When and How to Bow in Korea – Seoulistic

Just like many Asian countries, bowing is a big part of greetings in Korea. It’s a way to show respect, say hi, thank you, and bye. So if you’re not sure how or when you should bow, watch this video to find out about bowing in Korea!

– When meeting someone in an informal setting in Korea, just a slight tilt of the head is usually ok. This simple bow is also used when saying hello, bye and thank you.

– For more important meetings (or people), the lower you bow, the more respect it shows (it also shows more respect if you hold the bow for a longer period). Hold your hands to the side or in front of you.

– The most respectful bow is called keunjeol (큰절 – “big bow”). This is only used for the most formal occasions and to show the most respect. Koreans typically give their older family members a big bow (keunjeol) on Lunar New Years (설날 – seollal) and the Harvest Festival (추석 – Chuseok). It’s also used for jesa (제사), which is a traditional Korean ceremony that respects ancestors. Also, men will do this to their fiance’s parents when they ask for their hand in marriage. Sometimes instead of a big bow (keunjeol), Korean girls will give 작은절 (jakeunjeol), aka small bow.


Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.


  1. En says:

    Besides greetings and thanking it is also a form of apology, isnt it?

  2. Sam Tsai says:

    i can’t help but think about g-dragon bowing to selena gomez at the mtv awards 2012 😀

  3. Jeff Elwell says:

    Sadly at work, customers tend to say, “Hey Brah! (short for bother)”. Greeting friends is mostly, “Hey!” and maybe a handshake. Really good friends not seen in awhile, it’s followed with a hug. Family it’s mostly hugs.

  4. sahar says:

    I dont like bow in front of people and human who are equal with me .respect can express with talking formal and polite and other ways
    I only bow for God.
    I have a question if a person from another country come korea she or he must bow to respect them? If dosent what happend?

    • JJ says:

      Koreans make a bow to each other so it doesn’t mean inequality between people.

    • JJ says:

      If you don’t like to bow, you don’t need to. Nothing happened. But, making a bow is just a polite way of greeting in Korea, like waving in western countries.

    • RQ says:

      it’s etiquette in Korea. Your reasoning is like saying, I don’t speak formally to people “who are equal with me…” I only speak formal to God. Ummm no. When I meet a person, even if they look younger than me, I speak to them with respect using, Miss, Mrs., Mr., Dr., or Sir. I see all humans as equal and they are neither above or below me. This is how I was raised. In my life I have only kneel to God, but I’ve never bowed. If I may ask, where do you come from, that you bow to God?

    • SMH... says:

      Bowing is a way of showing respect just like speaking (not talking) formally. You are just prioritizing your perspective over others because you practice ethnocentrism. Telling people that you only bow for god is pushing your own beliefs on others who may not be religious. So, if you want people to respect your culture, you need to respect theirs. If you are a visitor in their country, you need to show your appreciation for them hosting you. If you walk around like everyone is supposed to conform to whatever cultural norms that you practice, no one will want you around and their feeling would be justified.

      If you do not bow, you will not be accepted or welcome there because you are being a selfish and rude person. so, the best thing to do is get over yourself and grow up.

    • William Cole says:

      It’s not required to bow to South Koreans as a foreigner. But it will endear you to the local population. It also can enhance business relationships when done properly. A subordinate or younger person usually bows to a senior or older person. Bowing is done instinctively by most Asian countries. Kneeling is also done using the same rules. It’s a sign of respect shown to others. Non Asians have a hard time adjusting seeing these courtesies as demeaning, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. Koreans are wonderful people steeped in a deeply respectful culture. I spent years there as a white American and was accepted much more quickly by allowing myself to adopt the local customs and courtesies.

  5. TL says:

    What is the song playing in the background?? I really like it!

  6. Tiffany says:

    I love it. know if I go to Koreana I will know how to do it thanks.

  7. Tiffany says:

    I love it. I live in Korean and I can speak in English and write in English to I Benn studing English so I like it thanks.

  8. Melissa says:

    How to bow if we respect someones talent &that person has made a huge difference in your life (to say thank you wholeheartedly ) even if that person is younger to us? According to Korean standards.?

  9. Hi i was using tribuss but i ran out of my treatment so my friend gave me atroiza can i take it

  10. Shannon says:

    Thanks for this interesting article. I am currently writing a screenplay about a young Australian man who travels to Seoul and stays for one year. It is a romantic comedy. Articles such as this are very helpful when I do my research.

    I live with a large Vietnamese family here in America and we often do the nod of the head as a greeting. It is fun and sometimes funny. A deep bow is reserved for the elderly Vietnamese people.

  11. Rachel says:

    I live in Korea currently. I bow as a sign of respect. It’s not complicated. Been here 5 months now

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  14. Unknown 123 says:

    Korean people is popular with their bowing! 😀

  15. John says:

    What is Haesari? It was the one word sub title on a Korean film as a daughter raised her arms to her face and bowed before the grave of her mother on the anniversary of the mother’s death. But I can find nothing about it other than it referring places in Iran!

  16. Cami says:

    They are so polite with the bowing, but the way they slurp the food or talk with food in their mouth is really unpleasant..

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