The Beginner’s Guide to Housing in Korea

Finding the right housing in Korea could be such a hassle, especially if Korean isn’t your first language. The good news is that the process doesn’t have to be that difficult. Whether it’s your first time scouting for a new place or you’re already a long term resident in need of a refresher, this guide will help you with everything you need to know about Korean housing.

Introduction to Korean Housing

To get started, it’s important that you learn all about the basics, such as how the rent system works in Korea. It’ll also be good to know all the different types of housing you can rent in Korea. Picking up some Korean real estate vocabulary could also go a long way in helping you find the apartment most suitable for your needs.

A step-by-step guide will also be included so that you’ll be able to find the perfect accommodation for you in Korea.

real estate korea

Which city should you live in?

Do you know which city you’ll be living in? If you’re affiliated with a company, business, organization, or school, you’ll most likely be assigned to a specific city. If you have a choice and don’t know where to go, this brief information about each city can help you decide.

Korea boasts of seven metropolitan cities, each unique and with special features which that set them apart from each other.

Seoul

Seoul is the capital city and the largest metropolis. It is located northwest of Korea and has a population of more than 10 million. It ranked second among Asia’s most livable cities with high quality of life. It is also the world’s fifth largest metropolitan economy next to Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Delhi.

Home to K-pop, K-drama and a multitude of booming tech industries such as Samsung, Seoul has much to offer.

If you want to live where the action is, Seoul is the place to be. This city has the best of everything, from jobs to opportunities, schools, shopping, and entertainment. There’s a long list of places to see in Seoul but some of the best ones include Gyeongbukgong Palace, Namdaemun Market, Bukchon Hanok Village, Bukhansan National Park, and The Korea Furniture Museum.

The 10 million mentioned before is just the population of residents inside the city. If you include the neighboring areas just outside the city, that number will rise up to more than 22 million people or almost half of Korea’s population. Due to its sheer number of residents, Seoul’s lifestyle is busy and fast-paced.

seoul city view

Busan

Busan or Pusan is the second largest city and it is located on the southeastern coast of Korea. It’s has a population of more than 3.6 million people. Busan is also the home of one of the world’s largest harbors, Busan Port.

When you want to enjoy the city lifestyle but at a less frantic pace, Busan could be the place for you. It has a lot of scenic views, perfect for the weekend getaway.

When you live in Busan, you have easy access to Haeundae Beach, Gwangan Beach, Yongdu-San Park, Gukje Market, and more.

busan city view

Incheon

Incheon is the third largest city according to population size. World population review lists Incheon’s population at 2,628,000. This city is set on the northwestern edge and is the home of Incheon International Airport.

How does living in Incheon differ from the lifestyle of other cities? It is not Seoul which makes it less busy, less frantic, yet its proximity to Seoul gives you the opportunity to enjoy the best of what Seoul has to offer and then come home to a more relaxed lifestyle.

Incheon has a rich history and plenty of beaches. You can enjoy the coastline at Muuidi Island, Ganghwa Island, and Wolmido Island. There are many parks and sights to visit, but the most recognizable symbol of Incheon is the Incheon International Airport – a consistent top ranking airport among the best airports in the world.

Daegu

Daegu is the fourth largest city in Korea, but it is the third largest metropolitan city. It is also well-known for being the hottest city, hence it is often referred to as “Daefrica”. Daegu’s population is currently more than 2.5 million.

This city is surrounded by mountains, so there are plenty of activities to do. It also has a lantern festival which is a cool thing to join. Daegu is also well-known for its apples, textiles, and exceptional food service.

daegu river

Daejeon

Daejeon is the fifth largest city with a population of 1.4 million people. It is considered to be the science/technological hub of Korea because it is where KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) is located.

Daejeon is located a little closer to the center of Korea which makes traveling easy and convenient. From this city, all other major cities are just two hours away. If you want the convenience of city living but without the “hurry, hurry” attitude Seoul residents always experience, Daejeon is a great city to consider residing in.

daejeon city buildings

Gwangju

Gwangju is Korea’s sixth largest city. It is located on the southwest part of the country, about three hours away from Seoul.

