One of the last things Chris and I had on our Korean bucketlist was getting a tattoo. We had been researching some artists in Seoul, and the week before we left for Vietnam we managed to get appointments with our top artists. So here’s a rough guide to getting a tattoo in Korea, and why it’s an awesome idea.
Getting a Tattoo in Korea: Is it legal?
Tattoos were seen as the domain of gangsters and bad people in traditional Korea, but thankfully this is slowly starting to change. Kpop stars and other musicians are beginning to show off some ink, and the younger generations of Koreans don’t necessarily have the same bad connotations about tattoos as their parents might. It also helps to be a foreigner in Korea, as you stand out so much already that a few extra tattoos aren’t going to make much difference!
But technically, because tattoos are made by needles, Korean law states that you can only get tattooed by a doctor, or someone with a medical or acupuncture licence. This means that you won’t get in trouble for getting a tattoo, as that’s not illegal, but your tattoo artist technically might. That being said, no one is hunting down tattoo artists and enforcing these laws, but your artists still won’t have a western style tattoo shop with neon signs. So expect to have to put down a deposit before you’re told the location of the shop, and expect the shop to be in an apartment building or an area outside of the main shopping districts.
Getting a Tattoo in Korea: Planning a to do list
Figure out your design
Because your tattoo artist might not speak much English, you should be as clear as possible about what you want to get inked. Of course you don’t have to design it yourself, but you should try to have some source material, an idea of what styles you like, and size and location ideas. The clearer you are about your ideas, the easier it is to find the right artist and communicate this with them.
There are a few ways to go about finding the right artist for you. Getting a tattoo in Korea is much easier now because we live in the age of Instagram, where artists can have a free digital catalogue of their work online. If you don’t know where to start, search for #타투 on Instagram, and you’ll be amazed with the beautiful artwork you find!
Another awesome resource is the Inked Korea Facebook page, run by Chelsea Votel. Here you will find great recommendations, examples of ink that people have gotten in Korea, as well as a warm community that can answer all your questions. You can also get in touch with Chelsea through the group and for a small $10 fee she will take you through the whole tattoo process, and get you in touch with an artist that matches your style, budget and location.
Any tattoo artist that Chelsea recommends on her page is legit, hygienic, and super talented, so you can really trust that page as a solid starting point for getting a tattoo in Korea. I’ll include a list of some of my favourite artists at the bottom of this post, so check them out too for some inspiration.
Make your booking
Booking your artist in Korea is the same as anywhere: the more well-known the artist, the longer their waiting list. However, don’t be afraid to slide into their DMs on Instagram or get in touch via the email or direct messenger details they have on their profile, as you never know when you could get lucky and find a slot. Chris and I booked our tatts a month beforehand, but I have also seen Chelsea opening bookings for artists on the Inked Korea page, so keep an eye out for that too.
Once you start the conversation, either directly or through Chelsea, you’ll need to give your source pics, a general idea of your placement and size, and go from there. My artist sent me the design the weekend before my appointment, while Chris’s artist sketched the design on the day while he was there, so it really is dependent on the artist.
You’ll probably be asked to pay around a $50 deposit via Paypal to secure your booking, and you’ll then get the details of the shop location. Chris and I both had no problem communicating with our artists over KakaoTalk, even though their English wasn’t fluent and our Korean was awful, so you should be fine. If you are having trouble, someone like Chelsea may be able to help you communicate better with your artist so that you both are on the same page.
Getting a Tattoo in Korea: What to expect on the day
So this is going to depend very much on your artist, but I’ll give you our two wildly different experiences so that you know kind of what can happen on the day.
Monique’s Experience: Eheon
I had my tattoo done by Eheon, who is a quiet and gentle guy with super high levels of professionalism. I would be tattooed by him again in a heartbeat, which is saying something because I am quite an anxious tattoo-getter! I arrived a little early after finding Eheon’s building, which has a great view over Seoul. His apartment/studio was super clean and modern, and I felt a little like I was walking onto a magazine photoshoot! Eheon made me feel relaxed and calm, and we dived straight in by discussing exact tattoo placement and size.
Once I was happy with the size, he printed out a stencil (kind of like a fake tattoo) and I got my first look at how awesome my tattoo would be. It should have been weird to be chilling with my top off in my bra for a few hours with a guy I’d met on the internet, but Eheon was a complete professional, focused on the work and keeping things moving.
The tattoo was done in 2 sessions of around an hour, with a 10 minute break in between to stretch. I was expecting pain because my Sak Yant in Thailand had been super painful, but I honestly hardly felt a thing, and had I been lying down, I would have easily dozed off. I know that the upper back is a pretty painless area to get tattoos, but I’m sure it also had a lot to do with how gentle Eheon’s technique is.
