Korean Culture: Gifts


If you’ve got a Korean friend or have been living in Korea for a while, it can be quite difficult to decide what to buy someone as a gift depending on the occasion, but luckily Korean culture dictates what you should buy! Here is a guide to buying gifts in Korea!

Wedding (결혼식)


Much like the rest of Asia, if you’re a friend of the groom or bride then your gift wont be very exciting. Tradition suggests that a certain amount of money should be placed in a red envelope in which you will write your name on. The amount of money that is placed within the envelop depends on how well you know the person who invited you and how much you think of your relationship. The general minimum amount given is 30,000 won, but if you’re good friends with the person it can range all the way up to 500,000 won. A good rule to follow is 30,000 won, 50,000 won, 70,000 won and after that it should follow hundreds of thousands such as 100,000 won or 200,000 won not 150,000 won or 169,000 won. The origins of the tradition is unknown but followed like religion. Usually before the wedding someone will be in charge of collecting the envelopes as guests arrive and write down in a book a record of all gifts given.

Normally Koreans will start living together after marriage and because of this family members will usually provide the bride and groom with gifts that are useful for their apartment such as a fridge, TV or laundry machine. Sometimes best friends will also provide similar gifts, but more commonly they will just give the couple money like everyone else!

First Birthday (돌잔치)

In Korea a babies first birthday, 돌잔치 or “doljanchi,” is an important celebration in which a ceremony is held to bless the child with a prosperous future. In the past death rates were very high for children and many children died before their first birthday, so it’s remained an important milestone for the baby and the parents. While the whole village use to celebrate a babies first birthday by sharing food, wishing for good fortune and a long-lasting life, nowadays the ceremony is a little simpler. Often the baby will be dressed in a hanbok with a traditional hat, while relatives and friends will come visit to celebrate. In the past a traditional gift would be a small gold ring for the babies little fingers or a gold bracelet if the price of gold is affordable. Nowadays money in an envelop (who would have guessed?) is acceptable, as well as baby clothes or items (which are usually quite expensive in Korea!).

Housewarming (집들이)


After your friend gets married, you might be invited to their housewarming party! Thankfully buying a housewarming gift is quite easy and pretty funny! The most stereotypical housewarming gift in Korea is toilet paper! Koreans often want to give their friends something useful! Other than toilet paper, people tend to give laundry detergent or anything else useful in the house such as fruit boxes! Nowadays Koreans are starting to following western traditions and a nice bottle or wine or liquor is obviously welcomed!

Birthday (생일)


Buying a perfect gift for a Korean friend can be quite tiresome, however there are a lot of stereotypical Korean gifts that never fail! If you’ve ever had a birthday in Korea you’d be use to receiving a lot of birthday cakes and this is a perfectly acceptable gift to give to someone who you’re friends with but don’t know really well or aren’t really close to. If you’re looking to give something a little more, Koreans commonly give each other something that is useful or smells good. The most given gifts are tied between moisturizer and candles! Whether you’re giving a gift to a male or female, both genders in Korea appreciate these gifts, especially if they’re bought from a well-known brand. If you want to spend a lot of this person then consider purchasing a western styled gift such as bath sets, perfume or jewelry for women and a wallet or electronics like an electric shaver for men!

Teachers Day (스승의 날)


Celebrated on the 15th of May, Teachers day is a day intended for a student to show their appreciate to their teacher! So of course this means buying a gift! The most common gifts given on teachers day are flowers and roses! However other gifts can range from chocolates to moisturizer and even neckties for male teachers. If you’re a student don’t forget to show your appreciation and buy your teacher a gift!

Visiting Elders (할머니 / 할아버지 찾아뵙기)

Whenever you visit an elder in Korea you should remember to bring them a gift as a sign of respect! Often if someone is visiting their parents they will remember to bring a box of fruit or a fruit basket as an offering to their good health! This part of Korean culture is actually quite sweet and you’ll surprise a lot of Koreans if you’re a foreigner who brings a gift for Korean elders! They will respect that you take note of Korean traditions!

Seollal (설날) & Chuseok (추석)


During Seollal & Chuseok is unlikely that you’ll have the opportunity to join a Korean family in their celebrations, but if you get the chance don’t forget to bring a gift! Often during these holidays in every general store you enter you will see them selling overpriced gift boxes of oil, spam and fruits! Any of these gift boxes are a great gift when visiting someone during this period, however mostly they are given by bosses to their employees and customers!

During Seollal the younger generation will be given money in a red envelopment after bowing to their parents and grandparents. However in Chuseok younger generations will give money to their elders as almost pocket-money. Usually children will not give anything until they are adults and the amount depends on the sons or daughters salary, but usually consists of more than 100,000 won inside the envelope! The money giving can be a little confusing, find a detailed explanation here.

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Take a look at our post about Korean Holidays to see what other special occasions you might need to give gifts! What gifts did you give or receive during these special days? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jamie has spent the last 3 years in and out of Asia, including living in South Korea for 2 years. He plans to turn his travel knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit into something that can benefit the community. He enjoys turning his wacky ideas into realistic concepts, improving his photography skills and looking at which rocks will fit his fish tank best. At the age of 24, he is the co founder of Teaching Travel.