In South Korea, tattooing is considered a medical procedure

Audio 02:35

A guest with tattoos during Hera Seoul Fashion Week 2019, in Seoul, South Korea on March 20, 2019. (Photo illustration) Getty Images - Christian Vierig

By: Nicolas Rocca Follow

3 min

The practice of tattooing is restricted to doctors in the country.

But a political and citizen movement is considering changing the law to regularize the situation of tens of thousands of tattoo artists in South Korea who still practice their art illegally.

A paradox as the tattoo trend among South Koreans is visible to the naked eye when walking the streets of Seoul.


From our correspondent in Seoul, 

Nicoals Rocca,

In the heart of the trendy Mapo district, a red brick house stands out among the gray buildings.

Baek Song-an takes us around the three floors that make up the studio.

Several lounges, with different tables, on one of them in the basement, a young woman gets a tattoo.

It's hard to guess that this seemingly banal scene is punishable by a 7,500 euros fine and two years in prison.


In South Korea, customers don't realize it's illegal,”

says Baek Song-an.

Usually they contact us on Instagram, we discuss the design and sometimes they come over here and then we tattoo them.

For us, the problems usually appear when there is a disagreement with the customer and he wants to file a complaint for example. 


The one who is nicknamed Baek-Sa, or " 


 " in Korean has been practicing his profession for 16 years.


Officially, I am unemployed, like a lot of other tattoo artists.

Customers usually pay us in cash and we can't declare it, we don't pay taxes.

But all the preparation for tattooing is declared within a design company.


"We warn each other and we are very careful


In the past, the image of the tattoo was linked to the Mafiosi and those who refused military service.

Now, it is estimated that nearly one million South Koreans have tattooed.

However, artists remain a target for the authorities.


Personally, I have never had any direct problems with the police about my job.

But I've heard a lot of stories from other tattoo artists,

says Baek Song-an.

In South Korea, there are certain times when the police specifically target tattoo artists.

So, as soon as we have the information, we warn ourselves and we pay close attention.

Often, for example, they will pay more attention to those tattooing younger people. 

Tattoo Freedom Bill

Putting an end to the taboo in a country that still blurs tattoos on television is Ryu Ho-jeong's goal.

The Justice Party deputy appeared with her bare back full of tattoos in front of the National Assembly.

After creating the controversy, she seeks to pass a bill.


The focal point of the law is called 'Tatoo Up', tattooing as work.

It will offer the freedom to tattoo artists and also ensure the health of South Koreans,

says Ryu Ho-jeong. 

If the text passes, then there will be salons that will be registered to perform tattoos and authorized artists to do so.

This law will also ensure that the studios will meet the same health criteria as other businesses.

 The text will be put to a vote by the end of 2021.


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  • South Korea

  • Health and medicine

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