Things that may shock you if you visit Korea in 2023

More restrictions are being freed, more flights are being recovered. We can already see numerous foreign tourists at the airport, on the streets, and in the hashtags(#visitkorea #koreatravel #koreatrip #interestingkorea). So, long time no see Korea! In case you need latest information, which is culturally shocking, maybe, before you visit South Korea in 2023.

1. Naver and KakaoTalk Dominance

Whether you visit or reside in Korea, there are most-install applications in your smartphone, and they are not Google(web searching, map) nor Meta(WhatsApp).

Naver is the most popular web search engine in South Korea and has a dominant market share in the country. According to a study by the Korea Internet & Security Agency, Naver marked a market share of over 70% in South Korea in 2020, maintains over 60% in 2022.

Google is trying to catch, but far away from Naver’s dominance in searching market in Korea

In addition to search, Naver provides a wide variety of services like blogs, news, and online communities that provides a more diverse and informative search experience for Koreans.

A few of the most notable services provided by Naver are:

  1. Search: Naver is known for its powerful search engine, which is able to provide highly personalized and relevant search results(mostly in Korean).
  2. Blogs: Naver shows the Naver Blog posts on the top of the search result, so it’s used as a most powerful marketing tool for individuals and companies.
  3. Mail: Naver Mail is one of the most popular email services in South Korea, with a user-friendly interface, a large storage, and spam filtering.
  4. Shopping: Naver Shopping helps users can compare and purchase a wide range of products from various retailers.
  5. News: Naver News provides a wide range of news articles from various sources of South Korea.

If Naver dominants searching market in Korea, KakaoTalk is holding communication market in South Korea, with over 50 million active users. It offers features such as messaging, voice and video calls, and of course, a wide range of social media and e-commerce services.

Additionally, KakaoTalk has also developed its own mobile platform, which includes apps, games, and other content that are exclusive to its platform. “KakaoPay” is a built-in mobile banking and payment service, and “KakaoT” is all-in-one mobility service that helps you to call a taxi, rent an e-bike, call for a delivery(so called ‘quick service’), park, and more. The exclusiveness of the app has made it a key player in the mobile ecosystem in South Korea.

Kakao’s services draw people into their powerful ecosystem

KakaoTalk has influenced the way businesses interact with customers and market their products. Many businesses in South Korea use KakaoTalk as a marketing tool, using it to create chatbots, campaigns, and other tools to interact with customers and promote their products.

Above all else, if you are visiting Korea for the first time, the first thing you should do is install the Kakao or Naver Map. Either map is widely used by locals and provides detailed information about locations, public transportation, and real-time traffic updates, which are unavailable on Google Maps in South Korea. Both are available in English and are free.

2. T-money is evolving

T-money is a prepaid card that can be used for various forms of transportation in South Korea, such as buses, subways, and trains. Many cities around the world have similar systems such as Oyster card in London, Octopus card in Hong Kong, and EZ-link card in Singapore, but as the first truly nationwide transportation card, T-money can be used in public transportation throughout Korea, not only in one city, but covering 96% of the whole country. Whether you are traveling in Seoul or around the country, T-money is the first thing you should purchase when you visit Korea.

You can not only choose from various designs, but also customize your own

What has T-money made more convenient is that it can also be used at various retails. You can use the card at convenient store brands(GS25, CU, SevenEleven, Mini Stop, Story Way, E-mart 24, etc.), cafe brands(Starbucks, Ediya, Pascucci, Angelinus, etc.), fastfood(McDonald’s, Lotteria), and even cosmetic shops(Aritaum, The Faceshop, Tonymoly, Innisfree) around Korea.

Furthermore, if you use Android smartphone and local USIM, you don’t even need the physical card. The ‘Mobile T-money’, supporting almost every USIM purchased in Korea, will make you card-free. It means you can use all the T-money services only with your smartphone, which is ironic while the Apple Pay is still unavailable in Korea.

3. Apple Pay… maybe next month?

UPDATE(8 Feb) : Hyundai Card said they plan to launch Apple Pay in Korea in collaboration with Apple.

UPDATE(21 March) : Apple Pay officially launched in South Korea

You can use Samsung Pay, Kakao Pay, and even T-money pay all over the country, but Apple Pay is unavailable in Korea, yet.

Korea is the only country among the top 10 countries in terms of global GDP (gross domestic product) that has not introduced Apple Pay. Apple Pay is currently in service in more than 70 countries around the world.

The difference in payment methods in Korea and the concerns about security are the key matters. In Korea, payment infrastructure for using Apple Pay, which only supports NFC, is insufficient. In addition, Apple Pay system has potential threat of leaking of personal information overseas.

The introduction of Apple Pay has already been a desire of Korean consumers for several years. In fact, domestic card companies were negotiating with Apple to introduce Apple Pay, but has failed. In the online community, the phrase ‘pay next month’ is being talked about over Apple Pay. It is a metaphor for the situation in which only rumors such as ‘it will be released next month’ have been rampant.

4. BTS is not the most popular singer in Korea

BTS’s 9th anniversary album ‘Proof’ was sold more than 2,155,363 copies within just one day of its release, which became the record in the history of Hanteo Chart. They made their 6th No. 1 album on ‘Billboard 200’. Jungkook stood on the stage of the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. These have been happened only in 2022.

Despite all the factors that BTS rocks the world pop music scene, they are not, even yet, the most popular idol group in Korea. According to the Acha ranking’s 2022 annual analyses, 6 more singers are ahead on the list. BTS recorded highest points in broadcast, web searching, and social media, but couldn’t make a top at other meters, especially at Youtube streaming compared to other singers.

Currently, girl groups occupy the music charts in Korea. Aespa, Ive, and ITZY have joined the ranks of million sellers, which had been led by boy groups, and new generation girl groups such as Le Seraphim and New Jeans are creating a new sensation by occupying the top spot on music charts.

The main reason is the variety of music and stage. The recent girl groups are different from the girl groups of the past who were innocent, cute, or sexy. As more and more girl groups come out with confident and independent lyrics and strong performances, they have strongly supported by Korean female fans who lead the market.