What’s The Legal Drinking Age In South Korea? [ANSWERED]

Legal Drinking Age in South Korea

What’s a night out in Korea without a drink? But, before you start ordering makgeolli or soju, make sure you have the legal drinking age in Korea. 

Whether it be rice wine, or other alcoholic drinks, drinking is an essential part of Korean culture. Knowing and understanding Korea’s legal drinking age is best, so it’ll not dampen your experience. 

Korea has a unique age system compared to other countries. Korea counts age differently, so you’ll be 1 or 2 years older than your international age. They include counting the amount of time spent in the womb. Therefore, when a Korean baby is born, they are immediately regarded as one year old. Then, everyone also gets a year older on New Year’s Day. 

A bit tricky? If you’re visiting Korea, you still need to honor rules and laws according to the legal drinking age.

This article will help you answer the common questions about the legal age allowed for alcoholic drinks and smoking cigarettes in South Korea. So, before you raise your glass, make sure you to read this post! 

What’s the legal drinking age in South Korea?

Legal Drinking Age in South Korea

Using the Korean counting age, the legal drinking age in South Korea is 20. For most foreigners, that would mean 19 years of age. Specifically, starting January 1st of the year you turn 20, you can already legally consume alcohol in Korea.

Entering bars and nightclubs requires the same legal drinking age. 

Do shops check out your age when you buy alcohol in South Korea?

Buying Alcohol in Korea

Many establishments, particularly outside of Seoul, do not consistently enforce the legal drinking age. Unlike in western countries, many local shops and stores in Korea do not strictly require you to show proof of age to purchase alcoholic drinks.

If you want to buy alcohol in convenience stores, they won’t always ask for an ID as long as you look old enough to drink. However, it’s best to be prepared if ever you get asked.

Do bars and clubs check out your age when you order alcohol in South Korea?

Clubbing Korea

While many stores appear lax in enforcing the legal drinking age, entering bars and clubs in Korea is a different story. If you want to enter a bar or nightclub, expect to be asked to show proof of age.

Many clubs require you to show your ID or passport to prove that you are of legal drinking age. Expect to be asked for identification, especially if there is a doorman or a line at the entrance.

Read More: 10 Korean Stereotypes That Are Not True

The most popular alcoholic drinks in South Korea

Soju (소주)

Soju Bottles

The most popular alcoholic beverage in Korea is soju, which accounted for 33.09% of all alcohol sales in 2020. It’s Korea’s national drink with an alcohol content of between 16 to 53%. It is distilled from various starchy crops such as rice, potatoes, wheat, or barley. Popular soju brands include Jinro, Seoul Night, Damsoul Pine Soju by Solsonju, and more.

Learn more about it in this article: How To Drink Soju?

Makgeolli (막걸리)

Makgeolli Korean Rice Wine

Considered the oldest Korean liquor, makgeolli is fermented rice wine. It is comparable to Japanese sake and different from distilled spirits like soju. Rice is fermented with a traditional Korean starter, nuruk, to produce a milky, off-white rice wine with a faintly sweet flavor. It’s widely available and affordable.

Somaek (-소맥)

Somaek Korean Soju Beer

Somaek is a Korean cocktail that combines soju (spirit) and maekju (beer). There are many variations of somaek depending on the ratio and the choice of drinks. The most common combination is to use lager or pilsner for beer and add 3 parts soju to 7 parts beer. It’s stirred with a chopstick or hit with a spoon at the bottom of the glass. 

For more awesome somaek combinations, you can check our guide: Somaek & Soju Beer Bomb.

You can also read this blog post to discover the 12 most popular alcoholic drinks in Korea!

What’s the minimum age to buy/smoke cigarettes in South Korea?

Smoking Korea

Same as alcohol, the minimum legal age to purchase and smoke cigarettes in South Korea is 20 in Korean age (~ 19 with the normal age system).

According to Korea’s Juvenile Protection Act, you must be 20 years old or older to purchase alcohol and tobacco products. Shops and stores are required to check for ID when selling cigarettes, especially if you look like a minor. 

So, there you have it! I hope this article was able to clarify the things you needed to know about South Korea’s legal drinking and smoking age. 

In South Korea, drinking alcohol is encouraged, sometimes even demanded, in social and professional settings. Declining alcohol is even considered rude and a big social faux pas. More than the booze, it’s a way to bond and celebrate. 

While many Koreans claim that foreigners often get a light hand treatment when following rules, it’s still a good idea to be prepared so that your night out will not be ruined. Enjoy the chill and vibrant scene by ensuring you know the basic laws and regulations on legal drinking and smoking age. 

So, are you now ready to raise your shot? Let’s cheer geonbae!

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