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Moving to Korea

Moving to Korea

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: If you're thinking about moving to Korea, expats there have a lot to share about moving to Korea - deciding where to live, what to bring, housing, banking, healthcare in Korea and more.

If you're planning a move to Korea, expats there offer advice about what they wish they had know before moving to Korea - topics covered include deciding where to live, what to bring, housing, banking, healthcare in Korea and more.

Deciding Where to Live in Korea

When we asked expats living in Korea to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:

"I lived with my in-laws for a few months, which was a great load-off. Then scouted out places near work. After a few weeks of looking on my own I brought in my boss to negotiate the fees--and he did a GREAT job. The place is about a 10 minute walk through the (safe) park to work, if brand new and less than I'd have paid downtown back home. Definately take a local to negotiate if at all possible," said one expat who moved to Seoul, Korea.

"My husband relocated to Korea first and chose a location close to subways and shopping - an area called Itaewon. Unfortunately, if I had to do it again, I would not choose this neighborhood. The area is frequented by singles and there are many bars. Not necessarily the best neighborhood for raising children," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

Expats living in Korea interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA. Get a Quote

Expats living in Korea interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

What to Bring When Moving to Korea (and what to leave behind)

When we asked expats living in Korea what they wish they had brought when moving to Korea and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:

"We should have brought a dining table and chairs. Koreans sleep on the floor (because of the warmth of floor heating during winter). We needed to buy the lot and ended up with an imported italian dining set. The other options were much too local or too rococo for our taste," said one expat who moved to seoul, Korea.

"Wish I had brought: My wife and baby. They are still at home...the phone bills are not too bad (like 100won/8 US cents a minute) but it's a little tough sometimes to connect completely. More books about finance and business. Kyobo book has a few in the store but to get the ones I wanted I needed to order online though their site (Amazon had outrageous shipping costs) for a pretty penny. More gifts. My original stash of salmon, cheese, meat and such are gone...I go back every couple of months and stock up (cheese is almost impossible to get here, and the prices!) but could always use more. Things I wish I left behind: All my clothes. Well, I needed something to start out with, but found I could get good, cheap and well-fitting clothes here with little problem (of course my Korean in-laws helped). 2 suits, 2 pants, 4 shirts, 4 undershirt and 2 ties for about 550 USD. (And I am about 6 foot...not the easiest size to fit over here.) Japanese language books. I took some courses in college and thought I'd get time to hop over there, but things are so busy (and there is so much to see here, and going home is a better option right now) that I doubt that I'll get there at all. My old leather briefcase. No one has an old briefcase here. The first thing my boss said when he hired me was "Get a new attache". Luckily they are cheap, plentiful and easy to find here. Thing I was glad I brought: My slow-cooker (crock-pot). It was my surrogate oven (they usually use their ovens as grills, which makes it hard to make lasagna and such). Webcamera. This thing is great for communicating with my wife and child," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

"Wished I had brought:
1. Mix packages for sauce preparation. Like Swansons for spagetti sauce, and gravy, etc. 2. Converter for 110 to 220 V. The converters purchased in Korea are not reliable. 3. Floor heaters - I only have two and it gets really cold in Korea. The utilities bill is outrageous. Using the whole house heater really runs up the bill. It would be nice just to heat the required rooms and close the door of the others. 4. More winter clothes - it gets extremely cold here and finding proper size can be difficult. 5. Bug killer bombs - when two houses in my neighborhood were demolished for rebuilding - their bugs moved to my house - ants and roaches. After living in the house for 1 year with no pest problem, I thought I would not have any bug problems. Wrong! With the tearing down of the houses, I have a constant battle. I just wish I could let off a couple of bug bombs - but I cannot find in stores - only bug spray. 6. Gardening items - most landlords expect you to take care of the yard. Finding quality mowers, rakes, brooms, shovels (for snow also), etc. is difficult and the quality may not be up to par. 7. Salting for ice on driveway, walkway, and parts of street. Despite the heavy snow fall and sheets of ice that form, the Seoul city does not clear its streets. Slipping is a constant hazard and finding salting material is near impossible. For 2 months out of the year, my walkway to my front door is a sheet of ice. Wish I'd left behind:
1. US purchased DVD's. They don't work on a Korean machine. 2. Feminine protection - tampons and pads can be found in ever Korean grocery store. 3. Dryer sheets to eliminate cling. These, and softeners, can be found in any Korean grocery store," commented one expat who made the move to Korea.

Advice for People Moving to Korea

"We chose to live in Itaewon because the area is between yonhi-dong (where SFS is located) and samsung-dong (where my husband works). If we live near either, the other would suffer with the traffic during peak hours. There are other nice areas like Sumbok-dong or UN village in hannah-dong, but you need your car just to get out whilst Itaewon has the subway. It depends on the priorities of each family," said one expat who moved to seoul, Korea.

