Is there such a thing as a foreigner price in Korea?

Is there such a thing as a foreigner price in Korea?

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esl chronicle
The ESL Chronicle

I have heard from other foreigners in Korea that there is a foreigner price. I thought little about it until I kept hearing more stories. In fact, now that I think about it, it may have happened to me as well because I have had my suspicions. However, What brings me to write about it are the many stories I have heard and perhaps we can get to the bottom of it.

foreigner price

The post office story

Terrence told me, “last week I sent a CD to a friend in Cheongju, a city near the Seoul area. But the CD did not work so I had to send the same CD again this week. I realized that the price I paid last week was different from the price I paid this week. Another thing that was different last week was the fact that I went with a Korean co-teacher who came along to show me where the post office was. She also handled the mailing since I could not communicate efficiently with the clerk.

The next day I went alone since I now know where the post office is to mail the same CD. But this time instead of paying 2 thousand won as I did when I was with the Korean Teacher, I paid 4 thousand won. I know my math is not that bad. So what gives? Is there a daily rate to the post offices in Korea or something I don’t know about?”

The Gatorade Clerk

Jameson writes, “I have experienced the foreigner price when I buy Powerade after soccer training. There is a small shop next to my apartment; it is across the street. I used to go there all the time to buy Powerade, Gatorade and other small items for a quick eat. But each time I went, it seemed as if the price was different. So, I started keeping tabs to verify this for sure.

I started keeping my receipts to see if it was true that I was been cheated just because I was a foreigner. I found out the prices were different when I bought Gatorade and Powerade. On Sunday afternoons when I bought Gatorade or Powerade, the clerk was a young girl about my age perhaps younger. Other times, it was her father, who from appearance, was perhaps in his late fifties or early sixties. When I bought the drinks from her, the price was 2 thousand won but when I bought it when he was there, the price was 2,600; I paid an extra 6 hundred won.

When I discussed this with the Korean teachers, they disagreed with me and other foreign Teachers who say they have experienced this in more than one occasion. Another Teacher from Australia said that a taxi driver tried to charge her 8 thousand won because he did not turn on his meter for what is usually a 2 thousand won cab ride.

Anyhow, I stopped going there to buy Gatorade or any other drinks at the shop next to my apartment. I started buying from another shop that is just down the street from the one I felt cheated at. What confirmed that I was being cheated by the old man is the fact that at this other shop, I pay 2 thousand, the price that his daughter was charging me. So, it seems the old man was pulling a fast one on me after all!”


Are we as foreigners just paranoid and on guard because we are in a country that is not ours? That maybe so but these things do happen. And more often than not you will be targeted before someone who knows the ins and outs. And everyone has their story and their filter, biases and so forth when telling it. So how do you differentiate the truth from the illusion? You can’t sometimes and therefore cannot really know what is and what isn’t and whether someone is cheating you or not. And not knowing the language doesn’t help either.

So I then ask you, what do you think of these stories? And have you had an experience as such?



  1. Honestly never heard of the phenomenon or had it happen to me, if anything it’s usually the reverse.

    Customer service is typically pretty awesome here, one is always being given free stuff with whatever they buy. I frequent a local coffee shop where the owner gives me discounts off marked prices on all his coffee and a local mart where I’m always having extra stuff put in with my order because they’re genuinely nice people who value my business.

    If there seems to be a discrepancy in the price of something go back to the shelf, check the price yourself and then draw attention to the difference. Shady shop owners are a reality worldwide. If they won’t back down then go elsewhere, assholes like that don’t deserve your honest business anyway.

    • Keith you are ablsolutly right. Getting free stuff starts with gimchi :)
      But I have the feeling some shopowners are rather proud of us frequently buying at their stores. I for myself would feel proud if a person from another culture likes my goods.
      One great example is my NHclerk. I feel as if i get special treatment, in a positive way. I never have to wait, he solves every little problem for me, is pacient and tries very hard to communicate with my stupid brain:)

      • Definitely Leo, everyone loves free stuff and I have been to that NH too there near the Yeosu City Hall and he is a very good clerk indeed. He is very helpful. I know it’s his job but I know he goes the extra mile every time to please us.

