how korean age works

How Korean Age Works | Why All Koreans Will Get 1 Year Younger Soon

All of us would want it other ways with our age! But the way Korean age works is very interesting. 

I think I can say with confidence that all of us have contemplated why we have reached the age we are at right now! 

Well, in Korea, this has taken a whole new level. Age is a defining factor in Korea where people are particularly interested in knowing the other person’s age just to establish how to address one another. 

This is one of the reasons ‘oppa’ is very often heard. Unlike the rest of the world, Korea calculates age differently and you would be surprised at a lot of things that you never would have guessed. 

We have simplified it for you to understand. Read on. 

Related: Korean Birthdays | Customs, Traditions and More

How Korean Age Works

International Age Vs Korean Age 

how korean age works

In Korean age, a baby’s time in the womb of the mother is considered a year. So as soon as the baby is born, he/she is already one year old. 

Whereas the rest of the world calculates the time of the baby from the time of the birth to a year after that. 

But that is not all. Every new year, on the 1st of January, another year gets added up to a Korean’s age. 

So when you compare it to the rest of the world that is a +2. 

If a Korean tells you they are 30 years old, what they actually mean is that they are 28. 

This is not just a change in metric but a founded on a strong philosophy where while the rest of the world calculates the number of years lived by an individual, in Korea it is calculated on the number of years you have experienced. 

However, this Korean age does not work on their records. To adhere with other rules and regulations, Koreans have the normal age metric recorded on their passport and other official records. 

The cultural concept is strongly imbibed and embedded in the Korean lifestyle and their day to day interactions. So much that it is considered normal there! 

How To Calculate Korean Age? 

does korean age apply to foreigners

Even though we have given you the basis of how Koreans calculate their age, there are a number ways for accuracy. 

  •    Post your birthday 

If you just got past your birthday date then you would have to add 1 to your normal age. 

For example

Normal age – 28

Korean age – 28 + 1 = 29 

  • Before your birthday 

If your birthday has not arrived yet then you would have to add 2 to your normal age. 

For example

Normal age – 28 

Korean age – 28 + 2 = 30

The next one could be slightly complicated but works. 

Add 1 to the current year and minus your birth year from the result you get from that. 

If my birth year is 1997 and the present year is 2021, here’s how it would go…

2021 + 1 = 2022

2022 – 1997 = 25

If neither of this seems to be working we suggest you use a Korean Age Calculator which will make the job easy and fast for you. 

Related: How To Say Happy Birthday In Korean

Why do Koreans always ask for the age? 

Like I mentioned in the introduction, Koreans make sure they know what your age is when they meet you in order to address you accordingly. 

In Korea and a lot of other Asian countries, it is disrespectful to call an older person with their name so there are terms that are used by relatively younger people. 

how old are you in korean

This applies across all kinds of relationships, not just blood related. 

The informal addressing is picked up very carefully and directed towards people of the same age and within the family. 

So the next time you are in Korea, make sure you know the other person’s age before you go ahead and say their name! 

Korean Age Hierarchy Explained 

Although the age factor can demand respect everywhere in the world, it requires devotion in Asian countries!

In Korea there are certain conditions and etiquette that run the lives of citizens to maintain a disciplined and cultured lifestyle. 

Here are some. 

If you are out for lunch with family or friends, the oldest one in the bunch is required or rather expected to pay the bill. 

korean age hierarchy

The splitting of the bill does not work if you are considerably older than the rest of the gang. 

So the next time you are in Korea, you know what kind of people to go out for a bite to eat! 

Koreans bow to greet older people as a sign of respect. This is something that is shown in the media time and again. 

Older Korean people can without guilt ask younger people to do them favours. 

The formal speech has to be used by younger people to the older folks at home or just in general. 

This is very important since this sets a tone for your speech and shows the respect you hold for the older person and is one of the most basic requirements. 

The older one in the family or a clique of friends has the responsibility to lead the group. 

Does Korean age apply to foreigners?

Although it is not mandatory to convert your age when you are answering them, it is appropriate to cite your age in the Korean Age system so that it applies to them as well. 

A lot of westerners have admitted to citing their age in the Korean age system when they are in Korea just because that is their system and what they adhere to. 

Another reason why you should just get it off according to the Korean age system is because it can avoid a lot of confusion when it comes to the contradicting methods. 

does korean age apply to foreigners

Situations you can ask for age in Korea? 

It can be a tad awkward to shoot the question to every person you meet just to adhere to etiquette. 

It usually arises when the person is around your age and you’re just quite not sure. 

When the other person is younger or older and it is apparent that you can use the right term, you are saved without having to bring up the question. 

Different ways you can address your age in Korea

One of the ways you can state your age is by simply stating it like the rest of the world.

