Need some cultural Korean gift ideas that are sure to please (or maybe something yourself ^^)?
This post will help you find the right gift for Koreans and anyone interested in the culture.
I grew up in South Korea and have been known to give a gift or two.
- what to give in each situation by age group and gender
- modern and traditional gifts that are sure to please
Let’s get started!
Gift giving is a way of life in Korea. People give different presents on each holiday and occasion. In Korean culture there are even gifts for business situations.
They also have their own unique shopping apps.
One-of-a-kind Korean Gifts on Etsy
Read on to find traditional and modern gifts by season that are sure to satisfy everyone’s wish list.
- Always offer and receive gifts with both hands.
- Avoid giving expensive gifts to acquaintances, knives or scissors, anything with red writing or gifts in a set of four.
- Ask before opening a gift in someone’s presence.
- 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 here.
When do Koreans give gifts?
1. January or February: Seollal
Seollal (설날) is Korean Lunar New Years. It’s the biggest holiday in the country. In Korea, this is more like Christmas in regards to gift giving, and Christmas is more like Valentine’s Day as we’ll explain later.
During this time, Koreans visit grandparents or parents and exchange gifts.
Normally, people get a big bonus or gift from their companies, such as amenity sets, packages of Spam or canned food.
★What gifts do they give?
For your dad, samchon or emobu (or any male relative working at a company), a necktie works great as a Lunar New Year gift.
For your mom, emo or oesukmo (or female relatives), cosmetics, perfume or a brand scarf will win their heart.
For your kid, nephew or niece (or any child), pocket money in an envelope will wow them.
(I used to get about 100 USD from each adult relative as a kid.)
When you come of age, as in get a job, it’s time to pay it forward by giving gifts to elders and money to younger relatives.
It may sound strange, but my brother and I usually give money in an envelope to my grandparents. (The older generation in Korea thinks that cash is the best!)
Newlyweds need to buy more thoughtful gifts for parents like red ginseng or premium fruit assortments. (If they’ve just returned from their honeymoon, they need to bring each relative a nice gift.)
Korean pears and melons are especially popular gifts to bring to an elder relative’s house.
2. February 14: Valentine’s Day
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
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.
★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 for their hwangap, 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
A huge marketing success for Lotte in Korea.
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
Christmas in Korea is known as 크리스마스 (Christmas) or 성탄절 (seong tan jeol). Koreans spend the time with their significant other instead of family.
Think Valentine’s Day with Santa taking the place of Cupid.
Christmas is enjoyed by all, but it’s especially a young person’s holiday.
There’s usually a mad dash to find a boyfriend/girlfriend before Christmas Eve, so single people don’t have to spend it alone (Koreans say they’re spending time with “Kevin” from “Home Alone” or “Harry Potter” when they fail to secure a partner).
Also, their parents will look at them with a bit of disappointment if they’re single.
And of course, couples exchange Korean Christmas gifts (nothing traditional here, unless you count ice cream cakes.)!
★What gifts do they give?
For boyfriends, Korean girls buy men’s skincare cosmetics like Kiehl’s, cologne, brand underwear, leather gloves, watches or brand wallets like Mont Blanc or Gucci. Korean teenage girls will knit a scarf for their boyfriends, since it takes more effort.
For girlfriends, Korean guys buy jewelry (like a Tiffany pendant and earrings), watches, cosmetics or perfume. Korean girlfriends will say how much you care is what matters, not expensive gifts, but they’ll definitely love it when you buy one for them.
Cake is a must on Christmas, as in western style cake, usually from bakery chains and for some reason, Baskin Robbins. They won the marketing war for Christmas in Korea whereas KFC won in Japan.
Gyopos or overseas Koreans will likely follow local customs.
9. Miscellaneous: Birthday, Anniversary, Moving, Baby, Business Gifts
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).
What gifts do Koreans like?
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, sometimes during the hahm ceremony before the wedding.
Anything related to health
- 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.
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.
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
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.
More about Korean dessert cafes
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.
