You’re finally plotting your itinerary for your South Korea trip—have you considered all the beauty loot you’ll be buying? If you’re a true beauty junkie like us, you definitely know that the country is not only a land of amazing sights, PMS-friendly comfort food, addictive K-Dramas, and all things cute (like boys, duh!)—it’s also a mecca of life-changing beauty products.
You definitely can’t pass up the chance to hoard for your multi-step Korean skincare routine or maybe stock up on pasalubong for your mom, friends, sisters, titas, and officemates. Here are a few tips to make sure you make the most of your shopping time and NOT go (too) broke in the process:
Consider booking tours that include cosmetics shops.
If you’re going to Seoul as a group and you’re booking city tours, you might want to choose one that stops by a cosmetics shop, which usually has various local mass market or masstige brands. You might even score special discounts, coupons, or freebies, which tour companies usually solicit for their clients. Plus, these shops usually reveal life-changing makeup tips!
P.S. Skip this if you don't like shopping with a group! If you want to take your time, you might want to do this alone.
Hit the right shopping districts.
All the major regions in Seoul have a bunch of beauty stores, but the Myeong-dong shopping district is your best bet to see K-beauty brands. Alternatively, you can stroll Ewha Womans University for affordable beauty finds or go through the Samcheong-dong neighborhood to find organic products or to ogle at standalone stores with unique or traditional Korean architecture.
Go shopping in the “Sephoras of Seoul.”
Hate tiring yourself out from visiting one single-brand boutique after another? Compare product prices easily by visiting drug stores like Olive Young, GS Watsons, and LOHB’s. You can also try Aritaum or Belport if you’re looking for more premium or niche beauty brands.
Know where the malls are.
The most affordable finds would definitely be in the shopping streets, but if you visit the country in the dead of winter and the cold does bother you, you can opt for HUGE heating-equipped malls like Times Square, COEX Mall in Gangnam, or Myeong-dong’s Shinsegae Department Store and Lotte Department Store.
Look for the best promos or package deals.
Truthfully, the “buy 1, take 1 free” and even “10+10” (as in buy 10 sheet masks, get 10 more for free) promos won’t be hard to come by—they can even be overwhelming. The trick is to take your time comparing deals—maybe allot at least a half day or two just for shopping, and take note of all the purchases you’re planning.
If you suck at directions, keep track of all the shops you’ve been to by pinning them via Google Maps and Waze. The thing about Google Maps though is that it doesn't have complete functions in South Korea, so you might have trouble saving maps for offline use.
Ask for free samples.
Again, you don’t have to look far and wide for free samples—some shops would even happily give you a free sheet mask if you just enter their store and look around. The stores become very generous (or competitive) and give more free samples in the evening (between 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.) You also get more samples if you buy more products, but if they don’t offer any freebies outright, don't be afraid to ask!
Do the (right) math.
While using a currency converter app while shopping may seem like the smartest move, remember that your app uses real-time or the last saved rates. In other words, it doesn’t take into consideration that banks and moneychangers usually apply lower rates. For instance, the real-time rate may be P1 = 25.16 Korean Won, but a bank may buy your peso at 22 Korean Won only. This is very important to keep in mind when you want to estimate how much products cost and plan how much budget to allot for your beauty haul. Take note that products like sheet masks and hand creams usually cost 1,000 KRW, and other products usually range from 2,000 KRW to 150,000 KRW.
Learn useful Korean phrases.
While a handful of shops have salespeople who know English, some may not, and it can be frustrating to communicate with them. So if you want to make life easier, memorize Korean phrases or words that could come in handy while shopping like Eolma-eyo? for “How much [does it cost]?”, Jom kkakgajuseyo for “Could you give a discount?”, Mulyo saempeul for “[Can you give me a] free sample?”, and Aniyo for “No.”
You could also take the possibly tamad-but-smart route and take screenshots of the products you’re hunting down or the phrases in Hangeul. Show it to the salesperson to make it easier for them to point you in the right direction or answer your questions about prices or free samples.
Don’t underestimate the power of saying thank you or Kamsahamnida with a smile—it could earn you more free samples!