You’ve got your travel bags, your passport and your nose for adventure.
But you might be missing something very crucial for your upcoming trip to Korea: an arsenal of handy Korean phrases.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be completely fluent to survive in the country.
Knowing even basic Korean will help you navigate through and make the best of your time, and hopefully, your experience will motivate you to learn even more of the language!
You can prepare beforehand with some great online courses or nifty Korean apps. There’s also useful translator apps you can use on the go while walking down the streets of Seoul.
However, it’s best that you study and lock into memory some crucial phrases that you may need to use any day of your travels.
So here’s a list of some essential phrases that we think you should know before immersing yourself in Korea.
40+ Korean Phrases You’ll Need for Smooth Travel
The phrases below will help you get a good handle on some basic Korean, and also help you survive in a travel situation. But if you really want to adequately prepare for a trip and get comfortable with the language, check out the authentic Korean videos on FluentU.
The bare fundamentals, a simple “Hello” or “Goodbye,” can be much appreciated by any native speaker.
안녕하세요 (ahn-nyung-ha-se-yo) — Hello
This can be said at any point in the day, and you can reply to this in exactly the same manner.
반갑습니다 (bahn-gap-seup-ni-da) — Nice to meet you
If you meet someone, especially someone of importance, you can illustrate your respect with this short phrase.
어떻게 지내세요? (uh-dduh-keh ji-neh-seh-yo?) — How are you?
Just a standard way to inquire about someone’s day. It can be used with those you’ve seen recently or those you haven’t seen in a while.
잘 지내요 (jal-ji-neh-yo) — I am good
A positive response to the above question of “How are you?” and can simply mean that all’s well in your world.
제 이름은 _____ (jeh ee-reum-un _____) — My name is _____
A simple way to introduce yourself to anyone.
안녕 (ahn-nyung) / 안녕히 계세요 (ahn-nyung-hee geh-seh-yo) / 안녕히 가세요 (ahn-nyung-hee gah-seh-yo) — Goodbye
“Goodbye” comes in different flavors in Korean. 안녕 is informal and should be used for friends and closer acquaintances. 안녕히 계세요 (lit. “Please stay well”) is specifically for when you are leaving the premises, but the other person is staying. Conversely, 안녕히 가세요 (Please leave well) is when you are staying, but the other person is leaving.
South Korea holds courtesy in high regard, so you’ll definitely want to learn some ways to express gratitude and respect. Doing so, especially when you’re a foreigner, will help you leave a good impression on those you interact with.
감사합니다 (gam-sa-ham-ni-da) — Thank you
This is a formal, all-around safe way to offer your gratitude. Alternatively, you may say 고맙습니다 (go-mahp-seup-ni-da).
천만에요 (chun-mahn-eh-yo) — You’re welcome (formal)
It’s not often that Koreans actually respond to a “Thank you” with a “You’re welcome,” but if you wish to be extra polite, then you can throw in this phrase. Normally, you can respond to thanks with a simple, humble 아닙니다 (ah-nib-nee-da), which means “It’s nothing.”
실례합니다 (shil-leh-hap-nee-da ; polite) / 잠시만요 (jam-shi-mahn-yo ; “wait a moment”) — Excuse me
실례합니다 is a very polite phrase used to get someone’s attention, such as for when you approach a stranger for help. 잠시만요 more or less means “Wait a moment” but can be used for situations such as when you need to push past or be a minor physical hindrance to people.
여기요 (yuh-gi-yo) — Over here
Use this phrase with a raised hand or some kind of physical gesture to get someone to come over to you. This can also be used to flag down a waiter in a restaurant.
죄송합니다 (jweh-sung-hap-nee-da) / 미안합니다 (mi-ahn-hap-nee-da) — I’m sorry
Used for any situation where you need to excuse your behavior. Both ways of saying sorry are formal and have an almost equal amount of weight (are interchangeable).
주세요 (ju-seh-yo) — Please give
Use this if you’re politely requesting an object from another person. This can be said alone, or follow after you specify what you want. For example, “Jeans 주세요.”
Navigating Around and Finding Your Way
It’s inevitable when you’re traveling in any country that you’ll go off-track at some point or lose your way. Worry not, as getting lost can make for a great adventure in your travels and be a perfect opportunity for you to practice your Korean as you interact with locals.
