Oh gosh where to begin. I have been living in Seoul, Korea for over a year now, and in South Korea for almost 2 years. This may not be a particularly long time, but as someone who isn’t quite ready for a long-term relationship, I’ve had my fair share of flings and hook-ups. And I certainly have some information I want to share.
Before I get started, I would like to say a few things. First of all, anything I share in this article is from my own experience as an American man living in South Korea with some points of views from my friends sprinkled in. Of course, not everyone will have the same experience, and everyone is unique. Generalizations are never completely true. Especially when it comes to describing the diversity in a city of approximately 22 million people.
Hopefully this will help someone understand what dating in Korea is like, or help someone know what to expect if you plan to move to or visit South Korea.
Let’s get started.
1. Koreans have different expectations of how a relationship evolves
This one is big and it can cause some unnecessary heartache if you don’t communicate well in the beginning. Koreans typically wait to have sex after they’ve agreed about the relationship status while in my experience, westerners will become physical before a relationship status is talked about and agreed upon. This partly has to do with the fact that westerners are slow to consider it “dating” and usually it takes one to two months to consider each other boyfriend and girlfriend.
I think Koreans are much quicker to use these labels, and because of this, there isn’t much difference in how quickly partners have sex in either culture. Often, Korean women will have sex on the 2nd or 3rd date, but after this they usually consider you a couple. This often applies even if you haven’t explicitly talked about relationship status.
Of course if one person thinks you are a couple, and the other doesn’t there will be problems. So! My suggestion is if you are unsure, ask about her expectations after you two have become physical for the first time. Korean women understand that you’re a foreigner and things might happen a little differently. In fact, most Korean women expect this and will deviate from their cultural norms with you. Just be sure to communicate clearly and early to avoid any heartache.
Beyond this, don’t think that Korean women (or men) won’t go for one-night stands or friends with benefits. My friends and I have encountered this often in Korea. There are still plenty of people specifically looking for this, but the dominant culture still tells people that having sex outside of a relationship is bad. So many people don’t feel comfortable having sex outside of a relationship. Again, communication is key. Don’t forego good communication in the sake of appearing suave or smooth. That is immature and is definitely going to end badly at some point.
2. Korean women (and men) are interested in foreigners
Koreans are interested in foreigners. South Korea is what is called a monoethnic culture. This means that there is predominantly one ethnic group in the country. These cultures are rare throughout the world, although China is also technically one. In South Korea’s case, the country is composed by 98% Koreans with only about 2% foreigners.
Since living here, I have been told my eyes are beautiful and I am so colorful as a person. Korean children often try to touch my beard or my arm-hair. Westerners are simply a rare thing here.
This gives any foreigner a sort of exoticness to most Koreans and this does work in your favor when meeting new people for friends or as potential dates. Especially in a city as big as Seoul, or the next biggest city Busan, it often seems like there is truly endless people to meet. This can be a double-edged sword and is often cited as one of the pitfalls of online and modern dating.
Koreans can be quite shy in person. Koreans have a cultural norm where strangers do not interact unless they are introduced or are in a deliberate group class setting. So meeting spontaneously in a store or at the park can be rare. In this case, you need to use apps, join clubs/groups, or join language exchanges to meet potential partners. However, this is more a molehill than a mountain, and you will easily be able to connect with lots of people.
There are some caveats of course. You need to dress decently, be relatively in shape, and be emotionally healthy or you’ll scare people off. With regards to dating profiles, I’ll make a separate post about this, but you need to make sure your profile is presentable. I personally know someone with absolutely zero matches while my other friends and I easily can get new matches everyday. Keep in mind, these women (or men) haven’t meet me, haven’t talked to me, and can only see the pictures on my profile. Keeping online dating app matches simply requires making a quality profile and there are loads of guides on this. For example, see here or here. I usually like Wikihow’s guides and their Tinder guide is as cute as ever.
3. Learning Korean will do wonders for your dating life
There are approximately 52 million South Koreans in South Korea and around the world. In Korean schools they teach English from a young age and most Koreans can speak very basic English. However, many people who live here are not confident or don’t speak fluently.
When I first came here, I had no intention to learn the language. As an American, learning another language has honestly never been on my radar. My friends back home only spoke English. My family only spoke English. When you travel, there is always someone who speaks English so it never seemed a necessity or even an interesting option.
