While it’s hard to argue that the world (at least for the most part) has moved on from the days when tattoos were considered taboo, there are still many cultures and countries that don’t quite see them in the same light.
While it would be natural for one to think that South Korea is way more progressive than its North Korean counterpart, when it comes to tattoos, the countries are actually on the same page, not to say that the South has an even stricter stance on the subject.
So the question still stands, is it legal to get tattoos in Korea?
If you’ve been thinking about traveling to South or North Korea to get inked, you might want to stay with us for the next couple of minutes to make sure you know all there is about getting a tattoo in the Land of the Morning Calm.
This article is for informational purposes only. It’s always advised to consult with local authorities for maximum clarity.
Is It Illegal to Get Tattoos in South Korea?
Well, the answer is still a bit ambiguous.
As things stand, the mere process of getting a tattoo as a customer in South Korea is completely legal on your side. There’s zero chance you will face repercussions for getting a tattoo while in the country. With that said, most of the time the procedure will be performed by an artist that’s breaking the law.
One might think – how on earth is that possible?
Well, in South Korea, all body modification procedures (which includes tattoos) can only be performed by those with a medical license.
So unless the tattoo artist you’re visiting has some kind of medical degree, they are technically breaking the law by giving you a tattoo.
This policy has been in place since the 1992 ruling of the Supreme Court in the country.
In South Korea, you need to graduate from a recognized medical school and pass a series of challenging tests in order to get a medical license. This implies that almost all tattoo artists now working in the nation are doing it illegally.
For a time now, the government has been attempting to take action. Over the years, several artists have been detained as a consequence of police raids on several studios.
So if you’re looking to get a tattoo while in Korea, just be aware that the artist you’re visiting might be breaking the law.
The Current Ban Is Nothing New
South Korea has a long history of trying to crack down on tattoos – dating back to as far as the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910) when tattoos first started being associated with criminals. In fact, misdeeds committed by people in South Korea were tattooed on their skin to protect others from a possibly dangerous person.
With that said, the current frowning-upon of tattoos in the country is mostly influenced by gang association, which first started during Japan’s colonial reign over Korea between 1910 and 1945.
The latest Supreme Court ruling from 2022 upheld the ban so the situation doesn’t look like changing for the better anytime soon (source: Korea Times).
Is It Illegal to Get Tattoos in North Korea?
The situation looks a bit different in other Korea.
The two countries are on the same page in regards to a person getting tattooed in the country. As a customer, you’re not breaking any law and you are unlikely to face trouble for getting a tattoo.
However, the chances of finding a properly-functioning tattoo parlor in North Korea are pretty slim.
The North Korean government views tattoos as a representation of Western culture and strives to keep its people as far away from it as possible.
You will stick out if you have any visible tattoos because they are not nearly as socially accepted as they are in most Western nations. So unless you have some connections, it might be quite difficult to find a tattoo artist that would be willing to give you a tattoo.
While officially the country doesn’t require artists to have a medical license, it’s still quite rare to see a parlor in North Korea.
The best bet would be to try and find an artist in Pyongyang, which is the country’s capital and largest city. And even there, those that work as tattoo artists mostly tattoo military personnel or people who want a tattoo as a tribute to the country’s leaders.
So unless you’re looking to get a tattoo of Kim Jong-un, it might be quite difficult to find an artist that would be willing to give you a tattoo in North Korea.
Although South Korea is seen as way more progressive on all fronts, when it comes to tattoos – there isn’t really much to write home about.
The country has a long and complicated history with tattoos, which has led to the current ban that makes it a hassle (at least for the artist) to get a tattoo in the country.
When it comes to the situation in North Korea, it’s a bit different.
While it’s not illegal to get a tattoo in North Korea, it might be quite difficult to find an artist that would be willing to give you one – due to the negative social stigma surrounding tattoos in the country.
If you have any first-hand experience of getting a tattoo in either of the two Koreas – feel free to share your story in the comments below!