My husband is considering a new role in Korea after four years in the Middle East.
I have always preferred the far east to middle east although have never travelled to Korea and know little about the country. The biggest thing I have missed in the middle east is the different seasons especially autumn and winter, I was never a sun worshipper (in the middle east you just have summer, hotter summer and cool summer).
My main concerns with a move to Korea would be our dogs. We have two chocolate Labradors, aged 11 and 9. We cannot possibly leave them and would like to bring them with us. We would hope to be able to cover rent and utilities with 8-10m a month if this is a realistic figure? (employer is willing to negotiate)
So I am looking at areas and am completely lost! Please can anyone advise on areas to look at which would be within our budget and that may tick as many boxes as possible for us. The following is obviously a dream but any recommendations gratefully received.
If such an area exists I would prefer somewhere low rise, with villas/houses (small yard as a minimum for dogs and BBQ), as green as possible, accessible parks that accept dogs, local community that will not be too upset by dogs and within a reasonable distance of a good British School. If there is a Jewish community nearby (I understand there are services available at the US military base in Yongsan and a community centre in Yongsan-Gu?) then even better.
A few other questions, again I apologise for my ignorance and obviously should things be confirmed that we are moving I will buy a book on Korea and do as much research as possible:
My dogs are very friendly but should I muzzle them in public if locals are likely to be afraid of them or will a muzzle make them more afraid (implying they need to be muzzled)?
Are high quality dog foods available in Korea and what sort of premium (%) can you expect to pay on imported dog foods?
Can you be openly Jewish in Korea or is it something (like the Middle East) you need to keep quiet?
Will my children learn Korean in school? Is it compulsory on the curriculum and if not what is the most common second language taught?
Are the locals friendly to expats or are the communities segregated?
Unfortunately I don't presently speak any Korean, although would be keen to learn, however what kind of English can I expect to be spoken by most locals and are day to day things very difficult without a grasp of local language?
Is there a dress etiquette in Korea in public? Shoulders, knees covered? Are things like jeans, t-shirts acceptable or will this be considered offensive?
What are popular recreational pastimes in Seoul?
Is it easy to purchase organic and fresh produce or are many things imported?
What are utilities costs like? Internet, phone, water, electricity etc.
Can anyone please tell me their best and worst points of living in Korea
i.e. for me in the Middle East
+ I have enjoyed being able to eat out without worrying about pork in food
+ there are many high quality restaurants to eat out
+ have found many other Middle Eastern/African/Asian expats friendly and interesting and have met lots of other Westerners as well
+ in our area there is a good dog community
+ the accommodation is spacious and new
+ fuel is cheap and owning a large car is easily possible
+ there are lots of local schools and children learn Arabic in all school which I believe is good for their future
+ Ski Dubai has better skiing that anywhere local to me in England!
- people drive fast, recklessly and roads are lethal
- it is hard to meet locals as expat and local communities are separated
- whilst accommodation is new everything breaks as it is not well put together
- there is little public transport
- people leave poisoned food out for dogs and can be very cruel to dogs and cats
- too hot for six months of the year
- expensive bills (water and electricity is 1.5m - 2.5m a month)
- eating out is expensive it is easy to spend 850,000 on a meal
- there is a lot of racism towards the labour from Asia
You didn't mention where you are possibly moving to in Korea, but I'm assuming since you mentioned Yongsan that you are looking in Seoul. I've lived in Seoul for 3 years and our family loves it.
You can live very comfortably on 8-10 million KRW/month, depending on how posh/large of a home you are looking for. There are plenty of apartments, villas, and single family homes available in your price range, including homes with gardens and/or fenced yards.(http://www.nicerent.com is a good place to look, keeping in mind that many rents are negotiable within a million KRW or so) We lived for 2 years in an extremely nice 3-bedroom high-rise apartment near Yongsan army garrison and our expenses (rent+utilities) were below KRW6 million per month most of the time. The largest bill we had - in a 4-bedroom villa - was for electricity (summers here are humid and hot) which hit right around KRW1,500,000. Water and gas together should not cost more than a few hundred thousand per month. Internet/cable is usually included with the rent and paid by the landlord but is probably less than 100,000 KRW per month. Most people also have a bottled water dispenser (tap water is safe but doesn't taste good.) Petrol is much more expensive than what you are used to, but a lot depends on how much/if you drive. We now live in a slightly cheaper, older (less posh) villa near UN Village in Hannam which has 4 bedrooms and is bigger, but has higher utilities since it's older and less efficient. Most popular areas for foreigners (where you will find more English-speaking locals, etc.) are in the Yongsan-gu area (gu= district), including Itaewon, Hannam, and UN Village (UN Village is close to Doksaegwan-ro, or Embassy Street, where many embassies - and international expats - can be found.) Seongbuk-dong is further north and outside the city, but has larger homes with yards - very suburban, very nice. Same goes for Yonhi-dong - a little further out, but also very nice. Yonhi-dong is also the location of Seoul Foreign School ( http://www.seoulforeign.org/) which has a separate British Division through Grade 8 and then offers the IGCSE and IB programs in the upper levels (my son attends there. It is the oldest international school in Seoul.) There are other international schools in Seoul including Dulwich (already mentioned) and several others. All of the international schools I know of offer Korean language as an option, although the level of intensity varies from school to school. You don't mention the ages of your children, but obviously this will impact the amount and type of instruction they receive, unless you send them to a Korean school, which would mean they would be taught in Korean and learn English as a second language. Living in Yonhi-dong or Seoungbuk-dong means more traveling to get into the downtown area and less ready access to public transportation, but many people do it. It just depends on your own tolerance for