Not sure what to expect when you move to Korea?
No worries, this post will make it a breeze!
- Where to Live
- What to Pack
- What to Avoid
- and more!
I’ve moved to Korea twice (2006 & 2020) and collected inside tips from locals and expats over the years.
Here’s what I’ve learned!
ESSENTIAL MOVING TIPS:
- Move to Korea in early Spring for the most job options and best weather!
- Pack warm winter clothes and cool summer clothes. Most other things are easy to get in Korea.
- You don’t need TEFL to get an English teaching job, but it helps. International TEFL Academy offers practical training and job placement for first timer teachers.
- Learning Korean is the one thing I wish I did before moving. Try Pimsleur here for free and get fluent in 90 days.
Congratulations on moving to Korea! You’re about to set off on a journey that will change your life.
Korea is a land of extremes (you’ll have some of your best and worst days there), so a little preparation will go a long way. But don’t worry, it’s mostly safe and lots of fun!
Read on to find out more!
What to Know Before Moving to South Korea
Here are some things you can expect while living in Korea:
“Glamping”, weightlifting and tattoos became trendy practically overnight.
Korea may be modern on the surface, but it’s traditional on the inside.
You might be surprised that people don’t smile much in public.
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. You might find yourself exhausted while having the time of your life.
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.
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.
For something more adventurous, try some Scotch Bonnet Peppers, they’ll make Korean Red Peppers seem mild in comparison.
There are so many restaurants and cafes that owners might even give you subeesu, if you play your cards right.
Public transportation is cheap, convenient and fast.
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).
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.
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.
Whether it’s to pay off student loans or have a change of pace, you’ll have your own reason or reasons for moving to 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.
It also helps to find ways to be intentional every day, or live with purpose while appreciating the little things in life. This rings especially true when you’re in a different country and might be overwhelmed.
Cost of living
Like most countries, the cost of living has gone up in Korea as of late.
In 2006, you could rent a nice place in Seoul for under 700 USD (800,000 KRW). This has increased to around 1,200 dollars a month.
Fortunately, you won’t have to pay this if you’re teaching English or receiving an expat package.
You can still live on a budget and enjoy free things like the War Memorial Museum or hiking in one of the many mountains around the country.
A nice Korean meal costs less than 10 dollars, and local beer and spirits are affordable. Just do as the locals do and you’ll be fine. I didn’t start missing western food until the 2nd year.
You’ll save a lot of money by bringing your own clothes too.
Where to Live in South Korea
A sprawling metropolis that is both the capital and the largest city with 10 million people.
- 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
- 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
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: Lots of stadiums and amusement parks. Perfect for those who come with a family.
Recommended areas: Yeonnam-dong, Buam-dong and Seorae Maul
The large province surrounding Seoul with 13 million people.
- Less crowded and expensive than Seoul
- More of a suburb vibe
- There are still many trendy neighborhoods with nice cafes and restaurants
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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
More than just the airport, Incheon is a city with just under 3 million people.
- 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
- Worse air pollution compared to Seoul since it’s closer to factories, ports and countries that pollute
- Beaches are not very nice
Recommended areas: Songdo
A large city that prioritizes education.
- 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
- It can be very expensive even though it’s far away from Seoul
Recommended areas: Gung-dong
The food capital of Korea. They take pride in what they eat.
- Amazing food culture
- Small town and traditional vibe
- Not much to do besides the main tourist attractions
The Hawaii of Korea that has its own unique culture and dialect.
- 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
- Small island mentality of scarcity
- Air pollution and tourism have increased over the years
- You’ll probably need a car to get around
Recommended areas: Seogwipo
What to do Before Moving to South Korea
Get the right job
I can’t stress this enough. Your job will make or break your experience in Korea.
Like many new arrivals, I loved the country and my work, but was at odds with management.
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
Here are some apps to have when living in South Korea:
- 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
- Facebook groups
- Easy Expat
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.
Get your house in order
You’ll probably come back to your home country after, so you’ll want things organized when you return.
Making an inventory of all the items in your home that you plan on keeping, moving or throwing away is a good idea. Then you can have a garage sale or donate/give away any items you want to get rid of.
After that, it’s only a matter of finding storage solutions for things like sports gear.
Refrain from using recreational drugs.
They will drug test you a few days after you arrive during the health screening. You’ll want to avoid pain medication as well, since it could show up as a false positive.
- 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 here (some websites are *ahem* blocked in Korea)
General Packing List
Essentials for Moving to Korea
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). Places like Olive Young have Blackmore’s multivitamins and other local brands.