It has something for everyone, and it is one of the friendliest expat communities. This city has a national park and many hiking trails. There are plenty of great places to visit like
Mudeung Mountain, Chosun University campus, Yangong market, Asia Culture Complex, Daeing Night Art market, Sajik Park Observatory, and more.

gwangju city river

Ulsan

The seventh metropolitan city is Ulsan. Among all seven metropolitan cities, Ulsan has the smallest population which is less than a million people.

Ulsan is located in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. It is known for its sandy beaches and for being the home of the world’s largest automobile manufacturing plant. Recently, it is also becoming popular for whale watching.

ulsan beach

Are you looking to work in Korea?

Most foreigners who come to Korea already have a job set up for them. If you come to Korea as a tourist with the intent to find a job, you’ll find that difficult. It is illegal to work in Korea without a working visa, so if you’re really interested to work, you need to go back to your country and get your papers ready.

There are many jobs for foreigners available in Korea. Teaching English is one of the most popular ( and easiest) jobs you can do.

Korea’s high education standard and rigid employment exams mean students need to be fully prepared every step of the way. After school, students attend hagwons (private academies) or after-school academies (also known as cram school) where they learn supplementary lessons in English, Math, Science, and any other subject the hagwon caters to.

Teaching English in hagwons (after-school academies) offer amazing benefits including free housing. If you are hired as an English teacher, you don’t have to worry about accommodation anymore. And if you’ve done an excellent job during your contract, you might even get a free plane ticket home.

If you plan to teach English, make sure that you’re a native English speaker from one of the seven designated English speaking countries and that you’ve finished your undergraduate degree. It would also be great if you have some masteral units in TESOL or English or even a TEFL certification.

If you don’t want to teach, there are also plenty of non-teaching work available. There are many industries in Korea that look for foreign workers. It would be great if you can speak and understand Hangeul (the Korean language) a little so it would be easier to make connections.

It doesn’t matter what kind of job you do. You need a working Visa in Korea. This document is important when you secure your Alien Registration Card (ARC). This card will let you do all the important things like buying a cell phone, get paid in your Korean bank account, and more. Even Koreans get their own number to register for everything.

teaching english in korea

Should you use a Realtor in South Korea?

While it’s very much possible to go house hunting on your own, it could be very risky. The main reason being that the process will be a lot more complicated when done alone.

It would be best to work with a reputable Realtor who has had experience dealing with English speaking clients. They will also be able to filter the type of housing you seek based on your specifications.

Another service realtors can offer you would be insurance and safety. As you’ll be learning more about how the rent system works in South Korea, it’s possible that you may be putting down a large key deposit.

Realtors will insure that your landlord doesn’t go running away with your money. While most landlords in Korea are very pleasant, it only takes one crook to ruin everything. You do not want to be a victim.

korean realtor

The Rent System in Korea

Before you go looking for a place to rent, there are a few things you’ll have to learn and understand about the Korean real estate system.

The system itself is unique and complicated. Due to its uniqueness and the additional problem of a language barrier, you may feel confused and intimidated. If you don’t speak the language, trying to find a place of your own will be very difficult.

Many residents in Seoul live in high-rise buildings, except those that are in the countryside where you can find traditional style homes. You’ll need to check your budget because even living in these small apartments could be very costly. Typically, you’ll need to pay a key deposit equal to two months worth of rent just to get started.

To get a better idea of how to rent an apartment or any kind of house, we’ll go through some of the important terminologies beforehand.

Jeonse (전세)

If you have a lot of money lying around and don’t like paying rent, then here’s an interesting concept.

The Jeonse system is a unique real estate term in South Korea. It is a way of leasing an apartment. It requires you to pay the landlord a huge amount of deposit or “key money” which usually amounts to 50% to 80% of the property’s current market value, however, you don’t need to pay any rent for the next two years.

The landlord invests the “key money” and keeps all the interest on the deposit.

