Korean Age: All About Age in Korea

Girl with a birthday hat on singing happy birthday with her hands near her face

Age in Korea is very important in Korean culture. Far more important than it is in Europe or the USA.

Often the first question that people ask is ‘How old are you?’ Age is important not just for things like whether you are old enough to buy cigarettes and alcohol, but for a whole variety of social interactions in Korea.

We’ll fill you in on what you need to know about age in Korea, and including your own Korean age!

Girl with a birthday hat on singing happy birthday with her hands near her face

People use different language when speaking to people of a different age. They expect people to act differently, with younger people expected to pour drinks, or older people expected to pay for things. Even the way you refer to your friends is based on their age; if they are a year older than you, they might be your 누나 (noona) or  언니 (eonni), if they are younger, they will be your 동생 (dongsaeng).

With all this importance put on age, answering the question ‘How old are you?’ is very important. But the answer to the question might not be as simple as you think it is.

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Korean Age

Korean Age

Age in Korea is different from age in other countries. You may be thirty years old whether you are in the USA, France, or Russia, but as soon as you arrive in Korea, you magically become thirty-one or thirty-two. How can this be? Well, Koreans have a different way of calculating their age than people in other countries.

People in most countries calculate their age based on their birthday. If you were born on April 1st 2000, then you would turn 17 on April 1st 2017. However, in Korea, age isn’t calculated based on your birthday.

A Year in the Womb

If you are born in the USA, then on the day after you are born, you are considered to be one day old. The nine months that you spent inside your mommy’s tummy are not considered part of your age. In Korea, on the day of your birth, you are considered to be one year old; the time you spent in the womb counts as the first year of your life (despite it only being nine months). Because of this, your Korean age is always at least one year higher than your international age.

Happy New Year, and Happy Birthday Too!

happy new year

Everybody in Korea shares the same birthday: January 1st. Well, not really. Everybody has their own birthday, complete with cake and candles. But on your birthday in Korea, you are not considered to be one year older than the day before. Instead, Koreans all age on the same day. January 1st. No matter when your birthday is, if you were 40 years old on December 31st, then on January 1st, you will be 41. Korean age works as if everybody was born on January 1st.

Calculating your Korean age

calculating your Korean age

If you did happen to be born on January 1st, then calculating your Korean age is very easy. Just add one year to your current age. For the rest of us, things are a little bit more complicated.

First, we need to add one year to our current age to represent the time in the womb. Then, if you haven’t had your birthday yet this calendar year, you need to add one more year to your age. So, for example, if today is February 14th, and you were born in July, you would add two years to your age. If today is February 14th, and you were born in January, you would just add one year to your age.

All of this seems very unfair on people born in December, who spend most of the year being two years older in Korea than they would be in other countries.

If you want to calculate somebody’s age mathematically, you can use this simple formula:

1 + Current year – Year of Birth = Korean Age

For example:

1 + 2017 – 1990 = 28

Avoiding Confusion

Obviously, there is a large chance of confusion when non-Koreans talk about age with Koreans. The way that most Koreans avoid confusion is to use the terms ‘Korean age’ and ‘international age’ when talking about age.

한국나이 (Hanguk nai) – Korean Age

만 나이 (man nai) – international age

Example sentence:

저는 올해 스물 살이지만 만으로는 열아홉 살이에요.

(jeoneun olhae seumul salijiman maneuro yeolahop salieyo.

I’m twenty in Korean age but nineteen in Western age.

Other terms you could hear:

You may also hear these terms when people are talking about international age. They all mean the same as ‘만 나이’.

국제나이 (gukje nai) – international age

미국나이 (miguk nai) – American age

외국나이 (oeguk nai) – foreign age

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When is international age used in Korea?

As a general rule, Korean age is used for social interactions with people, whereas international age is used for more official things. For example, the age limits written on alcohol, cigarettes, movie posters, and so on are based on international age. The legal age for most things in Korea is 19. This means international age ‘19’.

