How Many Visitors Miss Out on Saving Money while Shopping in Korea – Seoulistic

How Many Visitors Miss Out on Saving Money while Shopping in Korea

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Shopping in Korea is a favorite activity for anyone traveling to Korea. What many people don’t know when they visit Korea is that they’re paying more than they actually have to! Find out how you can shop in Korea and save your hard earned money!

Many people that are traveling to Korea don’t know that taxes are included in every purchase. But there are a number of ways you can save money on your trip to Korea!

The Semi-Obvious – Duty Free Shops

Incheon Airport is obvious for duty free shopping. But that’s only for when you’re on your way out of Korea. Don’t you want to do some shopping when you’re inside Korea and not rushing to take a plane? Of course you do! Korea has a number of duty free shops within Korea. Many of these duty free shops are located inside major department stores and in shopping malls. It’s also awesome as you don’t have to carry anything back to your hotel room. Just shop and pick it up at the airport for when you’re about to leave. Yay for hands free shopping!

Wondering where to shop in Korea? Click here for a list of duty free shops in Seoul.
(If you’re living in Korea, you can also take advantage of this if you are taking a flight leaving Korea.)

Note: Reader Ling reports that hands-free shopping is for Korean shoppers only 🙁 Thanks for the tip Ling!

Not So Obvious – Tax Refunds in Korea

Of course everyone knows about duty free shopping. But not everyone knows that you can get a cash refund when you shop in Korea. Some participating retailers help shopaholics in Korea save cash. Wherever you see these signs posted on doors of retailers, you can unleash the beast in you to buy whatever you want tax free… kinda. You actually have to pay the taxes up front, but once you fill out a few forms, and declare a few things at customs, you’ll be able to get that cash back. The process can be a hassle, and that’s partly why this free cash-in hand system is underutilized. But if you like to save money while you shop in Korea, check out Korea Tourism’s Website for more details on how to get a tax refund and save money while shopping!

Participating retailers can commonly be found in Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Itaewon, Coex.
Note: Tax refunds only apply to those that are coming for travel (on a tourist visa). Sorry Korea residents. You’re stuck paying taxes!

Tip: For both of these, remember to bring you passport and flight information. You’ll have to fill out a few forms.

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. Oegukeen says:

    Thank you for these helpful tips. How much is VAT in Korea?

  2. Ling says:

    Hello Keith
    Thanks for this article…was wondering how long before a write up on shopping in Seoul would grace your site!

    Just a very important point you might wish to note (and perhaps edit if you so wish)…..
    the ” Just shop and pick it up at the airport for when you’re about to leave. Yay for hands free shopping!” ONLY applies to Koreans for outbound flights…ie Koreans who are travelling OUT of Korea…..(yay to the Korean government for helping its people economise on those baggage weight so as to pack more kimchis!!)…and NOT for international tourists….For the latter, unless and until we swap our passports for that of ROK, we still NEED to lug our precious purchases with us back to our hotels and factor them into our luggage weight!!!

    Found this out the semi-hard way when I was in Seoul few months back….
    Thought I had stumbled upon a loop hole to capitalise on baggage weightage UNTIL the SA at the Lotte Duty-Free informed that the benefit of collating your esteemed duty-free purchases at the airport ONLY applies to Koreans flying OUT of the country…..which made me emptied my basket faster than I could utter “Bulgogi”……”le sigh”….so much for unleashing the beauty in me, in grabbing all those coveted Korean skincare which I previously could only touch and linger upon, on my pc screen…..( I had to watch which item landed into my shopping basket as most of the skincare are packaged in glass bottles which ultimately drags down the scales’ needles!)

    At that point of my visit, Korea residents were also exempted from tax in shopping if they shop at the Duty-Free shops…with a valid outbound flight ticket…..and this was validated by the SA at Lotte Duty-Free….I was there in Dec 2011 with a Korean friend, so perhaps some recent changes were made & Koreans on outbound flights are no longer exempted from tax, which then defeats the purpose of them shopping at the Duty Free, no? …..might as well hit the shops on the high-streets….

  3. Keith says:

    Ling, thanks for your very helpful comments! I’ve edited the post to reflect them 🙂

    Did you participate in the tax refund or only duty free? Curious to see someone’s first hand account of the tax refund system and how much of a hassle it is!

  4. EL says:

    You guys are awesome! I learned a lot about Korea with your help..

  5. Hager says:

    woooooooooooow it’s amazing information 🙂 it will be useful to me coz i’ll come 2 Korea on 2 July 😛
    i wish to meet u there guys

  6. Richard says:

    Who cares about saving money while on a trip…Who would even bother for a tax refund… Just spend as much as you want, Korean product is fairly cheap comparing to North America.

  7. Marios says:

    A comment on what Ling experienced concerning duty-free shopping. Last year I bought several things (including some beauty creams) in the Myeongdong Lotte Department Store Duty Free shop and arranged to pick up the items at Incheon International Airport. I am not Korean and although I have an Alien Registration Card I don’t recall having to show it or give them my ID number.

    As for the tax refund part, I have only tried it in Europe, in which case I had to first go to the Customs office (before security check), open my suitcase, show them what I had bought, and give them the receipt plus the necessary forms, which the customs offices checked and stamped accordingly. I then had to go back to check-in counter to give my luggage, pass security check, and then visit the Customs office again (after security check), at which point the Customs officer took all papers and gave me a new receipt with the amount of money to be paid to me. Finally, I had to take this final receipt to a nearby bank desk and get the money (either cash or direct transfer to a credit card).

    So all in all I would have to say that tax refund, at least in Greece, is indeed a bit of a hassle and probably not extremely worth it, unless the amount of money if significant.

  8. Sharyl says:

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  9. AW says:

    I also want to comment on Ling’s experience with duty free shopping. We bought lots of different things and noticed that some items we were given right away and some we had to wait for airport pickup. So I believe there may be “categories” of what you may or may not pick up right away/pick up at airport. Skincare from Tony Moly and the other assortment of skincare stores, we were given right away. Fun stuff from Kakao store we were given right away. High end leather goods, skin creams and cigarettes, we had to wait and pick them up at the airport on our outbound flight. I just assumed this is because the government doesn’t want you buying gifts for friends, tax free?

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