Nail Shops in Korea (+ Guide on how to make reservations!)

Programs for this blog post

Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Ekram B.

Now i know this is relatively niche and only a very specific audience will be able to relate to my happiness and excitement surrounding this topic, but I recommend you read ahead if you plan on having close to any service that requires an appointment done here in Korea. I will first briefly talk about nail shops in particular and why I am so fascinated by them here, followed by a somewhat thorough guide!

What's so special about nail shops in Korea?

Well, there's this artist I have been following since 2019 (peep @gomgomnail on instagram) whose art I literally adore. My nails are on the smaller side which I feel is disproportionate to the size of my hands, so they've always been a source of insecurity for me and getting them constanty done back home was not an option due to how overpriced and low quality most nail shops are. So. Here's this super cool nail artist I have been following for what, 3 years now, and it was as easy as just messaging her on Kakaotalk to get her work on my nails??

Of course, with no time wasted, I messaged her as soon as I could (once I got my Korean SIM card) and set an appointment that matched with my schedule - this was literally one of the top things on my bucket list for Korea. I went a day after making my appointment to drop off the deposit (more on this is the "General Guide" section). I did not have to wait much since there's a tendency for nail shops here to be booked within a week's time - for example if you're messaging them on the weekend of week 1, you're easily going to find availability for week 3 and some of week 2. Of course, this always depends on the popularity and schedule of the nail artist themselves.

I have a preference of going to 1-person shops, which is usually a cozy little studio where the nail-tech does all their work in. This is not to say there are no full blown salons that are fully staffed - I just like being left alone with the artist as find the chatter and small talk very comforting. I should also mention that what is so unique about those 1-person nail shops is that nail-techs tend to specialize in some sort of art or develop their own art style, which allows one to feel much more comfortable asking for freestyles or to follow some sort of picture for inspiration. I imagine this would be much harder to do going to a place that's your go-to basic nail shop for convenience or just a full color, and you may end up dissatisfied with the result.

My experience

I arrived slightly early to my appointment, so I went in and took a seat whilst she was still finishing off the previous client. Although it's a 1-person shop you're more often than not welcome to go in and wait if you've arrived before time. I must admit I was a little nervous (and very excited!) due to the fact that I could finally see this person who is behind all those masterpieces, and that I would be getting them on my own hands!!

We first discussed what I wanted - she was very patient with me as I tried explaining everything in what probably was very elementary Korean - and she made sure throughout the whole procedure that everything was going alright and that we were on the same page. Based off of what you asked for, she will tally the total you are expected to pay prior to starting and ask if you are okay with the price. I enjoyed every second at that cozy shop, even the moments that got really quiet because she was so focused on working her art (and I would hate to have distracted her)!

In total I spent a little more than an hour and a half there - I admit I asked for a relatively detailed piece... Now I wish I had pictures to show, but I lost almost every single picture of my stay here in Korea (please please please be sure to back up your photos) but you can have an idea of what I got done just by looking through her instagram. As I said, 1-person shops tend to specialize in a specific art style.

General Guide

The chance that you'll be using Kakaotalk (based off my experience) is about 90%. Some places have a preference to use Naver, but I would be just as clueless as someone who has never stepped foot in Korea in dealing with appointment-making on Naver. 

Always check for notices which you are expected to read and understand (use papago to translate)! When getting to their Kakaotalk there's usually a few options that pop up right above the text-box you would use to chat. Those usually have the address (or how to get to them), a specific "how to make a reservation" that you are expected to follow word by word, and sometimes price lists and other forms of please-read-me's. Please be sure to be thorough with everything since misunderstandings can easily occur, and trying to sort them out last-minute and not being fluent in Korean is stressful to both you and the person you're trying to communicate with.

100% of the time you are expected to pay a deposit when making the reservation, and that is their right to ask for one. Do not expect to get special treatment just because you're a foreigner. Now, the thing is that this deposit is usually made online (in different ways) and going to them to just drop off some cash can be a hassle, so always plan for that as well. I wouldn't recommend making a reservation with someone across town because commuting for 2 hours just to drop off 20,000 KRW can be unreasonable, but that also depends on the availability of what you are looking for as well as how desperate you are. Of course, this is less of an issue if you already have an ARC card or a way to transfer money to someone online in Korea - one less thing to think about.

Once you agree upon a time, they'll let you know you have to transfer them the deposit within X amount of hours to confirm your appointment. This is where you can let them know that you're a foreigner and do not have a bank account (or whatever applies to you) and that you are willing to go in today or tomorrow to pay the deposit. Most of the time, they'll hold your appointment until the time you have told them you'll be passing by, so don't worry about losing your slot. Sometimes, they'll just tell you to be sure you can make it to the appointment and not to come for the deposit - but never expect it as baseline and always offer to just go yourself. I have my thoughts about not paying a deposit since I once ran into an accident-like scenario where I ended up not showing up to an appointmet I hadn't paid a deposit for and felt horrible for quite a while after that. 

Yet again, my apologies for this being a picture-less post...