Do you have a friend or loved one living in South Korea that you need to buy a last-minute gift for? After spending several years living here, these are my favorite picks for gifts that ship within South Korea that (a) accept foreign-issued credit cards, and (b) ship quickly.
One of the oddities of living in South Korea is that most domestic merchants do not accept foreign credit cards like those issued in the United States or Europe. So, besides the language barrier, many Korean shopping malls are not well integrated with foreign payment systems. If you do not have a Korean debit or credit card, it can be next to impossible to buy anything online. Also, if you don’t have a Korean (local) phone number, ordering anything online from overseas is also a challenge.
Buying Gifts Local to Korea
The following merchants have both an English language website (or at least accessible through Google Translate on Chrome) and will accept foreign-issued credit cards during checkout.
When I had just arrived in South Korea, one of my best friends from Brooklyn managed to purchase some plant seeds from Gmarket Global as a welcome-to-Korea and housewarming gift to my new apartment in Seoul, South Korea. It was one of the sweetest and most thoughtful gifts as I was adjusting to life here.
Make sure that you’re shopping on Gmarket Global for an English language selection. Gmarket.co.kr is their Korean language website which does offer better pricing for those living locally in Korea, but the website will be harder to navigate for non-Korean speakers.
There are often end-of-year sales in South Korea like the United States, so take advantage of the holiday shopping. You can find anything from electronics to beauty products on this Korean shopping platform.
When shopping for goods, also double-check where the item is shipping from. You’ll want to look for items that ship locally within Korea rather than overseas. Items that are shipped locally usually arrive very fast and those arriving from overseas may be subject to long shipping times and import taxes/duties. Nothing in Korea should take more than a week to ship unless it is handmade or back-ordered as it is a very small country.
Just whatever you decide to buy, I highly discourage you from purchasing a spam gift set. These things crop up at every grocery store in South Korea around the holidays, and I’m baffled by it.
If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path gifts for someone living in South Korea, I recommend purchasing an experience from Trazy. There are often fun workshops like make-your-own jewelry, cooking classes, beauty spa vouchers, or amusement park tickets that you can purchase here. Though they cater more to tourists, it is always fun to be a tourist in your own city now and again.
Waug falls under much of the same category as Trazy, but with a slightly broader selection at times. I’ve gone to the Seoul Seorae Village Spa Hyurijae recently for an 80-minute massage during these stressful times, and it was lovely.
I’ve received deliveries from Flowergift Korea many times from friends in the US — from cakes to wine and everything in between. If your boyfriend or girlfriend, bestie, or sister lives in South Korea, and you want to surprise them with a delicious treat or bouquet of red roses, look no further!
Albeit not the cheapest route, it is one of the most popular sites for flower delivery for expats living in South Korea. The flowers are always beautifully wrapped with ribbons and carefully preserved with a plastic bag for water.
The delivery driver is always very responsive and timely. When I receive gifts from this place, they usually text or call me on the day of delivery in which I ask to have the flowers left by my door. When I return home after a long day in the office, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see the delights within the gift bag.
Shuttle is a food delivery service that caters to expats living in South Korea. If you want to treat your friend, partner, or family member to a nice meal, you can either schedule a food delivery via one of the local restaurants in South Korea, or you can purchase a gift voucher from 10,000 KRW to 500,000 KRW.
You cannot purchase anything directly from the group, Handmade Market Korea, but you can search different local vendors on their Facebook group. Many of the vendors within the Handmade Market Korea group are expats or English-speakers living in South Korea who may be able to accept foreign credit cards for delivery within South Korea. Though there is no online directory for their vendor list, they frequently have events and many of the vendors post directly on their Facebook group as part of self-promotion. Try reaching out to one of the vendors for a special gift for someone in Korea!
You can purchase handmade jewelry via Etsy or reach out directly to the Seoul-based owner via Instagram. She also offers worldwide shipping in case you want to treat yourself to a gift as well!
This is the Asian side of me speaking, but when in doubt, send cash as gifts. Sure, it may be a bit impersonal, but who doesn’t actually want money? Let’s be honest here.
The best way to send money to friends and family in South Korea is Wise (formerly known as TransferWise). Sure, I plugged my referral code in there, but it’s legitimately great, and whether or not you use the referral code, I think it’s worth bookmarking. I use it to send money from my US bank account to my Korean bank account from time to time after a lot of comparison shopping with different online services, and it’s safe. You can read more about transferring money to Korea in my article, How to Transfer Money to or from South Korea.