A subtle social barrier exists in Korea than few recognize–the Korean identification number, or KID number. Each Korean citizen has a unique seven-digit Korean national ID number akin to a Social Security number (SSN). KID numbers are assigned to individuals based on age, gender, and place of birth. Usage of the Korean ID is far more prevalent here than the Social Security number is in the United States. While usage of the SSN has been on the decline in the U.S. because the private sector is moving away from using SSNs, the Korean ID number remains omnipresent in Korea. It is difficult to integrate into Korean society without a KID. When you open a Korean bank account, you need to furnish a KID. When you subscribe to a Korean cell phone plan, you need to give the provider your Korean ID number. If you want to join Cyworld, the hottest Web site in Korea, you need to give them your KID number. (If you want to read more about Cyworld, read BusinessWeek’s article about the wildly popular Korean social networking website. Cyworld is absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, you need to read Korean to be a member.)
Last weekend my wife and son tried to visit the Children’s Museum at the National Museum of Korea. My wife was told that she needed to buy tickets online. When she tried to buy them, the web site asked for her KID. This happens virtually anytime you visit a Korean website that requires membership. If you’re an expatriate in Korea who does not have a KID, you are not only hamstrung if you don’t know the Korean language, but you’re also hindered by not having a KID. It’s very frustrating. The KID is a useful way to distinguish people with the same name, which is a frequent occurance in Korea. The surnames Kim, Park, and Lee and related combinations comprise the vast majority of Korean surnames. The KID is an easy way to distinguish Kim Seunghee 1234567 from Kim Seunghee 7654321. Unfortunately, the KID can lead to discrimination, as those who do not qualify for KIDs–namely foreigners, must cope with living in Korea without a national ID number. Of course, if you’re a privacy advocacy, perhaps not having a KID is a good thing.