That changed pretty quickly after I moved abroad. It first started with one of my early friends being an old linguistic major with a passion for language. He convinced me to learn the alphabet. After that I would go to the party section in Suwon and sometimes ask strangers “무슨 색 좋아해요?” which roughly translates to “What color do you like?”. This was always hilarious to drunk me and served as an icebreaker on many fun nights in Suwon where I would often go out to drink.
From there, I started meeting with people to study and I realized I really enjoyed learning the language. I had no idea.
Also, my fledging Korean skills opened up a huge demographic in Korea for me to meet. Koreans who know a little English but are shy. Or people who want to learn English, but don’t want to be a conversational burden. My rough Korean gave them confidence to try and communicate.
If you’re curious about where to find some good Korean learning resources, I use a combination of Talk to Me in Korean books and this Korean grammar book series. Talk to Me in Korean is a great company that puts out lots of really useful material for listening, reading, and writing. The grammar book I linked is the best I’ve used and was recommended by a good friend here.
It did wonders for who my dating life and got me my first Korean friends. It also helps me understand things about Korean culture I wouldn’t otherwise have understood. Such as how the honor system is built into their grammar.
Honestly, the intention to learn goes a long way and you don’t have to be good at speaking to meet people here. I’m often amazed at how positive Koreans respond to people trying to learn their language. There are so many people who compliment me on my speaking ability after saying the most simple things and it’s a great way to meet people at bars.
4. You won’t be expected to celebrate Korean romantic holidays
This is something I read about before arriving in Korea. I was curious and watched Youtube videos about Korea’s intense love culture and how they have 100-day anniversaries, small romantic holidays every month, and excessive couple culture. And yes, while some of this exists here, every women I’ve met here realizes how absurd it is. I have never been pressured to participate in any of these holidays or traditional Korean romance culture.
This surely is in part due to the fact that I’m a foreigner and most Korean women don’t expect a normal Korean relationship, but I also think young people here are starting to question and rebel against the gift-giving, excessive capitalist nature of these holidays. I love the idea of frequently being romantic and good relationships need care survive and grow, but I dislike outside pressure to do so. It reminds me of buying expensive tickets to a theme park and trying really hard to have fun because it’s supposed to be fun.
5. You need to use dating apps
This is more of a necessity during corona times, but it will also broaden your horizon during anytime or season. Koreans are addicted to their phones and apps are a huge way people meet and interact now. The main three I use for dating purposes are Tinder, Bumble, and Meeff.
Meeff markets itself as a language exchange app, but the cover picture is a man and woman holding hands so make of that what you will. Many people on this app are looking for relationships or just flings. Then there are the people looking for language exchange.
Then there are the people who say they are looking for language exchange, but are really looking to hook up or date. This is incredibly common. On fact, most language exchanges I have tried with women ends up either a date or you don’t continue meeting as language partners. Not always, as I did have on long term language exchange partner, but generally this was true. I’m not so sure why this is, but I think this is an offshoot of the how Korean women and men are interested in foreigners. They are interested, but don’t want to show direct interest to either save face or because they are shy. Either way, language exchange is notorious for developing into something more.
Tinder is great here as well, but you should know that it’s a paid app. As a guy, you will get a few matches early after creating your account, but after that you need to purchase Boosts or Tinder Gold to actually match and be seen. This is unfortunate, but true. I still recommend buying the Boosts at least. They’re cheap and it’s a small price to pay for expanding your potential dating pool.
Bumble is a good app, and you can consistently get matches without paying for anything.
These are the apps known and used by foreigners and Koreans alike. There are many other Korean dating apps I won’t mention here. Some of them reject foreigners outright. Others are available only in Korean and you need to brush up on those language skills to use them.
Either way when you match with somebody the conversation will flow like normal back home. Knowing some Korean will help you communicate with a much larger demographic. I usually spend a day or two texting before asking to meet up for coffee or dinner. The ratio of matches to getting dates isn’t amazing, but it’s online dating. It’s so easy that most people are completely non-committal.
I hope you got a gist of what dating in Korea is like. It moves to relationship status fast, it’s more open-minded than you think, and you might just get a good deal of attention over here. It just depends on a few factors and how you present yourself. Maybe you also pick up a new language too. Honestly besides dating, learning a language is an amazing experience and is so much fun to do. I can’t recommend it enough and hope to write more about that in a future post.
I’ve had a great time meeting many fun and exciting people since I’ve been living here in South Korea, and I know you will too. If you have any comments or questions please leave them below or reach out to me on Becoming a Person’s contact page.