Trip to Korea: 8 Things You Should Pack

When planning to travel, packing is usually the last thing on your mind, right? Up until the moment (roughly about 12 hours before takeoff) that you look around your room and realize you have greatly underestimated how long it will take you to gather the mental stamina to pack, let alone actually put things in suitcases. [Editor’s Note: I’m not saying this describes me, but I’m also not saying that it doesn’t…]

Not knowing exactly what you’ll need or what you’ll be able to find in a new destination only makes packing worse. This is especially true for packing health and beauty supplies. To help ease your mind, we’ve collected a list of the top 8 things most foreigners wish they’d brought with them when they came to Korea, especially if they were planning to stay for a long time.

What you need to bring for a trip to Korea

Though Korea has plenty to offer in terms of the products you’ll need on a daily basis, there are some things that you just can’t find here.

Woman crossing the desert looking for health and beauty products for trip to Korea

Fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash

Weird, right? For a culture that cares so much about teeth that people bring their own toothbrushes to work and school so they can brush up after lunch, the toothpaste here isn’t as “strong” as it is in other places, particularly Western countries. Korean toothpaste and mouthwash use different ingredients, notably leaving out fluoride as an ingredient, even if some Korean brands have gotten better at making that “minty fresh” flavor so many of us associate with dental care products. [Editor’s Note: I will never ever forget that month I had to use “pine flavored” toothpaste until the mart restocked the mint ones.] For those of you who are used to toothpaste with fluoride in it, this means you may develop cavities or other problems here if you’re not extra careful about taking care of your teeth. You’ll definitely want to stock up on this.

Dental floss

When going back to the States for a visit, the number one request from friends to bring back was as many packs of dental floss I could reasonably carry. This may just be personal preference, but for some people, this could be a real issue. Dental floss in Korea that you find in most places tends to be a bit…“cottony,” for lack of a better word. And again, not particularly minty. One friend described it like what flossing with thread must feel like. So if you care about flossing (and let’s be real, we should all care even if most of us floss only for the week before going to see the dentist), bring your favorite kinds with you because you won’t be able to find it here unless you tap into the black market in Itaewon. We wish we were joking.

Tampons

Ladies. Real talk. Looking for tampons in Korea is like finding a needle in a haystack. Except the haystack is full of people who look horrified after you say what you’re looking for. Do they think tampons are some medieval torture device? Korean women on the whole don’t use them, so they are incredibly difficult to find. If you do find them, they are really expensive. Pads/sanitary napkins are plentiful, so no need to buy those — though translating the packages is a whole other adventure worthy of its own post .

What you don't want to buy during your trip to Korea

Then there are the things that you can technically find here, in a pinch, but either aren’t worth the money or may not be what you’re used to back home. So even if you’ll be able to find what you need, you may shake your fist at the sky when you see the price. To save you the aggravation, here’s what we think it would be good to bring a few extra of, just in case.

stack of 100 dollar bills for your trip to korea

Deodorant

Ah, that elusive unicorn that helps you be kind to your fellow subway riders in the summer. Deodorant can be found in most general cosmetic stores (Olive Young, Lalavla, etc.). But man, it’s hard to hand over your money for a stick that smells nice. But for the sake of social niceties, it’s hard to justify not buying it if you run out.

Strong painkillers

Again, common painkillers such as Tylenol are available in Korea in your friendly neighborhood pharmacy, but what’s not-so-friendly is the price. Additionally, if you need really potent painkillers to soothe a bad headache, such as Excedrin, it’s incredibly difficult to find. No one wants to be wandering around an unfamiliar place with a blazing headache, after all. As an example, for her birthday, our Editor asked her family to send Costco-size bottles of Excedrin in the mail. [Editor’s Note: No lie, this was one of the best birthday gifts ever.] To cut down on costs and save yourself some pain later on.

Over-the-counter cold medicine

Though the ingredients are more or less the same, you’ll have to struggle to communicate with the pharmacist or clinic doctor. It's difficult to describe your symptoms and figure out which of the bajillion Korean OTCs you need. It’s probably not your idea of a good time to play charades with a stranger when your head feels stuffed with cotton and you’re burning with fever. It’s good to bring your preferred, basic cold medicine with you just in case.

Also, if you go to a clinic, they often prescribe you a long packet of mysterious, unmarked pills. This magic bag o’ pills is nothing more the OTC medicine that’s similar to what you’d take back home. Yet there’s something about tearing open plastic baggies of brightly colored, mixed-together pills that makes you feel like you’re doing something illegal. You don’t need that stress when you’re already feeling under the weather.

Multivitamins

This one, like with floss, is also a matter of preference. There are a few options on the market in local marts and stores like Olive Young. However, the lack of options and high prices can make it an annoying purchase to buy.

Cosmetics

This one is included even though this is less of a “necessity” than some of the items on this list. For some people, finding makeup and skincare products that work well with your skin can be really important. Korea is known for its experiments in all things beauty-related. But the truth is that the color palette used by the overwhelming majority of brands is not inclusive. Foundation and concealer are all but impossible to find for darker skin tones. Even seemingly basic makeup choices like eye shadow and blush are limited to colors that complement lighter skin. It’s a sad truth that will hopefully change as the foreigner population continues to grow in Korea. For now, you’ll have to bring your own makeup kit with you.

We hope this helps you overcome some of the mental stress of packing! After all, knowing even a glimpse of the unknown is never a bad thing. There’s no need to take a lifetime supply of any of these items when you come to Korea. It’s also possible to order them online via Amazon or Coupang. Keep in mind, the shipping cost may not make it worth it. This is what friends and family back home are for, though ! Offer to buy them as much Kpop swag as they ask for so they’ll send a care package your way.