Convenience stores are every tourist’s best friend. Almost every country in the world has one. What’s best about convenience stores is they’re practically a one-stop shop! You can buy any essential needs in a pinch–and in Korea, you can even have a hot meal for cheap!
Korean convenience stores are not just any kind of convenience store. They always have the freshest food and the cutest, most unique snacks. Open 24/7, convenience stores will definitely be your life support if you go to Korea.
Without further ado, join us as we explore just why Korean convenience stores are built different!
Where To Find Korean Convenience Stores In Korea
The short answer is: everywhere! Convenience stores are named that way for a reason. They appear in just about every block or street corner in most major cities across the country. That’s why you’ll never go hungry or thirsty when you’re in Korea–there’s a convenience store everywhere you look!
Take note, however, that convenience stores get more rare the deeper you are in the countryside. While there are definitely convenience stores outside of Seoul, don’t expect them to come as frequently as they do in big cities.
Most Popular Korean Convenience Stores Brands
In Korea, there are 5 big convenience store brands that dominate the country. This “Big 5” is composed of GS25, CU, 7-Eleven, x, and x. Of these, the 3 biggest players are definitely GS25, CU, and 7-Eleven.
Simply put, there are 5 prominent convenience store brands in Korea. These are often referred to as the ‘Big 5’ in the industry. The 3 biggest players among the 5 (GS25, CU, and 7-Eleven) are often referred to as the ‘Big 3’ as well.
Must Try Foods In Korean Convenience Stores
1. Instant Ramyun
Trust us, you haven’t had instant ramyun (ramen) the way Korea does it. It’s not like the cheap brands in other countries that taste more artificial than actual food. No, in Korea, instant ramyun is an institution! We recommend the classic Shin Ramyun for everyone to try. It’s one of the most popular kinds in Korea for a reason.
There’s also a wide variety of flavors for you to choose from. Seafood, beef, pork, and even ramyun-pasta fusions like carbonara and spaghetti! You’ll have endless options to choose from once you walk into your nearest convenience store.
2. Triangle Gimbap
Up next we have triangle gimbap. Gimbap is sort of the Korean version of sushi. It’s a favorite meal among office workers because it’s convenient, filling, and absolutely delicious! Many convenience stores carry the classic gimbap in rolled forms as well, but we especially recommend trying the triangle gimbap.
This palm-sized snack has rice, veggies, and meat–all wrapped up in one! Just peel back the tab and bite into that crispy seaweed shell.
Want something with a little more variety? Then why not grab a dosirak! Dosirak are basically lunchboxes like the kind mothers and wives prepare for their relatives who are office workers. Dosirak come in various kinds, flavors, and sizes, so you’ll definitely find something suited to your taste buds.
In most cases, a dosirak is composed of a generous amount of rice, a delicious meat dish for the main, and a selection of different banchan or side dishes like kimchi, jeon, sliced egg roll, and so on. It’s a complete meal packaged just for you!
Must Try Drinks In Korean Convenience Stores
1. Pouch Drinks
To pair with your meals, Korean convenience stores also house tons of different kinds of drinks for you to choose from! Up first we have the pouch drinks that have been making waves on TikTok lately. Grab a cup of ice from the freezer then choose from a variety of different flavored pouch drinks. From juice to coffee to yogurt drinks, they’ve got them all.
Then just open the pouch, pour it into your cup of ice, and enjoy! These drinks are refreshing game changers during hot summer days. You can also have fun by mixing and matching the drinks in different combinations.
For those looking for a more adult beverage, we’ve got you covered. Alcohol is readily available in Korean convenience stores–and in different kinds, too! The “Big 3” of alcohol is composed of maekju (beer), soju, and makgeolli.
Soju is a Korean classic, of course. This rice liquor is a favorite during get-togethers of young professionals and all the way up to the oldies. It’s a staple in every generation! Soju also comes in different flavors like strawberry, green grape, blueberry, and even yakult. However, most Koreans enjoy just drinking it the classic way.
On the other hand, makgeolli is a cloudy rice wine that tastes a bit sweet with sour hints. With an alcohol content of around 6-9% usually, makgeolli is best paired with traditional Korean dishes like stews and pancakes (jeon).
While convenience stores sell beverages for adults, they also have a wide variety of different drinks for everyone to enjoy! This isn’t to say milk is just for kids, though. After all, with Korea’s wide range of all sorts of different milk flavors, we bet there’s a pick here for everyone.
From strawberry milk, banana milk, coffee milk, chocolate milk, red bean milk, and more, Korean convenience stores have it all. Think you’ve tried flavored milk before? Think again! Korean flavored milk is different–much more smooth, natural, flavorful, and not to mention, cutely packaged!
Unusual Products in Korean Convenience Stores
1. Cheese Fish Candy
Aside from the snack and drink favorites we’ve talked about above, there are also some pretty bizarre items on convenience stores’ shelves! One of these is the so-called cheese fish candy. Also known as the “Camembert cheese and fish snack,” it doesn’t sound the most appetizing, but don’t let that fool you!
