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Everything Vancouver travellers need to know about visiting South Korea

Seoul is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.
Find out everything you need to know about travel from Vancouver to South Korea, including how to get the cheapest flights out of YVR Airport.

South Korea is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world - and for good reason. 

Its capital city, Seoul, is a gastronomic paradise with a vibrant entertainment district, rich culture, fascinating history, and seemingly endless places to shop and explore. 

K-pop, or Korean pop music, has taken the world by storm, with larger-than-life fandoms for groups like BTS. Many of the country's films have garnered global acclaim, most notably the 2019 black comedy thriller Parasite, which won "Best Picture" at the Academy Awards.

South Korea's international airport, Incheon International Airport (ICN), was ranked the best airport in the world for 12 consecutive years, so it's worthwhile to explore its facilities, too. Travellers who only plan on transiting through Korea but have a long or moderate stopover can take advantage of free tours offered through the airport that take you outside of the facilities to taste the local cuisine and go sightseeing. 

Find out everything you need to know about planning your trip to South Korea from Vancouver.

What airlines should I fly with to South Korea?

From Vancouver International Airport (YVR), travellers can fly direct or via another city to ICN, which is located about 40 minutes from Seoul. Direct service is offered through Air Canada and Korean Air but several other carriers offer routes involving one or two stops that may save money.

Airlines that fly to or partially to Seoul via one of their airline partners include:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air Premia
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA) 
  • Asiana
  • Austrian
  • Cathay Pacific
  • China Airlines
  • China Southern
  • Delta
  • EVA Air
  • Flair Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Hong Kong Airlines
  • Japan Airlines (JAL)
  • Jeju Air
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Lynx Air
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Saudia Airlines
  • Sichuan Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Thai
  • United Airlines
  • WestJet
  • XiamenAir
  • Zipair

When should I book my ticket to South Korea?

Tickets from YVR are fairly stable to ICN throughout the year, meaning you don't need to worry about booking your ticket a specific amount of time in advance. However, there is a dip in prices during September when booked in advance, with several tickets under the $1,300 mark. These prices aren't shown for any other time of the year.

One way to get a cheaper ticket could be to take a cheap flight from Tokyo to Incheon. Airfare from Vancouver to Tokyo is significantly cheaper than it has been in years, thanks to the arrival of Zipair, Japan's Airlines' budget option

When is the best time of year to visit South Korea? 

The rainy season lasts from late June until August in South Korea, meaning you could get caught in a torrential downpour during this time; flooding and landslides are also possible.

Typhoons are possible toward the end of August and into September. These extreme weather events may damage infrastructure, cause significant fatalities, and prevent emergency services from reaching people in need. 

If you decide to travel to South Korea during the rainy or typhoon seasons, the Canadian government advises that you:

  • know that you expose yourself to serious safety risks
  • be prepared to change your travel plans on short notice, including cutting short or cancelling your trip
  • stay informed of the latest regional weather forecasts
  • carry emergency contact information for your airline or tour operator
  • follow the advice and instructions of local authorities 

What is "yellow dust" in South Korea?

Korea has significant pollution and a phenomenon known as "Yellow Dust" blows in from the Gobi desert that borders China and Mongolia. Known as “Hwang Sa” in Korean, the dust is "whisked into the atmosphere by strong winds and carried to the Korean Peninsula via the jet stream" and contains "industrial pollutants (like pesticides), viruses, fungi, bacteria, and even heavy metals, none of which are good for respiratory health," according to the Asia Society. 

Similar to Environment Canada, the Korean government will issue an air quality advisory when concentrations of an air pollutant reach unsafe levels. If the concentrations exceed 800 micrograms/cubic meter, schools will be closed, events may be cancelled, and the public will be warned to stay indoors. 

Travellers with respiratory conditions may want to rethink travel during times when pollution is particularly bad, including in March, April, and May.

You can monitor South Korea's air quality with the Worldwide Air Quality Index to get real-time data about current conditions.

Is it safe to visit South Korea? 

Canada gives travellers the green light to visit South Korea. There isn't an elevated risk to tourists when visiting the country and they should follow normal security precautions.

While crime rates are low, petty crime, such as pickpocketing, can occur in busy markets and tourist areas. Stay aware of your surroundings, particularly in crowded areas. 

