Last year, before I moved to South Korea I remember how many relatives I had to assure that I was not planning to die any soon, living in Asia and so close to the feared North Korea. Brought up in Central Europe, I have enjoyed the rather “safe” and boring life. In a small country like Czech Republic nothing much happens, and local events definitely don’t appear on the headlines of overseas newspapers as often as Korean news does. The whole world is continuously focused on whether the threat of another war will emerge in the divided peninsula. Therefore, for most parts of the world, South Korea has sadly turned into one of the most “dangerous” countries to live in. However, is this assumption well-grounded at all?
Let us take a look at the overall statistics. According to the Travel Guide, South Korea has a high safety index at 82%. To compare South Korea to one of the Europe’s most visited countries, the United Kingdom, its index is marked only at 77%. The biggest problem facing European countries are issues regarding mugging, along with other fraudulent techniques of pickpocketing and scamming. As a person with a first-hand experience with of multiple types of robbery, I always advise everyone traveling around Europe to hold onto their belongings very tightly.
Moreover, with the disturbing growth of terrorist attacks in recent years, Europe is on the road to becoming much more violent then it seemed to be. Only during last year in 2017, London has seen three major terrorist incidents, which claimed 15 lives and injured around 100 people. The 2017 June Bridge attack, during which Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba struck multiple pedestrians crossing the London Bridge (to later attack the nearby Borough Market shoppers with knives) not only left eight people dead and 48 injured but caused another shock for the entire Europe. We could also mention the numerous other terrorist attacks that occurred in France, Russia and in Germany. This is not to say that by entering Europe, one would most likely be involved in some kind of tragic misfortune. However, it is for certain that the long cherished “peace” in many of its countries is becoming much less assured. Then what about South Korea?
The main concern of the majority of people planning to visit or move to South Korean is the safety of one’s daily life, the common social safety and to some extent, national security. Pickpocketing and other kinds of robbery are one of the few things no one has to worry too much about in South Korea. I am always amazed by the Koreans’ boldness in leaving their belongings lying around in various public spaces with the firm belief that they will all be there when they return. Strangely enough – what seems to be 99% of time – they are all there untouched and in the exact conditions they were when left behind. Based on the stories of many people I have met in Korea, you can apparently fall asleep drunk on the street and wake up the next day with your wallet and keychain still intact. Despite the fact that major tourist areas in Seoul are attracting more mobsters alongside tourists as well, the chance you will get robbed is still very low. In the list of world rankings that account for the number of robberies committed per 100,000 people in 2014, South Korea came in 72th place, while the United Kingdom is ranked much higher, at 28th place.
Although robbery is not so much of a risk in South Korea compared to other European countries I have lived in, there is one big danger everyone needs to be aware of when entering Korea – cars. South Korean traffic reminds me of one big chaotic labyrinth of honking cars, maneuvering buses and yelling people. In Europe, I would often try to save time by jaywalking, in Korea, that is not an option unless one wishes to get run over. Drivers regularly take risks on the road, exceed speed limits or unexpectedly change lines. To this day Korea has one of the highest rates of traffic deaths among developed countries. According to the World Health Organization, in 2013, 5 931 people have died in South Korea due to traffic accidents alone, which is alarming when considering that 12 deaths occurred per 100 000 inhabitants. To contrast once more with the United Kingdom, 1827 deaths on roads occurred in the same year, which accounted for a total of 2.9 deaths for 100 000 citizens. Therefore, as much as you can stop watching over your bag when arriving to Korea, it is advised to look to both sides numerous times before ever crossing a road.
And what about security concerns surrounding the relationship with North Korea? I intentionally left this concern for the end. There is one simple answer only a person living in Korea would have the experience to provide – nothing much happens. Although at the moment, North Korea is and will remain a big threat to the world peace, an ordinary person in South Korea would barely be affected by the little impact it has on daily life. The risk of terrorist activities in South Korea is considered low, the Intelligent Protection International Limited safety report states that: “there is a low threat from domestic terrorism”. Despite the continuous challenges with negotiating with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, the status quo hopefully should not change anytime soon. The people most concerned with North Korea ironically seem to be the ones farthest away from it. The European and American media appear to pay more attention to this conflict than regular Korean citizens I have talked to. I have heard more about North Korea while living in Europe. These days, I would fear dangerous acts of violence much more if I were to visit any major city in Europe than I would staying just 35 miles away from the boarder of one of the most “feared” countries in the world.
Judging from the numbers and my personal experience, I can say with confidence that South Korea is indeed a very safe country. Recently, a number of deaths and casualties were caused by natural disasters such as fires. However, just looking at everyday life, I have never felt this safe in any other European country I have lived in. The dangers a woman has to face walking in the city, or of those many tourists could encounter during their travels, are far more miniscule than in many parts of Europe’s most developed countries. In fact, the South Korean Tourism Board continues to report a steady growth in the number of visitors to South Korea as more people outside of Korea learn about the beauty of this country. You may have to consider twice before driving a car in South Korea but other than that, you will feel secure and calm almost anywhere you go to.