**Update #2: As of January 1st 2021, Koreans will have to register their drones. How this will affect tourists is not yet known. I would imagine foreign residents will probably have to register their drones as well. This will take place online and hopefully have an English option. For more information, check this link
**Update #1: The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport have a new site for Drones, it is all in Korean but laws, notices and rules for flying in Korea can be found here. Here is the link
If you are living or traveling to South Korea, here are some rules and advice that you should know before launching your drone. This advice not only comes from the actual websites but from my own personal experience as well. Often you are going to find sites that have just copied and pasted the general drone rules for Korea and only reflect on part of the experience.
Korea has accepted drone use and actually many people quite enjoy using drones as a hobby. However, this is still a country with many military sites, competitive companies, and high-level government facilities scattered across the country. It is best to understand not only the rules, regulations, and laws, but the acceptable practices as well.
Licences and Permission
At the time of this writing, you do not need a license to fly a drone in Korea. However, if you are flying a larger commercial drone, you will need to to apply for a drone pilot’s license. However, for smaller DJI mavic series type drones, you will not need one.
If you are flying around places like Seoul, you are not going to have a great time flying. Much of Seoul is a P-73A or a P-73B NO FLY zone. This is due to the high density of government and military installations within the city limits. These are absolute no fly zones and many are compliant with the DJI Go 4 app and it simply will not let you fly. If you can, it is highly risky and if you get caught, you will face a fairly heavy fine.
Outside of these areas are what is called a R-75 which is a restricted air space but you can fly with permission. There are certain guidelines that you must follow but the government is making the process more streamlined.
**The site above seems not to be secure but it is the only one that I have come across. Check here for more information regarding obtaining permission to fly in Korea.
Outside of Seoul, you will have a much easier time but you may still need permission if you are flying near or around certain controlled airspaces. There are a lot more factories and Nuclear Power Plants dotted along the coastline that you need to be aware of. Again, the DJI app is great at picking these up.
The Basic Rules for Flying Your Drone in Korea
Here are the basics rules for flying your drone in Korea. Now keep in mind that these may not be laws but they are certainly enforced in some areas. Others in this list are guidelines and/or best practices. Source: UAV Systems International. *edited to add more clarity for Korea.
- You cannot fly higher than 150 meters (492 feet). You can set the limit in your DJI Go4 app.
- You cannot fly within 5.5km of airfields or in areas where aircraft are operating. These will be regulated in the app but also keep an eye out for hospital helipads (there are more here than you may realize).
- You must fly during daylight hours and only fly in good weather conditions. Use UAV Forecast to let you know the conditions.
- Avoid flying over crowds and respect the privacy of others. This goes double for places like Haeundae beach and other areas. There are police that will patrol these areas due to a higher rate of people taking pictures of sunbathers without permission.
- You cannot fly near Seoul Plaza, military installations, government facilities, power plants, or areas of facilities related to national security
- You cannot fly when there is low visibility or yellow dust. This is a particular issue this year and will continue to be a problem. Fly with caution.
- Do not fly your drone beyond line of sight. This can be an issue for smaller drones but keep it in mind when flying.
Above all, what I tell people to “use your head!” more than anything else because if you find yourself in trouble chances are you were not using your head. I just mean that if you are flying around a place that you know you shouldn’t be, then you are going to get into trouble. Especially for photography, many of the places that you shouldn’t fly are not the greatest for photography anyway.
Places like Nuclear Power Plants and Military/Police sites are no fly zones, even if your app doesn’t catch it. Just don’t do it. Again, it is common sense.
Also open spaces away from crowds and people are often acceptable to fly your drone. I find the seaside to be a great place to fly and have flown my drone along the Eastern coastal shores of Korea quite a bit these days. That being said, flying within the city may seem tempting but there is so much going on. I have flown around Ulsan and Busan quite a bit and it is tricky with so much signal interference.
The one major difference that you will notice is how people approach a drone here. In the West, there is a great deal of suspicion surrounding drones. I have published some stories back in the fall and had people email me about how bad drones were. Some went so far as to tell me that my pictures do the community a disservice as they promote the active use of drones.
In contrast, the public reaction in Korea is much different. The people that I have encountered are generally accepting of drones and are even fascinated by them. I have had people come up and look at the video as I fly around or even ask questions about it. Many people even own drones themselves and have offered local tips to the best places to fly.
The only thing that I would caution you with is that if you are flying in a park or other area, drones are like magnets for children. They often don’t have a real concept of how dangerous the drone’s propellers are and will sometimes chase it or try and catch it as it is landing. Thus, you have to be extremely cautious when operating a drone when there are children around.
Where to Buy a Drone in Korea
Korea is great for shopping and there are many places to purchase a drone both online and from a physical store. DJI is the most popular brand but you can also find other brands as well through the country and online.
There is a DJI Flagship store in Hongdae in Seoul. This is the first place that I went as you can really check out all of the models and experience them first hand. The staff spoke excellent English and were very helpful.
ElectroLand, which can be found all across the country in places like E-mart and the Shinsegae Department Stores. These are great places to take a look at other brands of drones that are available in Korea. I have also found out that their prices on DJI drones are comparable to those at the flagship stores and online.
If you are looking at getting a deal, keep in mind that you are not going to get that much of a deal here in Korea. I am not sure why people have this notion that Korea of all places will have cheap prices on electronics. Typically, most of the stores will be more expensive than the U.S. or even Japan.
If you are looking some a better price, try shopping online. These days in Korea, online shopping is second to none. I purchased my mavic air online and saved around $200 when I got the “fly more” combo. So if you have a Korean friend, enlist their help. Just remember that you get what you pay for and if the deal sounds too good to be true, then you are probably buying a DJI box with a brick inside.
Places to Fly
If you get outside of Seoul, there are a ton of great places to fly. I really like flying along the coast and have found that my drone is an indispensable tool for capturing lighthouses for my recent personal project.
Also the mountains and countrysides are also great places to explore and learn how to use your drone. The cities are enticing but I do find that there is a lot of interference especially with the mavic air.
Again, avoid Seoul as it is tricky to find places to fly. The drone park is rather underwhelming and busy on the weekends. If you are just starting out, it maybe a place to start learning but I would not recommend it. I just found that there were too many drones in the air at one point and really there was not much space to fly around.
Just a quick note on editing. I have started testing Skylum’s AirMagic and it is a really good program so far. You can batch edit your photos with all of their AI enhancements along with settings that detect your exact drone model and make lens corrections based on that.
Check the image below as there maybe still time to get the pre-release package before it comes out. If you are reading that after March 23rd then you can pick it up for the regular price as it is a great asset to quickly edit your images from your drone.