This string-cheese-like snack is actually quite delicious. You can barely taste the fish at all, yet it adds protein to an otherwise pretty non-nutritious snack. Instead, all you get is this cheesy flavor that’s perfect for kids, picky eaters, or just about anyone, really!
2. Peel Sausage
These sausages are everywhere in Korean convenience stores. They come individually packed and ready to eat which makes them the perfect on-the-go snacks! There’s also a bunch of different flavors to choose from like cheese, spicy, and more.
Locals–especially young people–like to munch on these on their own. However, you can also use them to spice up your meal! Try cutting it up and adding it to your instant ramyun to get a more filling meal.
3. Hangover Drinks
Because the drinking culture is so huge in Korea, it’s no wonder they’ve also mastered the art of creating hangover drinks. These vitamin drinks are not actually just for hangovers. They make the perfect little pick-me-up when you’re experiencing headaches, illnesses, tiredness, and yes, hangovers!
Think of them as energy drinks with a little bit more punch due to the increased amount of vitamins and minerals. Just pop one open and you’ll feel better in no time–and ready for another night of drinking!
How to Pay in Korean Convenience Stores?
Of course, the easiest and most convenient way to pay for your items is still using cash. You don’t have to worry about credit limits or unreliable payment apps if you stick to using cold hard cash. Most Korean convenience stores only accept Korean Won, however, so just be sure to keep this in mind when walking around the cities.
Most–if not all–Korean convenience stores also accept card payments! This is a convenient option if you don’t want to keep a huge amount of cash on you when you’re traveling around the country. In fact, most locals prefer to pay this way instead of through cash!
International Payment Options
Nowadays, Korean convenience stores are also anticipating more and more tourists. That’s why they’ve also been starting to add more international payment options to their rosters. CU, for example, initially accepted three international payment options: Alipay, WeChat Pay, and UnionPay.
Now, they’re also starting to use even more international payment services like AlipayHK from Hong Kong, GCash from the Philippines, Touch ‘n Go from Malaysia, Dana from Indonesia, TrueMoney from Thailand, and more. Convenience stores are getting more and more tourist-friendly!
Korean Phrases to Use at Korean Convenience Stores
1. How much is this?
Of course, one of the most basic things you have to know is how to say “How much is this?” While most convenience stores have the prices of each product on display, it’s still a useful phrase to know when you’re shopping around the city.
Simply point at whatever product you want to ask about and say: “igeo eolmayeyo?” That’s pronounced “ee-gaw awl-mah-ye-yo?”
2. Do you have ___?
Up next is another useful phrase to know when you’re shopping. Say you want to ask the staff if they have a specific kind of product you’re looking for. You can say the product name in English and add the word “iss-eoyo” after it.
For example, you’re looking for a bottle of soju. Just ask “Soju isseoyo?” and the staff will gladly point you toward the direction of the display. This is a good phrase to learn so you can ask staff in advance instead of looking around the store only to find out what you’re looking for is actually unavailable.
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3. Please give me this.
This phrase is especially useful for when you want to buy items that are behind the counter, such as cigarettes, over-the-counter medicine, medical items, and more. You can simply gesture towards the item and say the phrase “igeo juseyo,” which means “please give me this.”
For an easier pronunciation guide, you can say it like “ee-gaw chu-seh-yo.”
4. Please give me a receipt.
Whether you need one for taxing and other financial purposes, or simply as a souvenir, this is another helpful phrase to learn when you’re shopping around in Korea. Simply say “yeong-su-jeung chu-seh-yo.” This is important because not all convenience stores automatically give receipts to their patrons.
5. Put it in a bag.
Nowadays, most convenience stores don’t automatically provide shopping bags. This is because of the initiative to lessen plastic and/or paper waste for environmental reasons. That’s why you have to specifically have to ask for a bag to be given one in most cases.
Just say “bong-tu-eh naw-aw chu-seh-yo.” It might seem a bit of a complicated phrase to say but we promise you’ll get better with a little practice! And don’t be intimidated–locals will understand that you’re a foreigner and will even appreciate your initiative to communicate.
Are Korean Convenience Stores Affordable?
Part of the convenience is the cost, so Korean convenience stores can definitely be classified as being more on the affordable side. They’re certainly more affordable than supermarkets, malls, and restaurants! That’s why these stores are especially essential for young people, thrifty workers, tourists and backpackers, and just about anyone in a pinch.
Snacks like instant ramyun cost around ₩700-₩2,500 ($0.50-$2.00). Dosirak meals cost something like ₩5,000 ($3.80) for an entire set. Meanwhile, drinks cost around ₩1,500 ($1.15) for soju, ₩1,700 ($1.30) for sodas, and ₩4,000 ($3) for hangover drinks.
As you can see, you can have a full and satisfying meal at a Korean convenience store without breaking the bank!
We hope you liked our article on Korean convenience stores! Which item are you most excited to try?
Korean convenience stores are not just like any kind of convenience store. They really encapsulate the word “convenient” because you can find just about anything you need here–and for cheap! From hot meals, hangover drinks, to health essentials, these stores have got it all.
If you liked this, go check out everything you need to know about Korean night markets and the best soju brands for you to try!