Now that Derik and I have lived here two and a half years, I feel we have a pretty good grasp on how to budget things financially, and aren’t usually surprised by unforeseen living expenses in Korea
To those considering moving to this fine country, those curious about certain info, or those already here, maybe this will be somewhat of a help to you! If these three types of people don’t apply to you, then maybe you’ll just want to read this just to know the info and surprise your friends someday. :)
Believe it or not, Korea is actually a pretty expensive place to live. That is if you’re paying for your own rent, utilities, food, transportation, technology and beyond. Some jobs provide housing, transportation, and phone services, so you’re pretty much set if you fall under this category.
It also depends where you live. In areas like Seoul, the housing situation can be quite expensive, but food is cheaper than a lot of other areas. If you’re in a rural countryside town like Mokpo, things are going to be considerably cheaper, but foreign conveniences are hard to come by. And then there’s Geoje Island.
Derik and I have had the opportunity to live in Geoje the entire time we’ve lived in Korea. Although it’s great due to the fact that we have mountains, beaches, foreign stores, and almost everyone speaks English, it’s also known as one of the most expensive places to live in Korea. Why? The foreigners. We have tons of ‘our kind’ living here because of the two gigantic shipyards: DSME (Daewoo) and Samsung. Retailers know that these gigantic shipyards bring multitudes of foreign engineers, and that means lots of money. Prices for conveniences are jacked up at least 25-70%, and we’ll pay sickening amounts for things, just because we live here.
I’m going to give you an expense breakdown of what it costs to live in Geoje Island, and if you can budget and prepare for that, anywhere else in Korea will seem like a piece of cake.
Here’s where it hurts the most. If you plan on renting your own place you’ll have to put down a hefty security deposit. I remember watching House Hunters International one time and they mentioned the deposit, and I thought they had their figures wrong, or they were buying a house not renting. Nope. You’ll have to put down $10,000+ (maybe only $5,000 if you can sweet talk your landlord into renting you a tiny, tiny little studio). Landlords invest your money, and then at the end of your contract you’ll get that $10,000 back but they get to keep the interest. If you have more money to spend you can try seeing if they’ll let you put a bigger deposit and pay less rent per month. Sometimes they go for it, sometimes not. Our current landlord was pretty firm on the $10,000 down, not letting us give any more for lower rent.
RENT (on average):
Studio/One Bedroom: $500-750 per month
Two Bedroom: $750-1200 per month
UTILITIES-water, garbage, property cleaning: $0-50 per month (yes sometimes this comes FREE with your apartment!)
GAS: Varies depending on the weather. Try to keep your floor heat off, because this eats up your gas like none other. In the winter my husband and I use a portable heater and that saves on the bill. $50-180 per month (higher amount for winter months)
ELECTRICITY: This is the one that’s crazy cheap! We pay between $3-30 a month! We aren’t super strict on turning our lights off right away either.
INTERNET/CABLE: $0-80 dollars. Sometimes you can talk your landlord into including this (our current housing plan includes free wifi/cable), and sometimes you have to pay yourself. It will also fluctuate depending on what cable package you want. $32 will give you bare minimum (maybe 4 English channels) and unlimited Wifi.
This one’s tricky. It all depends on how much you want to embrace the local food or not. Eating Korean food is not only cheap, but it’s abundant. Also the groceries to make typical Korean dishes are dirt cheap. However, if you want to remain somewhat comfortable and cook/eat how you would at home, you’ll be shelling out a lot of cash. The trick is to buy your fruits, vegetables, and rice at the outdoor farmer’s markets. You can build relationships with certain booth owners and sometimes score deals or free food.
KOREAN RESTAURANT AVG. MENU ITEM: $5-13 for a plated meal including sides.
FOREIGN RESTUARANT AVG. MENU ITEM: $15-46 for a plated meal. May or may not include sides.
CHEAP LOCAL FOOD PURCHASES: Rice, spinach, onions, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, pork, beans
EXPENSIVE IMPORTED FOOD PURCHASES: all types of cheese, red meat, real butter, all fruits and vegetables that are imported (kiwis, cherries, blueberries, avocados, melons, pomegranates, limes, etc), salsa, peanut butter
Another way to avoid cost is to buy in bulk. My husband and I make a trip up to Costco (about 45 minutes away) every three months and buy about $300 dollars worth of foreign groceries that are easily frozen or stored. If Costco isn’t very accessible to you, ordering from ezshopkorea.com would be your next best option! I only discovered them earlier this year, and I regret not ordering from them sooner! Same Costco products with a 16 dollar shipping fee throughout Korea.
Odds are if you’re going to be living in Korea for a while, you’ll want a phone. Sometimes the company you work for will provide a phone, but that’s not very likely. I’ve taught at 4 different schools, and none of them offered me a phone contract for free. We started with a prepaid phone, but realized it would be much easier to get a smartphone contract for multiple reasons (gps, internet, google translate, phone, text messaging, and email), including the fact that Derik and I were both driving our own cars and had different places of work.
