Getting Married in Korea

Few weeks ago, my Korean friend and I went wedding hall hunting for her upcoming big day this year. I really admire her for being so understanding of her partner who works six days a week. She decided to check out some wedding halls by herself and let her fiancé take his much needed rest. Upon knowing her plan, I decided to accompany her the whole day and see how I can support her as she enters the new chapter of her life. I want to give her something she needs instead of just “paying” for my buffet meal on her wedding day, which is quite the custom here. Hehe!

We started our date with a delightful lunch at a restaurant of her choice. Well, our day went well but it was like I was the bride-to-be because I was the one asking the consultants a lot of questions. Haha! My friend who is like a younger sister to me has a very shy and quiet personality. So basically, I did most of the negotiations (Oh, the ajumma in me!) though I was struggling with my poor Korean language skills. LOL. So how is it to be preparing for a Korean wedding?

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Pork steak, salad and spicy seafood pasta.. yum!

Wedding Venue

The common wedding venues in Korea are hotels (hall or garden), wedding halls, churches, and folk villages for traditional ones. Most Korean couples prefer to tie the knot at wedding halls where everything needed for the big event is at hand. My friend also decided to celebrate her big day at a wedding hall rather than in a hotel because it is cheaper. She wants to save on the wedding cost because she wants to spend more on a luxurious honeymoon in Europe. After talking to the consultants and receiving some quotations, we had a tour at several wedding halls. Here are some photos of the last wedding hall complex that we checked out that day.

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Korean Wedding Halls

Korean wedding halls offer all wedding-related services. They’re basically one-stop shops for the big day. If you sign a contract with a wedding company, they’ll take care of almost every detail imaginable. You can also save if you avail some packages at wedding halls because they give some freebies (free wedding shoes, bouquet, etc.) aside from discounts.

Most wedding halls don’t post the exact price of the packages on their website. You have to visit the office for a consultation. Don’t forget to BARGAIN! I tell you, the costs posted at the brochure are not the final prices. For instance, in one of the wedding companies that we visited, the rental fee for the ceremony hall and bride’s powder room originally cost 2 million won according to the brochure. That includes fresh flowers for the hall decorations.

Well, after some negotiations, I was able to bring it down to as low as 700,000 won! Isn’t it too much to pay 2 million won for using a hall for just an hour or so? They don’t even customize the place for you! If you want more decors, then you have to pay so much more. The point is that you have to bargain. If you tell the consultant that you’ve checked other wedding halls, he or she will surely offer some more discounts or free services.

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A typical Korean wedding hall

Aside from the ceremony hall rental, of course there are a lot more on the Korean wedding checklist: 스.드.메 or studio photoshoot + dress + make-up package, onsite photography/videography, pyebaek (Korean traditional wedding ceremony) hall and food, reception, yedan, yemul, honeymoon trip and so many more. But you don’t need to stress yourself because the wedding consultants will do the work for you.Wedding Reception

The cost of wedding reception depends on the time, minimum number of guests and the location of the wedding hall. In most wedding halls, the minimum number of guests is 200-250. 12:00 o’clock is considered royal time therefore it is more expensive. Weddings held after 12 o’clock or in the evening cost lower. The location of the wedding hall also matters. Most wedding halls at the southern part of Han River (gang buk) charge around 35,000- 45,000 won per guest. On the other hand, wedding halls located at the northern part of Han River (gang nam) usually charge 50,000-80,000 won per guest for the buffet meal. My friend said that the total number of guests that she wants to invite is not more than 150 people. I jokingly told her to sell the remaining meal vouchers half the price online. LOL. At least she won’t lose that much money. And yeah, she said I am crazy. Haha!

An average wedding in Seoul cost around 15-20 million won depending on the location and of course, the quality. Another 4-10 million won for the honeymoon trip depending on your destination. You can spend an average cost of 30 million won for the wedding and honeymoon. The cost is doubled or tripled if you tie the knot at any of the famous hotels in Seoul. BUT, the expenses don’t end there.

