Is Living in South Korea Right for You?
Living in South Korea definitely has very many positive aspects, as well as negative aspects. But this can be said of just about any place on earth.
I have lived here for a couple months now and I am starting to get used to everything. I think my first impressions (An American in Korea – 10 First Impressions) are showing to be either true or false based on more experience living here.
But I believe that there are many factors to consider before you decide to take the leap and move to South Korea.
Currently, there are over 150,000 people from the US living in South Korea. There are many people that have lived here for 5-10 years, after moving straight from their home country.
Most people don’t make it long term here though.
This stems from one thing.
Lack of Jobs
Unless you want to be an English teacher for the rest of your life, you will have trouble finding jobs in the Korean economy. Teaching English in Korea is basically all a foreigner can really do unless they become a citizen. I know that in some cities there are jobs for foreigners at Samsung and LG. But those jobs are probably highly competitive with an edge going to Korean citizens over foreigners.
This simple factor is the reason the average foreigner from English speaking countries, most likely doesn’t stay longer than one year. I don’t know about foreigners from other countries. But Chinese foreigners are the largest population and the majority have a citizenship here.
Here are some other factors that can make or break if living in South Korea is right for you.
Are You Interested in Learning the Korean Language?
Another simple question that could make living in South Korea a little easier, and allow you to stay longer. Personally, I have been pretty lazy with trying to learn the Korean language so far, but intend to at least learn some basics. I know that if I can at least read the language and speak basic phrases, it would help me out tremendously.
You can get around fine without learning the language.
But I know that I will understand the culture better (if that is possible) and feel more comfortable here. The reason I say “if that is possible” is, because other people I have met still don’t understand a lot of the behavior here, even when they know the language reasonably well!
It just depends on you. If you just want to come party here and have no responsibilities, then that’s fine. But you probably will want to leave after a year if you don’t really invest anything into speaking the language.
What type of person are you
You are going to have to be flexible and adaptable when coming here. I would say those are the two characteristics that will allow you make living in South Korea comfortable. You aren’t going to be able to keep living the way you are now in your home country. There are way to many different aspects compared to your home country. No matter where you are from.
How have I adapted so far
I have adapted in many ways already.
Since I don’t like Korean food that much, I have been cooking a ton. Almost every meal I cook. And I am starting to actually be a good cook. I definitely think that has contributed to the weight I have lost. In the U.S there are so many food options, it’s hard to stick to cooking at home every meal.
I am currently living with my girlfriend in this little apartment. This has probably been my biggest adaptation. No privacy. I wake up in the morning and get ready while she is sleeping, and then go to school. When I come back she is there again. If you have ever lived in a very small place with someone, you know that living with someone really lets you know if the relationship is worth it. It’s easy to see your girlfriend a few days a week and have a flourishing relationship. But when you are around each other all day long, it might change your perspective of each other. You’ll either get closer, or realize you are not right for each other.
At home, I have all the privacy in the world if I want it. Going to the bathroom is as close to privacy as I get now.
I have adapted to teaching young kids five days a week. Previously, I had zero experience teaching at all. I had to learn how to keep kids who have been at school for 8 hours before my class, interested in studying English. And how to make adjustments while in class that will make the class flow more smoothly. It’s been an interesting progression.
There are many other ways I have had to adapt. You get my point though.
You are going to go through culture shock and have to adapt. Some people don’t want to adapt to this many new situations at once. And I definitely get it.
It would be a lot different if I was traveling here. But living here is a completely different experience. If you are from the U.S, it’s a complete 180. You have to know yourself to know if you would really like coming here.
Here are some pro’s and cons for you to consider before moving to Korea.
Can you stay busy here?
You’ll obviously be busy with wherever you are working. But if you just go to work and come home, you’ll probably think it’s pretty boring here. This can apply to living anywhere in the world. But especially with living in South Korea. If you are getting adjusted to the culture, it helps to have something on the side to work towards.
I am just starting to get into writing on this blog more consistently. I have another niche site that I run, where I am monetizing it a little bit through affiliates. Having a few goals with both of these sites is an excellent side project to have when I am not teaching.
It can be anything though. Do you like to workout? Do you like to do martial arts? Is music your thing?
I have found that teaching can be rewarding, but often feels not challenging at all. I already know that it isn’t something I want to do long term.
So having a side project helps me focus on something that I actually want. Building something on the side will make you feel more fulfilled then doing absolutely nothing.
If you are lucky, you will get a decent sized apartment to live in. It’s more likely that you will get an average sized Korean apartment. I would say my apartment is about 15 feet by 10 feet. And it’s probably as big as most of the apartments in Korea.
At first, I was a little disappointed. But I have gotten used to it and realized that it’s not that big of a deal.
The biggest downsides of the apartment are the shower where you hold the head, and not very much space.
The one thing that I like a lot are the gas heated floors. You can turn them on and heat up your floor in about 5 minutes.
And I really like cooking with a gas stove. It cooks food way faster than any other stoves I have had.
But I really think anyone can adjust to the small apartments. It’s just the first initial shock that can get to you when you realize you will be living in this small area for a year.
Low Taxes and Bills
I am currently taxed at a little over 1% as an English teacher. Ridiculously low. And when you look at Korean Income Tax Rates , citizens are not really taxed to much either.
So my 2,200,000 Won salary only has about 26,000 Won in income tax.
Medical and Pension
I have pension and medical as well. My medical is 67,000, and if I were to go to the hospital, I would barely have to pay anything.
I pay 8,000 won for internet.
