Korea has bent over backward to incorporate English in many places and situations. Although it’s far from universal, you’ll find plenty of English signs or people that speak a bit of English that make finding your way around town easier. This is especially true when it comes to shopping. Koreans are highly competitive and want your business. Most places understand the essentials in English such as “How much?” and use their fingers or type on a calculator to help communicate the price.
South Korea has benefited greatly from increased tourism, and prices are not what they were 20 years ago, so don’t expect to pick up quality leather jackets for $20 anymore. Itaewon and Songtan, being near a military base, have attracted lots of shops, restaurants, and bars. You can find plenty of tailors and shops selling knock off designer purses, watches or sunglasses. But they also tend to be more expensive as well because they know the military has money and are willing to pay it. If you’re not willing to pay, the next tourist will be, so they won’t sell to you. Tourists are often amused by the names of these shops, which come in a wide array of good and bad English such as “Mama Bag,” “Friend Shop” and “Baby Hunt.”
Furniture, if you’re in a position to buy and transport it back, can also be an incredible buy, and is negotiable, up to 30% off. Be careful on quality though. If you live in a dry climate, your Korean furniture will very likely crack when you get it home.
Jewelry is one area where where it’s easy to get ripped off as prices are inflated and standards may not be up to par. While gold and silver are okay to purchase, white gold is tricky.
Custom made clothing can be wonderful for men, but beware of the guys touting their wares on the streets. The good ones don’t have to try to pull in customers from outside. Just explore some of the alleys off of Itaewon and find someone you like. For female clothing, if you’re not concerned about getting clothes tapered around your bust and hips, buy away. A good idea is to have them make something cheap first, like a tailored shirt ($20), and see if they can. You can pick up a very good quality, custom-made leather jacket for around $100 with little or no bargaining. A custom made suit will run you around $200. You can come in with your own specifications or pick from an endless supply of catalogs. Be sure to decide on a price acceptable to you both in either Dollars or Won before leaving the shop after placing your order and get a copy of the receipt or invoice as proof. Most require a deposit and are willing to break up the remainder into payments rather than one large sum.
DVDs, especially those that have already been released, are between $5-$8 and generally of good quality. The shops outside the bases are reliable, but away in other parts of the country make sure they show you the movie playing before you buy.
Korea’s native craft is celadon pottery. Beautiful pieces can be bought anywhere. Just shop around and pick what you like.
Purses are an awesome buy and of extremely good quality. For the designer purses, it will still cost you a couple hundred for the hand bags and depends on the popularity of the designer at the time. Right now Coach is on the cheaper end because people can get Jummy Chu, Prada, Gucci or Louise Vittaun just as easily. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, ask and they can probably get it for you. There are also shops that will custom design your handbags, carrying cases and other bags for a good price.
Haggling is not impossible. However, you ought to know that if you’re the first person in the shop in the morning, your performance may well be regarded as setting the tone for the day. If you haggle too hard, your shopkeeper may get upset, and if you walk out without buying, that may be taken as meaning the day will be without profit. This means the shopkeepers may be more aggressive with trying to sell you something, but they might also be more willing to make a deal or give a bit of discount if it means you buy through them.
English: How much is this?
Korean: 이게 얼마예요? (ige eolmayeyo?)
Sounds Like: ee-geo eol-mah-yeh-yo
Depending on your pronunciation or how confident you sound, they may respond by typing the price into a calculator or telling you in Korean.