Drinking is a big part of Korean culture. By drinking with Koreans as a foreigner, you will have a chance to truly immerse yourself with their local culture and customs. This is partly due to the existence and availability of their unique alcoholic drinks. So, if you are visiting The Land of the Morning Calm perhaps, one of the best ways for you to truly experience their culture to a deeper level is by drinking. But, what is the drinking age in Korea, do you think you’re old enough to have alcohol there?
While the legal drinking age in South Korea isn’t strictly enforced, keep in mind that it’s still better to follow the law when you are abroad. Underage drinking is restricted more by the averseness of bartenders to serve younger people alcoholic drinks.
The legal drinking age in South Korea is 19 years old.
Although this might sound odd, it is the same drinking age as many Asian countries – like the drinking age in Japan. In most countries in the world – aside from the United States, which has 21 years old as a legal drinking age – 18 years old is the legal drinking. Well, South Korea is somewhere in the middle. However, keep in mind that the Korean age system is kind of different – for Koreans, you are 1 year old as soon as you are born, this means, drinking age for international visitors is actually 19 years old. The legal drinking age for the US militaries based in Korea is 21 years old.
There are no open container laws in South Korea, so, you might see many people strolling on the street and drinking alcohols in public. And of course, you must avoid drinking and driving in South Korea at all costs as they have zero tolerance for it.
Bars and nightclubs normally start operating from 6 in the evening up to midnight throughout the day prolonged hours on the weekend. So, for instance, there are ones that open from 12 in the afternoon up to very late evening or even morning the next day.
In bigger cities, you can find bars that run for 24 hours. The most popular alcoholic drink in South Korea, soju along with beer are widely served not only in bars but also in grocery and convenience stores. Wine is normally available more in specialty shops. Classic Korean drinks, like makgeolli, are normally found in trendiest restaurants and bars. Alcohol is available in many different places, such as convenience stores, supermarkets, as well as department stores.
One of the main reasons as to why Korea has a big drinking culture is that it helps people get to socialize. After a few shots of soju, even the shyest person would be so outgoing and talkative. So, if an acquaintance suggests going out to have some drinks with you, it’s it probably because they need an icebreaker. On top of that, for Koreans, having some quality time over alcohol makes the bond stronger. This seems to be true on both social and work relationships.
While South Korea is becoming stricter when it comes to checking IDs at convenience stores and bars, it’s really easy to find a drink when you are in South Korea. By going to the nearest convenience store, you can get a bottle of booze with a few thousand won – alcohol here is a lot cheaper compared to the west!
While it’s not normal for people here to drink during working hours, having a drinking dinner with co-workers, especially at Friday nights, is very common as long as you meet the drinking age in Korea. And as you would expect, soju or other alcoholic drink would the star of the table. There are many possible reasons as to why people gather for an after-work dinner, but one of the main reasons is that it gives everyone a chance to get to know each other and build their relationship stronger. So, it would be a shame if you decide not to go.
Of course, you can find almost any type of drinks when you are in South Korea, especially in bigger cities like Seoul and Busan. But when visiting the country, wouldn’t be a shame to miss the original drinks that were made here? Here are some Korean drinks you may want to give a try.
The oldest drink in Korea, Makgeolli (Mokk-oli,) is a mixture of yeast, fermented rice grains, and boiled water. Since it is unfiltered, this drink has an opaque white color as well as a residue at the bottom. It is usually served cold in a teapot and of course, poured in a smaller glass.
This drink is sweet, carbonated, and tangy – it tastes like champagne! Makgeolli is a popular drink among young women, but of course, it chooses no gender. It’s best taken with some delicious pancakes.
If you love eating sweet, this drink is best taken with some dessert. Bokbunja Ju (bok-bun-ja-cha) is made from water and fermented black raspberries, Koreans think that it’s beneficial for health and acts as an aphrodisiac.
Of course, the classic and the most widely consumed alcohol in South Korea, soju. Actually, 97% of South Korean liquor spirits market accounts for this drink. If you have not had soju before, this is a clear distilled rice liquor with strength is almost the same as vodka (but not as strong.)
For locals, drinking it straight up without mixers or chaser is normal – although a lot of Koreans wash it up with beer. If you really want to drink the night away and not afraid of hangovers, then this is a good drink to try.
If you’d rather have some beer, then you’ll be happy to know that you will have a great selection. Some of the ones you would want to try out include Cass, Hite, as well as OB Lager. They will probably remind you of Budweiser or some usual pale lagers.
You have to keep in mind that in Seoul, Koreans mostly drink for social purpose and inside the social hierarchies. And that there are some things you have to keep in mind in order to truly show your respect not only for the people you are drinking with but also to the culture itself.
If you’re visiting Korea, or anywhere in Asia, actually, you have to remember that respecting elders is taken seriously! It is considered impolite to pour your own glass – normally, the eldest person in the group is the one who pours the drink.
Further, when offered, make sure to accept the pour while the glass is being held by your two hands instead of holding it with just one hand. So, no matter what is being offered to you, make sure to accept it, or the other party might get offended.
Although you don’t drink, you may want to accept what is being offered; it is seen as a gaffe to refuse the first drink once being offered.
South Korea has made a lot of hangover cures – from drinks drank before your first glass of alcohol, to soup or even grapefruit ice cream, Koreans might offer you different forms of ways to cure your hangover. Some of the most common ones include haejjunguk or hangover soup, chocolate milk, Asian pear juice, and Jjimjilbangs or Korean spa.
If you are planning a trip and passed drinking age in Korea, always keep in mind that it is best to practice moderation when drinking, but don’t be afraid to have fun. Traditionally, South Koreans would enjoy drinking to celebrate special days – it used to be an obligation. Today, however, it has become an excuse to drink with friends and co-workers! So loosen up, enjoy, and prepare yourself for some hangover!
Hopefully, this article has answered that the drinking age in Korea is, along with other information you have to know regarding this topic. If you have other question or have any suggestions to make this article more helpful, let us know by leaving a comment below. Also, don’t forget to share this article on your social media pages to let others know.
Cyril graduated Computer Programming in Philippine Women’s University but after graduating, pursued writing. Now, a freelance content writer, she specializes in travel blogging and sometimes shares her own experiences on cyriloh.com. When she’s not on the road, she spends time with her dogs based in a small town in Laguna, Philippines.