Country Guides February 14, 2020

Essential Things to Know About Moving to Seoul If You’re an Expat

Blake Shaw

Bostonian and residential moving and packing expert. Blake Shaw enjoys bar-hopping, music, and writing insightful content.

Why would you be moving to Seoul, South Korea? What are your reasons for packing up your bags and embarking on an adventure halfway across the globe? Are you looking for excellent job opportunities? High quality of life? Or maybe different entertainment options in one of the most populated cities in the world, with more than 10 million inhabitants.

The capital of South Korea has it all. When you relocate there, you will be able to easily share your adventures with friends in the US because you will be living in a place with the highest global average internet speed. Don’t forget this –  when you feel nostalgic, know that your friends are just one online click away. But before you even get the chance to miss the US, let’s go over some of the things every expat should know before relocating to the South Korean capital.

Gather All Relocation-Related Documents

Packing up your things and relocating halfway across the world sounds fun, right? Well, it takes a little bit of planning to make your travel abroad go smoothly. Don’t start your adventure by stressing out about paperwork. Contact the South Korean embassy in the US and gather all the necessary information about the documents you need to obtain. A valid passport and a specific type of visa are essential documents required to enter the country and stay in it legally. Still, you might also think about getting health insurance before you go.

US passport
Without valid documents, you cannot cross the border and travel to South Korea, let alone stay in it permanently.

There Are Many Housing Options for Expats Moving to Seoul

Did you know that real estate in Korea is measured in pyeong, a traditional unit of area and floor space? While looking for a place, you will run into serviced and regular apartments, as well as multi-family houses and studio flats. With more than a few housing options, all you have to do is choose the right neighborhood for yourself.

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Pick One of the 10 Best Areas to Settle Down in the City

The capital of South Korea is a blend of different cultures, architectural styles, and people from various backgrounds. It is comprised of 25 districts known as guwhich are then divided into neighborhoods – dong. Let’s go over some of the best and most popular areas to settle down in:

  1. Yongsan gu is the most international spot and the place where you can find authentic Middle Eastern, Turkish, Mexican, and Indian food. The majority of around 260,000 expats living in the city chose to settle down in this area, which is located close to a US military base.
  2. Myeongdong is a shopping district that counts over one million visitors a day
  3. Itaewon is for those who like bar hopping and idle mornings spent in relaxed coffee houses. This is the area where you can find many expats.
  4. Dongdaemun can give Myeongdong a run for its money because it is a runner up when it comes to shopping destinations. Besides shopping malls, walking around the neighborhood can be a great way to pass some time.
  5. Gangnam (yes, just like the song) is a residential and business area by the river that has many hot spots that attract not only locals but tourists as well.
  6. Hongdae screams education. With its university-centric vibe, this is the spot for everyone who is in the pursuit of higher education.
  7. Jamsil will make every sports fan swoon. This neighborhood is home to two baseball teams and a stadium.
  8. Namdaemun is a location where you can settle down if you don’t mind big crowds and prefer traditional markets.
  9. Buam-dong will make you believe that you don’t actually live in a metropolis. Its slow-paced and relaxed vibe attracts artists and folks who love to take their time and not rush through the day.
  10. Samcheong-dong is for those who would love to live in a traditional Korean environment. You can choose to live in hanok classical houses and learn about the culture along the way.
stores in a small street
Wherever you choose to settle down, you will have a unique experience.

It’s the Home of Many Successful Companies

Seoul is a global business and financial hub, so it’s not surprising to find the headquarters of some of the biggest international and national companies here. Relocating to the home and birthplace of Samsung and Hyundai Motor Company is a smart move if you are looking for great job opportunities.

Did you know that soju is the most sold alcoholic drink in the world? Jinro, the company that makes it, is located right here.

With 15 companies on the Fortune 500 list, there is no doubt that career chasers will find suitable work options.

South Korea Has the 4th Largest Economy in Asia

The 12th largest economy in the world is dominated by family-owned businesses that are called chaebols. South Korea has one of the fastest-growing world economies, and it is partially based on shipbuilding, with a 50.6% share of the global shipbuilding market. Other developed industries that make big money are construction, electronics, mining, and tourism. These sectors are creating jobs not only for locals but for expats as well.

