Everything You Need to Know about Korean Gift Culture


This is a complete guide to Korean gift culture.

I grew up in South Korea and have exchanged my share of gifts.

This guide covers what to give in each situation by age group and gender.

Let’s check it out!

Korean Gift Culture

Korean love being festive. And that means giving lots of gifts too. There are ones for each holiday and occasion. They even have gifts for business situations and their own shopping apps.

More about Korean Online Shopping

ESSENTIAL TIPS:

  • Shopping in Korea can be cheap with apps and coupons.
  • Get a free voucher for Shilla Duty Free Seoul Store with discounts up to 10% here.
  • Save money by booking your Korea Rail Pass online.
  • Koreans commonly send gifts through Kakao Talk.
  • Some apps aren’t available overseas. If you’re not in Korea yet, access everything with VPN here!
  • If you want to get fluent in Korean fast, check out Pimsleur for free here.

When do Koreans give gifts?

1. January or February: Seollal

Lingua Asia_Gift_Tangerine
Premium fruit assortments are a popular choice during Seollal.

Seollal is Korean Lunar New Years. It’s one of the biggest holidays in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

During this time, Koreans visit grandparents or parents and exchange small gifts like socks.

Normally, people get a big bonus or gift from their companies, such as amenity sets, packages of Spam or canned food.

As a kid, this is the perfect time to get pocket money in an envelope from relatives.

When you come of age, as in get a job, it’s time to repay this by giving gifts to elders and money to younger relatives.

Newlyweds need to buy more thoughtful gifts for parents like KGC red ginseng.

2. February 14: Valentine’s Day

Lingua Asia_Dessert Gift_2021

Korean Valentine’s Day is a bit different from other countries.

★What gifts do they give?

It’s a day when women give chocolate to men (usually girlfriends to boyfriends).

If you’re hot, you’ll receive many boxes of chocolate and be asked out.

3. March 14: White Day

Lingua Asia_Flower_Gift_2021
Flowers are never a bad choice on White Day.

It began in Japan, but is very common in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

On White Day, men give candy to women (usually boyfriends to girlfriends) in return.

Just like Valentine’s Day in Korea, pretty girls will get lots of candies.

4. May: Children’s Day on May 5, Parents’ Day on May 8, Teachers’ Day on May 15

May is also known as Family Month in Korea. It’s when Koreans can’t save much money.

Lingua Asia_Parents Day Gift_Korea_2021
The note reads, “We love you, and filial duties are completed with cash”.

★What gifts do they give?

As you can imagine, children receive toys or dolls on Children’s Day.

They also get to spend time with their parents, usually at the zoo or amusement park.

Instead of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Koreans celebrate Parents’ Day at the same time on May 8.

Most kids give carnations to their parents with a letter.

Adults usually give carnations and cash.

I once gave my parents carnations made of gold. I’m planning to buy them a massage chair as it’s a popular gift for parents.

This might be compensation for the stress we gave them.

5. September or October: Chuseok

Chuseok is like Korean Thanksgiving, except it’s celebrated during the harvest moon.

After Seollal, it’s the second biggest holiday in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

Gifts are nearly identical to those given on Seollal.

6. November 11: Pepero Day

Lingua Asia_Pepero Day_2020
Koreans are getting creative with Peppero Day. This is a Macaron version.

A huge marketing success for Lotte in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

People exchange Pepero snacks on November 11 since the date looks like Pepero sticks (11/11).

Couples usually give each other Pepero, but anyone can exchange them regardless of gender or age.

7. November 18: Suneung Day

The most important day for young Koreans. This is when they take their college entrance exams.

★What gifts do they give?

Chocolate for brain power.

Yeot (sticky Korean traditional confectionery or 엿).

Chapssal-tteok (Korean rice cake or 찹쌀떡 like Mochi).

Parents will usually take their children to eat beef afterwards.

8. December 25: Christmas

Lingua Asia_Christmas_Ice Cream Cake_2020
Christmas is synonymous with Baskin Robins ice cream cake, their marketing team has done well.

Unlike westerners who celebrate Christmas with family, most Koreans spend Christmas with their significant other.

And of course, they exchange gifts.

★What gifts do they give?

Men usually get leather gloves, watches or brand wallets like Mont Blanc or Gucci.

Women usually get accessories, watches or cosmetics like SK2.

Koreans always eat cake on Christmas too. As in western style cake, usually from bakery chains.

9. Miscellaneous: Birthday, Anniversary, Moving, Baby, Business Gifts

Lingua Asia_Moving Gift_Korea_2021
Safest choice for a house warming party!
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Diaper cake for Baekil (100-day birthday celebration) will turn some heads.

Koreans love giving gifts on birthdays.

★What gifts do they give?