"Live close to work. Life is hard enough without a 1-2 hour commute--especially if it's on a bus, subway or (for the purely insane) driving your own car here. For an expat, who should be thinking of a compromise between their home culture/lifestyle and their adopted one, getting a smaller place that's closer to work may be better than a large apartment (no houses here, unless you're way out of town or really loaded) that is far away may be the difference between happiness and h#ll," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

"If you are a family, stay in a hotel until you discover the neighborhood you desire. How I would find that neighborhood is to seek out your child's school counselor or principal and ask what neighborhoods do most expat students live in. Then hire an expat service to find housing in those areas at your price range. ARM, Asian Relocation Mangement Korea, is a very good expat service company (phone in Korea: 011-9547-8383)," commented one expat who made the move to Korea.

Typical Housing for Expats

When we asked expats in Korea about the type of home or apartment they life in and whether that is typical for expats, they replied:

"There are 3 kinds of living accommodations in Korea. 1 - house. 2 - Villa (which is what they call a low-rise apartment so therefore less spacious than a house). 3 - apartments (or condos). We lived in a villa as that was what we could get for our budget. Not bad at all since to heat everything during those cold korean winters would be ridiculously expensive. Korean houses have floor heating and a villa and apartment could benefit from the floor heating of the upstairs," said one expat who moved to seoul, Korea.

"I have a 13 pyoung (285 sq ft) place, but about 100 sq ft of it is balcony so the living space is a little cozy...no matter, the place is new, it's high enough and has enough windows to have a TON of sunlight streaming in (assuming I wash the windows) and there are cameras all over the halls just in case. Most expats live in Itaewon or at a serviced suite, but I prefer the closeness of my place to work and have no real problems getting things done in Korean (meaning I get my co-workers to do a lot of translating for me)," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

"I live in a large house. This is typical for many expats that come to Korea with a large foreign company. But, many singles live here also. They live in apartment housing or on a military base," commented one expat who made the move to Korea.

Housing Costs in Korea

"Definitely pricier! Our villa in Itaewon cost $6,000 a month to be payable a year in advance," said one expat who moved to seoul, Korea.

"It's about the same as at home, assuming you're in a big city and downtown or in the financial district. My rent is about 800 USD for the 285 square...which may be a lot for a little, but once you're here you adjust to the space difference pretty easily," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

"The housing cost is outrageous. My home is almost US 10,000 per month. Definitely outrageous," commented one expat who made the move to Korea.

Finding a Job in Korea

If you're searching for a job in Korea, expats talk about popular industries and how expats find employment.

"No Sure. Lots of people teach English there but ... as I was gainfully employed the whole time I was there I did not pay that much attention to the job market," said one expat who moved to Seoul, Korea.

"The majority of expats are employed in the EFL industry. As is true throughout Korea, these jobs are easy to find and are readily available. As mentioned before, the science and technology sector employs some foreigners too, but the job market is quite competitive. Finding a job in Daejeon (EFL industry) is probably best done through a recruiter. They have the best access to the highest number of jobs and can place you accordingly. Most expats don't "choose" Daejeon when they first arrive, but there is a decent number who stay here after their first year," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

"There are a number of universities and private schools. As a foreigner, your best opportunity would be to work for a Hagwon or university as an English Teacher," commented one expat who made the move to Korea.

"This city has something for everyone. You name it, I think its here or if not here not very far away," remarked another expat in Seoul, Korea.

"For foreigners, teaching English is the most in demand job, some people work doing voice overs. Acting and modeling jobs can be found here and there. Many are also freelance writers. If you are qualified, you can try to get posted in Korea with one of the multinational banks or companies," said another expat in Korea.

"English teaching is the big expat thing here. Some make some good coin, others fail miserably (really miserably, if you think you can live like a Westerner here you might as well stay away). Finance and tech is big as well. I know a guy from home who is in Ulsan donig some tech/net thing. In finance (where I am) there are certain jobs open, which you might never think of back home. Imagine one like mine: talk to guys who speak English, develop products for the market/clients here and explain it (in English) to your staff. You wouldn't find that level of responsibility without being in the firm for about 5-10 years back home," remarked another expat who made the move to Korea.

Work Permits

"The firm took care of all the work permit details, heck the CEO negotiated my apartment rental and got me a cell phone," said one expat who moved to Seoul, Korea.

"I had to fly to China to get my E2 Visa. Make sure that you have all the documents that are required and be patient. The people at the Embassy may not speak English," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Korea.

"It is very easy to get a work permit in Korea as long as you meet the requriements for the position. In this case it is a 4 year degree in any field. And a valid passport," commented one expat who made the move to Korea.

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Read Next

10 Tips for Living in Korea

Expats in Korea agree that traffic is terrible and should be taken into serious consideration when deciding how far from work and school to look for homes. Expats also agree that Korea is a very homogenous society and foreigners will get lots of stares.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: May 23, 2019

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