Or you could state the year you were born in. 

Now addressing the elephant in the room, you can compare the actual age with the Korean age system. 

This can clarify a lot of cultural differences especially if you are in conversation with someone who is unfamiliar with the system and its workings. 

Citing Your Age In Korean

If you want to tell someone what you’re age is in Korean, here’s how you do it. I have given the list of ages in Korean from 18 years to 40 years old.

To say your age in Korean, you’ll have to add the following suffixes to the years in Korean given below.

If you’re talking to a person of the same age as you or a friend you should use the phrase – “-iya” or 이야 in Hangul.

For a person, you know generally but not intimately, you should use “-ieyo” or 이에요.

To a person older than you, use the honorific “-imnida” or 입니다.

Your AgeRomanticization (English Transliteration)Hangul
18 Years Oldyeol-yeo-dul sal열여덟 살
19 Years Old yeol-a-hop sal열아홉 살
20 Years Old seu-mu sals스무 살
21 Years Old seu-mul-han sal스물한 살
22 Years Old seu-mul-du sal스물두 살
23 Years Old seu-mul-du sal스물세 살
24 Years Old seu-mul-ne sal스물네 살
25 Years Old seu-mul-da-seot sal스물다섯 살
26 Years Old seu-mul-yeo-seot sal스물여섯 살
27 Years Old seu-mul-il-gop sal스물일곱 살
28 Years Old seu-mul-yeo-dul sal스물여덟 살
29 Years Old seu-mul-a-hop sal스물아홉 살
30 Years Old seo-reun sal서른 살
31 Years Old seo-reun-han sal서른한 살
32 Years Old seo-reun-du sal서른두 살
33 Years Old seo-reun-se sal서른세 살
34 Years Old seo-reun-ne sal서른네 살
35 Years Old seo-reun-da-seot sal서른다섯 살
36 Years Old seo-reun-yeo-seot sal서른여섯 살
37 Years Old seo-reun-il-gop sal서른일곱 살
38 Years Old seo-reun-yeo-dul sal서른여덟 살
39 Years Old seo-reun-a-hop sal서른아홉 살
40 Years Oldma-heun sal마흔 살

Is The Korean Age System Removed

A baby is regarded to be a year old in South Korea when they are born. On January 1st, they get a new year.
As a result, a child born in December will soon be regarded as two.
Yoon Suk-yeol, the country’s incoming president, is campaigning for the abolition of this centuries-old technique of counting, therefore this “Korean age” approach may soon change.
In a bid to bring Korea in step with the remainder of the world, the next administration is aiming to standardise how age is counted, according to Lee Yong-ho, the head of the president-transition elect’s team.
According to him, the various methods of determining age had led to “continuous confusion” and “unnecessary societal and economic consequences.”

Due to their ineligibility under the international age system and the requirement to provide proof of their immunisation status under the Korean age system, several Koreans weren’t able to receive a booster dosage.
The multiple age calculation approach has also caused issues with the need that all men between ages of eighteen and twenty eight serve a minimum of 18 months in the military as part of the country’s mandatory military service programme.
Although attempts to totally transition to the global order have been made in the past, they have not proven successful.
However, according to reports, President Yoon might be successful because the idea has overwhelmingly positive support from the public and major political groups.

How to say your age in Korean?

As age can be a confusing matter for foreigners in Korea, it’s best to clarify your western age along with your Korean age if asked by locals.
Here’s how you can say age in Korean. These are the transliteration for Korean words for age
Hanguk nai – Korean Age
Man nai – International age

As age is a big deal in Korea, it’s best if you clarify both.

drinking age in korea

Can I drink in Korea if I’m above 18?

If you’re a tourist visiting Korea, you can legally drink alcohol if you’re 19 years old or above.
The legal drinking age for Korean citizens is 20 years old. But as they count the time spent in the womb as one year and other countries don’t, you’ll be 20 in Korean years if you’re 19. 

Does Korean age follow the Lunar New Year calendar?

Yes, traditionally Korean culture has followed the Lunar New Year’s day as the day when everyone gets one year older. 
But in modern times, the Solar New Year (January 1st) is considered. So at this date, every citizen in Korea turns a year older, regardless of their actual birth date.
Funny thing is, if a child is born on the 31st of December, then according to Korean customs, he or she would be 2 years old on January 1st!

Korea is a land with a unique culture and the rest of the world is beginning to get an insight to it, thanks to the successful series and movies that are flourishing. 

But the one that deserves the most credit and notice is the etiquette and manners that is considered an example of a disciplined country. 

The Korean age system is also one such admired practice by the Koreans that the rest of the world admires and has gained a lot of recognition. 

Also Read:

Why Koreans have white skin

How to Say Thank You In Korean

How to Say I Love You In Korean

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