Wow, we are the same age!

As age determines a complete host of social interactions in Korea, being of the same age as somebody can make everybody feel more comfortable. If somebody that you have just met finds out that you are the same age as them, they will often be excited. This is because if you and your friend are the same age in Korea, neither person will have any of the social obligations that come from being a different age from each other. Being the same age as another person has a special word in Korean: 동갑 (donggap). You will often hear the expression 우리는 동갑이다 (urineun donggapida) which means ‘we are the same age’. As the Korean age system is based on year of birth, rather than your birthday, you will always be the same age as this new friend. Even if your birthday is the very next day!

Now that you know the difference between Korean age and international age, calculate your Korean age. But don’t be upset that you have suddenly become two years older. Age is just a number, after all.

    140 replies to "Korean Age: All About Age in Korea"

    • ianna

      Hi. When is the month you can technically say you were born early and how to say it in korean ? I have read some that if the person was born for example January 1994 then they are are same-aged with people who were born in 1993.

      • 90 Day Korean

        hi ianna! Before, those born in February or even March were treated as one year older because they were able to enter school early. However, this system was abolished when the students who were born in 2003 entered the school. ^^

    • autumn

      if I was born on January 97 and the others were born on July and December 96. Should I call them oppa?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi autumn! Yes, even though it’s only a month gap with one of them, you still have to call them oppa because the year you were born is different. ^^

    • Hannah

      Hey me and my brother are 6 months apart
      He was born may 28 1997 and I was born December 26 1997 so how would we each be

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Hannah! Both of you are 23 years old in Korea, and you don’t have to use 오빠 (oppa) or 누나 (nuna) with each other. ^^

    • Arisa

      So if I am born on February 20th of 2007 how old would I be on February 19th 2019? And how old would I be on February 21st 2019?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Arisa! You would be 13 years old on both days in Korea. ^^

    • Rayan

      Just korean use this system or all Asian ¿

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Reyan! currently, this system is used only in Korea. ^^

    • Hannah

      What form of Korean (like polite, informal) would be spoken between friends when one is born December 31st 1996 and the other was born January 1st 1997? If it’s not even a full day apart does the formality still apply? Or is it situational and those involved decide?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Hannah! The formality will still be applied in this case. ^^

    • Hazal Cicekdag

      I was born March 11 2002 how old will I be?

    • Kiara

      If you were born on January 1st, would you be two years old by the time you were born in Korea?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Kiara! If you were born on Jan 1st in 2000, you are 20 years old in Korea in 2019. ^^

    • julie

      I was born on July 27 2004 and right now I’m 14, so if I were to live in Korea I would be 15 and once it’s New Years I’ll be 16?

    • jojohui20_691

      In Korea, do they add one year to your age as soon as you are born? In The Return of Superman, they don’t add an additional year to the kids’ age, so is there a specific age when they do add one additional year?

      Also, my birthday is February 15, 2001, so will I be considered two years older (if I’m a Fast Born) than the other people born in 2001?

    • Coco Lebo2

      Hi !
      So wait my birthday is soon (in 2 days ) and i’m 19 currently turning 20 (in international age ofc ) so does that mean i’m 20 or 21 in korean age ?

      • otxcool

        I’m going to be 2o in July so according to the math i’d be 21 in korea. lol “우리는 동갑이다!” (We’re the same age)

        • 90 Day Korean

          Hi Coco and otxcool! You are 21 years old in Korea. ^^

    • Mikki

      My birthday is January 25, 1998, so I am 21 years old internationally. Today is April 11, 2019. Would I be 22 or 23 in Korea?