  2. Great question. Never really thought about it. A rather shaming story happened to me. I arrived in Korea and took a bus to a little city called Jangheung where I was going to live for one month.
    I had no clue that taxi rides are super cheap in this country.
    I took a taxi and the driver had difficulties finding the Hagwan I told him.
    I spend maybe 30 minutes in his car when we found the right place.
    I feel a little stupid now but I gave him 50000 Won without even considering that he was taking advantage of me. After I found out what happened and now I am getting really paranoid in cabs thinking they take a longer way of not beating the red light just because I am a foreigner.

    • A friend of mine (waygookin) and I,went to a Samgyopsal restaurant and the lady told us it’s 12000 each ( she even wrote it down for us to understand),the meat was so small hey,we were so surprised but ate anyways as we were hungry.Two weeks later i went to the same place with my Hanguk saram chingu,and we paid 6000 each.So i explained do my chingu what happened the last time i was there,and all he did was to laugh at me hysterically
      Most of the time customer service is good,but you gotta watch out for the foreigner price,more especially if you are like me,you only know “Angyong haseyo”

      • Yeah Rose it’s easy to get taken advantage of as many others have testified. I don’t get it. I guess the moral compass is not were it should be with some people.

  3. Interesting. When I read the title of this post I thought you might have been referring to us foreigners receiving discounts! haha. In my experience I have not noticed being scammed, although I admit that it is likely that it has happened, especially due to my ignorance of the Korean language.

    However, I have noticed that I have been charged less due to being a foreigner : My friend goes to a smaller gym near her house. I wanted to go to yoga class with her twice a week but I did not want to buy a membership since the gym was not particularly close to my apartment and I did not know how often I would actually go. She asked the owner how much it would cost for me per day. He only charged me 3,000w! Then I started to want to go a little early before yoga class to get some cardio in and she asked if this would be extra, and it wasn’t! I am pretty sure this is a special price for me because every time I pay them they give me change out of their wallets and I am the only person I have ever noticed paying per day! Another time I was taking the bus and I did not have enough money on my bus card. I started digging through my purse for change but the bus driver just charged me a the childrens’ price so that I could still use my card! This might not have been because I was a foreigner but it was still nice!

    Thus, my experience here has mostly been positive! I have heard other stories of foreigners receiving extra discounts or “service-uh” (somtimes worth more than what they orginally purchased).

    So maybe if we add up all the money paid due to scamming and then subtract all the money saved from special treatment it will all even itself out in the end. :)

    • Absolutely Molly. I too have experienced getting discounts for reasons that may seem absurd actually. For instance, just yesterday I missed the bus to work and so I decided to take a taxi. After a short conversation with the driver (who surprisingly spoke English very well) and him finding out that I was from America. He decided to give me a 1 thousand won discount because he loves America :).

  4. Be careful with cabbies for sure. Most of them are honest but there are some who will take you for a ride. The guy could have been havving a hard time finding the place since the hagwons change names more often that some people change their underwear so that part might be legit.

    A 30 minute taxi ride unless you were travelling at high speed definitely shouldn’t have run you 50000 won. Keep an eye on the meter in the future and if things look shady tell him to pull over and get another cab.

  5. I took a taxi to e-mart which is a 2,300 ride because I am new and didn’t know my way around yet. I took a taxi back after shopping and when the guy dropped me off in the same place left from he said he didn’t turn the meter on and charged me 4,000. It isn’t that much money I know but it still pissed me off. Though I didn’t say anything to him, he def. didn’t leave a very good first impression of Korea.

    • Yeah it sucks when that happens Christa because like you said, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You will run into some good apples and some bad apples. Has your experience been better since or perhaps more positive after that initial experience?

      • It’s been better and now I am more attentive to the meter. I think in the future I will prob say something to the cab driver if it happens again. Hopefully that will prevent him from doing it to others.

        • That’s good to hear. Yes, that contribution of saying something and paving the way in preventing it from happening to someone else goes a long way :)

  6. Foreigner prices definitely exist. I’ve been scammed by taxi drivers, given extra food, refused service, and offered a free membership to a nearby MMA gym. Financially, I’m fairly sure it comes out slightly in my favor, to be honest. The part that bothers me about the foreigner price, good or bad, is the message that comes with it. Even a wayguken discount serves as a stark reminder that I am an outsider here, and even though the culture here may be friendly or supportive of me, I will never really be accepted.

