degrees in
Applied Management, Automobile Maintenance, Business Management,
Computer Science, Food Service, Hotel/Motel Management, Law
Enforcement, MicroComputer Techno-logy, and Office Management.
Additionally, Troy State University offers graduate degree
programs. In general, the school year for these institutions is
divided into five 8-week semesters, with classes meeting 2 nights
weekly for 3 hours.
The Moyer Recreation Center is a U.S.-military facility that
offers classes in arts and crafts. Power tools and photography
supplies/equipment are also available for personal projects. Check
the military newsletters for scheduling.
Recreation and Social Life
Sports Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:02 AM
Koreans are sports enthusiasts, and nearly all participate in
some form of athletics, including golf, tennis, skiing, hiking, and
mountain climbing. Korean spectator sports include soccer, baseball,
tennis, and hockey. Foreigners are welcome to attend the competitive
sports events held at Seoul City Stadium. In season, the Seoul
gymnasium has boxing, wrestling, basketball, or volleyball events.
The Eighth U.S. Army sponsors competitive leagues, including
football, softball, volleyball, and basketball composed of units
stationed at various camps in Korea and with those from the region.
The Embassy softball team regularly competes in the military league.
"T" ball and Little League baseball teams are organized during
the spring and summer months for military and Embassy children. In
addition, the military recreation program offers football, soccer,
basketball, bowling, swimming, softball, and cheerleading during
appropriate seasons. The base has a weightroom, basketball court,
and squash, raquetball, and handball courts. Embassy personnel often
gather on weekends at South Post or Compound II to play volleyball.
Golf is extremely popular among Koreans. New golf courses are
plentiful, and several are located a short distance outside the
city. They are attractive and challenging, but quite expensive.
The base has a 32-lane bowling alley where equipment may be
rented or purchased. Many Embassy personnel participate in a
diplomatic bowling league, which uses the Yongsan facilities.
The base has 10 outdoor tennis courts and the South Post Embassy
housing area also has a court. Compound II has an indoor court that
can be used year round. All courts are equipped with lights for
night tennis. Tennis equipment can be purchased locally or at the
The base has two outdoor swimming pools that are open during the
summer (Memorial Day through Labor Day). There is also an indoor
pool that is open year round. Lifeguards are on duty, and pools are
checked regularly. There is a spring and summer swim program for
children. Red Cross swimming classes are held each summer for all
age groups. The PX has a small supply of swimsuits for adults and
children. Bathing suits and bathing caps are also available locally.
Ice-skating is available all through the year at an indoor rink
in Seoul. It is best to bring your own skates. Korean hockey,
figure, and racing skates are available, but they are not of the
best quality and often do not fit American feet.
Skiing is a popular sport in Korea. Many Embassy families ski on
a regular basis from January-March. There are several resorts within
a 3-4-hour drive of Seoul. Weekend trips are arranged regularly
through the USO and the Tour and Travel Center on base. However,
many families drive themselves. Since natural snowfall near Seoul is
unreliable, the closer ski resorts rely on man-made snow, enabling
them to operate effectively for the whole season. All areas operate
poma lifts and chair lifts, which are kept in good condition. Ski
equipment rentals are available from the Collier Field House on
South Post. It can also be rented at local resorts, although it will
be expensive. Avid skiers may wish to bring their own equipment. It
is possible to purchase equipment here, but the selection may be
limited and expensive. A good selection of ski clothes can be made
or purchased to order at the local markets, e.g., Itaewon. Ski
helmets are not readily available in Seoul skiers are advised to
bring their own.
Courses in the traditional Korean martial arts of Tae Kwon Do and
Hap Ki Do are readily available. Classes are usually offered through
the Yongsan Military Base and the DoDDS physical education program.
Hiking around Seoul is popular for Seoul-ites, especially in the
spring and fall. The mountains and hills near the capital offer
relatively easy climbs and good photo opportunities.