Rental contracts in Korea usually last for two years. Once the two-year lease period is over, you get a full reimbursement of the key money.

If you’ve been taking good care of the house and no repairs are needed, you get everything you’ve paid. Any property damage will, of course, be taken out of the “key money”.

This system is very popular among Koreans. It is for those who prefer to save money by not any spending money on housing. The landlords can also benefit by investing that lump sum on other property or other investment opportunities.

Despite the fact that this system looks great on paper, Jeonse is slowly declining in South Korea with more renters shifting to the Wolse system.

Wolse (월세)

This is the system you are most likely familiar with. It’s one of the most common systems in the world.

It requires you to pay a two months advance deposit and a monthly rent. The Wolse system doesn’t require the tenant to pay a large key deposit, but in turn would need to pay a monthly rent.

This system is becoming more favored by Landlords as it allows them to have a steady income. The large shift from away from Jeonse is also making this system much more competitive.

Most expats who come to Korea would usually come under this type of contract. It’s the most common and also the most well known. More Korean Landlords are also shifting towards the Wolse system as the decline on Jeonse rises.

There’s always room for negotiation in Korea. If you have a large deposit of money, you can negotiate to lower the monthly rent.

Half-Jeonse (반전세)

The Half Jeonse system is another interesting concept that only Koreans would really know. It is a combination of the Jeonse and Wolse system.

The idea for Half Jeonse is that the tenant can negotiate with their Landlord to put down a larger key deposit down. Therefore, reducing the overall monthly rent.

The Half Jeonse system, along with Wolse, is becoming a popular option as the shift away from Jeonse trend increases. The great thing about many Korean landlords is that they’re usually open to negotiation. It would be best to bring someone reliable, such as a Realtor, who can speak Korean and help negotiate with you.

rent system in korea

Types of Houses in South Korea

Korea offers a wide range of different kinds of options for housing. This is very much dependent on your budget and length of stay. From luxurious houses to affordable studio apartments, Korea has plenty of alternatives which can best suit your taste. The following are the types of housing available for rent in Korea.

House (주택)

While it is uncommon to rent a house in South Korea, it is still very possible. They are much easier to find in the countryside, but are quite rare when it comes to a big city like Seoul.

Some of the few regions in Seoul which have houses for single families are Hannam-dong, Seongbuk-dong or Pyeongchang-dong.

Pyeongchang-dong is sometimes known as the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Seoul. You could even live right next to your favorite Korean celebrity if you can afford it. UN Village in Hannam-dong also houses many of Korea’s top 1%. From business executive elites to high-ranking diplomats, you’ll be able to find some of the most luxurious houses in this area.

Renting a house in Seoul is the most expensive option out there due to the limited real estate of the metropolis city. A house in South Korea can usually accommodate a single family, but there are even some houses which can be shared between separate families. This type of housing is similar to a Duplex or Semi-detached house found in the west.

korean house inside view

Apartments (아파트)

The word Apartment in Korean has a different meaning when compared to how it may be used in other countries, it connotates a more luxurious nuance. Korean Apartments are described to be high-rise buildings that are normally built by large corporations such as Hyundai or Lotte. 

The apartment is one of the most spacious among the different types of accommodations for rent, which is a luxury in Seoul. The average apartment size is 31.8 pyeong which is approximately 104.9 square meter (a pyeong measures about 3.4 sqm). It features two to three bedrooms with one bathroom. Some apartments come with furnishing. Expect those to be more expensive.

Most apartment buildings are new, although you’ll still find some fairly old buildings. Each building has ten or more stories high. You’ll usually find apartment buildings grouped together, forming a neighborhood. In most cases, there’s a nearby park and a sporting facility inside the complex or close by.

In Korea, Apartments may be too expensive for a single person to live in. Some of the high-end options in Seoul may just be as expensive as renting a house in your home country. Some down payments could go up to 100 million won (around 100,000 USD) with a 10 million won (10,000 USD) monthly rent.

Consider an apartment if you are moving in with your family or if you want a bigger living space with modern amenities. If you’ve got cash to burn or a company to sponsor you, then this option would be perfect.

