Remember how the UK government once planned to introduce ID cards? South Koreans carry something similar, and on it, each person has a unique resident registration number, known as 주민등록번호, Jumin Deungrok Beonho.

The month they turn 17, Koreans visit the government local office and register their fingerprint and photo to receive this number, and an ID card. The 13-digit number on the card is created by their date of birth and the place they were born. Once registered, the number can’t be changed. The number is required to register for many government on social services, such as healthcare, and to join a company payroll, but some other online membership or shopping sites sometimes also request it. Foreigners working in Korea get their own unique number and ID card too, as part of the ‘alien registration’ system.

The resident registration number system has been criticised for being easy to hack and use for criminal activity; even former president Roh Moohyun had his number stolen and misused in 2011. Anyone caught using one fraudulently has to pay 10,000,000 won or spend three years in jail.


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British writer and editor living in Japan. Currently studying Japanese, Korean, K-pop dance, and the fine form of 이성종's legs.