Seoul is Korea’s capital city, home to more than 9.8 million residents in the greater Seoul area, also called Special Area. The city is made up of 25 districts (called Gu), 11 south of the Han river and 14 above. With a lower cost of living than Japan, quick 2-4 hour flights to nearby international Asian commercial hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore, Seoul is an attractive living location for expat families and professionals.
Pros and cons of living in Seoul
- Relatively lower cost of living compared to Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo
- Clean, neat and orderly public conditions
- Well developed public transportation and infrastructure. Trains are timely and often, buses are frequent and taxis are numerous and comfortable with serving foreigners.
- World class hygienically prepared and delicious food
- High standard of education
- The world’s fastest internet
- The general public is not comfortable speaking English, though younger people are more prepared to try
- Cultural differences around banking, renting and professional working expectations can be difficult for foreigners to adjust
- Strong government regulations for foreigners, with relatively little reliable information in English
How much does it cost to live in Seoul?
Living costs in Seoul depends primarily on your living location as rent will form your largest expense.
For reference, average graduate salaries begin around $1,500 USD per month with $500 USD per month spent on rental costs and $100-200 per month on transportation.
For professionals living in more desirable areas or areas with high income families, rental costs can exceed $1000 USD per month for a simple studio in a desirable area such as Gangnam.
It is important to note that the Korean rental systems usually require a very large upfront deposit, as much as 10 to 20 times monthly rent. In return, rental prices are cheaper than abroad. It is possible to avoid paying a large deposit however it will limit your rental options and increase your monthly rental costs.
Utility bills for a single person can range from about $50-$80 USD and up to $20 a month for internet access. Mobile phone bills can be comparatively expensive at $20-$30 USD a month.
For food costs, see the section on eating in Seoul below.
Living in Seoul as a Family
For families, Seoul provides quite a few benefits. Seoul is a very safe city with reliable public transportation and high education standards. Seoul has many international schools offering the IB for your children’s education. There are also many quiet living areas (usually apartments) nearby major transportation arteries and commercial hubs. Korea has the world’s fastest internet connections so connecting with extended family abroad via Skype or Whatsapp is reliable and easy.
However, you should expect to learn some Korean in order to live comfortably in Korea. Ordinary tasks such as banking, shopping and eating out would be greatly improved if you learn a basic level of the local language.
Living in Seoul for Expats
If you are traveling in Seoul for an extended period of time as a professional expat, Seoul can be a great place to live. Rents in desirable areas are relatively cheap compared to other international cities such as Tokyo and New York. There are many nightlife options in areas such as Gangnam and Itaewon (foreigner town) and taxi transportation is not expensive. With Korea’s very fast internet connections, using Skype or Whatsapp to connect with family, friends and associates abroad is stable and easy.
It is recommended that if you plan to stay in Seoul for an extended period of time that you learn some level of Korean language in order to more comfortably order at restaurants and do your regular shopping.
How much does it cost to eat in Seoul?
Seoul offers a affordable daily eating out options, as well as specialty and fine dining. Locals tend to eat affordable $3-5 daily meals at Kimbab houses, and eating out is often cheaper than shopping and eating at home. Kimbab houses are in almost every residential area and subway station.
Western foods are generally dearer, around $6-10 for a meal, and speciality restaurants such as BBQ, pizza, etc over $10. Fine dining options are available an expect to pay at least $25 for food items. The best food options are generally in the major entertainment and dining areas of Itaewon (the foreigner district), Hongdae and Gangnam.
Where to rent an apartment in Seoul?
Knowing where to rent depends ultimately on your situation. You’ll want take note of your budget, workplace and if you have any dependents.
Where to live in Seoul as a family
Families in Seoul generally tend to live in the outer-areas of the greater Seoul region in order to get access to larger apartments are more affordable prices. These are commuter towns such as Namyangju in the north and Bundang and Bukcheon in the south and southwest.
Commute times to major areas can vary from 30 minutes to approximately over hour from these commuter areas, which can be reasonable considering that commute times can be similar even if you live within Seoul itself.
Knowing which commuter area is most suitable can depend on both your rental budget and your access to education and places of work. Consider consulting an agent to research several suitable areas.
Where to live in Seoul as an expat
If you are moving to Seoul as a professional expat you may chose to either live close to your place of work or in the heart of the entertainment areas such as Gangnam and Hongdae. Areas close to your workplace may vary in quality of apartments and convenience so it is worth consulting with a local agent to find out what is the most suitable renting neighbourhood nearby your office.
Should you choose to live in the more popular areas such as Gangnam, be prepared to pay higher rents for smaller spaces. However, this does place you conveniently around nightlife options and great restaurants.
Living in Seoul could be one of the most exciting adventures you’ll experience in this lifetime. You’ll want to be prepared before relocating to a city like Seoul. Location Korea is dedicated to bridging the gap between foreign expats living in Korea and Korean culture.
If you’d like help in getting started in finding your apartment in Korea take a look at our guide to housing in korea.