  7. Generally I find Koreans to be quite honest when selling things – like Canadians! The only difference is the use of haggling in the outdoor markets. It’s not common in Canada, and I don’t like haggling. I just want to pay the price and get going. So every time I shop at the market outside my apartment I pay big won! Especially compared to the prices for the same veggies or fruits in Emart or Lotte Mart.

    Also I’ve heard from several people that prices are much better in Yeosu shinae market, compared to Jinnam market.

    • Yeah it’s good to be cautious with those outdoor markets. What I find is that the first stand usually has a higher price than the last one. I went to buy citron tea not long ago and the first stand had it for 12 thousand won, then I tried another and it had it for 10 and then when I bought other things and finally tried another stand, I got the tea for 9 thousand. The same tea at E-mart is 9 thousand 9 hundred won. Definitely wasn’t worth the hassle.

  8. I have been in Korea for 2 1/2 years and have always had a pleasant experience with prices and such….I’m pretty sure in the end the prices work in our favor….However, if you happen to be in Myeongdong, Seoul, do not go to a Kimchi jjim restaurant there….Sang Jun and I went to the restaurant, ordered from the rather expensive menu, later to find out that they gave us the foreigner menu with extremely higher prices….they thought that Sang Jun was a foreigner since we were speaking English…then 2 Korean men sat next to us and we noticed they had a different menu….I asked to look at their menu and Sang Jun and I couldn’t believe it! The Korean menu was so much cheaper, with sets etc…Sang Jun spoke to the waitress and she simply said “sorry, I thought you were a foreigner.” I was not pleased. Other than that, it’s all good!

    • wow, that’s shocking Emma. Never would have thought that would happen in a restaurant. Tom talked about it happening at the street markets but all I can say about your revelation is wow!

  9. I’m kind of wondering why I’ve never gotten gipped (not that I’ve noticed at any rate) on stuff in shops. I wonder if its that I make a point of chatting in Korean with the cashiers and so on and that puts them on guard against trying something.

    As an experiment I think I’ll go to a couple different shops over the vacation and see if I notice price discrepancies between marked prices and what I pay at the counter. Once my sinuses unplug enough for me to speak anyway.

    I think Thom is right about how sometimes the positive aspects of foreigner prices can serve to reinforce our status as outsiders. I don’t know how we can distance ourselves from that though since it’s often done as an attempt to make us feel more comfortable by providing us with extra things as an attempt to create a good feeling.

    I think really all we can do is to be on guard against the negative aspects and be prepared to call the culprits out on them like in Emma’s case and just graciously accept the positive ones since they’re being done in a kind hearted spirit that would do more harm than good to refuse.

    • I definitely agree, for the most part! I think the best thing we can do, in both positive and negative cases, is educate. Luckily, that’s exactly what we get paid to do! Until such a time as slow, gentle education takes effect…I’m all for graciously accepting the positives, and calling out the negatives!

      • That is indeed a good route to take Tom. Education takes time. Especially in a country where education supposedly is the natural resource.

  10. In Yeosu and other small towns I don’t really pay attention to it and feel fairly certain that I come out ahead on the freebies and rip-offs. In Seoul, however, it’s always good to be on guard, especially in areas like Myeongdong, dongdaemun, etc. The assumption in these places are that you’re a tourist and tourists have always been ripped off in every society since the beginning of time (not just a Korea thing). If you’re at a Korean-style restaurant and they hand you a small all-English menu, ask for the regular menu. Always be sure the cabbies turn on their meters (it’s against the law not to) and never go with a driver who offers you a ride from inside the airport terminal.
    As far as the the outsider feeling thing, I suppose I’ve accepted that as a fact and therefor more than willing to take all the advantages that it gives me.

    • Just to clarify, the menu we were given in Myeongdong was still in Korean, looked normal, just had much higher prices. It looked like a regular menu and we wouldn’t have known any different had the 2 Korean men not sat next to us. Sang Jun still ordered everything in Korean..Nobody would know if they were given a foreigner menu at this place unless they were paying attention to the menus other people were given….

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