Gifts for Korean In-laws
Making a great first impression with in-laws is nerve-wracking without cultural differences.
Here are some under $200 dollar gifts that are sure to please:
- Celadon vase
- Red ginseng (홍삼 hongsam)
Korean gifts for children
Traditional Korean toys make simple but great gifts for any child. Here are some of the most popular ones:
These are great because they’re played as games for fun screen-free activities.
Korean gift ideas for all occasions
Korean language learners
I’ve recommended many language programs to English speakers and the one that works best is Pimsleur.
It simulates conversations with native Korean speakers and provides the structure you need to get fluent in three months. You can try Pimsleur here for free!
Korean fashion lovers
Koreans make some versatile and stylish outfits that are sure to turn heads. You can choose from modern hanbok to trendy street wear.
Korean snack lovers
Koreans have a unique take on snacks that leads to some super addictive stuff. They also make for a fun gift (unless someone’s on a diet).
This box has the greatest hits of Korean snacks that’s perfect for a first-timer. Expect salty, sweet and sometimes spicy goodness.
Korean tea lovers
Korean green tea makes a great gift for, you guessed it, tea drinkers!
It has a nutty, grassy and slightly floral flavor that’s sure to please you or your friends.
For something with more impact, a Korean tea set is sure to make an impression.
Korean art lovers
There are many gift options for your artsy friend.
Korean art ranges from classic black and white calligraphy to modern masters like Lee Jung-seop. You don’t need to go as far as a life-sized folding screen of Irworobongdo, a postcard or small print will do the trick.
A subscription to a streaming service is a great gift idea for Korean drama fanatics.
Mask sheets make inexpensive and useful souvenirs or gifts if you’re visiting Korea. They have types for soothing, moisturizing, nourishing and brightening.
Cushion (sunscreen, BB cream/foundation in one) is a Korean invention that’s a wonderful gift idea as well. It’s the right choice when you want effortless makeup.
Korean food lovers
Korean chopsticks, tables, bamboo products and stone bowls are perfect gifts for fans of Korean cuisine.
Korean furniture makes an expensive but memorable gift.
Interesting facts 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?)”.
Paying it forward
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 it became a tradition to buy thermal underwear (내복 or naebok) to show gratitude, even when it’s not winter.
30 years ago, the best gift for parents 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.
What are some gifts to give someone who loves Korean culture?
Korean fans, teas, red ginseng, seaweed snacks, ceramics, furniture or artwork such as calligraphy are sure to please any fan of Korean culture.
What are some things to avoid when giving gifts to Koreans?
- expensive gifts to acquaintances (it might be perceived as showing off or they’ll feel obligated to reciprocate with a gift of equal value)
- cash without an envelope or a gift without wrapping it
- knives or scissors (signifies “cutting off” a relationship)
- alcohol or underwear to women
- anything with red writing (symbolizes death)
- gifts in a set of four (symbolizes death)
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, starting with celebrations such as doljanchi.
This works the same with sunbae (선배 or senior) and hoobae (후배 or junior). Sunbae traditionally pay for meals when dining with juniors.
You don’t buy sunbae 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.
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.
More about online shopping in Korea
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 bag or Tiffany & Co. ring.
Some of these apps won’t be available in your country. Access every Korean app with VPN here!
Did we miss anything?
Giving Korean gifts is loads of fun.
Let us know your favorite Korean gift below!
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23 thoughts on “50 Best Korean Gift Ideas for each Holiday and Occasion (2023)”
Hello, what do you suggest gifting in this situation? I am meeting my boyfriend’s mom for the first time. I learned some Korean but would like to get her a small gift.
Hello Erica, that’s a good question.
In that situation, most my friends buy a small flower bouquet + something else like Korean beef (한우 hanwoo) or red ginseng (홍삼 hongsam) or cosmetics. You can ask your boyfriend which brand she likes. Best of luck!
This is a weirder gift question, the person sitting next to me in class is Korean, and they gave me a pen (from Korea) I said oh no but they insisted, so now I have a pen. This was probably prompted by the fact my planner happens to be Korean. What would be appropriate to get in return?
