While the title of this blog may initially take you by surprise, weddings are an important topic when it comes to navigating culture norms and building relationships in Asia. In particular, wedding invitations often come in a professional context – meaning that you are likely to find yourself invited to a colleague’s wedding if you spend more than a few months in Korea. 

Before we dive into the details, it’s worth highlighting that weddings in Korea tend to be important ceremonial/ symbolic occasions. Rather than being a ceremony-plus-party as is the case with Australian weddings, in Korea, the weddings focus on family and social dimensions and omit the party element altogether. In light of this, being invited as a guest is an important part of strengthening your relationship, personally and professionally, to both the couples and their families.


Contrary to the photo above, most Korean weddings nowadays don’t follow tradition in regards to the bride’s special make-up that is iconically captured in the Haehoe mask. For a rare account of a traditional, yet multi-cultural, Korean wedding check out this blog.

Invitations and Dress-Codes

The first culture-shock encounter that you’ll likely face in a wedding scenario is the invitation. These days, it’s trendy to send digital wedding invitations via KakaoTalk or other messaging platforms. These digital invites, unlike the post-card style invites still popular in the Western world, tend to feature photos of the couple, usually in dramatically staged wedding attire. Now, to the Western invitee, it may seem highly unusual to see wedding photos before the wedding itself, but this is increasingly popular in Asia, as couples are spending a significant sum of money on pre-wedding photoshoots. 

Apart from this slight distinction in regards to invitation trends, RSVP is quite straightforward and guests are welcome to bring a plus one to weddings – particularly as everyone is expected to bring a money-envelope with them (more on this later). 

In terms of dress-code, unless the invite says anything about a particular theme, smart casual is generally the best choice. It should be noted that most guests tend to dress more business-style than what you would expect at an Australian wedding – with rare instances of bright dress colours, sparkling high-heels and showy jewellery. As a rule, it’s best to dress simply and conservatively, and there is no taboo of wearing dark colours such as black or grey to weddings in Korea. This is quite different from China, where black, white and red tend to be off-limit and ladies are encouraged to wear bright, festive, floral colours to bring ‘luck’ to the newlyweds. Hanbok attire is also usually reserved to family, but I must confess to having worn a modern hanbok at one wedding occasion. 


Colourful money-envelopes from Daiso. You can find them at most stationery suppliers, such as ArtBox and Morning Glory

Gifts, Envelopes and Expectations

Just like in China, with its famous ‘red envelope’ (hong bao) culture that has spread to platforms such as WeChat, in Korean traditional holidays money envelopes remain a dominant feature. Weddings are no exception, and although parents are typically expected to purchase some household gifts for the newlyweds, wedding guests rarely turn up with a rice-cooker in tow. 

Usually, when you arrive at a designated wedding hall, you will be greeted by a wedding reception desk, featuring a photograph of the couple and attended by members of the couple’s families. Guests are then expected to ‘gift’ a money-envelope to either the bride’s or groom’s side of the family, in exchange for which they receive a food-ticket for the subsequent buffet. 

You can refer to the chart below for a rough guide of typical gift amounts, noting that unlike in China, there is no emphasis on lucky number combinations. It’s advisable to avoid including multiple notes in the envelope and fresh, crisp bills are preferred. 

Tip: You can go to the bank and ask for a brand new bill by mentioning you want it for a wedding. 

Relationship Expected Amount
Regular colleague/ friend/ distant family member 30 000 – 50 000 KRW
Senior manager/ close friend 50 000 – 100 000 KRW
Close family (brother or sister-in-law) / very senior manager 100 000 KRW +
Group photo with family members of the couple, taken in 2019.

The Wedding Ceremony and Buffet

The first thing that Australian readers who are prone to turn up to functions late should know is that Korean weddings start earlier than the time designated on the invitation. Now, its taken three weddings for this to sink in for me, as I gradually realised that upon turning up at the designated time that the ceremony had already started, most seating has been taken and fellow ‘latecomers’ were jam-packed in the back of the hall.

After asking around regarding this puzzling trend, it has been suggested that one explanation for this is that the wedding industry in Korea has everything booked to the minute. So if one wedding finished early, it makes sense to start the next one – since most wedding halls have weddings booked back-to-back throughout the day.

Another unique aspect of Korean weddings is that wedding halls are pretty much the only option (although there are some exceptions to this rule, such as hotel or church weddings). You can therefore expect some kind of musical performance – either by the groom, a family friend or wedding hall singer – which is followed by the bride’s entrance and the ‘official’ part of the event. Usually, brides enter alone, as parents are seated at the front of the hall so that the couple can bow to them later during the ceremony.

In most cases, bride and groom tend to be dressed in Western-style wedding attire, while the parents wear traditional Korean hanbok (some families separate the female and male lines with colour, for example, blue for the groom’s family and pink/ purple for the bride’s). Following the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, which is wrapped up with group photos being taken on stage, the newlyweds disappear to change into hanbok while guests start making their way to the buffet.

In most cases, bride and groom tend to be dressed in Western-style wedding attire, while the parents wear traditional Korean hanbok (some families separate the female and male lines with colour, for example, blue for the groom’s family and pink/ purple for the bride’s). Following the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, which is wrapped up with group photos being taken on stage, the newlyweds disappear to change into hanbok while guests start making their way to the buffet.

Newlyweds in traditional hanbok greeting guests (such as myself) in the buffet hall.

The buffet has some unusual points that are worth noting. Firstly, there tends to be little socialising amongst the guests, particularly those who do not already know one another. Secondly, there are no speeches or activities during the meal – as it takes place in a generic food hall that is shared by guests from other weddings. The newlyweds, dressed in hanbok, make a reappearance sometime during the meal and wander around table-to-table thanking guests for their attendance and sometimes drinking a toast. And then? Typically that’s a wrap. No dancing, drinking or afterparties here in Korea as guests gradually trickle out of the food hall (which, also has set hours designated per wedding) and head home.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the event and who attended will linger on. Although weddings in Korea may seem comparatively quick and impersonal, they are an important part of strengthening your relationships with colleagues, managers and friends, creating bonds that extend beyond the couple themselves and help to make you feel a part of the local community.

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Kate Kalinova

Kate Kalinova is an Intern at AustCham Korea, Seoul.

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