Sexual harassment and assault can occur in bars and restaurants. Tourists should avoid walking alone after dark. Particularly, travellers should "be careful when dealing with strangers or recent acquaintances."

Report crimes, including a sexual assault, to the Korean National Police Agency by dialling 112. This is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service. For non-Korean speakers, the police will link an interpreter to the call.

Peaceful demonstrations may turn violent and travellers should avoid areas where they are taking place. 

South Korea's "rate of fatal road accidents is very high" and tourists should be careful when crossing the road. Drivers engage in risky behaviors and motorcycles are often driven on sidewalks. "Vehicles may not stop at pedestrian crossings. Use underground or above-ground pedestrian crossings, where available," notes Canada's travel advisory.

South Korea does not prohibit sexual acts between individuals of the same sex but "homosexuality is not socially tolerated" and marriages are not legal. Canada advises 2SLGBTQI+ travellers to consider the risks involved before visiting the country.

Important considerations in South Korea for tourists to know

Tensions along the Korean peninsula could escalate rapidly, "during and after North Korean nuclear and missile tests" and military exercises and activities. If this happens, you should stay informed by local authorities on the evolving situation and follow their instructions, "including the Cabinet Secretariat's guidance on civil protection."

Do I need to get any special travel vaccines ahead of visiting South Korea?

Visit a travel medical clinic before you book a ticket. The healthcare professionals will inform you about what vaccinations you require and what you can expect on your trip. 

There is a risk of several mosquito-borne illnesses when visiting South Korea.

Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. Travellers should consider getting vaccinated for longer stays in the country, visits to rural areas, and trips to places with outbreaks.

What kind of activities can I enjoy in South Korea?

Korea offers a range of activities for people of all ages to enjoy. 

Located in a sea of skyscrapers and sprawling markets, five ornate palaces are located in the capital city. Located in Northern Seoul, the Gyeongbokgung Palace is considered one of the most beautiful and is the "official palace of the Joseon dynasty by Yi Seong-gye, who became King Taejo and the founder of the new regime," according to Visit Korea.

Tourists can also learn about Korea's liquor and food culture by taking local tours. One of them uncovers the history behind the county's unrefined rice wine, called makgeolli.

From May to June, red and pink roses bloom in a "tunnel of roses" in the Cheonho-dong Rose Village, making an ideal place to shoot a romantic photograph or a fun shot with friends or family. The historic area has roses adorning every wall and "small old houses convey the nostalgia of 30 to 40 years ago" with eye-catching murals including a scene from The Little Prince. Korea's tourism board describes how to find this unique spot and cautions that visitors should be respectful as it is a residential village. 

Find more unique opportunities for discovering South Korea with planned tours and attraction guides.

Do I need a visa to visit South Korea?

Canadians do not require a visa to visit South Korea and are exempt from the Korea Electronic Travel Authority (K-ETA) requirement until Dec. 31, 2024. They are required to have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay. 

You should always travel on a passport that won't expire for six months after the date that you are due back home in case of an emergency.

How much money will I spend on accommodation?

Prices in South Korea's capital city vary dramatically, offering everything from bare-bones accommodation to luxurious stays in posh resorts.

The K-Pop Hotel Seoul Tower offers rooms starting at $27 a night, while the Badaga Boineun Saipan in Incheon offers rooms with stunning waterfront views for only $29; accommodations in other parts of the country, such as Busan, start for only $13. 

On the other end of the spectrum, discerning travellers can enjoy stays in lavish hotels, including the five-star Four Seasons Hotel Seoul for $493 a night. For an average of $423 a night, the Signiel Seoul offers stunning views from the tallest building in the city, the Lotte World Tower, with rooms located on the 76th to 101st floors.

Find more information about exciting destinations in B.C. and across the globe, as well as travel deals and tips, by signing up for V.I.A.'s weekly travel newsletter The Wanderer. Since travel deals can sell out, find out the day they are posted by signing up for our daily Travel Deals newsletter.

Want to learn more about a specific destination or simply have a travel concern or idea that you would like V.I.A. to write about? Email us at elana@vancouverisawesome. Send us stories about recent holidays that you've been on, or if you have any tips you think our readers should know about.