    • Miss mabuhay

      I might be late commenting but I will be going to Korea this year for 6 months and I really have to get this clear. So im born Sept 1999, so i am am currently 21 since my birthday hasn’t passed? I will be having my birthday in Korea so I need to know if after i turn 20(international) would I then be 21 or 22?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Miss mabuhay! You are 21 years old until the end of this year no matter when your birthday is. ^^

    • Karissa Pillone

      I was born on Dec 2, 1992 what age will I be in korea?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Karissa! You are 18 years old in Korea. ^^

        • Pear

          But she was born in 1992 wouldn’t she be 28 I’m confused :'( , she get younger ?
          .
          If born in 11 March 1999 I’m 21 or 22 since my birthday have already passed and January 1st has already passed too! So, would i add 1 or 2 years more?
          BTW I readed somewhere else that in Solar calendar they add 1 year but in Lunar Calendar they add 2 years, it’s that correct ?:0

    • songmei

      So if I was born in September 2000 but someone was born in January 2000, would we be the same age or would I have to call them 언니/오빠?

    • Hailie :3

      If i was born February 4th, 2002 internationally and my birthday hasn’t come yet, does that make me 17 or 18 in Korean age ?

    • Kookish

      What will be my age if i was born on 18 December 2001

    • Maya12

      I was born on December 1997 but in the UK I graduated college/sixform or high school(in USA) on June 2016 bring 18. What year would I have graduated in south Korea if they don’t follow the international school system?

    • Atasya

      I was born January 3 2001 how old will I be?

    • Andrada Mare

      Ok so… I was born in January 2005, then I would be 15 years old in Korea? I don’t rlly understand that. I’m a dumb girl so..:)

      • shookymins

        yeah you’d be 15 I was also born in 2005 uwu

    • Diabolic Angel

      I have a question. Wonho was born on March 1, 1993. Shownu was born on June 18, 1992 but I hear people saying Wonho is technically March 1, 1992 because his birth month is early. He then becomes older than Shownu. What does that mean and how does that work?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Diabolic Angel! It’s because schools in Korea start in March, children who were born in March this year (e.g. 1992) to January/February next year (e.g. 1993) are in the same class. So the children who were born in January/February (or sometimes even March) are called Fast 1993 and are thought to be one year older. ^^

    • Jasmin De Leon

      What if my birthday is on August 6, 1994 what’s my korean age? Can you also show me the computation for it? I’m a bit confused on how this works. Thank you

    • Roberta

      Hello, I was reading the comments and I got a little bit confused.
      I was born on February 25th 1999, so right now I’m 19 (intage).
      In 1999, the lunar new year started on the 16th of February, so I should be 20 in krage, but based on the fastborn law, I should be 21. Sooooo, how old am I in Korea right now?

    • Farah Izzah Mohd Aisha Nuddin

      Wait, so if you haven’t had your bday, you add 2 years.. if you passed your bday, add 1 year,, does that mean we get a year younger after our bday? I don’t understand

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Farah! It means add it to your international age. For example, if you were born on May 1st 2000, you become 20 years old Korean age in 2019(your international age 18+2). After May 1st 2019, you are still 20 years old in Korea but your international age becomes 19, so it’s 19+1=20. ^^

    • kookie

      What would be my Korean age be on 1/3/2019 If my birthday is on 1/3/2003? Would it be 18 (add 2 years) since I was born in January (Fast born)?

    • Zulaikha Mohd Hanafiah

      Jungkook BTS was born on 1.9.1997. why does his age adds with 2 instead of one?

    • aleia

      since I was born 09/24/2002 I would be 17 in 한국나이 and 16 in 만 나이 . am I using terms correctly?

    • Ally_Zhang

      Why are some Koreans older than the others eventhough they are both born on the same year? I stil don’t get the term 빠른년생…

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Ally! It’s because schools in Korea start in March, children who were born in March this year (e.g. 1994) to January/February next year (e.g. 1995) are in the same class. So the children who were born in January/February are called Fast 1995 and are thought to be one year older. ^^

    • amspurple

      My birthday is December 18, 1995. As of this moment (December 4, 2018) my international age is 22 then my korean age is 24. Am I right? Basically, it’s a +2 before my birthday and a +1 after my birthday.

