Expat guide to life in South Korea

South Korea

A complete expat guide to moving to and living in South Korea

South Korea

Home of modern Tech Giants and one of the most delicious BBQ dishes in world, South Korea’s sprint towards the future includes its precious heritage in tow.

Expats relocating to South Korea will find an international community from ELS teachers, to business executives. If you’ve found a place within the densely populated metropolis of Seoul, be sure to have read our handy guides to expat life in South Korea.

What's in our South Korea guide:

South Korea

Expat Clubs in South Korea

There are several expat clubs in South Korea you can consider joining to become acquainted with your new home, community and lifestyle. As an expatriate, you most certainly won't be the only person in your situation - so reach out to connect with fellow expats with these expat clubs!

All-Female Hash Group

The Seoul PMS Hash House Harriettes was established on February 5, 2000, by Free To Lay. They are a Women's Running/Walking/Drinking/Social Club. We meet once a month, usually on the 4th Saturday @ 4pm. For more information, click here.

Association des Francophones de Corée (AFC)

Association des Francophones de Corée (AFC) is open to both men and women. The AFC organizes social events throughout the year for French speakers in Korea. Membership includes a free subscription to their bi-monthly cultural magazine Le Petit Echotier. You can email the group, or visit their Facebook page.

Australian & New Zealand Association of South Korea

The Australian and New Zealand Association of Korea (ANZA) holds its monthly Coffee Morning at 10:00 a.m. every third Tuesday at the Paris Bar and Grill, Grand Hyatt Hotel. ANZA organizes various events including the Melbourne Cup Ball. You can contact the group here, or visit their Facebook page or their website, at www.anzakorea.com.

Busan International Women's Association (BIWA)

The Busan International Women's Association is a charitable social and cultural organization open to women living in the Busan and Kyungsang Namdo area of South Korea. As a non-profit organization we raise money to help those in the local Korean community who are in need. At BIWA we encourage friendship, support, and cultural exchange between our international and Korean members by organizing a wide variety of social and cultural activities. Contact the group directly, or visit their website here.

Seoul International Women's Association

Seoul International Women's association (SIWA) was created in 1962 as a group of women from different nationalities including Koreans in order to enhance the expatriate life in Korea as well as to support those in need in this country. Very rapidly this initial small group of women grew in popularity and over the years membership rose continuously to a peak of 1,000 women from 80 different countries. Email the group directly, or visit their Facebook group or their website, at www.siwapage.com.

Swedish Women's Educational Association

Swedish Women's Educational Association is open to Swedish women in Seoul. They are contactable via email, or by visiting their website at www.chapters-swea.org.

Driving in South Korea

Expats may use an international license to drive legally in South Korea for one year. But for residents with a Foreign Registration Card or ARC, they can exchange their domestic license, provided it is recognized, for a local one. For a list of recognized countries, click here.

The documents required that you need are as follows:

  • Original domestic license
  • Letter from the embassy (the domestic license's country of origin) confirming the license's validity and authenticity, it should be translated to Korean and notarised
  • Original passport
  • ARC card
  • Three 3 x 4cm colour photos

Expats with non-recognized licenses may also exchange their license provided they pass an aptitude and written test, which is in English.

Driving in South Korea for expats

Local News Sources in South Korea

There are multiple local news sources for English-speaking expatriates in South Korea that you can follow for your daily news and updates.

South Korea Property Guide: Where to Live

Expats will find that acquiring accommodations in South Korea is a difficult task; the population is heavily dense especially in major areas. Foreigners will have to settle for what they can find in the least amount of time than go in circles looking for units that match their requirements. Additionally, prices can be steep. A three bedroom apartment in the city centers starts at $2,300 per month. However for expat employees, their accommodations would’ve been arranged by their employers. For those who will be looking for housing on their own, here are some general information.

The types of accommodation in South Korea

There are three types of accommodations available. Houses, which are scarce and expensive; villas with several independent housing units; and apartments in high-rise buildings. The standards are adequate and good; they usually come furnished with basic necessities and appliances. However for the living spaces are smaller than what expats from the west would be used to. Gas, electricity, Internet and other utilities do not come under the rent.

Expats looking for accommodations normally head to online listings and forums. Real estate agents, classifieds are also good way to find listings.

The types of rental/deposit systems in South Korea

The three types of rental/deposit systems in South Korea are Jeonsei or ‘key money’ and two Wolse systems. The Jeonsei system will have the would-be tenant pay from 25% to 80% of the property value to the landlord as a deposit, after which they do not pay for anything else other than utility bills. The deposit is returned in full at the end of the contract, provided no damages were incurred in the unit.

Wolse system works like any regular rental/deposit system. Tenants will have to pay a deposit, a couple of times larger than the monthly rent. And based on this amount, the landlord charges them less or more rent monthly. The other Wolse system requires tenants to pay the rent for the entire lease; no deposit is required. The rent may not be given back should the tenant moves out earlier than agreed. This should be clarified and clearly stipulated in the contract.

A large proportion of expats reside in Seoul. Gangnam-gu has a number of residential complexes and a large foreign community. It can be expensive in this area as prominent commercial industries are situated here. Daechi-dong is a quieter area in Gangnam-gu, which is not too far from expats working in the major area of the city.

On the other side of the Han River, Itaewon-dong also houses some expat families and individuals. Close to the US Army base, the area is full of Western style amenities like restaurants and shopping complexes. It’s a little more affordable to live in this Itaewon-dong, perhaps why expats take to this area. The public transport system and schools are also within close proximity.