왼쪽 (oen-jjok) / 오른쪽 (oh-reun-jjok) / 직진 (jik-jjin) — left / right / straight
These are self-explanatory, and if you’re asking for directions, you’ll most definitely be hearing these words. Make sure you memorize them so you can at least pick up general directions.
길을 잃었어요 (gil-eul ilh-uht-suh-yo) — I’m lost
The phrase literally means “I lost my way” and will tell any native that you’ll need some navigation help. Follow up with something that will indicate where you’d like to go.
_____ 어디인지 아세요? (_____ uh-di-eehn-ji ah-seh-yo?) — Do you know where _____ is?
This will be critical anytime you need to locate anything. This phrase isn’t travel-specific, and can be used for most situations where you need to find a location (for example, you can use this phrase at a department store to find a specific shop).
잘 모르겠네요 (jal mo-reu-geht-neh-yo) — I don’t understand
It’s highly likely that you won’t understand every word of Korean you hear, and it’s best to let whoever’s talking to you know that! Many will be kind enough to try and simplify their message for your comprehension.
한국말 잘 못해요 (hahn-guhk-mal jal moht-heh-yo) — I don’t speak Korean well
A nice notification that will save you from being bombarded by Korean. Honesty is a good policy when it comes to using a foreign language.
영어 할 수 있어요? (yung-uh hal su-eet-suh-yo?) — Do you speak English?
Most Korean natives know some English to be able to help you out in a tough spot, so don’t be afraid to ask!
천천히 말씀해 주세요 (chun-chun-hee mal-sseum-heh ju-seh-yo) — Please speak slowly
Korean is a rather quickly-spoken language, especially when the speaker is quite emotional (Korean dramas, anyone?). Therefore, use this phrase to politely request a slow-down.
_____ (으)로 가주세요 (ih-roh gah-ju-seh-yo) — Please take me to _____
If you need a guiding hand, then this will be the phrase to use. You can quickly find people willing to direct you to where you need to go. This phrase can also be used to inform a taxi driver of your destination. (When the place name ends with a consonant, use “으로,” otherwise use “로.”)
화장실이 어디예요? (hwa-jang-shil-ee uh-di-eh-yo?) — Where is the bathroom?
Because in the world of travel, being able to find a bathroom is essential. Note that 어디예요, by itself, means “where is it.”
South Korea is a food-lover’s paradise. On every street, you’ll find indoor and outdoor food venues, selling everything from traditional Korean meals to trendy snack foods. These phrases will help you when you’re up for some indulgent dining.
_____ 주세요 (_____ ju-seh-yo) — Please give me _____
To order your meal, simply state it and tack on 주세요 afterwards. Short and simple!
메뉴 주세요 (meh-nyu ju-seh-yo) — Menu, please
More often than not, Korean restaurants won’t have the menu out on the tables. To get one, simply raise your hand and state this phrase.
계산서 주세요 (keh-san-suh ju-seh-yo) — Bill, please
Waiters in Korean restaurants often will not personally ask if you’ve finished your meal, so once your stomach is satisfied and you’re ready to head out, ask for the bill!
싸 주세요 (ssa ju-seh-yo) — Please wrap / It’s to-go
If you want wrapped leftovers, you definitely have to let your servers know as they probably will assume otherwise. Note that you’ll likely only get your meal, not any side dishes, packed up.
저 알러지 있어요 (juh ahl-luh-ji eet-suh-yo) — I have an allergy
If you have an allergy, then you must say so. As delicious as Korean food is, the use of many ingredients in certain dishes can up the chances of the presence of a potential allergen. Notify your server of what you’re allergic to, preferably in Korean so that they know exactly what to exclude.
But don’t just settle for the bare minimum. In fact, you’ll want to learn all the words and phrases possible to make your Korean dining experience seamless—and thus, delicious! For that, I recommend the following video from FluentU’s Korean YouTube channel.
Whether you’re trying to order food or you’re looking for and trying to understanding recommendations from the waiter, learning beyond the basics can turn your dining experience into a full-on Korean cultural experience. Korean speakers are passionate about the food they make and serve, but they’re even more passionate about foreigners trying something new and taking an interest in Korean cuisine.
Wow your Korean waiter or waitress with the phrases in the above video, and check out other awesome videos on FluentU Korean’s YouTube channel.