Health supplements are expensive and hard to find. Some supplements such as CBD are illegal without a prescription, so do your research beforehand.
Pain relievers like Ibuprofen (not sold in bulk)
Your favorite toothpaste and deodorant if you’re particular
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, Reese’s, 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)
Photography is a great way to have fun while capturing your experiences. I got into the hobby while living in Korea. Carrying a lot of gear around can be tough on your neck and back though. Here’s a list of the best travel camera backpacks by size and weight.
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)
- Your favorite tampons in bulk
- Birth control (available at pharmacies, but you’ll want something you’re used to at first)
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 I sent you)
- Protein powder in bulk if you lift heavy
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
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 or laver 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.
Can foreigners live in South Korea?
Yes! There are 2.07 million foreigners living in South Korea in 2020, with 390,177 of them in Seoul. There are a variety of services available for expats including free tourism info and Korean language lessons. People are generally welcoming of non-Koreans, but aren’t always inclusive.
Can foreigners get jobs in South Korea?
Yes, it’s legal for foreigners to work in Korea with the right visas.
There are jobs for people from every background and education-level.
There’s a ton of English teaching jobs too! Although there are many types of work available, expect a top-down management style at most places.
Can foreigners start a business in South Korea?
Yes, you can with an F or D-series Visa. If you love living in Korea and want to put down roots, starting a business is a great way to improve your quality of life.
Is it hard to move to South Korea?
Not at all if you’re prepared. Korea has been accepting expats for many decades, so the process is mostly streamlined.
When should I move to Korea?
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.
What shots do I need to move to South Korea?
It’s a good idea to be up-to-date with the following:
- Chickenpox (Varicella)
- Flu (influenza)
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)
These can be done in Korea as well.
Check current requirements before moving as they can change.
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 your year) and accommodation.
Most of your moving costs will be covered this way.
You might want to have a few hundred dollars exchanged into Korean won for incidentals.
How much money do you need to live comfortably in Korea?
It depends on where you live and how many people you support.
Comfortable means you’ll be able to dine out a few times a week and travel domestically without worrying about money.
The table below shows how much a middle-class lifestyle would cost by where you live and how many dependents you have.
|Single||Family of 4|
|Seoul||1.2 million KRW (1,000 USD) a month||4.4 million KRW (4,100 USD) a month|
|Other cities (avg)||1 million KRW a month||3.9 million KRW a month|
What does a typical home and living conditions look like in Korea?
Typical can vary a lot, but here are some places I’ve stayed in over the years.
As long as you work for a reputable company and check out your housing before moving, you should end up in a modern and clean place.
Can you move to South Korea without knowing Korean?
Yes, many locals speak English and even more understand it. Most Koreans study English in primary school for at least 10 years.
It’s still a good idea to learn the basics before going to have a better time.
How to move to South Korea without a job?
The best way is to get an F visa such as the F-4 (overseas Korean) Visa or the F-6 (marriage visa).
Or you can try to get an investment visa if you have 100 million (90,000 USD) to 300 million KRW (270,000 USD) to invest.
Another way is to go on a tourist visa to see how you like the country and network until you find a job.
How to move to South Korea without a degree?
Like with the above case, try to get an F or investment visa, or go on a tourist visa and network until you find a company that will sponsor you.
I highly recommend getting any degree you can (online colleges work fine) before moving, because it’ll make your life a lot easier.
How to move to South Korea as an artist?
There’s a way for artists to move to Korea with an E-6 Culture and Entertainment visa. It allows you to do many things like modeling, acting on TV, teaching dance and singing at hotels.
How do I pay my student loans when I move to South Korea?
You can try the following to make things easier:
- Update your contact info with your loan servicer.
- Set up autopay on your student loans.
- Send money from your Korean bank account to your home account if you’re earning income.
- Connect your Korean bank account to your home account.
How to move and become a citizen in South Korea?
There are many ways to do so, but the simplest way (without being married to a Korean or ethnic Korean born overseas) is to come on an E-2 English teacher visa and stay for 5 years until you can apply for the F-5 permanent resident visa.
F-5 is not 100% citizen, but you’ll have almost all the rights of a Korean.
You’ll also be able to vote in local elections after 3 years of receiving an F-5 visa.
Do foreigners who move to South Korea have to serve in the military?
There have been rumors of the rule changing for overseas Koreans (gyopos), but foreigners don’t have to serve in the military if they move to Korea.
Are there Koreans living in Korea who speak perfect English?
Yes, there are some who speak perfect English. Most have lived abroad, but some are self-taught in the country. Koreans don’t like to speak English with each other, so it can be difficult for them to practice.