In Seoul, a one-bedroom apartment can cost from $400 – $1,200. Outside Seoul, the price range could be from $300 -$600. A three-bedroom apartment in Seoul can set you back from $900 to more than $5,000 each month.

korean apartment inside view

Officetels (오피스텔)

The Officetel is the smaller version of the apartment. If you are looking for a place where you want to feel secure, consider an officetel.

Most officetels are usually around ten stories high and are quite newly built. They are also located around subway stations across Seoul or other large cities.

As you can probably tell, an officetel is a combination of the words ‘office’ and ‘hotel’. These units are usually located in modern buildings with commercial establishments on the lower floors. Most of them can be rented semi-furnished, with refrigerators and an air conditioner.

The advantage of living in an officetel revolves around its convenience. These buildings are commonly located near a local transportation hub. Other amenities include cafes, stores, spas and gyms within the same building or nearby.

Officetels can also be registered as a place of business. This allows you to legally register your own house as your very own office. You may even have clients coming in and out of your house/office.

For officetels, the price ranges from $450 – $900, with more or less $4,500 as seed money.

officetel inside view

Villas (빌라)

If you’re wondering why the villa wasn’t placed at the top when it is the largest in size, that’s because Villas in Korea are not the one you’re probably imagining.

Korea’s version of the villa is more of a condo type home. A villa provides you enough space for your daily requirements, but it’s definitely smaller than an apartment.

Villas usually located in four to five level apartments and don’t have elevators. Unlike apartments and officetels, the buildings that house villas are older, and they have more character. This type of housing is very common among friends who decide to live together.

Villas are very versatile in regards to their quality. There are many different options available as to what kind of unit you could get. 

Villas come furnished so expect an open floor plan with a living room and small kitchen along with a sink and a burner. There are also several built-in cabinets for storage. In most cases, there is no paid maintenance or security.

Another interesting fact to keep in mind is that the bathroom in Villas usually lack a separate shower stall. This means that you’ll be showering in the same place where do all your other bathroom activities.

Villas cost start from $2,000 all the way up to $5,000.

korean villa inside view

One Rooms (원룸)

If you only need a space to sleep and to put your things in because you don’t intend to spend a lot of time indoors, you may want to consider a one-room building. Think of a small studio size – that’s the one-room home type in Korea.

These studios are small, giving you just enough space for a tiny kitchen and bed. They are usually located near offices and universities, making them a popular choice among students and workers.

oneroom inside view

Goshiwon (고시원)

The smallest space available for rent in Korea is a Goshiwon, a tiny, one-room accommodation with space just enough for a bed and a desk. Goshiwons are even smaller than a one-room and have no windows. It is literally the size of a closet.

These rooms could be found all over densely populated areas in Seoul such as Gangnam or Hongdae. It is common to find many university students or expats living in Goshiwons.

This rental place is popular among university students because it is the cheapest among all the rental options. In a goshiwon, kitchens and bathrooms are shared. They may also include free noodles, kimchi and rice.

Goshiwon rentals cost from almost 100,000 KRW to 500,000 KRW, which is about $89 to $450.

goshiwon inside view

Cheap Housing Alternatives for Students

If you’re a student trying to find a cheaper alternative or a backpacker on a budget, then don’t worry, we got you.

Even a place such as Seoul could be very affordable if you know exactly where to look. However, you’ll be trading comfortability and privacy for such options.

If that doesn’t bother you, then continue reading to find out other housing alternatives in South Korea.

Dormitory (기숙사)

If you happen to be a student at a University, it’s possible to apply and for a dorm room. This could be a great alternative if you enjoy living in campus with other fellow students.

One of the biggest problems with Dormitories are that its usually highly competitive to get a spot. You’ll also need to bunk with someone you don’t know, which could be positive or negative.

Students may also have access to the University cafeteria. These cafeterias are usually cheaper alternatives than going to a restaurant.

