Editor’s Note: Ten years ago, I made a decision which many might have called foolish. I packed my bags, quit my job, and moved halfway around the world to teach English in South Korea.
I’d never been on a plane before. I’d never even gone on a trip on my own before. I was terrified, but damned if it wasn’t one of the best decisions I ever made.
A Change of Pace
Living on the west coast in the U.S. is great, especially for myself and others who enjoy the sun, the surf and great people to socialize with. Two years ago, however, I started a bucket list of sorts and began thinking about a change of pace and I began to consider countries around the world to see if a new country would interest me enough to take a leap of faith and pack up and move away from the U.S.
South Korea was a country that seemed to really reach out to me. I watched countless videos of things to do in the country, checked housing prices, and checked the cost of living to see if I could afford to relocate. I even studied Hangeul, the written language of South Korea and I learned to speak Korean by checking out language sites online as well as reading Korean language books.
It took a little over a year to ready myself, but at the end of 2014, I finally hopped on a plane and flew over to check things out in person. I fell in love instantly and made my permanent move in early 2015. This has, thus far, been the best decision I have ever made when it comes to a relocation.
Incheon Airport is one of the better airports in Asia. The free WiFi is stellar.
Leaving Incheon Airport and Getting Around
When you exit the plane in South Korea, the atmosphere is such a busy environment with people moving quickly in and out of the airport. I’m an extrovert, so the hustle and bustle were a welcome site. Hailing a cab was quite different than I was used to in the U.S.
Thankfully, I was in Seoul and Uber, who had once been shut down in South Korea, was up and running and readily available to get me to my hotel. It was cheaper to use Uber than to hail a regular cab, but since then I have found that I like taking cabs every so often because the conversations I have with the drivers can be interesting.
I do prefer to drive my own car when I’m travelling long distances, but getting around the city is quick and easy with a cab or even walking or riding a bicycle. Once I made the big move, I had my car shipped over with my household goods and other personal stuff.
Editor’s Note: Oh man, I remember how I felt when I first stepped out those sliding doors and into the frosty air of late November South Korea. I think that’s what the gravity of my decision really started to dawn on me. It wasn’t even 6am and I was beginning to realize just how ill-prepared I was for the trip.
Cost of Living in South Korea
You may hear quite a few people talk about the cost of living in South Korea being a little high. Depending on where you are relocating from as an expat, yes, the cost can be high but try not to let that deter you.
Coming from the west coast of the U.S., I found that the cost for my apartment in Seoul (which includes all furnishings, a fitness room and a swimming pool) is a little less expensive than I paid in the U.S. for a smaller apartment with no amenities at all. I love my Seoul apartment and it’s located in the middle of downtown where I am within walking distance to food, nightclubs, shopping and plenty of fun.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget the magic that is high-speed Korean internet and sweet, sweet under floor heating from the ondol.
Most Koreans live in towering apartment buildings like this one.
Things to do in South Korea as an expat
The best thing about Seoul, in my opinion, has got to be the people living here. There is such a great diversity in the population and no matter where you are from globally, you are bound to find many people to communicate with and meet for coffee, dinner or other social interaction. One of my new
One of my new favourite things to do in South Korea is noraebang (karaoke). It seems that no matter where you go at night, there is always somewhere to sit back and watch others sing along to some great 80s, 90s, and 00s music. No, I personally don’t sing, but I do enjoy watching others do it.
I also enjoy shopping at the Myeongdong Shopping Street. It is so busy all the time and you can find many unique items for your home or to ship home to friends or family. I’ve noticed that women love this area because there are quite a few cosmetics vendors that are lined up between the food vendors and other vendors.
Koreans love to shop, and you’ll find countless bustling shopping streets across the country.
One thing about shopping in any of the local markets is to make sure you can haggle about prices because when the vendors know you are a tourist, you can expect to be offered a higher price. Once I was here for a while, I believe some of the vendors realised I was here to stay and the prices seemed to drop a little.
