7 Things You Can’t Do in Korea Until You’re 20

In Alabama, you are not a legal adult until you turn 19 years old. In Korea, you’re not an adult until you are 20.

There doesn’t seem to be a big difference between these two ages, does there? But there is! Being 20 in Korea is very different than the US because: 

  • 1) Korean age is calculated differently than in the U.S. and
  • 2)  there are many things you can’t do in Korea until your 20th birthday.

Ok, so you know that Korean age is calculated differently. You are always at least 1 year older in Korea than you are in America. For clarity, in this journal entry, we are going to talk about 7 things you can’t do in Korea until you’re 20 years old using your Korean age.


1. Smoking / Alcohol

dream on (1)

You only have to be 20 years old in Korean age to legally smoke or drink alcohol in South Korea.  In American age, you have to be at least 21 Because of the difference in calculating ages, a 20-year-old Korean student can legally drink alcohol in Seoul, but if they got on a plane and flew to Montgomery, Alabama, they are now only 18 years old and breaking the law! Same with smoking.

So, technically, you can drink or smoke a year younger in South Korea. But, keep in mind, plane tickets to Korea usually cost thousands of $$$ and are totally not worth getting your first whiskey early.

2. Military

FOAL EAGLE, Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) during spring patrol 2007.

South Korea is still technically at war. Therefore, there is a mandatory military service requirement or draft for all males. Even so, you can’t legally join the military until you’re at least 20 years old. So your dream was to have a military career in Korea, you’d have to wait at least two years between graduating high school and enlisting.

3. No Voting

four people holding green check signs standing on the field photography
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

That’s right. Korean natives cannot vote for any public office until turning 20, the same age for the military draft and/or enlistment. At one point, the U.S. had a similar law. Until ratification to the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in 1971, Americans could not vote until they were 21, despite being eligible for a military draft at 18.

4. Driving

adult automotive blur car
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

Before you ask: no. They don’t have “learning permits” either, so you HAVE TO wait until you’re 20 to drive. Since the Korean age goes up for everyone at the beginning of the year, driving classes and test offices are always super packed with 20-somethings all trying to get their license at once. A DMV horror story…

5. Clubbing

people dancing inside building
Photo by Maurício Mascaro on Pexels.com

I mean, if you can’t drink, what else are you doing at a club? Pretty self-explanatory law… Dance at home.

6. Checking in a hotel

bedroom door entrance guest room
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’re going to need your parents’ consent and an adult chaperone before you can make any plans for an overnight beach trip or friend vacation. Until then, you can’t book any hotel, motel, or residential rooms for any reason.

7. Credit card/Loans

bank banking business cards
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Many young people in the States start building their credit in high school or college. But in Korea, you won’t be able to do so for a long time. Maybe it’s not a TERRIBLE thing to wait to have to use a credit card or take out a loan, but you’d better be good with your money until then.

So, what do you think? Did you know that there were so many things you couldn’t do in Korea until 20? More importantly, can you believe this isn’t the full list?

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