Living in South Korea
Are you looking to teach English or study abroad? If so, moving to Korea may be the perfect place for you to consider living! It also makes for the perfect home-base to explore Asia.
South Korea is an incredible country to visit and live in. It is safe and has a vibrant culture. After having lived there for a year, we developed close friendships that we will treasure for life. Living in Korea may not be for everyone, but it certainly is if you move to the right town or city for you and make an effort to learn basic Korean.
When we first arrived in Geumchon, we had a quaint apartment overlooking a communal garden. It looked heavenly. But we soon discovered the area was not very friendly ( in general) and had barbed wire everywhere, which is not the best thing to have around if you have a toddler. The area also had mostly fried chicken restaurants ( I mean, 8 out of 10) so for our vegetarian selves it was best that we moved to a different part of the city, which we did; coincidentally our apartment was going to be occupied by the landlord’s son. Our new apartment and neighborhood was incredibly friendly and welcoming. We were ‘adopted’ by a Korean family who owned the local coffee shop. Leaving them was very hard for us, as was leaving all of our friends.
Daily Life In South Korea
Koreans are very hardworking and devoted people. Many of their friendships are at work, as they spend so many hours there. Children go to two schools, public or private school during the day and then an after school called hogwan.
Businessmen and women frequently go out to eat with colleagues, and can end up drinking quite a bit of soju; you can’t stop drinking it until the boss has finished. Families go out to eat often as well and although the food stands are not like ones say in Bangkok, they are a popular option for a quick bite to eat!
Work in South Korea
If you are considering working in Korea, a popular option is to teach English as a second language. One does not need to have any teaching experience to do this ( which is both a good and bad thing) but a BA in any subject is required and one has to be born in an English speaking country. Most of the teachers we knew in Paju were single and right out of university. We were the only foreign family in Geumchon, but we knew two couples who came to teach, as well as some professors with PhDs from reputable universities in the US and UK. Most of the teachers we knew were Canadian, British, and American.
While most signs are in English and many Koreans speak it, you may want to learn Korean, especially if you’re in a rural location. According to my husband and other friends that can read some hangul, it’s actually quite easy to learn. However, speaking Korean can be a challenge.
There are numerous apps and websites ( like Rosetta Stone) that can help you learn basic phrases and words, and you can also find Korean language programs for foreigners all throughout the country. You may also consider hiring a private teacher to help you learn conversational Korean, especially if you’re going to be teaching ESL and want to learn some phrases you can use with your colleagues and students.
Teaching English in Korea
If you are considering teaching English in Korea, know that you have options. Teachers are recruited through online recruiters , and teaching jobs can pay anywhere between 1.8 million won and 2.5 million. If you have experience, you can get upwards of 3 mill ( if you work at a university). TEFL certification is not required but will get you a better salary, as would say an MA or PhD.
Rent is typically free for teachers. The problem is that most schools do not offer 2 or 3 bedroom apartments, making it near impossible for a family. Our recruiter only found one school at the time that had a 3 bedroom, and since then we haven’t seen any schools offering similar housing. Mostly studios and one bedrooms are offered. Because of this, teachers who have families don’t apply as often as singles or couples.
My husband put up his profile on hiteacher.com and got employment through worknplay We loved the recruiter, and the public school from the GEPIK program was welcoming. What you have to make sure of is that you get a good school and don’t get overworked. We have met people who had horror stories, at both hogwans and public schools alike. Some had horrible experiences with teachers, others with students. You have to be very picky with which school you sign with. If you can, go beforehand and visit the school, or get all your paperwork ready, come to Korea and find a school, then they will send you on a visa run to Japan to get your visa. That way, you know what you are getting. Living in Korea is a better experience for those who have done their research and know what they want. There is high turn over rate of teachers- people going home early or after one year instead of staying on. This would be prevented if people learned about their school beforehand ( about what the pupils are like, the teachers, work hours, etc). This constant need to find teachers, to fill the spots of ones who have left, causes schools to scramble and you can see recruiters constantly posting ‘TEACHER NEEDED ASAP on hiteacher.com Sometimes its the teachers fault ( don’t get me started on the guy my husband worked with- let’s just say you would never want him near your daughters…ever) and sometimes it’s the schools, or just the situation did not work out. But again the more you know your school and area, the more you know if it will suit you.
Studying In South Korea
Another option to consider is to study in Korea. There are numerous Universities that offer programs and classes in English, particularly in larger cities ( like Seoul and Busan). You can also find schools that teach Korean, which would be an amazing experience!
To find out what programs may be of interest to you, head on over to the Korean government’s website for prospective students to learn about what’s available, plus how to apply.
Cost of Living in Korea
The cost of living in Korea is very affordable. Rent outside of Seoul is between 200 and 600 USD and within Seoul can go up to 2000USD or more. Schools however provide housing for teachers, most of the time. If not they give you a stipend for housing.
To eat out at a Korean restaurant, one can have a nice meal for 10,000 won (ten USD) or less. Coffee shops have become a popular fix in Korea, and places like Ediya and Ti-amo sell coffee and tea of all sorts for a few dollars ( up to 2,800 won). Clothing in Korea is very affordable and fashionable. Most of our daughter’s clothes are from Geumchona and Ilsan and were between 10 and 20 dollars. Korea has fantastic suits as well. Suits at one store in Geumchon costs about 200 dollars, for silk or linen. They were fitted and looked amazing.
Internet is high speed ( the fastestI have ever had). It cost around 30 dollars per month. The mail arrived quickly and wasn’t expensive to send things overseas, depending on the size.
Pet relocation and shipping
We had our pets brought over by a professional pet relocation specialist. We used Chung Wha animal hospital, who spoke English and were located in Seoul. You can easily bring your pets over yourself if you have the correct paperwork and vaccines, and it costs only a few hundred dollars.
Finding Foreign Goods/food/books
What The Book is an excellent English bookstore in Seoul, and that ships all throughout South Korea. You can shop online and expect books to arrive within a few weeks, if they’re not already in stock. For finding food items you miss from home, try your local supermarket; most have some essentials for foreigners, like pasta. For gourmet must haves, the store in Hyatt Seoul has specialty cheeses, wine, and truffle oil. When I went, I was told they do ship throughout Korea.
E Mart, a supermarket chain, has the most imported food items, and they can be found throughout the country.
If you are looking for hard to find supplements, yerba mate, vegetarian foods or special items, organic babyfood and diapers, iherb.com is a life saver. It has multiple inexpensive and quick shipping options ( we got most of our stuff withing 4 days!!)
South Korea has a lot of well being foods in general, as the fast food culture has taken a toll on health, and people are trying to go back to the more traditional diet. Nonetheless, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you will have a very hard time eating out. If you eat fish, it is easier. But almost every dish has meat in it, even vegetable dishes. Seoul and big cities or temple areas have wonderful vegetarian cuisine, if you live nearby. A suggestion for vegetarians is to let your school know about your dietary concerns and ask for recommendations for nearby restaurants and store that can help you. We found one excellent vegetarian restaurant near us after someone helped us.
Living in Korea is what you make of it. If you do your research and try to make friends, you will have a wonderful time. Korea is close to Japan and about 6 hours from Phuket, so you will have a great opportunity to discover Asia.
For more of our family travel and relocation guides, check out Living in Phuket .