Legal today, illegal tomorrow


All South Koreans will become one or two years younger starting June 2023. South Korea’s age system rules a person one year old at birth and adds a year to their age every Jan. 1. This system, which has been Korea’s traditional method for decades, will soon be replaced by the international system. Although this may seem like a negligible change, it will affect Korean citizens in many ways—particularly the high school students at SIS. 

The Korean age system is mostly used to determine the legal age for drinking and enlistment for military service. The legal age for drinking, according to the Korean age system, is 20 years old. Hence, on Jan. 1, 2023, all Korean citizens born in 2004 were legally allowed to purchase and drink alcohol. However, with the upcoming change in June, the legal age will become 19 years old in international age. This means that those born in late 2004 will become minors again after June, until their birthday. 

“I feel like by introducing the universal age system to Korea, there would be less confusion especially as Korean people venture out into the world,” David Mun (12), born December 2004, said. “At the same time, it’s really annoying for me and others born in 2004 because we are only now enjoying our adult privileges, but they will soon be stripped away from us.”

Most agree that getting rid of the Korean age system was a good decision, as the concept of people being one year old at birth was confusing to many. Still, for young adults like the juniors and seniors at SIS, this change may be quite dismaying, as they are eager to turn legal quickly and enjoy the freedom that comes with adulthood. 

“I do think it’s a good change, since the age system confused a lot of people,” Jennie Koh (11), born December 2006, said. “But since my birthday is December 2006, I’ll need to wait another twelve months after 2025 until I become legal, which is pretty disappointing.”

The age system wouldn’t have a big impact on older adults; in fact, most would probably appreciate becoming one or two years younger. Yet for juniors, many of whom were looking forward to reaching 20 in Korean age in 2024, this change will only extend their time as a minor. 

“My friends and I thought we would be able to drink together on Jan. 1, 2024 since we would all become legal on the same day,” Silvia Lee (11), born 2005, said. “With the age system changing, we probably won’t be able to do that anymore, since we would each become legal on our birthdays.”