How to Move to South Korea in Style [2021]


This post will help you move to Korea like a pro.

It includes:

  • Things you need to know
  • Where to Live
  • What to Pack
  • What to Avoid
  • and more!

It’s written by a Korean girl and American guy so all the bases are covered.

Let’s check it out!

Lingua Asia_How to Move to Korea

Congratulations on moving to Korea! You’re about to set off on a journey that few are brave enough to attempt.

Korea is a land of extremes, so a little preparation will go a long way. But don’t worry, it’s safe and lot’s of fun.

More about Why You Should Live in Korea

Read on to find out more!

What to Know Before Moving to South Korea

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Activities

YOLO is the mantra of people in their 20s and 30s. You can enjoy things like camping, hiking, snowboarding/skiing, wakeboarding, surfing and pretty much anything you did back home.

Even glamping, weightlifting and tattoos became trendy all of a sudden in 2019.

Society

Korea is modern on the surface, but traditional on the inside.

Life is fast-paced, especially in Seoul. If you want a more laid-back experience, try moving down south.

Koreans work hard and play hard.

More about How to Survive in Korea as an Expat

K-pop and K-dramas are not accurate representations of what life is like in the country.

Korea is becoming more international every year, despite its conservative values.

Food

Korean food is more diverse than BBQ and Kimchi. It’s a good idea to try new things. There are dishes based on dashi, soy sauce, seaweed, gochujang (red pepper paste), doenjang (soy bean paste) and toasted sesame oil.

Make sure to get some non-Korean food a few times a week. There are plenty of international restaurants now including European and Asian cuisines as well as Turkish, Brazilian, Mexican and South African.

Transportation

Public transportation is cheap, convenient and fast.

Trains, subways, buses and taxis are all linked with one transportation card (T-Money) all over the country. You can take a train in Busan with the same card you use in Seoul.

Everyone takes the bus, so don’t worry about not having a car.

Shopping and Convenience

Korean markets now have more overseas goods (yay limes, cilantro and jalapenos!).

Online shopping is amazing with same day grocery delivery and tons of affordable clothing options (as long as you enjoy Korean styles).

More about Korean Duty Free Shopping

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Cute lights in Seoul, South Korea

You can find all major clothing brands (H&M, Zara, Giordano, Levis, Nike, etc.), but the sizes might be different.

Korean apps are great and allow you to do cool things like banking, shopping, calling taxis, messaging, sending gifts, etc. They’re a must for living there.

Weather

South Korea has four seasons and counting. Spring and Fall make you love being in Korea, but they’re getting shorter each year. You’re going to need lots of warm and cool clothes.

Winter is a great time to use those vacation days (*ahem* Bali, Southern Thailand and Cambodia are nice that time of year). January after New Year’s and before Seollnal(Lunar New Year) is a good time to travel.

There’s nothing better than when winter ends in Korea and people start getting lively.

Summer can be tough with temperatures going up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). You’ll love the many air conditioned cafes.

Health and Well-being

You’ll need some comforts to help you relax in your downtime. Feel free to pack some fun or sentimental items.

Keeping an open mind while balancing your needs is an important skill to develop.

Social pressure can be strong at work, so don’t be afraid to say “no”.

Air quality is not great, so investing in a second-hand air purifier will do wonders for your well-being.

More about How to Survive in Korea

Always remember your “why” for going abroad. For me, it was to learn the culture and gain new experiences. For others, it’s to save money for travel. Whatever the reason, it can get you through tough times.

Where to Live in South Korea

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Lingua Asia_Yeonnam-dong_Cafe_Seoul_South Korea_2021

Seoul

A sprawling metropolis that is both the capital and the largest city with 10 million people.

Pros

  • You can find everything you’re looking for here whether it’s jobs, activities or culture
  • Unlimited choices when it comes to nightlife
  • Lots of attractive and well-dressed people
  • A great place to be if you’re single

Cons

  • Very crowded and polluted
  • Can be hazardous to your sunny outlook on life if you stay too long
  • Freezing winters and boiling summers
  • Becoming more expensive each year

Notable neighborhoods

Shinchon/Ehwa/Hongdae: Younger college towns that are next to each other. Perfect for people in their early 20s.

Itaewon/Gyeongildan/Haebangchon: The foreign districts with plenty of international food options and a small, tight knit community of expats. Perfect for those who want to be in a foreign country only part of the time.

Myeong-dong/Dongdaemun: There are places to shop everywhere, but these two areas have the most options. Perfect for shopaholics who don’t mind being in a crowd.

Daeghak-ro: The artsy district with heaps of theaters and galleries. Perfect for the art lover.

Jongro: An older central part of the city where, you guessed it, older people like to be. Perfect for people who want to experience more traditional culture.

Yeouido: The business/finance district. Perfect for those who want to network with locals and teach adults.