There are also beautiful parks where you can enjoy walking or jogging or just sitting and looking at the natural scenery around you. It truly is beautiful. Seoul Tower, a very tall tower over the city, is a site you must check out whether you are visiting or living in Seoul. The tower allows you to have the best views of the city, and if you have a chance to go up at night, the city lights twinkling below are truly
Seoul Tower, a very tall tower over the city, is a site you must check out whether you are visiting or living in Seoul. The tower allows you to have the best views of the city, and if you have a chance to go up at night, the city lights twinkling below are truly mesmerising. Back in Santa Cruz, California, there are many things to do, but living in Seoul has given me a chance to really see what South Korea offers and to live my life as fully as possible.
Editor’s Note: Seoul Tower is certainly one of the cooler spots in the city. I’m also a big fan of the various temples and palaces that dot the city.
Everland is South Korea’s largest theme park. You can read more about Everland here.
Editor’s Note: Pictured above is Everland, South Korea’s largest theme park. I’ve visited the park a few times, so why not check out my Everland review?
Things to know before moving to South Korea
When I decided to move to South Korea, I found that there were many things I was not informed about. I wanted to share a little insight to help you along the way if you believe that this may be the destination for you.
The first thing, and a rather odd one to me but probably important to most expats is this: Deodorant. Deodorant is not sold in many of the local shops. You will either want to bring plenty along with you or start searching local shops to see where it is sold. It took me a week but I found it in the marketplace at a cosmetics vendor! Koreans are lucky with the fact that they just do not need deodorant because unlike us Americans, they do not sweat, or smell as we do.
When you are trying to find a home in South Korea, be sure to check with a real estate company. Realtors cannot charge excessive fees and if you are looking in nicer areas of the city, the property owner is the one who pays the realtor fees instead of you. It took a week of me staying in a hotel in Seoul for the realtor to show me the apartment that I knew I wanted. There are quite a few apartment buildings in the city and yes, the rates can be a little hefty but with the amenities offered, including Wi-Fi in many, the investment is well worth it if you can afford the cost. Less expensive apartments, and even
It took a week of me staying in a hotel in Seoul for the realtor to show me the apartment that I knew I wanted. There are quite a few apartment buildings in the city and yes, the rates can be a little hefty but with the amenities offered, including Wi-Fi in many, the investment is well worth it if you can afford the cost. Less expensive apartments, and even
Less expensive apartments, and even houses can be found in the rural areas outside of the city. I personally have plans to find a house out of the city in the coming year, but as of now, I am happy with the apartment because I can swim at any time, work out and work via my computer with the Wi-Fi in the building.
You will need to obtain a South Korean visa before you move to South Korea. If you plan to work for a local business you also need to have a work visa and it must be applied for separately than the residential visa. If you work online for yourself, you will not need a work visa.
You also must have at least six months on your passport when you get to South Korea or you will not be allowed to enter. This is a simple thing to take care of before you leave the U.S.
If you plan to drive, you need to have an international driver’s license issued by the country you are moving from. If you don’t already have a license to drive, you are going to have to apply for a Korean driver’s license if you plan to legally drive a personal car when you arrive.
The hustle and bustle of downtown Seoul.
Enjoy South Korean Life
When you arrive, whether you are staying in a hotel or have found an apartment or house to move into directly, take some time to really unwind and enjoy your new life in South Korea. People here are open and friendly once you get to know them.
It is very important to be able to communicate if you want a social life or want to find your way around easily. The streets are usually busy with people driving or cycling, and being able to tell a cab driver where you need to go will be important. Take some time to learn to speak Korean even if you only learn to ask for directions or to use when shopping. Find a good Korean language book to help translate what you may need to say in various situations.
When you begin to explore the local area, you will quickly find which locations you like the most and where you prefer to shop, dine out, or buy your groceries and other household items. The crime rate is extremely low, so no matter where you go, you can feel safe and easily at home in Seoul or any other city in the country. In just a little over a year in the country, it is great to know that my bucket list dream of moving from my home in Santa Cruz has meant that Seoul has now become a part of my own soul that I hope to cherish for years to come.