How do I Find Lost Relatives in South Korea?

by Jayne Thompson

South Korea is a country of 51 million residents, and trying to find a single person when you have only a vague family history to go on is a bit of an uphill struggle. Your first destination is the internet, which might turn up some useful information. Some nonprofit groups may be able to assist with your search. Public records and homegrown social media networks are all in Korean, however, and you may need the help of a native speaker to navigate certain resources if you don’t read or write the language.

Tips

  • Facebook is gaining popularity in South Korea, so start your search there before checking out phone records, adoption directories or enlisting the help of a private investigator.

Find Your Relative on Social Media

South Korea is a country of 51 million residents, and trying to find a single person when you have only a vague family history to go on is a bit of an uphill struggle. Your first destination is the internet, which might turn up some useful information. Some nonprofit groups may be able to assist with your search. Public records and homegrown social media networks are all in Korean, however, and you may need the help of a native speaker to navigate certain resources if you don’t read or write the language.

Almost 30 percent of South Koreans have a Facebook profile, so it’s worth starting your search here. Just type your relative’s name into the search field to bring up matching profiles, or you can tweak searches by location, for example, “Kim Ji-woo in Seoul.” If that doesn’t yield any results, try one of the homegrown social media networks such as Kakao Talk, which has around 48 million active monthly users as of late 2017. You can download the app and register an account from the United States; however, you can only currently search for someone using their ID, so its usefulness is fairly limited.

Check the Phone Book

The website Whitepages.kr is an unofficial White Pages directory that provides people-search results in South Korea. A useful feature of this site is that you can specifically search Facebook or LinkedIn profiles to find the right person. To find your family in South Korea, enter your relative’s first and last name, and hit, “South Korea search,” “Facebook search” or “LinkedIn search,” according to the type of search you wish to run. Be aware that most matches are lifted straight from Google Korea, so your relative will need to have some form of digital presence to appear in the results.

Contact a Nonprofit Group

Nonprofit groups can help you find lost relatives in South Korea if your search aligns with the organization’s charitable mission. South Korea-based charity Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, for example, specifically targets birth families searching for their adopted children and vice versa. The charity publishes a birth family search directory, which you can search by calling the charity. It’s also available through local police stations and other government agencies in South Korea. The directory is published exclusively in Korean, so you may need the support of a translator.

Visit South Korea

In South Korea, the “Hojeok Deungbon” is a family registry similar to a census that maintains records of births, marriages and deaths. These records typically give the person’s place of residence, marriage status, occupation and children’s names, and they’re assumed to be very reliable. The drawback is you’ll have to visit South Korea to inspect the records, which are only available through the local District Registration office. It’s not clear whether members of the public can access the records; you might need proof of your family relationship.

Hire a Detective Agency

If you can’t travel to South Korea, then you may want to hire a professional investigation agency to search for you. These agencies have access to the Hojeok Deungbon and other government records that generally are not available outside of the country. International agencies like ICS have local investigators on the ground in South Korea. They offer a variety of searches, including missing relatives’ searches and adopted child locations. Fees vary depending on the complexity of the investigation – be sure to get a firm fee estimate before you sign on the dotted line.

About the Author

A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.