transportation times and how you feel about driving in Seoul. All the international schools in Seoul provide bus service, but if you plan on being very involved at your children's school, it is something to consider. We live less than 12 kilometers away from my son's school, but due to traffic conditions, it can take anywhere from 25 minutes to 45 minutes to drive there. Driving in Seoul can be intimidating, but it is not that bad as long as you take your time and don't ever be surprised when people do crazy things. The good thing about Seoul traffic is that it doesn't move very fast, so you don't have to worry much about accidents. Also, because it's crowded, people pull all kinds of crazy maneuvers and everyone just sort of tolerates it. You see very little aggressive driving or 'road rage' here - just a lot of pushy people all trying to find space to get where they want to go. If you need to cross 5 lanes of traffic, you can do it by just pointing your car where you need to go and moving slooooowly in that direction. People will let you in! Public transport here is excellent and well-marked in English and I have traveled all over with no problem at all. It's one of the best aspects of living in Seoul. The buses are a little more challenging (less English) but can be learned with a little practice and all of it is cheap, safe, and efficient. Taxis are cheap and safe (the drivers seem crazy but they know what they're doing) and are plentiful as well. It can be challenging because not many drivers speak English, but you can work around that by printing out Korean directions/maps and showing them to the driver. As far as dogs go - we have 2 (1 is a lab) and you don't need to muzzle them, but be prepared for people to give your labs a wide berth. Koreans are slowly warming up to small dogs, but there are many who are afraid of even little ones, and a lab-sized dog is considered 'big' here. Westerners are (obviously) much more dog-friendly, but no one is going to scream or faint or anything. They might pull away from you or cross the street at most. Hardest thing is if you have friendly dogs who are used to being greeted by one and all - and then they are suddenly just ignored because people have a different attitude toward dogs. Not mean, but just not the same. There are many parks in Seoul, but you do need to double-check because not all parks allow dogs (most do, but not all.) Our 2 favorite places to go are Namsan (mountain) park and Yongsan Family park. There are definitely many landlords who won't allow pets, but there are many who do, so it should not be a problem for you to find accommodations that allow dogs, and if you are looking at a house or a villa with a garden, you should have no problem. We had many neighbors in our high-rise with labs, and we have one in our villa now. Just have to tell your realtor you need a place that allows pets. You can get quite a few different dog foods here, we feed ours HIlls Science Diet, which is procurable everywhere, as is Royal Canine, but there are many others, and E-Mart (local supermarket/department store) has many varieties as well as 'all-natural' and 'organic' treats. We fed Blue Buffalo in the US but have never seen it here. Human food is expensive in the supermarkets (especially if you are buying organic or imports) but probably not any worse than in the Middle East and you can find pretty much anything if you look long enough. Restaurants can be extremely cheap. Korean restaurants do serve a lot of beef and pork, but many restaurants have English translations and as long as you learn the word for pork (pig meat) you shouldn't have any problems. In Itaewon (international district) there are many restaurants with English menus including Halal restaurants where you know you won't be getting pork. There are Jewish services on the Yongsan army garrison, but you will need to have someone with base access sign you on and escort you each time you want to attend. I am not Jewish, but I do know there is a Chabad organization in Itaewon (maybe the community center you are thinking of) and would expect them to be extremely welcoming. Koreans as a whole are very accepting and are religiously diverse themselves (30% are Buddhist, 30% are Christian, and the rest are nothing or something else) and you might be surprised to know that many Koreans are interested in Judaism. Koreans have a great respect for education and are aware that this is a value shared by the Jewish community. I have been in more than one bookshop where I've seen children's books about Judaism written in Hangul (Korean language.) You should have nothing to worry about in that regard. As far as clothing goes - no problems. Oddly, you will see the shortest miniskirts and the highest heels you have ever seen in your life in Korea, but you will never see a low-cut blouse (on a Korean woman.) Most Korean women take fabulous care of their skin and will wear long sleeves even in the summer (impossible for a foreigner to understand) to keep protected. You can wear whatever you want to, though. Many people in Seoul speak a little English, but most foreigners very quickly make a Korean friend or two and get help with complicated matters. It is a difficult language to learn - at least as difficult as Arabic - but if you go places that are frequented by foreigners, you shouldn't have any trouble buying things, etc. Learn how to ask how much something costs (many things are not marked) and most vendors will punch the price on a calculator to show you. Bargaining here is not very big - you might get a small discount for using cash or if you buy several items at a market - but if you are in a department store or grocery store, prices are fixed. For recreation: anything you want to do, you can do in Seoul. Hiking is a hugely popular pasttime as we are surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and every weekend you see droves of people in full hiking kit heading to spend a day on one mountain or abother. There is cycling(great cycling paths along the Han river also a great place to take the dogs), swimming(tons of public pools, great for kids), running, tennis...anything you can think of is probably done here. It is a world-class city of 10 million people with endless things to do. In the winter, we ski - there are several good resorts within an hour's drive and world-class skiing in Yongpyeong (site of the 2018 winter olympics) about 2.5 hours' drive away. Rock and ice-climbing, water skiing, boating, yoga, tae kwan do, ...the list is endless. And that is just in Korea, not including the many other Asian countries that are just a short flight away. Hope this helped a little with your information gathering and best of luck with your move.
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British Schools - Dulwich College Seoul http://www.dulwich-seoul.kr/
Foundation through to yr11 is UK National Curriculum. School will be introducing IB Diploma in 2 years.