Monday, April 25, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Gift Ideas for Koreans?

Dear Korean,

My husband will be teaching for two weeks this summer in Korea. We will be entertained by faculty and I need ideas for hostess gifts. Do you have any suggestion?


This is one of the most frequently asked questions to the Korean -- i.e. some variation of "I am visiting Korea and want to bring gifts. What is appropriate?"

Obviously, a gift that reflects a deep consideration for the recipient would be the best gift. But hey, that kind of consideration is not always available for everyone. In a pinch, the Korean's go-to gifts have been specialty coffee and vitamins/supplements. Korea's coffee situation vastly improved recently, but specialty coffee is still pretty expensive and the choice is not that great. Vitamins/supplements are also pretty expensive in Korea.

Readers, do you have any gift ideas that would play well to Korean recipients?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. High end food items always worked. Pinenuts were always a favorite of my parents to take to Korea since they're apparently extremely expensive in Korea. Wine and other Western liquor works, but you have to be careful since certain more religious households may not take to it as warmly. How about a nicer food item that your home town is famous for (assuming you can get it by customs)?

  2. Been an avid reader of this blog forever, now my first comment!

    Nuts of all kinds seem to be a popular option, especially for older folks. My parents always packed a suitcase full of nuts and made me carry it... heh. Vitamin supplements, wine, liqour (patron and other stuff are hard to find in Korea... also ridiculously expensive).

    When I lived in Korea years ago those Hawaiian chocolate things were really popular as gifts from the US, but I've seem them seeling those in department stores nowdays. Jellybeans are pretty popular too. Cosmetics (Biotherms, etc) if you know the person, certain clothing brands have been popular among my friends (wtf is up with Levi's being really popular in Korea???).

    Food is probably hard to get it by customs, both in the US and Korea. As TK has said, coffee is a great option.I recently bought a giant thing of coffee from Costco for dirt cheap in California and brought it to work and everybody loved it.

    Other things I've seen: Gum, candy, chocolate, popular college sweatshirts(UCLA, Harvard...).

  3. Well, SJ said everything I was going to say.

  4. Coffee is a great gift, for some reason, Koreans are crazy about Tasters Choice Instant Coffee (not the Decaf!). I agree that healthy foods are always good, such as nuts. Also I noticed lately that dried berries are really popular health food and they're pretty expensive in Korea, so a trip to your local Costco and pick up a bunch of dried cranberries, blueberries, those acai berries. But of course, if you know the people well and know their clothing sizes and all that, nice high end clothing is always a good gift.

    By the way, is there really confusion as to why Levi's are popular in Korea (or anywhere for that matter)? They're stylish they're comfortable...seems like a no brainer, but I digress...

  5. When we went to korea last year, we took several polo/golf shirts and the vitamin supplements (Costco). Also several jumbo sized bag of walnuts. For younger folks, it seems like brands like Abercrombie and Hollister seemed really popular.

  6. What not to give: a wheel of brie and artichoke pesto dip mix. Unless they are friends with me and will pass it on when they scratch their heads and wonder what the heck they are supposed to do with it.

    My boyfriend's sister (who is Korean) who lives in Canada brought those back for the family, clearly bought in some yuppy supermarket trying to impress the family. They were less than impressed, were disgusted by the cheese and just scratched their heads at the dip mixes. Ergo, I wound up with all of them.

    As for what TO give, I see your readers seem to have that covered well. I second the vote for college sweatshirts, those seem to go over well in most countries and I don't see why Korea would be any different. Particularly for the younger folks, maybe 30-younger.

  7. Regarding Levi's - well, from what I've been told by my Korean friends, they just seem overpriced and overrated in Korea. Maybe I'm overthinking it. Digression over.

  8. As others mentioned, vitamin supplements and coffee are popular gift items when visiting Korea from the U.S.

    Depending on the age range and gender of the gift recipients, cosmetics and perfume might also be good choices. If they have kids, children clothing is another option. Polo (the brand) shirts are still very popular in Korea for both genders. Oh, and this applies for kid's clothing as well.

