TheKoreanGuide is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

Why Is a Tattoo Illegal in Korea?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Wondering if you should get a tattoo in Korea, and why they’re blurred on almost all TV shows. Well, I wondered the same thing after living in Korea for 3 years.

I found that tattoos are getting more popular these days. Not only do many celebrities have it, but also people under the age of 25. It tends to be the new trend.

Tattoos are not illegal in Korea. In fact, everyone can do it providing they have a medical license for it. Considering the tattoo many people think getting a tattoo is not allowed, it actually is. Regardless of your age, getting a tattoo can be done in many tattoo shops.

There are hundreds of different tattoo shops in Korea, which means it’s getting more popular.

In this article, I’ll explain why tattoos are blurred, if foreigners can get tattoos, and more.

Let’s get started.

Why Are Tattoos Blurred on Korean TV?

Back in the day tattoos were associated with gangsters and criminals. However, these days it’s not like that anymore. TV/Korean broadcast companies don’t want to be a part of that, therefore they blur the tattoos on Korean TV.

You can only get a tattoo if you have a medical license, and most people aren’t going to waste their license on opening a tattoo shop.

The reason being is that opening a tattoo shop won’t guarantee your salary, going for the safe route is much better.

You can become a doctor, surgent, or become a dentist. The salaries are much higher, and the benefits are incredible. You won’t regret taking that job eventually.

So licensed medical professionals prefer to do something in the medical service industry, which is understandable.

So where do people get tattoos from?

Well, most tattoo studios are operated illegally, which means a tattoo artist has some kind of secret studio. This is where the majority of people in South Korea get tattoos.

Meaning it’s illegal.

If Korean broadcast companies promote illegal “tattoos” the government won’t like this.

Even though there are more tattoo artists these days than many years before. The popularity rises but you still need a medical license.

Without a medical license, you’re basically operating illegally.

Can Foreigners get tattoos in Korea?

Yes, foreigners can get tattoos in Korea. In fact, it’s very common that foreigners to get tattoos.

There are many tattoo studios where people get tattoos and there’s no Korean law saying it’s not possible. However, it’s well known that the best tattoo artists are the ones that operate illegally.

Or are quite expensive. Therefore most people tend to visit tattoo studios that aren’t very popular.

You can’t find these studios on the internet. It’s your network of people that will make this possible. So when you come to Korea, you could ask around for the best studios.

Just remember tattoo studios are illegal if they don’t have a medical license.

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo in Korea, make sure to visit a studio that has a lot of experience.

Illegally operated studios don’t guarantee their work as people tend to get bad tattoos.

Are Tattoos disrespectful in Korea?

No, tattoos are not disrespectful in Korea. There are many people including celebrities with millions of followers that have tattoos.

Even K-pop idols have tattoos and they’re still very appreciated in their country. The idols/celebrities that get those tattoos do it because they either like it or find it cool.

These days young people tend to go for more excessive tattoos.

There are also semipermanent tattoos which are quite common. These can be washed away after a few weeks.

How To Get a Tattoo in South Korea

Getting a tattoo in South Korea might sound hard, but it’s actually very easy.

tattoo shops in seoul

As you can see there are many tattoo shops in Seoul with great reviews.

Make sure to book an appointment, this makes it easier for the tattoo artist and you can go in effortlessly. No need for extra documents or other strings attached.

Keep in mind that most of those tattoo artists don’t speak English or very little.

If this is a problem, then you need to find an artist that does speak English. And finding these can be a little bit harder.

However, there are many tattoo shops you can choose from so it should be a big problem.

Note: finding the best tattoo artists tend to be harder since they often operate illegally and don’t have an official medical license.

How Much Do Tattoos Cost?

The cost of a tattoo can be anywhere from $15,50 (18,500 WON) for smaller designs and less experienced artists up to $1,000 (1,200,000 WON) for larger designs.

The more experienced tattoo artists charge way more, while the less experienced charge less.

Other factors that come into play are if the artist has a medical license or not.

If they have, they also tend to charge more. I’m not saying you should go for the cheaper ones, but still many people do this because of the price.

The quality may be less if you go for an artist without a medical license.

Can You Get a Tattoo at the Age of 16?

No, you can not get a tattoo at the age of 16 in Korea. You have to be at least 18, this is the minimum age requirement. However, there are instances where people lie about their age.

Luckily this doesn’t happen often and their IDs get checked 99.99% of the time. Unless you’re going to an illegal tattoo artist, which is not recommended.

Always go to studios that do have a medical license, this increases the chances of the tattoo meeting your needs.

Getting a Job in Korea with Tattoos

Getting a job in Korea with a tattoo is possible, as long as you cover them up. There are many jobs that don’t care about this, but if you do have a tattoo.

Make sure to cover it up, especially if you’re working for the Korean government. By doing this your chances of getting hired are significantly higher than not.

It has happened over and over again where people don’t get hired because of their tattoos.

It’s because the majority of people working at a company think it’s associated with criminal gangs. Therefore they don’t want to be associated with them.

Which is understandable. So, always cover your tattoo up even if they say that they don’t care.

Note: never openly show your tattoo while going to work. It may be a sign of being disrespectful and not appreciating the dress code at work.


Tattoos in Korea are not illegal but require a medical license. Medical doctors tend to go for a different career because the salary is higher and more stable than a tattoo artist.

Nonetheless if you’re going to get a tattoo, always go for certified tattoo studios to ensure you’re not getting scammed.

Enjoy the article?

You'll love my daily email! Learn something new about South Korea every single day. It's completely free. <3

    About The Author

    Photo of author

    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

    You May Also Like