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5 Safety and Security Tips for US Military Personnel in South Korea

bus station at night in south korea

It's important to stay aware of your safety and security while stationed in South Korea. Here are five important tips to help you navigate your time in South Korea securely and confidently.

Tip 1: Guard Against Petty Theft

While crime targeting foreigners are rare, there are occasional thefts in every country. Keep a close eye on passports, credit cards, and money in crowded areas like Itaewon or Hongdae. Interestingly, petty theft is still quite uncommon in Korea, with locals often leaving personal items unattended in cafes and on public transportation without worry. Still, it's wise to remain vigilant and secure your valuables.

Tip 2: Be Aware of Sex Crimes and Crimes Against Women

Sex crimes and violence against women are significant issues in South Korea. Women should be particularly cautious in bars and nightlife areas and should use only legitimate taxis or public transport at night. Additionally, hidden cameras, known as 'Molka,' are a still pervasive problem. Always check for hidden cameras in public restrooms and changing areas.

Tip 3: Understand Drug and Alcohol Laws

Drug use and possession, even small amounts, are severely punished in South Korea. A conviction can lead to long jail sentences and hefty fines. For example, using or possessing marijuana can result in up to 5 years in prison or fines up to $40,000 (50 million KRW).

While there are no strict open container laws, drinking alcohol in public is generally permitted. However, anyone found drinking alcohol or possessing an open bottle in a no-drinking zone, including public transportation, will be fined $75 (100,000 KRW). Be mindful of local regulations and avoid causing disturbances while drinking.

Tip 4: Know the Limits of Self-Defense

Self-defense laws in Korea are much stricter than in the US. Even if attacked first, your response must be proportional and non-lethal. You can't use weapons, and ensure your actions do not cause severe injury to the attacker. For example, you must not "inflict injuries on the attacker that would take more than three weeks to recover from." This greatly differs from American self-defense laws.

In Korea, even home defense follows strict rules. In a famous 2014 case, a man was found guilty of beating a thief inside his home, leading to an 18-month jail sentence for the defender. Avoid conflict at all costs and call the police, even if your pride is on the line.

Tip 5: Avoid Dangerous Situations

The best way to ensure your safety is to avoid dangerous situations altogether. Be mindful of your surroundings, especially in unfamiliar areas. Travel in groups whenever possible, and always let someone know your plans and expected return time. Utilize base resources and stay informed about local security conditions.

While areas near US military bases are more aware of these cultural differences and may give you a pass for minor mistakes, it's essential to approach your time in South Korea with mutual respect and caution. By following these tips, you can ensure a secure and enjoyable experience during your deployment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where can I report a crime anonymously online?

You can report a crime anonymously online at Korean National Police Agency.

How can I contact emergency services in English?

Can I report a crime anonymously online?

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