Have you ever asked a Korean for directions and instead of getting a simple address, got something like “Head straight until you see a gas station and then turn left until you see a bakery, turn right and it’s the apartment complex that shows up on the left next to the convenience store”?
This sort of answer is becoming more rare thanks to the profusion of advanced GPS systems and smartphones (for which typing in the legal address will suffice), but there are still many who would answer your questions in this manner, purely out of habit, and mostly due to the way Korea’s administrative address system has been set up.
Korea is currently going through a major upheaval of the address system that had been the norm for decades, a system that was based on land lot numbers. The system will be changed to addresses based on street names, with administrative and legal changes coming into full effect on July 29th, 2011.
Nevertheless, it will take some time for this to fully settle in, as old habits die hard. (In fact, street names started to be appointed in the late 90s but they are still not that widely known or used.) Although legal and official documents will carry the new addresses, I presume it would take some time before people will casually say that they live at “so-and-so number on so-and-so street” instead of “so-and-so apartment complex in so-and-so district”.
So what’s in a Korean address? How is it generally written? The big rules haven’t changed; it’s only the detailed address that will be affected.
In Korea, we go from the large to the small. In Korean names, the family name precedes the given name. When writing an address it is the same. Most Korean addresses written in English are in reverse order to accommodate the western style, but the address usually starts from the largest region to the district, and then the detailed address.
The largest administrative district is do (도, pronounced ‘doh’). It would be the equivalent of a state in the USA. Korea has 9 administrative dos : Gyeonggi-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam-do, Gangwon-do, Jeollabuk-do, Jeollanam-do, Gyeongsangbukdo, Gyeongsandnam-do, and the special district of Jeju-do. Buk (북) and nam (남) mean ‘north’ and ‘south’ respectively; and do is not to be confused with the suffix do used in Jeju-do or Ulleung-do, which means ‘island’. Jeju-do is the only island do that is a separate administrative district.
Then you have the cities. With Seoul being called as a “Special City” (Teukbyulsi, 특별시), there are 6 other metropolis cities (Gwangyeoksi, 광역시) : Incheon, Daejeon, Gwangju, Daegu, Ulsan, and Busan. Cities generally must have a population of over 1 million inhabitants and have to meet other socio-economical criteria in order to achieve metropolis status.
After the metropolis are regular cities, called si (시). Based on population and the aforementioned other criteria, the next lower level is gun (군, pronunciation closer to ‘goon’).
In the case of Gyeonggi-do, the region surrounding the metropolitan Seoul area, there are 27 si and 4 gun.
Gun aren’t that far from being a city, but the lower populated eup (읍) and myeon (면) are mostly rural areas. Yeoju-gun is composed of Yeoju-eup and 9 myeon. Ri (리), the smallest administrative distinction in rural regions and not shown on the map, is a cluster of villages.
When writing an address for a rural region, the order would be:
Do – gun – eup – myeon – ri – number of land lot*
* Will be changed to street number after the system change
For cities, they are broken down into gu (구). Seoul has 25.
Within the gu, there are dongs (동). Administrative dongs (행정동) are again broken down into smaller legal dongs (법정동). Jongno-gu, which is in central Seoul has 18 administrative dongs and 87 smaller legal dongs. It is usually the legal dongs that will be written on the address. (See where it starts getting complicated?)
So what comes after the dong? Well, according to the soon-to-be-old system, it was the number of the land plot. Since the numbers of the land plots aren’t visible on the buildings, usually the name of the building or set of buildings are indicated in the address as well. Apartment complex names are the most common.
For instance, the address of a person living in “Koreanet” apartment complex’s building 123, apartment number 4567 could be:
Seoul teukbyeolsi Jongno-gu Hyoja-dong Koreanet APT 123 dong 4567 ho. (서울 특별시 종로구 효자동 코리아넷 APT 123동 4567호)
The second ‘dong’ here means building and ‘ho’ is room number.
In the new system, the name of the district dong and apartment complex will be omitted and replaced with the street name and number, while the apartment building dong and number ho will be retained.
So it will be something like: Seoul teukbyeolsi Jongno-gu Hyojaro 8910, 123 dong 4567 ho.
For the time being, be patient with those old style Korean instructions. Even KOCIS, who currently uses both the street name and building name in their address, still has the locations of certain landmarks (e.g. museum, police box) on the directions map on their official site.
Note: The government has sent out notices to all property owners and legal residents informing the implementation of the new address system. If you live in Korea and have not received anything of the sort, ask your landlord for details or check out the official government site for more information: