I occasionally get a few questions asking me “is Korea safe to live in”. When choosing my international exchange a few years ago, I was narrowing down the choice between Hong Kong and Seoul. While it wasn’t a main reason, the threats definitely played into my decision. Looking back now, I know that those threats had no basis in reality. Here are a few questions I get asked about living in Seoul.
Is Korea Safe?
Absolutely! One thing I definitely take for granted while living here is how safe I feel when walking alone at night. While I’ve always felt safe in East Asia, the same unfortunately cannot be said in big cities in North America.
Obviously Seoul is a big city, and you should bring some common sense with you, but I would feel safe walking home at 3 in the morning with a Macbook under my arm through the darkest alleys of the city – no problem.
What About North Korea?
Generally, when friends message me about North Korea’s latest actions, it’s my first time hearing about it. While the Korean news does talk about it, it’s mentioned in passing. No threats, nor actions the DPRK makes are taken as serious; life just continues on as if nothing ever happened. The only people it does affect are my dear friends in the American Military, who get confined to their bases every time Kim Jong Un picks up a big stick.
The general thought is that the North knows the consequences if they ever were to attack – not just retaliation from the American military, but that of the Chinese military if their attack were to kill a Chinese citizen (of which there are many in Korea).
Is there anything that you would consider unsafe about Korea?
Yes – the roads. There’s just no way for me to sugar coat, or spin this optimistically; South Korea, at this moment, has a large population of terrible drivers. Every day on my way to work I cross a 6 lane highway at a major intersection. I can count on my hands the number of times that a person has not ran a red light there. Tailgating, merging without signaling, checking mirrors, let alone blindspots, and aggressive driving are all incredibly common. While the road infrastructure is excellent, I can’t say the same about driver education. I generally try to stay off Korean roads as often as I can – taking trains and the metro as an alternative to busses and taxis.
The style of driving here is also different; it seems like it’s almost all acceleration and deceleration – no coasting, no smooth movements, lending itself to motion sickness. Recently the government has been cracking down on bad drivers, but for now, I’d take the metro – it’s cheaper and safer.