Recreation and Social Life
Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:03 AM
Korea has a rich, varied culture. As mentioned earlier, there are
palaces, parks, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout
Seoul. Beyond the cities' limits, regional capitals host exhibits
and festivals, and offer even more opportunities for the adventurous
Families with small children will be interested in the amusement
parks and similar facilities geared for younger interests. Lotte
World is a huge indoor amusement/shopping complex, and a zoo is
located at Seoul Grand Park, located at the southern edge from the
city. Everland is a family entertainment area with a modern theme
park, zoo, outdoor and indoor water parks and winter sledding about
an hour's drive from downtown Seoul. Near the provincial capital of
Suwon tourist destination in its own rights the highly popular
Korean Folk Village. At the Folk Village, traditional dress,
buildings, and folk traditions are recreated, making a pleasant
There are other travel options on the peninsula. For example, the
southern city of Kyoungju, is noted worldwide for its historical
importance as the capital of the Shilla Dynasty. Cheju Island, 60
miles off the south coast, offers waterfalls and fishing villages,
as well as being a popular honeymoon choice for Korean newlyweds.
For the mountain climber, the east coast of Korea offers a myriad of
opportunities, most notable of which is Mount Sorak.
Recreation and Social Life
Entertainment Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:03 AM
Seoul offers a wide range of choices for entertainment, from the
very expensive, black-tie event to much more reasonable options.
Plays, operas, ballet, and orchestral performances are held
frequently throughout the year, and at venues around the city. Local
artists, as well as "big-name" international artists, perform in
Seoul. The National Theater, Sejong Cultural Center, and Seoul Arts
Center and the LG Arts Center produce regular programs and schedules
of their offerings, as well as ticket prices. Popular movies find
their way to the local Korean theaters. First-run American movies
are shown with Korean subtitles. The theaters are clean and quite
modern, and prices for shows are commensurate with U.S. prices, if
not a little less expensive. In addition, the military base at
Yongsan has one movie theater, which shows American movies and often
There are ample avenues for the thespian in the family; the
Yongsan Players is an active amateur theater group sponsored by the
military. The Yongsan Chamber Music Society, which has Korean and
American professional and amateur members, gives concerts.
Shutterbugs will find many fascinating photo opportunities in Korea,
and the PX (either through the Exchange facility or its catalog) has
plenty of equipment and specialized film. The military's Moyer
Recreation Center has facilities for developing black-and-white
film. Seoul offers countless restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops, to
suit everyone's taste and pocketbook. There are some publications
that detail some of the more prominent establishments (see
Recommended Reading); they provide a good "jumping off point" for
exploring the city.
Recreation and Social Life
Social Activities Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:04 AM
Social life in Seoul can be quite active for Mission personnel.
Since the majority of staff and proximity of services are located on
South Post, there tend to be many informal gatherings there. In
addition, there are the more formal receptions, cocktail parties,
and dinners. The American Women's Club is active in Seoul, drawing
from both the military and Embassy communities, as does the Seoul
International Women's Association (SIWA). The United Services
Organization (USO) and American Red Cross (ARC) also offer volunteer
opportunities. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and a new Teen Center for
older children offers a variety of family options. Supervised
gatherings include barbecues, picnics, swimming, local tours,
theater parties, and other activities.
Koreans generally enjoy socializing with Americans. Please refer
to Recommended Reading for books that deal with some of the cultural
nuances of entertaining, gift giving, etc. In addition to the
massive U.S. military presence in Korea, there is likewise a huge
expatriate community of third-country diplomats and businesspeople.
Finding venues to meet these groups can be a challenge, but well
worth the effort in getting different points of view about life on
Official Functions Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:04 AM
Social functions in Seoul are similar to those in the U.S.,
except that a great many of the invitations are for the employee
only. Protocol followed by the Korean Government approximates that
of the U.S. Government. Senior Foreign Service officers and their
spouses can expect invitations to official functions given by the
ROK Government and by other diplomatic missions in Seoul. "Hail &
Farewell" receptions are held periodically for Embassy personnel and
Special Information Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:06 AM
Department of Defense (DOD) Personnel. The Defense Attache Office
is located in the Chancery. DAO personnel live in Embassy housing
areas and have access to the same services as Embassy personnel.