With its plethora of food establishments, South Korea also has a huge variety of shopping outlets. You definitely won’t get bored by what’s available for purchase, so you’ll want to know what exactly to say when something catches your eye and makes you reach for your wallet.
_____ 있어요? (eess-uh-yo?) — Do you have _____?
Use this phrase on a store employee if there’s something specific on your mind.
얼마에요? (uhl-mah-eh-yo?) — How much is it?
It’s highly recommended to know how numbers work in Korean, as there are two distinct systems that are used in different contexts. However, if you’re not overly familiar with them, it’s probable that the cashier will be able to tell you the price in English.
카드 받으세요? (kah-deu bat-euh-seh-yo?) — Do you take credit cards?
South Korea has a high credit card usage rate, so you shouldn’t have a problem if you’re strapped for cash and only have your card on hand.
환불해 주세요 (hwan-bul-heh ju-seh-yo) — Please give me a refund
Be prepared with a good reason for your request! Even if you’re a foreigner, you’ll still need to explain yourself (and explain well!) to the store employee.
교환해 주세요 (gyo-hwan-heh ju-seh-yo) — Please give me an exchange
If your shopping purchase is damaged or needs to be switched to fit your needs, then use this phrase to notify the employee. You shouldn’t have a hard time with this request, especially if you have a valid reason.
In the event that an urgent situation pops up and you’re in need of direct, quick help, you’ll need some quick phrases to get proper attention.
도와주세요! (doh-oah-ju-seh-yo!) — Help!
A straightforward call for assistance. This literally means “Give me help,” to which a proper response might be 도와줄게요 (doh-oah-jeul-ke-yo), which means “I will give you help.”
긴급 상황이에요 (gin-geup-sahng-hwang-ee-eh-yo) — It’s an emergency
Whatever the nature of your problem, this phrase will get you rapid assistance. Consider who exactly you need to help you, whether it’s the police or the paramedics, for example.
경찰 / 경찰을 부르세요 (kyung-chal / kyung-chal-eul bu-reu-seh-yo) — Police / Call the police
It’s helpful to know that in South Korea, the phone number to contact the police is 112. But in case you don’t have a phone or are in quick need of legal service, saying the above phrase to a native will most likely get the help you need.
병원 (byung-uon) — Hospital
If you say this phrase alone to a native, that could be enough of an alert for them to aid you. If you need quick medical attention and know you need care at a hospital, then use this phrase.
여기가 아파요 (yuh-gi-gah ah-pah-yo) — It hurts here
This is useful for any injury you receive that needs to be treated. Along with this phrase, point to where exactly you feel pain.
의사가 필요해요 (uie-sah-gah pil-yo-he-yo) — I need a doctor
Along with the word for hospital, this is good to know if there’s ever a possibility that you need professional care. It’s possible someone will call an ambulance for you, should the situation be dire, but you should also know that the Korean phone number for the fire brigade and ambulance services is 119.
Here’s a couple of phrases you may hear anywhere, anytime, and aren’t necessarily attached to any one context.
화이팅! or 파이팅! (hwa-ee-ting! or pa-ee-ting!) — Fighting!
Slang used for encouragement, you can passionately exclaim this to boost one’s morale. It’s usually accompanied with a firm shake of the fist.
괜찮아요 (gwaen-chanh-ah-yo) — It’s okay
The equivalent to the English “It’s fine.” You can say this in a multitude of situations, such as expressing the state of your physical health or accepting a certain circumstance.
진짜요? (jin-jja-yo?) — Really?
Just in case you need some extra affirmation about something. This phrase is also commonly used as an exclamatory statement.
안 돼요 (ahn-dwae-yo) — It doesn’t work/It cannot (be)/No way
This phrase differs slightly in meaning depending on the context. You can use it for a variety of situations, from talking about a dysfunctional washing machine to adamantly denying a particular circumstance.
재미있어요 (jeh-mi-eess-uh-yo) — It’s fun
Of course, if you’re having fun and want to say so, then by all means you should! This phrase will be relevant quite frequently while you’re out and about adventuring in Korea.
With these phrases as part of your mental luggage, you’ll be more confident and have a more satisfying trip to Korea.
Safe travels, or as you would say in Korean, 여행 잘 하세요 (yeo-hehng jal ha-seh-yo), 조심해서 가세요 (jo-shim-heh-suh ga-seh-yo) !
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