Shopping Tips and Survival Phrases for Korea

Category : Surviving in Korea / Travel/Events
Nov 28, 2014

Shopping Tips


Be Prepared to Barter

Unless the price is posted or you are in a formal shop, it’s expected that you can barter for an item. There’s no “set formula” for bartering in Korea, but let’s just say that as a foreigner, the price is going to be inflated when you first ask. The best rule to keep in mind when bargaining is to always ask for a lower discount than you actually want, because you’re going to have to go up in order to compromise with the merchant (they know about this rule too – that’s why they always ask for a higher price than they expect). Meet somewhere in the middle, and remember that the shopkeeper has to make a living somehow. If you get too greedy, you run the risk of insulting or annoying the owner, which will blow all of your chances of getting a good deal.


Arrive Late

There’s an old Korean superstition that says the day’s first transaction will affect following sales for the rest of the day. Thus, if you’re a real bargain hunter, wait until late to go looking for a deal. Merchants are going to be a bit more anxious to get rid of some stock before the day ends, and you can definitely take advantage of that. Some shopkeepers think that if they give their first customer a deal, everyone else after them is going to want one. Plus, places like Myeongdong and Dongdaemun only really come alive after sunset.


Carry Cash

A lot of places, like Dongdaemun and Namdaemun, prefer to receive cash. Some shops may even give you a discount if you offer to pay in cash. Like most other places in the world, the vendors have to pay a small fee to the debit machine provider for each transaction. Plus, cash is always convenient for them to have on hand. Korea is a very safe place in terms of theft. As long as you use your common sense, you generally don’t need to worry about getting pick-pocketed or having your wallet stolen


à Check it out! Observe people the next time you go into a busy coffee shop. You might notice how some Koreans just leave their bags unattended on a table while they go up to order; they don’t worry at all about their things being stolen. Korea is safe!


Compare Prices

While strolling around any of the areas listed below, you might notice that many of the shops carry the same things. Even if the vendor tells you “last one!” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. It’s a very clever sale tactic that works on most foreigners. Just relax, and tell them you want to look around a bit more – even uttering that phrase may get you a discount!


The more prices you compare, the better chance of getting a discount you’ll have. If you tell the merchant that another guy down the street is selling the same item for less, they’re going to try to beat their competitor’s price to make the sale. Even without discounts, it’s good to get a feel for how much an item is.


à Real life! Upon one of my first trips to Dongdaemun’s popular “Hello apM” indoor market, I saw a dress I liked. The merchant was selling it for 70,000KRW. She even claimed it was her original design. It was more than I wanted to spend, so I browsed around a few more stalls, only to find the exact same dress priced at 30,000KRW - guess which one I bought!



This tip ties into the one we just talked about. As a foreigner, you may be subject to some inflated prices. But if you’re shopping without a Korean friend, how will you truly know if you’re being ripped off? It’s easy. If you commit to learning Korean numbers, you can listen in on the prices that sellers are giving to locals. Suppose you overhear a merchant telling one guy “sam-man-won /삼만원” (30,000KRW) for that belt you’ve been eying up, only to then have him tell you “fifty thousand won!”. You’ll know that you can get it for less. Go somewhere else or tell the seller you’ll buy it for the price stated to Koreans.


Look for the People in Red

Seoul’s most tourist-frequented shopping/tourist districts (Insadong, Myeongdong, Namdaemun, Itaewon, and Dongdaemun) often have guides walking around to assist English, Chinese, and Japanese-speaking foreigners. They’re easy to spot because of their bright (read: embarrassing) outfits. These guys wear cherry red cowboy hats, matching splash plants and red traffic vests. They aren’t hard to miss. Wacky outfits aside, they are incredibly helpful. They can give directions on how to find whatever you may be looking for, be it a store, restaurant, or specific souvenir. They also give out free maps of the area.


Bring Re-Usable Bags

If you plan on buying lots of stuff, definitely bring a foldable/reusable shopping bag. You should have one of these anyway for grocery shopping, as most Korean supermarkets charge for plastic or paper bags now. Reusable bags come in very handy, especially if you don’t want to be juggling a million plastic bags while getting on the subway.


Dress for the Part

If you’re visiting a big market area like Namdaemun or Dongdaemun, be prepared to do a lot of walking. While most vendors don’t let you try stuff on (for fear of you damaging the garment), some will let you try on baggy things on top of your clothes, like sweaters, coats, and flannels. That’s why it’s good to dress in layers and wear a tank top or fitted T-shirt under your regular clothes. If you’re shopping somewhere more upscale, like Sinsa or Apgujeong, dress a little classier to fit in with the atmosphere.


Use Korean

Using Korean will make your shopping experience much easier. You can even get better discounts if you attempt to communicate in Korean. Some cheery shopkeepers are so amused by foreigners speaking in Korean that they will actually treat you better than if you’d started off speaking only in English. Many foreigners have cute tales about receiving “service”– free stuff – a few times after speaking Korean to the shopkeeper or server. You don’t need to be fluent in Korean to try this out. Just print out our list below and you’ll be good to go!


Korean Shopping Phrases:




How much is this?

이거 얼마예요?

Eego ulmayeyo?

Can you write down the price?

가격을 적어 주실래요?

Ga-gyeg-eul jeog-eo jusilreyo?

Oh. It’s too expensive.

너무 비싸요.

No-mu bissayo.

Someone else is selling it cheaper.

다른 데서는 더 싸게 팔아요

Da-reun deseo-neun deo ssa-ge parayo.

Can I have a discount?

좀 깎아주세요.

Jom ggagga juseyo.

I’ll come back later.

다시 올게요.

Dasi olgeyo.

Do you have a mirror?

거울 있어요?

Geoul issoyo?

Can I try this on?

입어 봐도 되나요?

Ibeo-bwado doe-na-yo?

It doesn’t fit.

안 맞아요

An majayo.

What size does this come in?

이거 사이즈가 어떻게 나오나요?

Igeo size-ga eoddeokke naonayo?

Do you have this in another color?

이거 다른 색(깔)은 없어요?

Igeo da-reun saek(-kkal)-eun eop-seo-yo?

I’d like to buy this.

이것을 살게요.

Igeosseul sal-ge-yo

I’m just browsing.

그냥 볼게요.

geu-nyang bol-ge-yo

I have a bag.

가방 있어요.

Kabang issoyo.

Do you have a bag?

가방을 살 수 있어요?

Kabang-eul sal su issoyo?

I’d like to pay with cash.

현금으로 살게요.

Hyeongeum-ero sal-ge-yo.

I’d like to pay with credit.

신용카드로 살게요.

Sinyong Card-ro sal-ge-yo.

I’d like to pay with debit.

체크카드로 살게요.

Check Card-ro sal-ge-yo.

I don’t need my receipt.

영수증은 필요 없어요.

Yeoung-su-jeung-eun piryo eop-seo-yo.

Can I have a receipt?

영수증 주세요.

Yeoung-su-jeung juseyo.

Where’s the nearest ATM?

가장 가까운 ATM이 어디예요?

Ga-jang ga-kka-un ATM-i eodiyeyo?


Source: nfourseason


Tags : Shopping.

Gabrielle interned as a Content Creator for Work'n'Play during her exchange trip to Chung-Ang University in 2012-2013. She graduated from Vancouver Island University in May 2014 with her BA in Global Studies. She is now a Master's student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Canada. The things she misses most about her year in Korea are: going for makgeolli + jeon with friends, exploring Seoul's new and old hidden treasures and getting to practice Korean every day. You can connect with her on Twitter at @MsGabrielle or email her at

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