    • 호프

      Hi! 안녕하세요!!! I was born 09/16/2001 and its currently 11/15/2018! My korean age would be 18 currently and as soon as its 01/01/19, I would be 19?

    • Bajong Dalangin III

      what if i was born on may 2000 and someone was born on june 1999, can that be considered as same age friends ?

    • Chessey

      They don’t add one year to their age when it’s their birthday but add one year when it’s January 1st?

    • citrine

      Hello! I was born on april 16th, 2001. Am I 18 or 19 in korean age? thank you ^^

    • boi

      I was born 2007 so my Korean age would be 13

    • yadira

      i was born in december 15, 1999 so my age in korea is 20, am i right? what happens when it’s New Years?

    • kai

      I was born in december 31 2000 so I’m 20 in korea or what?

    • hanbintaehyunglisajenniesomi

      I just want to ask about the early born or like the fast born? It got me a little confuse. Like I know someone who was born January 3rd of 1995 but she is same-age friends with some people from 1994, like around March 1994. How is that? Because they only just say that she’s fast 1995. Or born earlier. And then there are some who was born January of 1994 but wants to be referred to as older or hyung by someone born only on March of the same year.

    • Ja'kayla Baker

      I was born November 18,2003 how old will I be.

    • valv3h

      Hi there! I’m born on November 14, 1981 (yeah I’m old LOL) may I know how old am I in Korea?

      Thanks!

    • Juliette

      What is my age
      I was born in October 26 1999

    • Kaye Carcedo

      I was born on November 14, 2002, what’s my age in Korean?

    • John Carlo 카를로 (CALOYZKi)

      I was born on July,10,1999 for my korean age is it +1 or +2??

    • Anissa Constancio

      So if I was born October 13 2003 would I add one or two years

    • Anissa Constancio

      I was born December 31st 2004 and right now I’m 13… so I would be 15 right now?

    • Alissia

      I was born on July 4 2002 for my Korean age is it +1 or +2??

    • Bananya.with.red

      So I was born in July 2003, then I would be 16 years old in korea? Sorry to ask but is there really a reason, wouldn’t it just make poeple feel old earlier?

    • Elisa

      Regarding the legal stuff like drinking, going to clubs..
      Are you allowed to drink alcohol etc on your actual birthday or on New Year, when everyone turns 19 (or 20 in Korean age)?

      And is the lunar or the solar calendar more commonly used to calculate your Korean age? Because I was born on January 7th 2000, so I could be either 19 or 20 in Korean age.

    • April Rose Garcia Tungol

      Korean language and culture is really interesting. Makes me want to enroll in a Korean Language and Culture class. :p
      So, if I was born in 1984, this means that I’m already 35. right? I’m really getting older hahahha.

    • Rabbit

      I’ve always wondered what you call someone when they’re the same age as you. To clarify, you just wouldn’t have any honorifics attached?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Rabbit! If you first met the person, you would still use honorifics(e.g., Rabbit 씨). After you get close to each other, you might just call the names. ^^

    • bokjooyah

      so they don’t become a year older on their birthdays, but on January 1st???? anyway, birthdays are still celebrated, right?

    • Falcon

      so if a kid was born on December 31st, he is considered one year old. then the next day is New Years, so he is two years old even though he is only one day old?

    • Chim Chim

      Hi I have a question! My birthday is August 2, 2000 . I plan to travel in sept, would I be 19 in Korea ?

    • Fatt

      Hi! How about Sooyoung of SNSD that was born on 10th Feb 1990 and Yoona on 30th May 1990 but Sooyoung is a year older than Yoona and Yoona calls her unnie when they are born in the same year.

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Fatt! According to the Lunar Calendar, people who were born in January (or even early February) are considered to be one year older. ^^

    • honey

      If i was born on january 23,1997 and i have a friend who is born on december 29, 1997, who is older?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi honey! You and your friend would be the same age ^^

    • fran

      i’m confused. there are idols who were born on jan are considered as a year before their actual yearbirth. how does that matter?

