Korean Law Demystified!

Buying Your Professor Coffee is Now Illegal (in South Korea)…


The so-called Kim Young-ran Law/Act finally came into force yesterday, meaning such conduct can/will be viewed as “bribery.”

Under this new anti-corruption law, an enrolled student (or his/her parent) may not buy his/her current teacher/instructor/professor even a can of coffee. (Applies to public as well as private schools/colleges accredited under Korean law.) According to the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission, such conduct does not serve any of these purposes:

1) For the smooth operation/execution of work;

2) To socialize*;

3) As part of ceremony/ritual;

4) As congratulatory/consolatory money.

* “To socialize” apparently means if you are already friends.

Therefore, such conduct is not even entitled to the 3·5·10만원 exception (which allows for meals of up to KRW 30,000; gifts 50,000; and congratulatory/consolatory money 100,000).

Yesterday, someone actually reported (to police) a student and professor after witnessing such conduct. But the police could do nothing as the caller refused to identify him/herself. (He/she was told to make a report in writing.) If he/she does so + it turns out to be true, the student and professor could each face an administrative fine. The professor could also be reprimanded.

The interpretation of this new law is still unclear, so nothing anybody says should be taken as foolproof. I would instead advise everyone (in South Korea) pay for his/her own food/things unless a (clear) stranger/family/friend is buying you something.

Still, it remains to be seen whether the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission’s ultra-conservative interpretations (of the law) all hold true in court. I will try to write more. Thanks!

FYI: I’m of the opinion that buying your teacher a simple can of coffee (or a thank you card) should not be illegal. That feels like “we exist for the law.” What is the true purpose of this law?

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