They are, however, limited to the DoDDS school for dependent
education. The Defense Attache has a dedicated five-bedroom house on
South Post with two and a half baths, living room, dining room,
kitchen, and servants quarters with bath/shower. All other DAO
personnel are in the Embassy housing pool (See housing). All DAO
personnel assigned to Seoul are limited to the household goods
weight allowance prescribed by their respective service, grade, and
rank, unless orders designate otherwise. See "Notes for Travelers"
regarding the shipment of household effects (HHE).
Because of the large U.S. military presence in Korea and the
frequency of official functions and contacts, attaches here wear
their uniforms more frequently than at other stations. Fatigue or
other appropriate field uniform usually is worn when performing
fieldwork, and the appropriate dress uniform is required during
official visits and social functions. Most types of military
uniforms can be purchased at the military clothing sales store on
base. Minimum uniform requirements are set forth in parent service
regulations. Staff personnel wear civilian clothing most of the
time. However, minimum uniform requirements as prescribed in service
regulations must be on hand for possible use.
Mail should be addressed as follows:
(Name) USDAO American Embassy Seoul Unit 15550 APO AP 96205-0001
Post Orientation Program
Upon arrival in Seoul, your sponsor will escort you to the Human
Resources Office, where you will receive a check-in sheet. This
document details the various steps a new arrival should take to
fully in-process; it includes registering with the Health Unit, the
Financial Management Center, Communications, and the like.
Post periodically conducts an orientation program for new staff,
their spouses, and adult family members. The program attempts to
cover a wide variety of topics, with speakers from the expatriate
community and Mission slated to discuss Korean-American political
and economic relations, the objectives/organization of Embassy
Seoul, and cultural differences.
Embassy Seoul does run a Korean-language program for employees,
and, if space permits, dependents. Additionally, the University of
Maryland holds courses in Korean language and Asian studies. The
United Services Organization (USO), the Korean American Friendship
Association (KAFA), and the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) offer
opportunities to learn more about the host nation.
Notes For Travelers
Getting to the Post Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:08 AM
United Airlines and Northwest Airlines are the American carriers
that offer regular flights between the U.S. and Seoul. In notifying
the Embassy of your arrival date, be sure to consider the
international dateline Seoul is normally14 hours ahead of
Washington, D.C. (Eastern Standard Time).
Employees will be met at Incheon International Airport and
assisted through customs and immigration by a sponsor. Processing is
usually fairly quick and hassle-free. Post will provide official
transportation from the airport to new quarters.
As with any assignment, bring personal documents, medications,
and jewelry in your carry-on baggage. Checked baggage should include
clothing and personal effects. Unaccompanied air baggage (UAB)
shipments generally take 2 weeks from the U.S. This should include
any household items or personal touches to supplement the post's
Welcome Kit. Household effects (HHE) and vehicle shipments can take
up to 45 days.
Mark airfreight, household effects, and car shipments as follows:
Full Name (no initials) American Embassy Seoul, Korea
Airfreight clearance can be expedited if you send a copy of the
airway bill to the
American Embassy Attention: GSO/Shipping Unit. Fax: 82-2-796-0516
Airfreight is delivered as soon as possible upon receipt, or kept
in a secure area if necessary.
Consign household effects and car shipments via the Port of
Busan, Korea. If this is not possible, consign shipments via the
Port of Inchon, Korea, mark baggage as follows:
FOR: American Embassy Seoul, Korea M/F: Name of owner.
Pack HHE in standard-sized steelbanded vans of sturdy plywood.
Interiors of vans should be waterproofed to prevent damage,
especially during the rainy season. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Trade requires that a declaration of contents, such as the HHE
packing list, be attached to documents submitted for obtaining
customs exemption, which usually requires at least 10 working days.
Therefore, send the bill of lading and packing list to post as soon
as possible for advance clearance.
