How to address mail to South Korea?
November 25, 2014 1:03 PM   Subscribe

I (in the US) am going to mail a small gift to a friend of mine currently residing in South Korea. Having already unsuccessfully attempted to mail her a postcard a couple of months ago, I want to make sure my package doesn't vanish in the postal abyss since it is going to cost a double-digit number of dollars to mail. How do I properly address it and fill out the address on the customs form properly?

She has given me her address in Hangul, which obviously isn't going to fly with the US Postal Service either on the package itself or on the customs form. She also gave me a romanized form of it when I tried to send her a postcard, and I thought that it would be okay because everything I read on the internet said that Korea Post can cope perfectly well with romanized addresses in a wide variety of formats, but after that postcard got lost in the mail, we both became (hopefully understandably) wary. Her address (in Hangul) is of the form (with anonymized parts underlined):
Through judicious application of Google I managed to find some addressing guidelines for Korea from the Universal Postal Union, and between that and this Wikipedia article I think she and I managed to piece together a romanization of the address as given above:
A-dong, 1-cheung, 123-ho
Apartment Complex Name
12-3 Neighborhood Name
Z-gu, Y-si
X-do, SEOUL 123-456
(for comparison, the romanization she came up with before was: Apartment 123, Level 1, Building A / Apartment Complex Name / 12 Neighborhood Name, Z-gu, Y-si / X-do 123-456 / SOUTH KOREA — in retrospect perhaps the 12 Neighborhood Name was part of the problem, since it's 12-3 in the new one)

She is not in Seoul, but the UPU guidelines I linked above say that Korea Post recommends putting "SEOUL" in the address on any mail destined for South Korea to make sure it doesn't accidentally go to North Korea, and it will be delivered correctly as long as the postcode is correct.

How close to correct is this romanization? I can neither speak nor read Korean so I can only make semi-educated guesses based on the knowledge I've gleaned and the automatic Hangul romanization Google Translate provides. Also, it remains unclear to me which parts of this go in the "address" field on the customs form (I'm pretty sure I'll be using PS Form 2976, Customs Declaration CN 22 for this) and which parts go in "city" and "province" (I at least know that 123-456 is the postcode). I know that X-do is the province, but I also know that Korean addresses can have at least two additional levels of sub-provinces and this appears to have one (Z-gu), so I'm unsure about which of these should go in "province" on the customs form. I'm pretty sure Y-si is the city, but do I just write "X-do" in the "province" field, or do I need to write "Z-gu, X-do", or something else entirely?
posted by zztzed to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
Best answer: Hey, I live in Korea!

When I have my people send me things, they get sent (in Roman characters) to:

My Name
The Name of my Building, My Apt #
123-45 Cheolsan 3-Dong
Republic of Korea

I do know that the order is inverted if done properly, as my students cringe whenever we do the address unit and I start with the building rather than the province. But everything I've received in the mail has come with the order as above, so I don't think this truly matters (more of a concern for the Korean Miss Manners or something).

I would put the number plus neighborhood info in the address field, that is the address. (In my case, that's 123-45 Cheolsan 3-Dong.) Mail in Korea isn't attached to a street number, the buildings are just numbered within a zone (the neighborhood).

'Si' is indeed city, just as 'do' is province. 'Gu', as I understand it, is a collection of neighborhoods ('dong'), more like a district. I suspect you don't really need it, once it gets to the city-level of delivery they ought to know the neighborhood (especially since the city in question isn't Seoul).

I'm inclined to agree with you about the numbering problem (ie, the missing -3), that seems like it'd be a difference maker. Honestly, your postcard is probably sitting in some bin of unclaimed mail at her local post office.

I would also hesitate to write Seoul on a parcel if she does not live in Seoul. If you want to be extra safe, I would lean more toward "Republic of Korea / South Korea." And really, how much US Mail is Pyongyang getting anyway, eh?

I can't speak Korean, but I can read it and have a small vocabulary if it'd be of any assistance. (E.g., 단지 -> "dan-ji" -> complex)
posted by charlemangy at 3:24 PM on November 25, 2014

I used to live in China, and a good way to get mail there from the US was for people there to print out a paper with the Chinese characters on them (sent from the friend in China) and then also write it in English. However, mail that was only addressed in English usually got there just fine, even if the order of the address was incorrect, so I am wondering if the problem might not be the way it was addressed? Because I can't imagine that Korea's post office is less efficient than China's.
posted by bearette at 4:08 PM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: What, don't put SEOUL on the package, SOUTH KOREA is plenty. I've mailed things to friends and family in Korea from online stores that could only handle an English language address with no problem.

Just put the -do info in the province. Do the 6 digit zip code. And use the neighborhood district number if provided (I think my neighborhood in Seoul is transitioning away from that system but I still put it down on my packages headed to Korea).

Given my top-level data is different (Seoul) this is how I'd write it on the package itself

Gwanak-gu, Blahblah-dong 1234-1
Arirang APT #11

posted by spamandkimchi at 5:45 PM on November 25, 2014

Putting the address in both English and Korean next to each other used to work well for me, but that was for post coming from the UK, not the US.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:41 AM on November 26, 2014

Best answer: I've lived in Korea for going on two decades. The format I traditionally use in the English alphabet is

A-dong, 123-ho (1-cheung is just 'first floor, ho is apartment number but 123 implies 1st floor, so I've never specified floor number)
XYZ-dong (the double dong (heh, I'm 12) is confusing -- first one tends to be building # in an apartment complex, second is 'neighbourhood' basically)
Z-gu, Y-si (gu (district) appears sometimes, for larger cities -- in the case of where I live, it doesn't; si is city)
X-do, SEOUL 123-456 (do is province)

This is the opposite order to the usual Korean way -- smallest to biggest rather than biggest to smallest -- but I've never had a problem doing it that way.

That said, though, the country has just undergone a complete restructure of addresses into a more western-style format, with street names and stuff. I still haven't learned my own address in that format months later, and it doesn't seem to be gaining much traction, but is the new 'official' way of doing it. I couldn't tell you what it might be in that format.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:18 PM on November 30, 2014

Breaking that up into the kind of thing your usual website form would accept in English, I'd use something like

Address 1: Person's name, A-dong, 123-ho
Address 2: XYZ-dong, Z-gu (if specified)
City: Y-si
Province/State: X-do
Postal code: 123-456
Country: Korea
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:25 PM on November 30, 2014

Response by poster: I appreciate all the answers here. I ended up going with the form I gave in my original post, minus "SEOUL" since the consensus was that it was unnecessary. Fortunately, despite forgetting to put my friend's phone number along with the address as some suggested, it arrived at its destination today, roughly 7 business days after I mailed it, somewhat worse for wear (protip: if mailing something the size and shape of a children's book (like, say, a well-known parody children's book), go for a padded envelope; a regular cardboard one will probably get hung up in the sorting machinery and torn considerably).
posted by zztzed at 8:32 AM on December 8, 2014

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