Important Numbers: 119 Emergency Services

Before you have an emergency, you need to know 119 which is emergency services in South Korea.

About 119

One of THE most important numbers you need to know while living in South Korea is 119. This is THE number to call in emergencies. In a medical emergency, 119 may automatically detect a caller’s location on either a landline or a cell phone. Then, 119 dispatches ambulances quickly.

119 For Those with No Korean Language Ability

In theory, foreigners who contact 119 become directed to a translator from the Korea National Tourist Organisation (1330) via a three-way call; this allows a foreigner to clearly communicate their situation and needs. Available languages include English, Japanese and Chinese. Ambulance services are provided free of charge.

HOWEVER, 119 operators may struggle to determine what language foreigners may be speaking in order to transfer them to the correct translator. In order to directly connect with an operator in your language, consider calling 1330 directly to reach a translator in your language who will contact 119 for you.

Support Local Businesses and Local Ads

Contacting 1330 directly may connect you with support faster. If you have the 1330 app, it also allows you to send photos or get support like Naver links.

Personal Experience Using 119

Until recently we sort of lived in fear of ever needing to call it because what if we were in trouble, couldn’t remember how to speak Korean, or didn’t know where we were? A few weeks ago, we found out the answers to all of our questions.

While driving on the backcountry roads of Pyeongtaek in the middle of the night we came across an emergency situation with an unresponsive elderly person. Since it was both a rural area, the person was unresponsive, everyone was asleep, and no businesses were open – we were on our own.

Despite the fact we were exhausted and worried, the experience went very well. The call to 119 took about 5 minutes total and they had an ambulance on location in less than 15 minutes. Since we were more than 20 minutes from a city, we were impressed by the response time.

During the experience, we made realized there are three tips we can provide for you if you have to use 119 in the future. Tips that will help you feel empowered in an emergency.

Tips for Using 119

Tip 1: Don’t hesitate to use 119 even if you only speak English but using 1330 will get help faster with less frustration.

Since I needed to know how the system works for English-speaking Foreigners, I called and asked for an English speaker. The Korean-speaking dispatcher told me (in Korean) to hold for a few seconds. Don’t panic when you hear them speaking only Korean, just wait. They will get someone for you. I am guessing it took about 30 seconds (at 2am) to have us on the phone with a fluent English-speaking 1330 operator.

If you have zero Korean language ability, you may find less stress in simply connecting with 1330 from the beginning and let them patch through to 1330.

Tip 2: If you don’t know your address or location, look for a phone number on the side of a building.

Since I had no idea what our address was I looked around and saw a business near us that had their phone number listed on their sign. I gave that phone number to the 1330 dispatcher and he used that to find our location. (Learn more about using business phone numbers to find addresses CLICK HERE) I also looked to see if there were any businesses that had the names in English and gave those.

Tip 3: Talk slowly and don’t panic and Naver Map yourself.

When you call 119 it’s always a stressful situation so breathe and go slow. A second option for giving your location, if there isn’t a business phone number near you, is to open Naver Map (which has an English interface) on your phone and map your location. Then, to keep mistakes from happening, don’t read the address – spell it out for them or ask if you can send them the link somehow.

Hopefully, you never need to use any of these tips, but if you do we also hope they come in handy for keeping you safe. We were extremely thankful that our first time using 119 turned out so smoothly despite a language barrier.