It’s not weird at all. 🙂
My guess is that they want to be your friend. Since most Koreans love Starbucks, you can buy them a cup of coffee or frappuccino. Some Godiva Chocolate is great if you really want to impress them. For larger gifts, treating someone to a meal is a common thing to get in return in Korean culture.
What should one gift when visiting future in-laws to make a great impression?
That’s a great question.
If you’re in Korea, the safest gift is red ginseng by CheongKwanJang (정관장 홍삼), which should cost about 100,000 to 200,000 won.
If you visit their house, Korean beef (한우/hanwoo) or a fruit basket also works.
Hope this helps you make a great impression.
My best friend is korean and i wanted to get her family a gift but im not quite sure what to get her!
That’s super sweet of you! It really depends on the occasion, but a family would love a fruit basket or Korean snack box.
If your friend recently had a baby, we normally gift baby clothes.
Feel free to let me know the details!
Thank you for the above information.
I have been renting a small granny flat from a lovely Korean lady.
She is always very kind, and usually offers me food when she cooks, Korean pancake is my favorite.
When I leave (soon) I really want to give her a gift.
She is approximately 54 years of age, lives with her husband, daughter and grand child.
Can you please suggest a suitable gift as I honestly have no idea.
I do see above that alcohol can be a gift, however, I don’t think this would be suitable.
That’s super nice of you.
I’d guess Red Ginseng (you can search 정관장 store nearby, and they have a wide range of prices from $20 to $200) or multi-vitamins are safe choices for her age group.
If you’d like to include her family, a fruit basket or even some pastries from a nice bakery will work.
Either way, she’s lucky to have a thoughtful tenant like you.
Thank you very much for the information you have shared from Korea culture.
Hi Sofía, I’m so glad you like it! Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to answer them!
these are all awesome gift ideas!
Thank you for sharing!
But why can’t gift alcohol or underwear to women? Even though couple too?
Hello, thank you for asking.
You CAN gift alcohol or underwear to women as long as you’re close to her like your girlfriend or wife, or between female friends.
In general, when you need to gift in a business setting, underwear can be seen as harassment, so it’s better to avoid.
Now that most of my female friends are enjoying wine, I’m guessing a bottle of wine will be a nice gift too.
thank you for sharing! I’m going to bookmark this for future reference!
My pleasure Sarah, glad it was helpful!
My name is Tifany. I have a good friend that is coming from South Korea to the US, and I want to purchase something for his birthday but I don’t know him that well. Do you have any idea of what Korean men like? or that they use often? maybe grooming kits? I would appreciate your opinion!
That’s nice of you!
It depends on his preference, but Korean men in general like grooming kits as you said, or cologne (perfume), T-shirts, Nike shoes, tumbler, etc.
He’ll like and appreciate anything you get though.
Hope this helps! ^^
Thank you for sharing this information! I also heard there’s a superstition of gifting shoes to friends or significant others is bad as they will run away from you. Is this a big no or not many follow it as much anymore in Korea?
Yes, there is a superstition like that, but most young people don’t follow it anymore. ^^
I gift/receive shoes to/from my friends on birthdays, and many Korean couples get “couple shoes”(matching shoes) as well.
There’s a lot of fun ones like this from olden times. Thanks for asking!
Thank you for your article! I’m planning to send a gift to my favorite Korean author, they draw webtoons. I’m planning to send them a meat gift set I saw on Gmarket. I send them a Hallabong gift set last year and I wanted a different one this year.
I’m living abroad so I’m using Gmarket.kr coz they accept PayPal too. What do you think of it? Do you have any other ideas?
Thank you for your comment!
They’re lucky to have such a nice fan like you.
A meat gift set sounds wonderful as most Koreans love BBQ.
If I may suggest something for perhaps next year, health supplements like multi-vitamins would be nice too since webtoon artists/authors have some crazy deadlines.
I hope this helps! ^^