  • Cosmetics, accessories, or coffee/dessert coupons can be great presents.
  • Also, Koreans celebrate anniversaries frequently. Couples celebrate 100th day, every year, 1000th day, and so on.
  • Girls normally receive perfume, jewelry, brand purses; whereas guys get cologne, couple shoes, etc.
  • Also, Koreans love getting couple rings, even when they’re not married.
  • When Koreans open a new business, they give plants as a gift.
  • The Eternity Plant is 금전수 or 돈나무 in Korean, and is believed to bring luck (money).
Lingua Asia_Plant Gift_Korea_2021

What gifts do Koreans like?

Money!

No one will take offence if you give them money in Korea, as long as it’s in an envelope.

It’s a common gift for children or parents.

Even at weddings, Koreans give money at the entrance and then receive a meal coupon.

Only close friends give gifts like TVs or rice cookers to newlyweds.

Anything related to health

This includes:

  • Health supplements like vitamins, omega-3, red ginseng, probiotics
  • Healthy and delicious food ingredients like Korean beef (한우 or hanwoo), expensive mushrooms, wild ginseng
  • Massage devices and chairs that range from 30 dollars to thousands.

Alcohol

Drinking culture is very important in Korea and giving the gift of alcohol is very much OK.

Ajeossi (아저씨 or middle-aged men) especially love this gift.

Their preferred brands include Chivas Regal 18 or Ballantine’s 21 Year Old.

Go for Chivas Regal 25 YO or Ballantine’s 30 YO if you really want to impress someone.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label is also a solid choice.

These gifts boost social standing and make the receiver feel important. Very useful when you want to gain favor.

Cosmetics

As the birthplace of K-Beauty, Koreans pay a lot of attention to grooming.

It’s common to give cosmetics as a present.

For women, L’OCCITANE hand cream or MAC lipstick are safe choices.

For men, all-in-one cosmetics DTRT or cologne work well.

Coffee and Dessert

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Starbucks is guaranteed to brighten up someone’s day.

Koreans drink 12.3 cups of coffee per week.

Whenever I meet someone in Korea, I end up going to a cafe whether they’re my friends, family or business associates.

It makes sense that coffee coupons are one of the most casual and common gifts.

Most Koreans send coffee coupons for Starbucks through KakaoTalk Gift.

Which app do Koreans use to send gifts?

There are many types of apps in Korea, but the most popular one is the KakaoTalk messenger app.

Even my 81-year-old grandmother has an account.

Since everyone uses the app, it naturally became a platform for giving gifts.

People can choose any gift, purchase it within the app, then send a barcode with a cute card message.

Once you receive the gift message, you can either use the barcode at stores like Starbucks, or order the item to be delivered to your address.

Popular gifts are Starbucks coffee, cakes, fried chicken delivery, and even YSL lipsticks.

A wide range of choices.

Some of these apps won’t be available in your country. Access every Korean app with VPN here!

Interesting fact about gift culture in Korea

Unlike in western culture, Koreans don’t open a gift right away.

They usually take it home to open it when the giver isn’t around.

When Koreans want to open a gift right away, they politely ask, “may I open this? (열어봐도 괜찮아요?)”.

Another interesting situation is when Koreans get the first paycheck from their first job.

Koreans usually get their first job after graduating college.

And it’s common for Korean parents to pay for everything, including tuition, until they do.

So a tradition of buying thermal underwear (내복 or naebok) formed to show gratitude, even when it’s not winter.

30 years ago, the best gift was “red” thermal underwear due to nylon being developed in the 1960s.

Back then, the easiest color to dye nylon with was red.

Since it looked warm and symbolized health and wealth, it became a must-buy gift.

Now, red thermal underwear can be seen more in comedy shows, and most people buy plain colors like gray or beige.

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FAQ

What are some gifts to give someone who loves Korean culture?

Korean fans, teas, ginseng, seaweed snacks, ceramics or artwork such as calligraphy are sure to please any fan of Korean culture.

How important are gifts in Korean culture?

Like in most countries, gifts are a key part of socializing in Korea. It’s important to give a gift in return whenever you receive one.

This reciprocity isn’t always one-to-one. A key part of Korean gift culture is known as Naeri Sarang (내리사랑), which roughly translates to “love flowing downstream”. For example, if one of your aunts gave you many gifts as a child, you don’t give her gifts because she’s older (You can still give her a little bit on special occasions). You give gifts to her children instead.

This works the same with Seonbae (선배 or senior) and Hoobae (후배 or junior). Seonbae traditionally pay for meals when dining with juniors. You don’t buy seonbae meals in return, because they’re older, (make sure to buy a cup of coffee or tea after getting free meals though) but you do so for your hoobae when you get one.

How do you refuse a gift in Korean culture?

The short answer is you don’t (but make sure to pretend to refuse at least once to show good manners). It’s very insulting to the gift giver and will harm or possibly end the relationship.

It’s better to receive gifts with a happy heart and buy them something in return.

Did we miss anything?

Thank you for reading! Giving gifts in Korea can be a lot of fun.

Leave a comment on what your favorite Korean gift is.

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