Some of the best benefits of living in a dorm would be that you’ll never have to really leave campus for anything. That is unless you’re going out to meet friends and have a good time.

dormitory inside view

Homestay (하숙집)

Ah yes, the homestay option. Korea has many local residents willing to house expats or students for a small price.

This could be one of the most cost efficient alternatives out there. You’ll be able to live with a Korean family and occupy one of their rooms. You can eat, sleep and talk to your homestay hosts as if they’re family.

Some, if not most families will cook three meals a day for you. That’s a hearty Korean home cooked meal to go along with your cozy stay.

This is a great option for those who want to live cheap while also having people around to practice Korean with.

korean homestay inside view

Share House or Flatshare

So what if you want to live in a nice and comfortable apartment? What if don’t have the money for it?

Well, share houses are becoming a popular option these days among Koreans and expat students. You can bunk with several other strangers, while splitting the cost.

Some share houses have multiple rooms, one for each tenant. The living room and kitchen are communal and shared among flatmates.

The cost of these flats are dependent on the location and condition of the apartment. Naturally, larger rooms in these apartments are pricey. Whereas smaller rooms are the cheaper option.

You can either choose to share a house on your own and find your own flatmates, or use a house sharing service. There are multiple services out there in Korea which manage and deal with house sharing and clients. Their services could be very convenient as you wouldn’t need to go through all the trouble of starting a contract with several other people and go through the headache of dealing with finance.

However, you won’t be able to choose who you bunk with. This experience can heavily carry defendant on your roommates.You may have Korean roommates or other expats bunking in the same room or separate.

share house

Guesthouse

Guesthouses in Korea are an interesting alternative for those who plan to stay short term. They’re cheap accommodations that are located throughout Seoul.

The layout of a guesthouse is similar to a dormitory. Also, there may or may not be separate rooms for each guest. However, the living room, kitchen and lounge are usually shared among everyone.

Some of the amenities of these guesthouses usually include free internet, cable TV, hot showers, free laundry and sometimes even breakfast and coffee.

Many Koreans use guesthouses when traveling to another city outside of their hometown. It’s one of the best ways to make new friends while traveling. They’re also very convenient and affordable if you’re not planning to stay in Korea long term.

guesthouse

AirBnB

I’m sure you’ve already asked this question, but to answer it for you plainly: Yes, AirBnB is very much available in Korea. However, the room condition and everything else highly depends on who your host is.

The price range definitely varies, as anyone should know if you’ve ever used AirBnB before. The length of stay and rates could be negotiated with your host. It’s best to take a look around and see which house suits you best.

airbnb korea

Korean Housing Definitions

Here are a list of useful housing definition when you plan to rent your Korean apartment.

Pyeong (평)

A unit of measurement for floor space in Korea, 36 square korean feet

Key Deposit – Bo-Jeung-Gum (보증금)

This is a lump sum payment that can be paid to the landlord when moving into the house. After your lease is up, your payment will be reimbursed in full back to you.

Contract – Gye Yak Seo (계약서)

You’ll need to start a contract when renting your house in Korea. It’s a good idea to know how to pronounce the word in Korean.

Landlord – Jib Joo In (집주인)

Most Landlords in Korea and middle-aged men or women. You’ll be dealing with them most of the time while staying in Korea.

Realtor – Boo Dong San (부동산)

You’ll want to find a reputable Realtor in Korea, they can be much help when finding your dream apartment. It’s best to avoid going house hunting on your own as there are no guarantees when it comes to security.

Proof of Certification – Deung Gi Deung Bon (등기등본)

When meeting a Landlord, they are required by law to have a proof of certification. This is proof that they’re the real deal. However, if you go with a realtor, they should already have this provided.

Management Fee – Gwan Ree Bee (관리비)

This is a fee that is separate from the monthly rent. The management fee is a type of fee paid for the maintenance of the building. This includes cleaning, fixing, renovating and sometimes even internet.

Bottom Line

Although the idea of finding the right apartment for you in a big city like Seoul could be very confusing at first, it really isn’t that complicated once you’ve understood the system.