Gangnam/Apgujeong/Shinsa: The wealthy but incredibly crowded part of the city. You’ll see the most attractive people here. Perfect for those who want to get some high-paying private lessons on the side.

Jamsil: Lot’s of stadiums and amusement parks. Perfect for those who come with a family.

Recommended areas: Yeonnam-dong, Buam-dong and Seorae Maul

Gyeonggi

The large province surrounding Seoul with 13 million people.

Pros

  • Less crowded and expensive than Seoul
  • More of a suburb vibe
  • There are still many trendy neighborhoods with nice cafes and restaurants

Cons

  • People in Gyeonggi say that everything is one and a half hours away, since they tend to travel to Seoul for work
  • Some areas have the worst of both worlds with small town mentality/xenophobia plus the stress of working in Seoul

Recommended areas: Bundang and Gwangyo

Busan

An old port city down south with access to the beach. It has the second largest population. People speak a different dialect that you may or may not want to learn.

Pros

  • Did we mention the beach?
  • Warmer and milder weather
  • More affordable people’s food options
  • Many colleges to choose from
  • They have a large film festival every year

Cons

  • Older and dustier than Seoul
  • Traffic is still a problem because streets are narrow
  • People sound a bit more aggressive, but are generally good-natured

Recommended areas: Gijang

Bonus cities nearby: Changwon and Gimhae

Incheon

More than just the airport, Incheon is a city with just under 3 million people.

Pros

  • Some of the areas like Songdo are brand new and very livable
  • Lots of English teaching job opportunities
  • Not nearly as crowded as Seoul and Gyeonggi

Cons

  • Worse air pollution compared to Seoul since it’s closer to factories, ports and China
  • Beaches are not very nice

Recommended areas: Songdo

Daejeon

A large city that prioritizes education.

Pros

  • Some of the areas are brand new and very livable
  • In the center of Korea so it’s easy to travel around the country
  • Not nearly as crowded as Seoul and Gyeonggi

Cons

  • It can be very expensive even though it’s far away from Seoul

Recommended areas: Gung-dong

Jeonju

The food capital of Korea. They take pride in what they eat.

Pros

  • Amazing food culture
  • Small town and traditional vibe

Cons

  • Not much to do besides the main tourist attractions

Jeju

The Hawaii of Korea that has its own unique culture and dialect.

Pros

  • You’re surrounded by ocean and beautiful nature
  • Trendy places are on the rise with the influx of Seoulites relocating there
  • There are ranches where you can enjoy farm life and green tea plantations
  • The most laid-back place in Korea

Cons

  • Small island mentality of scarcity
  • Air pollution and tourism has increased over the years
  • You’ll probably need a car to get around

Recommended areas: Seogwipo

What to do Before Moving to South Korea

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Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Get the right job

I can’t stress this enough. Your job will make or break your experience in the country.

More about Getting a Job in Korea

Learn some Korean

Pimsleur is the language program I wished I knew about before going to Korea. I used it later to become conversational in Japanese in 90 days.

Or you can at least learn how to read and count.

The Metric system (Celsius, meters and kilograms) will also be helpful.

Download Useful Korean apps

  • Kakao Talk (the messenger app that all locals use)
  • Kakao T (closest thing to Uber you’ll get)
  • Yogiyo (food delivery app)
  • Baemin (food delivery app)
  • SSG (best grocery shopping app for general goods)
  • Market Kurly (grocery shopping app for imported and luxury food items)
  • Coupang (largest online shopping app)
  • Karrot (app for local second hand goods)
  • Naver Map (it’s more accurate than Google Maps even though it’s not that user friendly)
  • Naver Webtoon (free entertainment and you can learn Korean too)
  • Daum Webtoon (free entertainment and you can learn Korean too)
  • Snow (a must-have photo/filter app to take photos with Korean friends)
  • Ably (clothing shopping app mainly used by Korean women in their 20s)

Do your research online

  • Check out Dave’s Esl Cafe
  • Reddit
  • Facebook groups

You’ll get a wealth of knowledge on many topics not covered here.

Some of the comments are biased and overly negative, so use your best judgement. It’s easy to develop an us vs them mentality if you read too much. Happy people don’t tend to comment online. I recommend finding out what you need and muting the Facebook groups.

Refrain from using recreational drugs.

They will drug test you a few days after your arrive during the health screening. You’ll want to avoid pain medication as well, since it could show up as a false positive.

Optional

  • Unlock your phone
  • Get an international driver’s license if you plan on renting a car
  • Open up a Schwab or Citibank account for lower fees and easier transfers
  • Inform your bank that you’re leaving
  • Get a VPN (some websites are *cough* blocked in Korea)

General Packing List

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I SEOUL U photo at night in Han River Park, South Korea

Essentials

Thick winter clothing (expensive in Korea and sizes will be different)

Your favorite jeans (they have many brands like H&M, but the sizes might not fit)

Shorts, both casual and exercise

T-shirts, hats and swimwear (you can find these, but not always in the brands you like)

Electronics (more expensive in Korea on average. Even local brand items like Samsung phones will cost more there.)

