Perfect Gift Ideas for Korean Culture Fans on Every Holiday and Occasion


Not sure which Korean gift to get someone (or yourself ^^)?

This is post will help you find the right gift for Koreans and anyone interested in Korean culture.

I grew up in South Korea and have been known to give a gift or two.

I’ll cover what to give in each situation by age group and gender.

Let’s get started!

Lingua Asia_Korean Shopping Tips Perfect Gift Ideas

Gift giving is a way of life in Korea. There are presents for each holiday and occasion. Koreans even have gifts for business situations and their own shopping apps.

One-of-a-kind Korean Gifts on Etsy

ESSENTIAL TIPS:

  • 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

Lingua Asia_Premium fruit assortments
Premium fruit assortments are a popular choice during 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.

Etsy Necktie

For your mom, emo or oesukmo (or female relatives), cosmetics, perfume or a brand scarf will win their heart.

Etsy hermes scarf

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.)

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 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

Lingua Asia_Pepero Day_2020
Koreans are getting creative with Pepero 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 Robbins ice cream cake; their marketing team has done well.

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). And their parents will look at them with a bit of disappointment if they’re single.

And of course, couples exchange gifts.

★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.

Etsy montblanc

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.

Etsy tiffany and co pendant

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.

Etsy korean socks
Festive socks are always a good idea!

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

Lingua Asia_Moving Gift_Korea_2021
Safest choice for a house warming party!
Lingua Asia_Baby Gift_2021
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, sometimes during the hahm ceremony before the wedding.

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

Lingua Asia_Starbucks_Birthday Gift_2021
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.

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.

A wide range of choices.

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

Gifts for Korean In-laws

Making a great first impression with in-laws is nerve-wracking without cultural differences.

Fear not!

Here are some under $200 dollar gifts that are sure to please:

Gifts for fans of Korean culture

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.

dawn-navy-modern-hanbok-dress_Etsy

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).

Korean snack box gift

This box has the greatest hits of Korean snacks that’s perfect for a first-timer. Expect salty, sweet and sometimes spicy goodness.

Interesting fact about gift culture in Korea

No peeking

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.

Different times

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.

FAQ

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

Korean fans, teas, red ginseng, seaweed snacks, ceramics 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.

Did we miss anything?

Giving Korean gifts is loads of fun.

Let us know your favorite Korean gift below!

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10 thoughts on “Perfect Gift Ideas for Korean Culture Fans on Every Holiday and Occasion”

  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  2. 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?

    Reply
    • Hi,
      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.

      Reply
    • Hi Ana,
      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.

      Reply
    • Hi Joss,
      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!

      Reply
  3. Hello

    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.

    Thank you
    Rob

    Reply
    • Hello Rob,

      My pleasure!
      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.

      Reply

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