As for your vehicle, all removable car accessories should be
packed separately, sealed, and placed in the trunk. These items
should be listed on the ocean bill of lading to facilitate claim
action in case of loss. Put antifreeze in the car for year-round
use, especially if it will arrive during the winter months
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Customs and Duties Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:09 AM
All diplomatic personnel are afforded free-entry privileges for
their entire tour for accompanied baggage, unaccompanied airfreight,
and household effects. Staff personnel have these privileges only
during the first 6 months of their tour. Although not normally
subject to baggage inspection, there have been instances where
diplomatic passport holders have had carry-on bags searched. If an
item is not permitted through customs, it is placed in bond. You
will be given a receipt to present to the General Services Office,
which will arrange customs clearance. No limit is placed on the
amount of foreign currency you can bring into Korea, provided you
declare it. Currency exchange facilities for American currency or
travelers checks (not personal checks) are available at Incheon
International Airport. Won, the local currency, cannot be imported.
There is a departure tax of approximately Won 27,000 for all
passengers, except for diplomatic passport holders who may apply to
have the fee refunded at a special desk inside the departure hall.
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Passage Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:10 AM
Personnel assigned to the Embassy in Seoul must have a valid
passport and visa, preferably at least a 2-year multiple entry visa.
No exit permits are required, nor are there any restrictions on
travel within the country or other parts of Asia. However, keep your
passport on hand for domestic travel.
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Pets Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:11 AM
The 10-day quarantine period for dogs and cats entering Korea
from the U.S. has been removed, but importing pets is still subject
to the following conditions:
Dogs and cats from rabies free areas, such as Hawaii, will be
released on the day of arrival into Korea. Puppies and kittens less
than 90 days old from anywhere will be released on arrival day if
accompanied by a valid animal health certificate. Dogs and cats more
than 90 days old from rabies areas, such as the U.S., will be
released upon the day of arrival, if accompanied by a valid animal
health certificate that shows that the animal has been vaccinated
against rabies at least 30 days prior to departure from the U.S.
(and less than 1 year since the previous vaccination.) As always,
notify the Embassy GSO section and the sponsor well in advance if
your travel plans include pets.
Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:11 AM
Although it is becoming increasingly difficult to find approved
recreational shooting areas, U.S. personnel assigned to Korea may
bring nonautomatic firearms and 500 rounds of ammunition with them.
Firearms should be included in household effects, not in baggage,
since Korean Customs authorities routinely x-ray luggage to detect
firearms, and these may be subject to confiscation.
Before you ship any weapons to Korea from the U.S., obtain a
certificate of registration, Customs Form 4457, from the nearest
U.S. Customs Office. This will facilitate return shipment of your
weapons to the U.S. Firearms owned by Foreign Missions or their
diplomatic staff may not be sold to Koreans or to anyone else.
The firearm must be declared to the RSO prior to your arrival at
post. Firearms must be certified in the name of the employee, rather
than a dependent. When declaring a firearm, the owner must furnish
the type, manufacture, caliber, and serial number of the weapon.
Upon arrival at post, weapons must be registered with both the
Regional Security Office and the USFK Provost Marshal's Office.
Weapons are limited to sporting pistols, revolvers, and shotguns.
All need to be registered with the security officer upon arrival.
Rental weapons are available through hunting tours. Ammunition can
be purchased through the Post Exchange.
Security Information. Civil defense air raid drills are usually
conducted on the 15th of each month. The drills are always announced
in advance in English newspapers and AFKN. The alerts last about 20
minutes. During that time, all local business activities cease, and
traffic comes to a complete standstill. If indoors, you remain there
until the all-clear siren sounds. If you are on the street, you must
go indoors or into an underpass or subway station for the duration
of the drill.
Seoul is one of the world's largest cities and has criminal
activities normally associated with large urban areas. Robberies and
pickpocketing/purse slashings, especially those targeting
foreigners, are frequent. Incidents of sexual harassment and
molestation of foreign women have occurred. Home burglaries and car
thefts are more common, but have not affected Embassy personnel.
Police are considered capable and well trained.
Isolated acts of violence have been directed at U.S. facilities
in the past. It is a function of political dissidence, and the
organizers are mainly from a small but active group of radical
university students. During periods of increased tension on
university campuses, usually in the spring and autumn, Americans are
advised to avoid universities and political rallies. The great
majority of Korean people consider themselves to be friends of the
U.S. Government and the American people.