    • Sandra

      Ok I have a question, so mina from twice is 21 and is born March 24, 1997 and I was born March 29, 1997.. if I go to Korea would I be considered her (and most of Twice) unnie?😂

    • Annie

      Hello:) Am I 20 years old if I was born in 1999 (in the end of July)? And If I go to university in Korea next April, will I be older than most of the freshmen? Will we be the same year of birth? Or they will speak to me with honorifics?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Annie!
        You’re 20 years old this year and will be one year older than most of the freshmen next year.
        They usually don’t use honorifics to classmates. ^^

        • Ana

          Hello, can I call my classmate a friend (Chingu), if he/she is a year younger than me? Would it be rude? And who I can call chingu?

          • 90 Day Korean

            Hi Ana! Of course you can. ^^
            It can be rude only when you call someone older than you a chingu without his or her agreement.

    • Anna Katsari

      By the way i was born in 1997

    • Anna Katsari

      HI…my birthday is on november then that means i am a year older in Korea??
      By the way i am 21!!!

    • Dazed and BTS

      Hi, I had a question about this involving the drinking laws too. If I was born in 1999 and am 18 does that mean I am 19 or 20 in Korean age? Because I have been trying to figure out the drinking age laws and how that all works. I was already 18 at the beginning of the year as well so a bit confused. Thank you!

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Dazed and BTS! You are 21 years old in Korea in 2019. You can drink at Korean age 20 in Korea. ^^

    • Mary

      Okay hold on so my birthday already passed this year I turned 13, but hypothetically if my birthday was in June and it’s May right now, and I was 12 if my birthday hasn’t passed yet then would my Korean age be 14 because my actual birthday didn’t come yet? And on my birthday would that make me 15? And also if it doesn’t then why wouldn’t it? I’m confused…

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Mary! The birth’day’ doesn’t matter in Korea, only the birth year counts. ^^

    • Angeline Dichoson

      OMG my birthday is on December 30. So 2 days after another year will be added to my age? Thats so unfair huhu

      • 90 Day Korean

        That’s right! But young people have to speak to you more politely. ^^

    • Zelle

      My cousin’s birthday was june 24, 2007 she’s 10 years old so if her birthday comes is she 12? Or 11?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Zelle! In Korean age, your cousin is 12 years old before and after her birthday ^^

    • Raiven

      So i was born in june 2, 2004 and now im 13. So is that mean im 15 in korea? So what will happen if my birthday comes am i going to be 16 or still 15?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Raiven! In Korean, You are 15 years old in now and will still be 15 after your birthday ^^

    • tiffany

      I was born September 1994, it says im 25 O_O so if i made a friend down there who was also born in 94 would we be the same age?

    • Sherlbae

      I was born in January 7 2006 does this mean I’m 13 in Korean age (12 right now)

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Sherlbae! You are 14 years old in Korea in 2019. ^^

    • ohno

      The age thing is very easy to grasp, but what I’m fascinated by is the why of it. I’m sure there’s an explanation beyond some long-dead person waking up and arbitrarily making everyone a year old on the day they’re born. Does it stem from Korea’s shamanistic origins? Is it something important from the Chinese or Japanese? Is it religious? Superstition? That’s what I really want to know.

      • 90 Day Korean

        It is said that ‘counting age’ was used in Asian countries including Korea, China, and Japan, but they stopped using the system in the 20th century. There are two likely origins for this age system, one is ‘counting the age from mom’s womb'(9 months but counted as 1 year), and the other is the tradition of Asian calendars that start with Year 1, not 0. For example, in Japan, they started Reiwa Year 1 this year even though it just started. ^^

    • Sungkyung Kim

      I read this article and found it succinctly explains what Age means in Korea.
      However, the explanation on Korean age is not correct.

