Getting a Tattoo in Korea

A little over a year ago I got a tattoo. In Korea. One of those countries where tattoos are still thought of in connection to gangsters and delinquents (no, really). I had played around with different ideas of what I’d get if I ever got one before, and I ultimately decided on a tattoo of the infinity symbol for a variety of reasons from small to big. I thought I’d share with you some tips on getting a tattoo in Korea, where to go, what to do, how to prepare, in case you ever want to get one done here as well.

  • Do Research. I did some Google searching about getting a tattoo in Korea, and I remembered that Martina from Eat Your Kimchi got an extensive tattoo a little while ago. I knew I was going to meet them at their pop-up event, so I looked back to their post and checked out the place they recommended, Tattoo People. I asked them about it at the pop-up event where they reaffirmed their positive experience. I e-mailed TP shortly after and booked myself an appointment.
  • Determine What You Want. I was quite wish-washy in the very beginning. It was between an outline of the world map, an outline of a heart, and the infinity symbol. Know what you want and where you want it with 110% certainty. Because, in case everyone and their mother hasn’t already reminded you, it’s pretty permanent.
  • Do More Research. This time about what to expect. There are so many articles out there for “tattoo virgins,” and while a lot of them are extremely helpful, don’t let them get in your head. I was told to expect pain and a little bit of blood. I had neither, but I was petrified leading up to it. I even asked my tattoo artist if it would hurt, to which he laughed and said no. My tattoo was also done in a matter of fifteen minutes. If you want a more extensive one than what I got, I would look to those tips more, but if you just want a small one, don’t worry.
  • Money. Make sure you’re ready to spend money on your tattoo. I was told to expect about 100,000 won to 120,000 won ($100-ish), but because mine was so small and only an outline, it was only 30,000 won.
  • Don’t Tell Everyone. Everyone’s got some sort of opinion on tattoos, and most of the time you weren’t asking. Leading up to getting my tattoo, my parents told me they weren’t happy about it (enough that they texted me the day after I told them that they weren’t happy about it…), one person told me I should wait until I’m 23, multiple people told me my tattoo was “so basic” (even now, I submitted to a Buzzfeed article and some of the comments were about how the infinity symbol was cliche), and who knows what else. If you’ve booked the appointment, chances are you want this tattoo. Trust in yourself that you’re mature enough to make this decision and that the tattoo you’re getting is meaningful to you. It’s your skin, so frankly it’s no one else’s business.

Boseong Green Tea Ice Cream

  • Bring a Friend. Whether they’re getting a tattoo done as well or just for moral support. Shout out to Elissa for coming along despite her aversion to needles and wrists!
  • Prepare for Language Barriers. Obviously, getting a tattoo in Korea is going to have some language barriers. There’s someone at Tattoo People who can speak English (that’s who I e-mailed with), but my actual tattoo artist didn’t speak a lot. There was some Google translating and different sketches involved, but we figured it out pretty easily. Your tattoo artist should make a temporary tattoo first, so you can determine if you like it or not. Also my care instructions were in Korean, so I asked my friend to translate it for me. If you go to TP and need a translation, let me know!
  • Revel in It. You did it! It’s wrapped up, and you have a tattoo. I highly recommend going to the cafe below Tattoo People and enjoying some honey bread and a coffee. It also has sauna boxes. It’s like a sauna for your lower half, so you can sit and enjoy them as well. You can’t swim or go to full size saunas with your tattoo, but a sauna box is okay if your tattoo is above the waist.
  • Follow the Aftercare Instructions. Whatever your parlor gives you, follow them! Make sure you have Neosporin and Vaseline ready to use.

And that’s it! I’m in love with my little tattoo, and I had a really easy time getting it and caring for it. Getting a tattoo is something I have thought about for quite a while, and I’m glad I got something meaningful. Better yet, I got my tattoo in Korea! Cross that off the “If I can do _____ in Korea, I can handle ______” list (up there with getting internet, a phone plan, dealing with my apartment flooding, and a lot more adulting adventures…).

Do you have a tattoo? Share a picture with us!

Inside... Getting a Tattoo in Korea

Photographs and Words by Samantha

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