Are Tattoos Illegal in Korea?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on February 03, 2022
    Last Updated: February 3, 2022

Tattoos are more popular than ever before, and you would think that this popularity is the same across the globe. However, there are some countries that don’t have the same passion for tattoos as others do. 

If you’re planning to visit Korea or you live there already, you may want to know how they feel about tattoos. Is it illegal to have a tattoo in Korea, or is it illegal to be a tattoo artist? 

As you walk through the busy streets of Korea, you will see tattoo studios. How do these affect the legal status of tattoos in Korea? 

We’ll let you know if tattoos are illegal in Korea, and what you need to do to become a tattoo artist.


Tattoos Around the World

Cultures around the world view tattoos completely differently. Some countries see tattoos as a taboo subject, some view tattoos as part of their family history, and others use tattoos as a right of passage, showing social acceptance. 

Tattoos are a form of expression and are more acceptable in some countries than others. If you’re traveling the world and have tattoos, you may need to look closely at the cultures and beliefs of the countries that you’re visiting. 

Are Tattoos Illegal in Korea?

Tattoos aren’t illegal in Korea. However, they can only be completed by a tattoo artist who has the correct medical license. It is illegal to have a tattoo by someone who doesn’t have a proper medical license.

In Korea tattoos have always been associated with criminals and gang members, so they are seen as a negative thing to have on your body. Tattoos aren’t allowed to be shown on television in Korea, so many pop stars cover their tattoos while they are performing.

There are also many people who follow Korean Confucianism and believe that our body is handed down to us by our parents. This belief means that any changes you make to your body are a sign of disrespect.  

How To Get a Tattoo in Korea

It’s easy to find a tattoo studio in Korea if you look hard enough, but the majority of these don’t have the correct medical license. This means that you cannot guarantee the results or the aftercare on offer. 

Tattoos in Korea are normally completed quickly and relatively cheaply, but you need to bear in mind that this may be due to the fact that they are working illegally. 

Many tattoo artists post their work on social media applications and this is where you will find most tattoo artists as they do not advertise openly. Tattoo studios are like pop-up stores as they will disappear just as quickly as they appear. They can be found in unassuming buildings with no signage or advertising.  

Medical License 

In 1992 the decision was made that only licensed medical professionals were able to do a tattoo on human skin. This ruling was due to the risk of infection from ink inserted into the skin. The penalty for completing a tattoo without a medical license can lead to two years imprisonment and a hefty fine. 

This ruling means that the majority of tattoo artists work from home or from an underground tattoo studio.  

Tattoo Artists in Korea

Despite the problems in getting a legal tattoo studio, Korea has many very talented tattoo artists. They generally use aliases so as to not give away their identity. Some of the most well known Korean tattoo artists are:

Sol

Sol is the owner of Studiobysol, which is one of the most popular tattoo studios in Seoul. Sol is known worldwide and has thousands of Instagram followers. He specializes in detailed miniature tattoo designs.

Oozy

Oozy’s real name is Woojin Choi and he has created some amazing intricate designs using fine dots and lines. He specializes in using black and gray inks and rarely adds color to his tattoos. 

Handitrip

Handitrip is one of the very few tattoo artists that work outside of Seoul and they are well known for their minimalistic and subtle tattoo designs. The tattoos may be small but the designs offer stunning detail.

Zihee

Zihee is well known for her bold and colorful tattoo designs and her semi-surrealist style gives a diverse portfolio.  

Banul

Banul’s client base is mostly female and they offer delicate, detailed tattoo designs. The designs are often complex and it requires a great deal of imagination to create them. The tattoos include intricate linework and watercolor.

Hongdam

Hongdam specializes in stunning stand-alone tattoos that give off a calming effect with their graceful design. His portfolio includes lots of elegant watercolor florals as well as fascinating lifelike animal designs.

Conclusion

Even though it’s not illegal to have a tattoo in Korea, it is almost impossible to find a tattoo artist who works legally due to the strict licensing laws. There are thought to be over 13 million people in Korea with tattoos, and of the 350,000 tattoo services available, only 10 of these have a legal medical license. That’s a lot of tattoo artists working illegally in the country.

Activists are constantly petitioning for changes to the law in Korea and are working hard to give talented tattoo artists the freedom to work legally in their chosen profession. They state that getting a tattoo is a basic human right in the same way as fashion or make-up.