The only variable expenses are my gas and electric bills. So I try to keep the heated floors off as much as possible. But even if I were to use them excessively, the bill would probably not get over 50,000 won a month.
Your money can go a long way here if you do it right. During the week while you are working at whatever job you have, you probably won’t spend much at all. The weekend is where you have a better chance of spending higher amounts. But this all depends on what kind of person you are.
If you like to drink then you will probably spend a lot of money on alcohol. Every bar that I have been to, the beer costs at least 5,000 won or more. If you want to spend less than that, then you will have to drink the crappy Korean beer which is usually 2-3,000 won.
There is also the possibility that you want to have access to foreign food, because you don’t really like Korean food that much. There are some Costcos all over Korea for that. I would say that I usually spend at least 200,000 Won at Costco every month since I have been here.
One of the best parts about being a foreigner, is not having to spend money on gas! I don’t miss that at all.
Getting on the subway or bus is only going to cost you up front about 1,200 Won. Another cheap expense.
Korean food is cheap for the most part. You can get a meal at a Korean restaurant that is reasonably good for 5,000 Won or less.
It just depends on what you spend your money on. But for the average person, the cost of living in South Korea will be a lot cheaper than their home country.
I have already made it pretty clear that I don’t particularly like Korean food. Everything is very similar with the paste like chili sauce thrown on top of pretty much every dish.
There are a few dishes that I will eat, but not very often.
I like Bimbimbap every once in a while. When I first got here I started eating it a couple times of week and probably overdid it. It’s vegetables and rice with the chili sauce, topped with an egg. I also have some tuna kimbap sometimes during the week while I am at work.
In my opinion, Korean food is one of my least favorite foods out of all the cuisines I have tried in different countries. Some people genuinely love Korean food. Some people seem like they convince themselves that they like it. I have heard some people say it’s an “acquired taste”. Really?
The best part about it is that if I eat some Korean food during the week, I can save a little money and eat something decently healthy.
This could be my favorite part about living in South Korea. There are mountains throughout the country. I just recently hiked Ungilsan Mountain in western Seoul, and Yongmasan Mountain as well. I plan to start hiking a new mountain pretty much every weekend.
You’ll see plenty of Koreans hiking the mountains. This is understandably one of their favorite things to do on the weekend.
It allows you to see some amazing views and is very relaxing.
Pollution is a big problem here. Everyone is wearing masks throughout the city. The air quality is at unhealthy levels a lot of the time.
It would be good to at least check where you are going to move to, to see what their air quality is like.
I live in Guri currently, and the air quality is usually on the unhealthy side. The sky never really looks blue because of the smog covering it.
Seoul is one of the best places in the world if you are looking for night life. There are two main places to go if you are looking to party all night long. Literally, all night long. The bars stay open to the early morning.
This is where Hungik University is at, which is an arts school. They have TONS of clubs, bars, and places to eat. Most of the clubs cater to Koreans, but you can find a few that cater to foreigners. I have only been to a few of the foreigner clubs, and they were all a pretty good time.
Itaewon is made for foreigners. They have pretty much any foreign food you can think of. They have bars and clubs all over the place. And they have some foreign goods that you can’t find anywhere else in Seoul.
The food can be kind of expensive. But if you want some comfort food from back home, Itaewon is where you will probably have to go. Check out this Itaewon nightlife guide for more information.
Career vs Messing Around
I already said that I will not be making teaching a long term career for myself. Do I consider it messing around here if I only plan on teaching for a year? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t.
I really do put in effort when I am teaching, because it wouldn’t be fair to the kids that are actually trying to learn English if I didn’t. But I am not extremely passionate about teaching English every day I go to work.
I teach younger kids, and a lot of times it feels like babysitting! Who knows if I would like to teach middle school or high school. But I do know the one older class at my school is one of my favorite classes. So maybe.
So in the respect of knowing that I don’t want to do this long term, it feels like messing around. But from other perspectives it doesn’t.
I am learning about a new culture I knew nothing about before I got here. I am putting myself in new situations that I have never been in before. And I have an opportunity to go see the other Asian countries around South Korea as well.
I think it’s good to get away long term from your home country too. It gives you a fresh perspective after being away for a while.
Final Thoughts on Living in South Korea
My first couple of weeks here were tough. I didn’t like the city I am in. I was learning how the school I was teaching at would work. Everything seemed dirty. And when I arrived I had no wifi in my place! I thought South Korea was the most connected place on the planet. I was ready to break my contract already.
But a lot has changed since then. I knew at the time that it would take a little while to get adjusted. I had to give it a little bit of time, so I could figure out a routine. And what I liked and didn’t like.
I know a lot more now. But still very little. But it’s getting more and more comfortable. It is why I waited for around 2 months before I wrote anything at all on live2grow. I wanted to have a better perspective, instead of writing articles talking about how bad everything is here.
South Korea is still dirty to me and the buildings look like they are from the 70’s.
But I have gotten a lot better at teaching and have started hiking a few different mountains on the weekend. One of my favorite hobbies is darts at least a couple times a week. And I have started going out a little bit with co-workers for a little weekend partying.
I don’t think living in South Korea is for everyone. I still don’t know if it is for me either. But it is definitely growing on me.
With all this being said, I think living in South Korea is a lot better than some people give it credit for!
Take into consideration the factors that I presented in this article. And you should have a pretty good idea if you would like living here.
So…is living in South Korea a good place for foreigners wanting to live short term, long term, or permanently?
Here’s the answer. It all depends on what kind of person you are and what you want out of life.
Let me know what you think below about the factors that I discussed. Is there anything you can add? What have been your experiences with living in South Korea?