Yedan and Yemul

For Korean couples, the most complicated part of getting hitched is the exchange of pre-wedding gifts. Yedan are the items given to the groom’s family members; while Yemul is the jewelry gift given to the bride. Yedan gifts are usually expensive items like bags, clothings, premium kitchenware, bed sheets and others which now cost 13-15 million won on average. Yemul is usually a diamond/jewelry set given by the groom’s family to the bride and usually costs more or less 10 million won. Due to financial strain, lots of young couples nowadays skip this part though.

Jeonse, Wolse or a New Home

And then there’s the matter of where to live. Only a small percentage of the newlyweds decide to stay in their current residences and the rest either rent or buy a new home. On average, couples spend a rough 300-400 million won in buying a new apartment (500 million – 1 billion won in affluent areas in Seoul), and 150-200 million won for the jeonse rental deposit for a small apartment.

집

Apparently, getting married in Korea costs a lot. No wonder why more and more Koreans delay marriage or prefer to stay single. A lot of them actually think that their wedding culture is quite exorbitant but they still go through with all of it anyway because of social pressures.

Unique Korean Wedding Custom

In Korea, the parents of the couple usually pay for everything -wedding, honeymoon and even house! They think of it as their last obligation to their children. Actually, once young adults start working, they give a portion (or most) of their salary to their parents every month and it is given back when they get married.

비용

Division of Expenses

Traditionally, the groom (with the help of his family) shoulders the payment for the house and the bride (with the help of her family) buys all the appliances, furnitures and everything needed at their new home. The rest (honeymoon and wedding costs) is 50-50.

Korean Wedding as an Investment and a Show

Most of the time, a wedding in Korea is not an intimate kind of life event. For one, it’s not based solely on the couple’s decisions but their parents’. Korean parents usually decide the date, location and many other details because in the first place, they are the ones who pay for the wedding. Also, Koreans take the elders’ words with great respect. Most of the wedding guests are actually parents’ guests. Yes, they invite everyone they know regardless of whether the couple have any idea who they are! The more guests they invite, the more cash gift they get.

Many people don’t want their personal time to be taken away especially weekends, the only time when they can enjoy what they want. For many, attending someone’s wedding feels like a chore. But some Koreans care too much about what people say about them that they even hire wedding guests to fill up the wedding hall if only a few people from their side are available on the big day. These guests are paid to greet the couple and act like their good old friends. It’s so weird, right?  But that is the reality here in Korea. If you like, you can work as a wedding guest on weekends and earn 30-50 dollars. Just wear your best wedding outfit and act like the bride’s BFF or the groom’s good old friend. Join the photo session after the ceremony and enjoy a buffet meal! Awesome right? I should try this. Ahaha! Just kidding.

Unlike in the Philippines, couples in Korea don’t sign the marriage contract on their wedding day. They do it separately at their respective district office weeks or months earlier. No ceremony. No wearing of lovely white dress. Just signing and stamping of documents. Voila! You’re officially married in Korea! The 3-hour grand wedding event is just like a big show.

Wedding Gifts

In a Korean wedding, guests are expected to give monetary gifts. Money is not considered a tacky gift here, it’s a standard protocol. It is not common for the guests to wrap and bring gifts in kinds. On the wedding day, guests put their cash gifts on white envelopes with their names on it. Representatives from the groom and the bride’s family take care of the note taking. The names of the guests as well as the amount given are listed. The couple and their family will return the favor when other guests have a wedding, doljanchi or funeral. The minimum amount is usually 50,000 won. Relatives and close friends give more if they can. Apparently, the money collected on the wedding day can cover all the wedding costs. If you are lucky to have generous guests, you’ll have more cash to keep for yourself. However, most of the time, everything goes to the parents. Ahaha!

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Upon arrival, wedding guests come to this area of the wedding hall to hand their monetary gifts in. Left: Groom’s Side, Right: Bride’s Side 

As much as my friend wants a small intimate wedding, it is quite hard to do things her way because marriage in Korea is not just a union of two people in love but of two families. In most instances, Korean couples have to consider the decisions of their parents more than their own. Going around Seoul and talking to wedding consultants with my crooked Korean for a day was really exhausting. However, it was a fun experience for me and my friend. After checking out several wedding halls the next day, she finally decided where to have her wedding. I’m looking forward to her big day in few months!🙂

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