  9. Honey-- real honey that doesn't have sugar added is hard to come by here, and much more expensive than in the states.

  10. My relatives, when they visit me from Korea, always bring me underwear and socks. I don't know if it really works the other way around though. I usually end up bringing vitamins and fancy US confections for them and it usually goes over well.

  11. We bring nuts (cashews are loved and prized but any choice of nuts are appreciated), bags of those little individually wrapped assorted Hershey chocolates (a great crowd gathering gift, which are priced between $11-$15 a bag in department stores in Seoul), but the most prized gift of all seems to be just plain cash and a lot of it, at least for family members.

  12. refresh_daemon,

    That's because underwear and socks are unbelievably cheap in Korea, and ridiculously expensive in the U.S. The Korean refuses to buy underwear in America because he cannot bring himself to pay $10 per boxers. He brings back from Korea a pack of 30 for about $40 instead.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. TK: that makes a lot of sense. Granted, since it's pretty much all I get from them, I have enough underwear and socks stockpiled for perhaps the next decade, as long as I don't gain any significant weight.

  15. People in Korea typically like gifts they are accustomed to and are practical. So that wheel of cheese in the post above was a definite no-no.

    So if you can, get your gift in Korea.

    In Korea, gift certificates to Costco or EMart are good. Also, if you go to GS25, 7-11, HomePlus, EMart etc., they have gift boxes of energy drinks, alcohol, chocolate, fruits, SPAM, which are good ideas too. Depending on how close you are, money can be another option too.

  16. It really depends on the age. Older folks we've brought back vitamins or candy. Younger, good English vocab books (you wouldn't believe the errors I've seen in Korean books) and t-shirts with American style. Also for the girls, I've got to Coach outlet and brought back wristlets for my Korean girlfriends. Coachee is VERY expensive in Korea. They love anything that is American like I love everything Korea.

    Going home for a short visit in June and will need to do a lot of shopping. They also loved things I bought from Bath and Body Works.

  17. Speaking as someone who knows nothing about Korea save for what he's read on this blog, I'd like to ask something: I understand that vitamins are more expensive in Korea. But wouldn't giving Koreans vitamins from the United States be almost like implicitly asserting a role as the receiver's mother or something? I feel like I'd be a little creeped out were I to receive vitamins from anyone other than a close relative. And even so, I'd still ponder the subtext of the gift for hours probably.

    And would you get them multivitamins like Centrum? Or do you get specific vitamins? And if so, my above question sort of takes on a more specific nature. That is, does getting someone something like getting Vitamin E suggest to them, "Hey you should eat a more western diet?" <-Okay, that right there is probably a little bit of paranoia, but the concept of getting someone vitamins seems so odd to me.

  18. I made the mistake of bringing maple syrup that is made in my hometown the first time I visited Korea. After finding out that Koreans don't share my fondness for pancakes, six pints sat unopened in my luggage for the rest of the year.

  19. This is wonderful, I was just thinking what I should get for my Korean friends when I'm there. They're in their 20s and I am not sure liquor or coffee will be good, but college sweatshirts seem nice.

    Any other ideas what will be good to get for young people? (females)

  20. Nice bag for lady is one of best idea I think.....

  21. jigeum_jue, the Korean would caution that cash is really for close people or a special occasion (e.g. wedding, funeral.)

    Dan, vitamins/supplements are probably not right for total strangers, but it is not that weird.

  22. I'm not sure if you can get it through customs, but I live on the West Coast and smoked salmon is always popular for relatives back in China because of the expensive price of salmon there vs. here. My Korean friends seem to enjoy smoked salmon as much as my relatives do, so perhaps that is also an idea?

    (Funnily enough, vitamin supplements and liquor are also popular gifts back in China. Cheese not so much either.)

  23. when i first visited korea, i brought two boxes of entimens(sp) chocolates for my friend's family.

    it's not rocket science...
    you buy a food item, usually chocolates or cookies, in a box that allows for a number of people to pass by and grab some.

    specialty teas are good, too.
    lotion is a good gift for a female friend or two.

    cookies/chocolates that are individually wrapped are also a plus.