How many Foreigners are living in South Korea right now?
As of 2019, there were 2.07 million foreigners living in South Korea. That number is expected to have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How many Americans are living in South Korea right now?
As of 2019, there were 156,000 Americans living in South Korea, which is more than you’ll find in Japan and even mainland China. You can find them all over the country doing a variety of jobs.
How many Americans move to South Korea every year?
In 2019, 21,000 Americans moved to South Korea while 15,000 moved out of the country.
What is it like living in South Korea as an American?
Speaking from experience it can be great, depending on what you value.
Here are some things you’ll enjoy as an American in Korea:
- There’s no tipping in restaurants.
- Sales tax is already added to the price of goods and services.
- You can drink alcohol outside on the beach or in front of a convenient store.
- A night out is extremely fun and diverse while being affordable.
- The variety of healthy and delicious food you can eat on a daily basis.
- The lifestyle makes it easy to get in-shape.
- There are many well-dressed and attractive people.
- You can find buildings including temples and palaces older than 200 years all over the place.
- Medical care is a fraction of the cost, even without insurance, and you don’t have to wait hours to see a doctor. You can skip seeing a general practitioner and go straight to a specialist.
- Public transport is cheap and convenient. You can get anywhere in Seoul and most of the country without a car.
- Crime of all kind including gun violence and property crimes are rare.
- Racial discrimination exists in small doses, but racial violence does not. You’ll experience micro-aggressions, but no life-threatening ones, depending on the crowd you run with.
- Internet speeds are faster on average and cheaper in Korea.
Here are some things you might miss as an American in Korea:
- Driving your car. You can get an international license, but it’s not such a great place to drive.
- Megastores like CVS, Rite Aid and Home Depot where you can find everything under one roof.
- Cheap Mexican food. Fortunately, you can buy most ingredients online now.
- Affordable shooting ranges with a variety of guns. It’s our culture after all.
- Some fast-food chains like Carl’s Jr. and Wendy’s. They have most of the major ones though.
- Recreational pharmaceuticals that have recently been legalized in many states. This includes CBD oil.
- Las Vegas. There are casinos like Seven Luck, but nothing that can compare.
- Concerts and events like Coachella and NBA games. They have major artists occasionally and local sporting events, but indie bands and world class sporting events are rare.
How much does it cost to move my car to South Korea?
It can cost anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 USD to move your car. In most cases, your car will be moved in a shipping container.
You’ll also need proof that you’ll live in Korea for one year, which can be provided by your employer or a family member living in Korea.
This is actually cheaper than buying an imported car in Korea.
What’s it like living in Korea when you are 40+?
Koreans can be very age-conscious. As a person over 40, you’ll be treated with more respect by younger people.
On the other hand, you might feel a bit more isolated since many expats are under 40.
That being said, I’ve met many people in that age group who were very social and seemed happy in Korea.
How can a retired American move to South Korea?
South Korea doesn’t offer retirement visas at this time.
Besides getting married to a local or being ethnic Korean, you can try an investment visa if you have 100 million KRW (90,000 USD) – 300 million KRW (270,000 USD).
Why does my teenager want to move to South Korea?
If your teen is experiencing sudden shifts in fashion and music taste accompanied by an obsession with all things Korean, they most likely have K-fever, either the K-pop or K-drama variety.
Korean media is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Try nurturing their interest and perhaps arranging a trip. Telling them “no” will just make them want it more.
Will I gain weight when I move to South Korea?
Unless you go to samcha (third round) every night, you’ll most likely lose weight. This is because you’ll walk a lot more while eating more fish and vegetables.
What it’s like living in the countryside in South Korea?
It can be a rewarding and authentic experience if you don’t mind standing out.
Koreans are generally welcoming to outsiders, and you can enjoy the quiet and tranquility of nature outside of large cities.
Grocery delivery might take a bit longer (usually an extra day), but you’ll be able to enjoy many of the conveniences you’d find in big cities.
That being said, make sure to live far away from factories and find a nice spa to relax in.
Why do many people dislike living in Korea?
Life for Koreans can be very difficult.
The country had a tough time in the last 100 years and built itself up with hard work.
The average person has many responsibilities to their job, family and society in general. Work/life balance is a relatively new concept.
As an expat, it’s can be easy to focus on the shortcomings, while ignoring the benefits of living in Korea. Also, working at a disorganized or shady company will sour your experience.
Check out our guide on labor rights to avoid many of the headaches.
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Did we miss anything?
Korea is a great place to move to as an expat.
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