Seoul is only 30 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone, one of
the most heavily fortified and tense borders in the world. However,
with the exception of incidents along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
and occasional attempts by North Korean agents to infiltrate the
South, peace has prevailed on the peninsula for 50 years. However,
should it ever be necessary, the Embassy and U.S. Forces Korea have
worked together for plans to evacuate noncombatants from the
peninsula. The Consular Section, American Citizen Services, has the
most current information on Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO)
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated:
8/5/2005 1:14 AM
The official currency unit is the won, issued in denominations of
1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 won notes. Coins are 10, 50, 100, and 500
Won. U.S. dollars are accepted in the Itaewon shopping area and in
some other locations that deal with tourists. All transactions at
Post Exchanges and U.S. military commissaries must be conducted in
U.S. dollars; some of the concessionaires on post will accept won in
lieu of dollars. As of August 5, 2005, the exchange rate is
approximately W1,011=US$1. This rate fluctuates almost daily.
Personal checks can be cashed and won can be purchased at the
Embassy cashier on Embassy weekdays. Bank of America has a branch on
the Yongsan military compound, where U.S. dollar checking and
savings accounts can be established. Won checking accounts can be
opened at local banks. Travelers checks can be purchased at the bank
on base, as well as at various local banks, including Citibank.
Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:15
Mission employees may import vehicles into Korea for their
personal use or for that of their dependents, but not for resale or
transfer. Under current Korean regulations, an employee may own only
one foreign-made vehicle at a time. A second car may be purchased as
long as it is locally made, or locally assembled. Normally, a car
imported duty free cannot be transferred or sold on the economy for
3 years from the date of customs clearance, unless the sale is to
another individual with duty free privileges. After 2 years, the
vehicle may be sold on the economy only upon transfer of the owner.
However, exceptions are made in unusual circumstances, such as if
the car is destroyed or seriously damaged, or if the employee is
transferred before the end of 2 years. However, these exceptions are
not easily granted. After 3 years, there is no Korean restriction
regarding sale of a vehicle on the local economy. Prior approval to
sell must be obtained from the Management Counselor.
All personnel must abide by the State Department regulations set
forth in 22 CF 136 et seq., effective June 20, 1988, which prohibit
profiteering. There are strict controls on the transfer and sale of
personal property imported by personnel or purchased at the PX or
commissary. Purchased items cannot be sold, used as gratuities, or
as payment to persons not authorized use of these facilities.
However, an item purchased at the PX not exceeding US$15 in value
can be given as an occasional gift. No commissary item, regardless
of cost, can be given at any time. The Embassy's rules concerning
disposal of personal property are based on State Department
regulations that prohibit profiteering. Personal property can be
sold without restriction to individuals with duty-free privileges.
Items valued at US$180 or less at time of purchase or receipt may be
sold on the local economy. Items of higher value may be sold on the
economy upon the employee's transfer, but this must be without
personal profit as set forth in the above mentioned regulations.
Applications to sell personal property must be approved in advanced
by the administrative counselor.
Recommended Reading Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:15 AM
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material
published in this country. The Department of State does not endorse
Crane, Paul. Korean Patterns.
Culture Shock! Korea.
Focus. Doing Business in Korea. American Chamber of Commerce.
Focus. Living in Korea. American Chamber of Commerce.
Insight Guides Korea.
Lee, Ki Baik. A New History of Korea.
Lee, O Young. Translated by David I. Steinberg. In This Earth &
In That Wind.
Lonely Planet. Guide to Korea.
Lonely Planet. Seoul City Guide.
Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas.
Rutt, Richard. Korean Works & Days.
Local Holidays Last Updated: 8/5/2005 1:26 AM
New Year's Holiday December 31, 2004 Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
Birthday January 17 Seol-Nal (Lunar New Year Days) February 8, 9, 10
Presidents' Day February 21 Sam Il Jul (Independence Movement Day)
March 1 Shik Mok Il (Arbor Day) April 5 Orininal (Children's Day)
May 5 Momorial Day May 30 Hyun Choong Il (Memorial Day) June 6
Independence Day July 4 Kwang Bok Jul (Independence Day) August 15
Labor Day September 5 Chusok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) September 19
Kae Chun Jul (National Foundation Day) October 3 Columbus Day
October 10 Veterans Day November 11 Thanksgiving Day November 24
Christmas Day December 26