South Korea is a mixture of old and new. Some people are really open minded whereas some people are still super conservative. Nevertheless, there's some universal courtesies/travelling tips in korea to keep in mind when travelling to South Korea. Don't get frowned upon and mistaken for a "rude foreigner" because some of the cultural differences we'll be talking about here might be something that you've never heard before. Koreans are really proud of the culture. We will provide you some dos and don'ts in korea so make sure you keep the rules for a better travel experience in Korea.
It's a basic courtesy to take off your shoes when entering someone's house or even some restaurants. It is in most Asian cultures, actually. You will see Korean people with their jaws dropped to the floor if you try to enter their house without taking off your shoes.
You'll be required to take off your shoes at some of the restaurants or even cafes but it's completely natural in Korea so embrace it.
A lot of Koreans still have a very Confucian mindset where the elderly should be highly respected. You will hardly ever see a young man or a woman sitting on the elderly's seat even when the subway is crammed. In fact, the seats are called "priority seat" but somehow they are always occupied by old people in Korean subways.
Plus, FYI, there's a seat specifically designated for pregnant women and the seats are colored in pink. It's not as rare to see someone on the pink seat as seeing someone in the elderly's seat, but a majority of Koreans tend to be reluctant to sit there either.
Did you know that South Korea is the world's second recycling leader by achieving 59% of recycling rate? Koreans do not toss everything in one bin and if you do, you will be frowned upon by someone right away. Koreans are super strict when it comes to recycling and even the trash bins on the streets are separated ; recyclable and regular waste. Help the country keep its reputation as a recycling leader of the world and keep on recycling while travelling in Korea.
Don't freak out! Surprisingly enough, unisex toilets are not a rare thing in South Korea. It's awkward for Koreans, too, actually. It may be far from the unisex toilet you're picturing right now cause they are usually like one bathroom that men and women share at the same time. Coincidentally. There IS a door though, for the ladies toilet and outside there's a urinal for guys, all inside one bathroom. It still means that someone (of the opposite sex) could walk in while you're doing your thang though, which would not be the most pleasant experience.
You don't have to tip the server when you dine out at a restaurant. Even at a bar, tipping is not required and young Koreans would not tip the server or the bartender. In some fancy restaurants and bars, you might be expected to, but still not a must.
In extreme cases, some servers might feel offended by getting tipped. Tipping can be perceived as a pity or an arrogance since there's absolutely no such culture here, so just don't bother tipping when dining out. (Which is actually good, saving your money)
Some people from English speaking countries tend to speak English right in the face to a Korean. Like, I mean, you're not in your country, you're in South Korea where 99% of people speaks Korean language! A, not all Koreans are good at English, B, it's not very polite to ask a local Korean for help as if the Korean should be able to speak the language for you.
Most Koreans would still give you a hand but there's a better, more respectful way. Keep this phrase in mind "Choisonghamnida, young-eo hal jul aseyo?" (죄송합니다, 영어 할 줄 아세요?). It means "I'm sorry, do you speak English?"
It's a taboo to write someone's name in red color. The history of the reason is debatable and not clear but still most Koreans find it offensive and unlucky.
Just letting you know, number 4 is considered unlucky, too. Some buildings do not have a button for the 4th floor and just replace the number with the letter "F" which stands for "four". So beware of writing names in red or writing 4's in red, that'd be the worst.
I know you can't help it, but Koreans do not blow their nose in the subway, at a restaurant or in class! I have so much respect for Koreans holding it in so well but anyhow you will see zero Korean blowing their nose in public. Some older people do but not the young Koreans. They would just sniffle til they can go to the bathroom and blow the heck out of it.
When having a meal, in particular, don't even try to blow your nose on the table and just go to the bathroom and take care of the business.
South Korea is seriously one of the most technically advanced countries around the world. You will be stunned at how easy and convenient it is to use free Wi-Fi literally everywhere, including restaurants, malls, subway, bus and even just on the streets. There is no data limit, time limit, nothing. Take advantage of it as much as you want. Every local does it.