Expats Are in Demand for Some Jobs More Than Others

All native English speakers can land a teaching job without a fuss. However, if you are seeking work in some other industry, know that biotechnology and software industries are always on the lookout for educated and highly-skilled professionals. Highly qualified workers are also demanded in automobile manufacturing and electronics.

aerial view of Seoul
Did you know that Seoul, home of as much as 50% of the Korean population, generated 23% of the country’s GDP in 2012?

Speaking Korean Will Get You Pretty Far

Be prepared to be misunderstood or not understood at all. People mostly speak their native language, so it’s easy to get “lost in translation.”. To avoid being in a metropolis where you have nobody to talk to, try learning a few useful phrases in Korean even before you relocate. Afterward, you can enroll in some classes and master the language over time. Speaking Korean will help you not only fit in but climb that career ladder faster and higher.

Korean People (Don’t) Speak English

No matter how many people actually live in the city, you are rarely going to bump into a person you can have a fluent chat in English with. Even though the English language is mandatory in schools in South Korea, there is a small number of people that can actually speak it. It is something you will have to get used to when you are living here. When you try to talk to somebody, it will help to use simple sentences and talk slowly. Hey, you might even try speaking Korean!

Korean language
Speaking the language will open many doors for you.

Be Prepared to Embrace the Public Transportation System

Busses, trains, taxis, and the subway are all at your disposal after you relocate. For example, you can easily reach any place you wish by using a highly developed bus network consisting of the Rapid Bus, trunk buses, and the Circulation Buses. Also, if you like to be outside, cycling is an option. You can bring your bike with you or leave it in storage and use Ttareungyi, a bike-sharing system.

Are you considering shipping your car to the new location? Driving around the streets of Seoul might seem hectic for newcomers, but when you get used to it, it’s not all too bad. You don’t have to be behind the wheel every day, but having a car just in case there is an emergency might be a reasonable thing.

Seoul street at night
Driving can be tricky if you’re a newcomer

There Are so Many Things to Do That You Will Never Get Bored

This is a city of many possibilities and entertainment options. When you settle in and rest for a bit, you can find new and exciting activities to take part in. From sports matches to care-free window shopping, the only thing that is standing between you and entertainment is free time.

Don’t Miss out on Christmas Celebrations

The holiday season can be fun even if you are abroad, half a world away from friends and family. The city organizes more than a few celebratory events every year. From Christmas Bazaar to Christmas Fair, cheerful people will be amazed by the number of lights and decorations around town.

Singing Karaoke Is a Must

What is your go-to karaoke song? Do you have one at all? If not, you should find one and find it fast. You are not going to have an authentical night out in Seoul if you don’t end up drunk in a karaoke bar singing your heart out.

Dining out Is a Unique Experience

Remember, food plays a big part in the local culture. You’ve heard about Korean BBQ – you can get it in the US, as well – but having it here will be a completely new experience. When your international movers deliver your belongings to your new home and you finally unbox everything, you can go out and try rice cakes in sauce (tteokbokki), blood sausage stuffed with noodles (sundae), or pigs’ trotters (jokbal). Every adventurous eater will have fun here, exploring spicy and new dishes.

Sports Are a Big Deal

The city is a major sports center for the whole country, but baseball is by far the most popular among Koreans. Check out a game or two and see if you will become a fan of one of the three local professional teams.

food market
There are so many things to do when you travel abroad.

Shopping Is a Big Deal, and It Is Cheap

Do you want to buy new shoes? Maybe some trendy accessories? Whatever you need, from street fashion to designer clothes, there is most definitely a shop for it. Start by checking out places like Myeongdong, Namdaemun Market, or Dongdaemun. Once you’ve spent enough time here, you will know just which locations have the cheapest goods.

people shopping
When living here, there is a chance that shopping will become your favorite pastime

When in Seoul, Do as Locals Do

You know the saying – When in Rome, do as the Romans do? Well, this can pretty much be said for every country you travel or relocate to. If you want to fit in, do as locals do. Get to know all the hidden spots in the town, learn about culture and traditions, and soon enough, you will stop feeling like an outsider. There is no better thing than feeling like you belong in a place you call home.

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