After the tattoo was done, Eheon took some pictures for his Instagram page, which he also sent to me. I paid the rest of my bill in cash, and I added a tip because his fee was about a third of what Chris was paying! As is Korean custom, he refused the tip for a bit but I gave him no choice, as I was so pleased with how the tattoo turned out. Whether you tip or not is of course up to you, but I personally felt that the quality of the work I was getting was super high for the fee, so I wanted to pay extra to convey that.
I was advised also that you can bring some snacks to share, which I did, but to be honest, it was a little awkward, and I eventually gave the snacks to him when I left which felt a little random. So yeah, it’s really up to you, and no artist is going to ask you to pay a tip or bring anything along in Korea, but it isn’t unwanted either. I paid 400 000 won for my tattoo, and I added an extra 100 000 won. This is just so that you kind of know what to expect, though prices change all the time, and you’ll need to talk directly to your artist.
After the tattoo Eheon covered the area with some medical second skin type stuff, and gave me another piece with instructions on when and how to change it. He also wrote out all the instructions on KakaoTalk after I left, and sent me a picture of what cream he recommended using so that I didn’t have to remember anything. Having followed his advice to the letter I’m super happy with how the tattoo has turned out, and how quickly it healed.
Chris’s Experience: BK
I found BK on Instagram, I loved the sketch style of tattoo and knew that was what I wanted. I had a photo of a manta ray that I had taken while in Bali that I wanted to get on my inner arm. I contacted BK through his KakaoTalk on Instagram and he replied within a few hours. The initial plans were very basic, I gave a brief outline of what I wanted and we set a date that suited us both. His fee was $1000 for a palm sized tattoo with a $50 deposit to secure my booking, paid through PayPal. The rest of the fee I paid in cash on the day.
Once I had made the deposit BK sent through the address of his studio and a photo of which building to look out for. It was easy enough to find the location on Google Maps and it was a quick, 15 minute walk from the nearest subway station. I had heard that it was common to bring a snack for the tattoo artist so I picked up a pizza on the way there.
From the outside you’d never guess that there was a studio but once inside the studio was professional and clean. I was greeted at the door by BK and shown a place to sit. I had emailed the picture of the manta through to him before hand and when he was ready we discussed it together, looking at placing and size. When we were both happy he started working on the stencil. It took about 30 minutes for the stencil to get drawn up and then we got started on the tattoo.
Only having had a Sak Yant previously I didn’t know what to expect with regard to pain but it hurt like crap. I found out how sensitive the skin on my inner arm was! The whole tattoo took a little over an hour. BK’s English was not the strongest so he didn’t immediately say anything regarding aftercare. When I asked he said to put Vaseline on, which I later read is a terrible idea, so perhaps read up a little on tattoo care before visiting. He may be able to explain better to a Korean speaker though.
Overall I am exceptionally happy with the quality and style of my tattoo. BK wasn’t cheap but then it’s paying for a piece of art that will last a lifetime!
Getting a Tattoo in Korea: Artists we love
Eheon’s style is soft and feminine, and the feather he gave me looks as if it could fly off my skin at the slightest breath. Professional, gentle, and very good value for money, I would highly recommend Eheon when you’re getting a tattoo in Korea.
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BK’s bold and graphic style is unique and makes his tattoos jump off the skin. He may not be gentle, but he is a super talented artist with a refined technique. If you’re interested in original, vibrant tattoos, BK is your guy!
Nadi is a master artist and you’re going to have to fight to get an appointment with her. She has a bold black and white style with a dash of colour, and her tattoos look as if they were painted with brushstrokes rather than needles. I’ve only heard good things about her, and her work speaks for itself.
Sion was actually my first choice for artist, but unfortunately she was out of the country and we couldn’t find a date. Her vibrant colours and gorgeous florals are what drew me to her, and I will definitely be coming back to Korea to get one of her pieces.
If you’re into cuteness and nostalgia, Hugo is your man. If I don’t eventually have a chubby, serious cat somewhere on my body I will have failed at life! If you like Pokemon or Ghibli, or anything that can be converted into fat little chubs, you’ll want to check out Hugo.
So there you have it: a very quick introductory guide to getting a tattoo in Korea. I hope that you’ve found everything you need to make your decision, Korea really is an amazing place to get inked by some top talent before they get super famous and jetset across the world. Let me know if you have any other recommendations for awesome artists and I’ll add them to the list!
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