New pairs of running, dress shoes, and flip flops (Korean shoes are expensive and might not fit)

Melanin (not sold in Korea)

Multivitamins (not sold in bulk and are expensive)

Pain relievers like Ibuprofen (not sold in bulk)

Health supplements (they’re expensive and hard to find. CBD is illegal without a prescription, but not heavily enforced, so do what you will with this information.)

220 volt plug adapter (you can find these in Korea, but it’s easier to bring your own)

Things to fight homesickness

Your favorite spices (something simple like Lawry’s, Chipotle, or nutmeg can stave off homesickness)

Loose tea leaves in bulk. They don’t have many options besides local varieties.

Scents like diffusers or oils that you like, but you can easily find Yankee Candle and Jo Malone in Korea.

Snacks like Milka, Vegemite, Reeses, Cheetos and Cliff bars. The Korean versions are different (usually sweeter) and hard to find.

Your favorite card or board games

Pictures of family and friends

Books in English you plan on reading (due to the high demand for English content, they’re marked up considerably)

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones QC35 (there can be a lot of noise pollution, so it’s nice to remove it at home or on trips)

Packing List for Women

Lingerie and underwear (there’s no Victoria Secret)

Your favorite cosmetics that are not sold in Korea (but I highly recommend trying Korean cosmetics at Olive Young)

Midol

Your favorite tampons in bulk

Birth control

Packing List for Men

Razors and shaving cream (there’s no dollar shave club in Korea and razors are costly)

Blazer for going out (if you want a great suit, check out Saville Row Tailor in Itaewon, tell Mr. Choi that Richard sent you)

What to Avoid

English Villages: They look and sound great, but they’re often a nightmare to work at. Some have described life in them as similar to that of Dubai or North Korea.

Basement or rooftop houses: They may seem quaint and rustic, but they’re teeming with mold, insects and other unsavory characters.

Negative Expats: There are many happy expats in the country, but there are pockets of negativity you’ll want to avoid. If you notice that a group you’re with spends most of their time complaining about the country, it’s probably time to find a new one.

Rush hour: Just don’t. You’re probably not used to being crammed in with so many people in a hurry. Most work schedules (English teaching jobs) avoid this time. Try to minimize it by living close to work.

What to Get in Korea

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IFC Mall in Yeouido, Seoul

While we highly recommend bringing all your clothes, Korea has some really cool items that you can’t find elsewhere.

Fucidin (후시딘): A must-have healing ointment found in every Korean household.

Oramedi (오라메디): Works like a charm for canker sores.

Phytoncide (피톤치드) spray: Natural insect repellent and deodorizer. It makes you feel like you’re in a forest.

Garglin (가그린): Mouthwash engineered for the spices in Korean food. Check out Thera Breath if you want to be extra sure.

Mask packs (마스크팩): They’re great for skin care and cost about 1-2 dollar each, so you can use them almost every day.

K95 masks: Comfortable and cheap for days when air quality leaves something to be desired.

Umbrella: You can find them everywhere.

Seaweed snacks (김): Korean seaweed snacks are a popular gift. They’re also delicious and nutritious.

Dermatological Skincare (피부과): Cutting edge and inexpensive. For example, 1-hour professional acne care costs about 50 dollars. Fillers cost about 30-100 dollars, but can be addictive. Check out “events” (they always have 이벤트 for discounts) at your neighborhood dermatologist’s office.

Laser Hair Removal (레이저 제모): For underarm hair removal, it costs 50-80 dollars for 5 sessions.

Medical and Dental Care (의료 및 치과): Convenient, fast and affordable. If you have Korean public insurance (건강보험), teeth scaling is about 10 dollars once a year, or 60 dollars without insurance.

Eyelash Extension (속눈썹연장): Price is about 30-50 dollars for highly-skilled service.

FAQ

When should I move to Korea?

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Early Spring around mid-March is ideal. It gives you plenty of time to settle in and enjoy the best season of the year.


Where should I live in Korea?

Somewhere not too crowded and away from large streets is a good idea. Google Maps offers a street view of some parts of Korea. Naver Map can fill in the blanks. We cover different cities above in detail.

Where do expats live in Seoul?

They live all over the place, but they tend to congregate in the Itaewon (including Gyeonglidan, Haebangchon, Hannam and Yongsan) and Gangnam areas.

How much money do you need to move to Korea?

Not much if you get a job first. Many teaching jobs offer a free flight to Korea (and return if you complete a year) and accommodation.

Can you move to South Korea without knowing Korean?

Yes, many locals speak English and even more understand it. It’s still a good idea to learn the basics before going to have a better time.

Did we miss anything?

Korea is a great place to move to as an expat.

Now we want to hear from you.

Let us know what your favorite moving tip is in the comments!

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