What It’s Like to Live in South Korea
…as a foreigner!
Obstacles while living in Korea
Prepare yourself in advance for minor obstacles while living in Korea. Korean customs and culture are very different than the west and as a teacher you will find yourself in unique situations which may prove difficult to understand. Just remember that in addition to teaching, you’re also there to learn about a new culture so keep an open mind, remain flexible and overcoming these obstacles will be easier than you think.
Accommodations in Korea
The large majority of schools in Korea provide single accommodations for their western staff. Teacher accommodations are usually studio apartments which mean the living area is one large room with an open style kitchen area and separate bathroom. It’s important for teachers to know that Korean apartments are quite small in comparison to western standards, North America specifically. Likewise, the bigger the city and the closer you are to the downtown core, the smaller the apartments become. Regardless of size, teacher apartments are usually quite new and have enough space to live comfortably for the year.
Basic apartment furnishing tend to include: Fridge, stove, cooking utensils, table, chair(s), tv, phone, bed and a dresser or clothes rack. Don’t expect a couch or sofa in your apartment, Korean’s themselves rarely have sofas in their own apartments and schools don’t offer this furnishing for teachers. Click housing in Korea for more information.
Restaurants in Korea
Korea could possibly have the most restaurants in the world per capita. Every street in the country tends to have numerous restaurants with affordable menus available. Korean Food is very unique and foreigners to Korea quickly fall in love with the diverse range of food options available.
There is a wide variety of Restaurants in Korea and other eating establishments offering a range of meat and vegetable dishes. Street vendors (pojangmachas) are a common sight on almost all busy streets. You will find them selling such things as sushi roles, spicy rice, boiled eggs and fried vegetables. Small restaurants (shikdangs) are a smart choice for those looking to have a great meal at an affordable price. A general rule of thumb; the smaller the restaurant, the cheaper the food. You will also find a choice of upper scale, highly priced restaurants scattered around each city. Don’t be fooled into thinking the more expensive the restaurant the better the food will be. You will soon find out that the smaller “hole in the wall” restaurants will offer some of the best service and best tasting food in Korea. In between the small and the luxurious you will find many restaurants and eateries that offer many traditional Korean dishes as well as western dishes. Most medium to large cities also have many western franchise restaurants available, including The Outback Steakhouse, Bennigans, TGI Fridays, VIPS, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Pop Eyes Chicken and Subway. You will also find lots of non-franchised restaurants that offer Thai, Italian, Japanese, Indian, and Mexican dishes.
Buying Groceries in Korea
Shopping for groceries in Korea is much easier than most people assume. All Korean cities will have numerous outdoor markets offering fresh produce, seafood and other Korean favorites. The food within these markets is quite cheap and offers a decent alternative to the large franchise food chains. The large corporate grocery stores such as HomePlus and E-Mart have a wide range of products that will provide westerners with food options similar to western style supermarkets.
It’s sometimes difficult to find western spices in Korea, however, condiments such as Heinz ketchup, French’s mustard, relish, salad dressings, mayonnaise, hot sauce and other favorites are available in most of Korea’s large grocery stores.
High Street Market is a great resource for teachers to use while in Korea. They have an onsite deli/cafe and grocery store in Seoul but they also have an online ordering and delivery system in place. They offer a wide range of items not typically found in South Korean grocery stores or markets and they will ship all areas of South Korea.
Internet in Korea
Korea is the world’s most wired country (per capita) for broadband (high speed) internet. Having an internet connection installed in your apartment is very easy and your employer can arrange this for you upon request. Monthly internet rates vary depending on the service and the service provider you choose to go with. High speed internet services in Korea can cost anywhere from 25,000won – 45,000won a month. XE Currency Converter
If you don’t plan on bringing or buying a computer for your apartment then there are lots of alternative options available. Korean’s are addicted to online gaming and pc bongs (internet cafes) can be located on every corner in every city. Internet cafes are also extremely cheap and hourly rates at many locations are under 3,000 won ($3) an hour.
Phone Service in Korea – Mobile Phones
Landlines in Korea are becoming less popular by the year. Korean Cell phone technology and services are some of the best on the planet and many Koreans and westerners alike now use cell phones as their only telecom device. Some teacher apartments will come with a land phone in the apartment and others do not. Most schools now prefer to wait for the teacher to arrive to discuss the numerous options available before deciding on what option is best for that teacher.
Shopping in Korea
The major shopping districts in the major urban area’s will have hundreds of retail stores, trendy independent shops and unlimited outdoor market shopping options. Retail stores in Korea include; Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Roots, Banana Republic, Sunglass Hut, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, and numerous department stores… just to name a few.
- Shopping in Korea – Top shopping centers in Korea
- Namdaemun Market Seoul – One of the oldest and largest retail markets in Seoul (Not accessible by car)
- Dongdaemun Market Seoul – Currently the largest shopping market in South Korea
Shopping for electronics in Korea: The Samsung and LG superstores carry lots of cool gadgets and products. These stores will sell the major product lines that can be found worldwide in addition to numerous items that are only available in Korea. Major brand names in Korea have price tags similar to the west although the smaller less known names will have lots of devices for relatively cheap prices.
Mail in Korea
There are lots of private international mail carriers in Korea. FedEx Korea seems to have the biggest name, but prices are expensive and using FedEx to send large parcels home is not cost effective. The best way to send letters and small parcels abroad is through Express Mail Service (EMS) which is the priority courier with the Korean Post. EMS is just as fast as FedEx, tracking numbers are provided, and costs are substantially lower. All Korean Post offices will have EMS services available
Sending large boxes of items abroad is very expensive from Korea. If you don’t require specific items right away then using surface to surface mailing is the cheapest option available. Just be prepared for the wait because surface fees, although cheap, can take up to 3 months to arrive.
Churches in Korea
South Korea has lots of churches in every small, medium and large city. Churches offering services in English are also more common than you would likely expect. In order to locate Korean churches that provide English services, just hop on google.com and punch in any of the following search terms:
- English Churches In Korea
- Churches with English services in Korea
- Korea churches with English service
- English service Korea church
You will find numerous sites, blogs and forums that offer information on churches in Korea. Likewise, visiting an ESL forum and discussing options with other members usually returns lots of feedback and useful advice.
Taxes in Korea
You are legally responsible for paying taxes in Korea. Most schools will automatically deduct these taxes (3% – 5%) from your salary each month. This means you don’t have to worry about filing taxes on your own with the Korean revenue agency.