The Rise of Tattooing in South Korea

Why is it so “bad” to have a tattoo in South Korea?

Traditionally many Koreans believe that tattoos are taboo because gangsters or people trying to evade military conscription often tattoo their bodies. A long time ago, people would use tattoos to mark criminals, define social status, and show what family (or clan) they came from. This particular practice is an adaptation of Samurai culture from Japan. These negative connotations still resonate within some Koreans especially those from older generations. These beliefs are still commonly held in Japan as well, which is why tattooing is also “illegal” there.

Is it really illegal?

Actually… tattooing isn’t 100% illegal in South Korea. However, under criminal and medical laws, only licensed doctors can tattoo their “patients.” These laws are ridiculously strict and were made to basically make it impossible for real tattooists to do their line of work.

Is it possible for me to get a tattoo in South Korea?

Yes, it is possible to get a tattoo while in South Korea. Many people both Korean and foreigners alike get tattoos done all the time. Usually tattoo artists will work in secret studios or team up with jewelry and piercing shops. People find artists through social media like Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is really one of the best ways where you can find great tattoo artist.

But what if I can’t speak Korean?

No problem! A handfew of tattoo artists here in South Korea can speak English or have employees that know English that can help you out. One woman named Chelsea Votel is a tattoo guru here in South Korea, and is great at helping English speakers find the best tattoo artist for them. She is also the founder of the Facebook group Inked Korea where tattoo artists and tattoo aficionados can share work, ask questions about where to get the best ink, and share information about meetings and protests for supporting the legalization of tattooing here in South Korea.

What are people in South Korea doing to push the rights of tattoo artists and their work?

There have been great efforts to legalize tattooing here in South Korea. The New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) representative Kim Choon-jin made a motion to legalize tattooing, but there hasn’t been any recent progress of it by the National Assembly. This bill would allow tattooing by licensed artists in government-recognized schools, and prohibits the tattooing of minors. However, the medical association says they oppose the bill because of potential health risks from bleeding, blood poisoning, and tissue damage.

Here are some of my favorite tattoo artists here in South Korea:


  1. or

-Mainly black and white, but also can work with color
-Very intense bold designs, but can make cute designs as well
-Awesome at lettering


2) or

-Mainly black and white, but also can work with color
-His designs are more on the “dark side,” but he’s got some whimsical work as well
-Does a lot of traditional Asian designs (old samurai style)


3) or

-Unique designs
-Uses lots of colors
-Lots of detail


  1. or

-Mainly black and white
-Lots of portraits and human-like figures
-Lots of large piece work


2) or

-Lots of small pieces, but can also do large work
-Great written work and a fun style
-Mainly black and white, but works with color as well