  24. From what I have seen, Koreans tend to like more practical gifts (it's something they can actually use, and thus, is more thoughtful). Where Americans tend to like more unique gifts (it's something you spent some time shopping for, and thus, is more thoughtful).
    That's why you see things in Korea like giving money for weddings, giving toilet paper for moving into a new apartment, giving food sets for Chuseok (and not the high-end gourmet foods an American might give, but instead infinitely more mundane items like cooking oil, canned tuna, and the unfairly maligned spam), and, as mentioned above, vitamins/supplements or socks and underwear for any occasion.
    To many Americans, these gifts would fall somewhere on the gift spectrum from nice but slightly odd, to pretty crappy, to downright rude. But Koreans would generally love any of them.

    1. that was a VERY helpful answer thanks !!!! i was the same way -- VITAMINS????? but if u say they enjoy that sorta thing them im going for it.

  25. When we visit my wife's relatives, we always bring some Gosari 고사리

    Her uncle really appreciates that I help in the picking and preparation of it. This gives it a special meaning as a gift. It is EVERYWHERE in our state (Washington).

  26. Well I already bought maple syrup, I guess I'll just keep that for myself. Maybe I'll pass on the honey. Maybe Scotch is cheaper here, so I'll bring that and bourbon. Maybe I'll just do gifts my second year there.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. I'm meeting a total stranger! She is in her late twenties. Hope this info helps.

    She is my brother's friend. And he met her on a student exchange stint and does not know so well that he knows what she likes.

    She had agreed to meet me and bring me around when I'm visiting Korea this June. Help!

  29. What kind of vitamins are popular? There is a buy one get one free sale at the drug store here so maybe I should buy some.

    When people talk about specialty coffee in Korea do they mean the Specialty Coffee Association or anything other than instant? I might bring some from our local roaster, but that would require a grinder in Korea.

    I am bringing over a pound of Tahitian vanilla beans, maybe some of those would work.

  30. Also got some dark chocolate at Trader Joe's. Originally got it for myself, but it is so cheap I might get some more for gifts. Is dark chocolate or milk chocolate more popular?

  31. my parents always bring beef jerkey

  32. I am going to Korea in October to teach English and was considering bringing boxes of Berger cookies. I am from Baltimore, and Berger cookies (the brand name - there are similar ones made other places but I've found that to me, Berger's always taste better) are only made here. They are a shortbread-type cookie with chocolate on top - - for my employer, agent, and co-workers. Is this appropriate?

  33. ROFL! I remember going to SK and having to carry literally a suitcase full of TAsters Choice Instant (NOT decaf), and another one full of a variety of Hershey's and Tootsie Pop. And that was more than two decades ago! All went over very well with both family and friends. Apparently TC coffee is still good even now (but I think more for my parents' generation lol)

  34. I've heard that Asians also like Victoria Secrets (they can't get it there) so, perhaps perfume or totes/bags/purses may also be nice gifts for ladies??

  35. Very interesting wedding gifts ideas here. :D Keep up the good writing dear author!

  36. Hello,
    I have a big favor to asking to a native Korean.....
    I have a letter a special one got from the most loved one,gone !! If Anyone can translate it for me I ll be really thankful from the bottom of my heart.
    Is not one page but 3 and half....

  37. My korean bosses really like salted corn nuts (cornick = tagalog) from philippines.

  38. I'm trying to come up for some drawing ides for a friend who is obsessed with Korea. I know very little about the place and was wondering if anyone could suggest things such as landscapes, cityscapes or even portraits that I could do.

  39. Hi everyone!
    I am going to visit Korea (Born there) and have not gone back in almost 20 years...

    I now live in Greece so I will be bringing Extra virgin olive oil and ouzo. What are also some nice items that I could bring for friends and family?
    Oregano and spices...are they expensive in Korea? I am trying to think of other items to bring back from Greece.

    Thank you!


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...