PREPAID (flip-phone, basic, no internet): Buy your phone from a local store for $40-60 dollars. ‘Top-up’ cards can cost anywhere from $10+. My husband and I would go through one $20 top-up card a month. We rarely made calls. I’d imagine $20 would get you about 30 minutes to an hour of call time? We never actually knew.
PREPAID (smartphone, basic, internet): If you get an unlocked smartphone (believe it or not AT&T will unlock your old smartphones that are no longer under contract for free to use worldwide), you can begin a prepaid plan with any smartphone carrier in Korea. We chose KT and paid $45 per month for their basic plan ( 3GB data, 250minutes, 100 text messages).
CONTRACT (smartphone, 4G internet): You have to have a registration (alien) card to get a contracted phone. $0 down payment for the phone! Contract monthly cost can vary depending on if you get an newer or older smartphone: $55-98 per month. My monthly price was $89 and included (500 minutes, 250 text messages, and unlimited 4G which I could also use as a hotspot to connect any device to my phone’s internet if I wanted to).
Thankfully getting around Korea is actually pretty cheap. The only thing that’s expensive is buying gas, but if you go the public transportation route you don’t have to worry about it. Our first six months we used a crappy motorcycle that Derik bought for $80 dollars to get around. He ended up remodeling the entire motorcycle and it looked pretty sweet by the time he was done. What wasn’t sweet was driving that darn thing to class during rainy/monsoon season. Before long we knew we needed a car. That one car soon turned into two when Derik was offered a better teaching opportunity at one of the local shipyards.
BUS: Taking the bus around the island costs merely pocket change, and a dollar or two will get you around quite well. If you’re wanting to go a little further you’ll be paying a max of $32 to get all the way across the country ( 4-5 hour bus ride)
SUBWAY/METRO: Seoul and Busan boast of their subway systems, and really it’s the best way to get around those cities. A full day ticket in Busan (going anywhere and everywhere you’d like) costs $4.50, whereas Seoul will cost you anywhere from $0.50-$2.50 one way.
TAXI: I love Korean taxis. That is until the buses are sold out and you have to fork over $50+ dollars to get from Busan back to Geoje. That rarely happens, and you can expect the taxi services to be fair priced, professional, and somewhat safe ( ??? never mind the fact they watch tv while they drive, and disobey all road laws if they feel like it). The initial fee in Geoje costs $2.00 and can usually get you to where you need to go if it’s somewhat local.
CAR: Buy USED: 1,200-3,500+
Buy NEW: $20,000+ But why would you want to do that when you can find cars just as good used? Koreans are weird about used things, so you usually can find pretty cheap deals.
CAR INSURANCE (liability only where anyone can drive, not just person on the policy: $320+ per month.
NEW ACCOUNT: You’ll need 10,000 WON ($10) cash in hand to start an account. Also, you’re ‘required’ to have your alien registration card, but certain banks (NH) sometimes allow you to slip by with a passport at first, and then you can update your account when you have your alien registration card. It’s helpful if you have your address printed in Korean with you as well…as a friend or a boss to help you with translation.
HAIR CUT: $12-50+ depending on how much hair you getting hacked off and what salon you go to. Be sure to ask around before you waltz into any random salon- you may not come out with hair.
HAIR DYE: $80-170+ User discretion advised. Especially if you live in a rural city! I’ve seen so many friends come out of a salon with orange or purple hair, it’s not even funny anymore.
GEL MANICURE: $40-150+ From personal experience, be careful with getting artificial nails with your gel manicure. A single artificial nail W/O gel will cost you $10. Think about that for a second. A full artificial nail set ($100) plus a gel manicure (usually $50) = heart attack. Trust me, I found this out the hard way.
GENERAL DOCTOR’S VISIT: $10 (with insurance), $20 (without insurance)
PRESCRIPTIONS: Usually not over $20 (w/o insurance)
DENTIST VISIT (WITH CLEANING): $35-50 (w/o insurance)
WISDOM TEETH EXTRACTION: $50 per tooth (w/0 insurance), and it includes happy drugs.
LASIK: $600-800 per eye-includes consultation, surgery, and 5+ follow-up visits.
SPECIALTY DOCTOR WITH XRAYS: (aka if you think you broke something, or actually did) $80-120 (w/o insurance)
EYE EXAM (with glasses): Free eye exams! You just have to pay for the lenses and frames!
CONTACT LENS COST: Anywhere from $30 per box to $80 per box depending on what type you use. An eye exam is not needed to refill prescriptions. Just go in with an empty box, even if it’s from your home country!
I think that pretty much covers the general gist of living on Geoje Island! Remember each province may be a little different, and Geoje is a lot more expensive than most places! Use this as a general guideline and be pleasantly surprised if the area your going to is ridiculously cheaper. Better safe than sorry eh?