      Till now, many Korean people are justifying that the way they count the age by saying that they are counting their age by including the period they spent in their mom’s womb. However, it is not true.
      The reason why the new-born baby’s age is 1 is that it is the first year of the birth.
      So, regardless of the birthday, at January 1st, everyone get 1 year older.
      It has nothing to do with that pregnancy period.

      Let’s say that there are two babies whoese birthday is
      December 31th 2017 (Baby A) and January 1st 2018 (Baby B).
      In Korean age, at the moment A is born, his age is counted as 1 and at January 1st, 2018, the age of this baby is regarded as 2.
      However, B, whose birthday is January 1st, is considered to be 1.
      Even with one day difference makes A “one year” older than B.
      As these two babies grow up, B should consider A as either “Hyung” or “Noona” which nearly means “upper-class” simply because A’s Korean age is older than B.

      If someone buy a new car at the last day of a year, for example, the way the Korean poeple count the age, it becomes two year old at the first day of the year, it is stupid. Only (non)-intelligent Korean don’t understand this.

      If they truly want to argue that Korean age includes the pregnancy period, it must be older than “International age” by 1.

      Korean age – which I hate most – is nothing more than just the hierarchy itself.

      • 90 Day Korean

        That’s interesting. There are many perspectives about Korean culture, and age definitely has a lot of significance to Koreans. Thanks for offering your opinion! ^^

    • Chivy C. 🐧🌰🍑

      i wanna asked about ‘korean ages’
      is korean ages based on usually years or chinese years?

      if using chinese years May 6th 1992 and January 12th 1993 is monkey years. are they in same ages?

      is Jan 12th 1993 and November 1993 also have same ages?
      감사합니다

      • Sungkyung Kim

        It is typical to count their age in “usual year”
        In Korean age, regardless of the birthday, the people whose birth year are the same, they are in the same age because the birthday doesn’t matter.

    • 90 Day Korean

      Yes, that’s correct ^^

    • Lover

      I was born in December 15,2005 and im going to be 13 but in korea my age is 14?right?

    • Stella

      so my korean age now ist 19, right?
      i’m born in september 2000 so after my birthday i’m korean age 18 too? or still 19?

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Stella!
        Your Korean age now is 19, after your birthday it’s still 19 ^^

    • Karen

      I was born in Feb 2 1995, that means im 24 or 25 in Korea?

    • 90 Day Korean

      That’s correct! ^^

    • Quartzer

      This means that Solar age is actually 27?

    • Syilfa

      If I was born in June 27th 1998, my international age is 19 and korean age is 20? Am I right?

    • Sandra Quilalang

      So if im 13 (born nov.7,2004) that means im 15?!…in korean age?!

      • 90 Day Korean

        That’s right ^^

      • Yaya

        My birthday is 23 January 2001. So according to this calculation, how old am I supposed to be? Its quite confusing..

    • Random user lmao

      So if I’m 12 (born December 14-2005) and now it’s February 7-2018…that means I’m… 14?! In Korean age

    • Random user lmao

      So if I’m 12 then my Korean age is 14?

    • Vanshika

      my international age is 14 so my korean age will be 16( am i correct )

    • Rin

      Is the western horoscope(범띠, 토끼띠etc.) matters when counting age? For example, my friend is 2 month older than me and his western horoscope sign is different, but we were born in the same year.

      • 90 Day Korean

        Hi Rin! Korean age is determined by the year you were born. The western horoscope doesn’t matter. ^^

    • Crystelle

      I don’t get why people who haven’t had their birthdays yet should add two more years for example, i am 17 years old then if I haven’t had my birthday yet I should add two years which is 19.
      then If i already had my birthday i would just add one which is 18.
      i don’t get it?

      • 90 Day Korean

        You can think of it simply like counting the year you spend in the womb as your first year of life and your birthday is January 1st. Koreans all consider January 1st to be the day you age one year. It can be a little confusing at first but once you understand it it’s quite simple. ^^

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