Banking and finance

How much money can I save in Korea?

You can expect to save anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a month in Korea, though this depends largely on you and how “large” you live. Living is cheap in Korea so it’s easy to save. Though if you go out every night to the bars, it’s easy to spend your paycheck quickly.

What’s the deal with taxes?

You will pay the Korean income tax, which is roughly around 4 percent of your income. As for your home taxes, I have found that if you make less than about $87,000, you are exempt from paying taxes on your Koran-earned money. But you should check with an accountant in your home country as this rule is subject to change. I found this site helpful when I filed my taxes this year in America.

Housing

Where will I do laundry?

Dry cleaners also abound on every street though Laundromats are harder to find. Most apartments come equipped with a washing machine. Koreans, for the most part, do not use driers and hang their clothes to dry in the small laundry room (usually attached to the back of the apartment or kitchen) or on the roof.

Will I have Internet access in my apartment?

Your school will set this up for you. Don’t be afraid to ask them for anything you might need to make you more comfortable in your new home. They are there to help you.

Are the apartments small?

Yep, they’re small. Picture university dorm rooms, maybe a little bigger. But I’ve never seen a place that was not comfortable. Couples tend to get the best apartments with two or three rooms. Solo teachers usually get a studio, or 1-room apartment with a small kitchen and bathroom. And everyone else is living in the same situation, so you’ll adjust quickly.

Will I need to furnish the apartment?

No! Usually your apartment will meet your basic needs and be furnished with a bed, a few kitchen utensils/appliances and a table and chair. It depends on the school in the end. You will also usually have a washing machine, a rice cooker, a refrigerator, a microwave, a toaster, a queen-sized bed, and more.  Make sure to check in your foreigner community through Facebook about home furnishings for sale (or being given away) because there are always people finishing up contracts and trying to get rid of their acquired furniture. There are furniture and goods classifieds for just about every major city on Facebook--a great place to get some cheap odds and ends!

Where will I live?

Your school will provide housing for you which usually comes in the form of a small apartment. If you are alone, the apartments are usually studio, equipped with a small kitchen and bathroom. Couples are usually provided with a “two-room,” which is a two-room apartment with a small living room, kitchen, and bathroom. I lived in two different apartments in Korea and both were small but very clean and very comfortable. Of all the other foreigner apartments I visited, none were terrible though some were a little cramped.

Life in Korea

How are the beaches?

In the late springs, summers, and early falls, I got in the habit of going to a different beach every other weekend in Korea—because there are so many! Of course there are the most popular ones, like in Busan, where you can’t even see the sand for all the back-to-back umbrellas during the beach months of July and August. But there are also deserted island beaches dotting the entire peninsula of Korea. If you pack some camping gear, you’ll never run out of places to sleep outside with the waves crashing in your dreams. Most of the beaches are smaller than their western counterparts. But just remember, Korea is roughly the same size as Indiana. Do the math.

So, there’s no Great Wall or Ko Samui in Korea. What is there to see?

Glad you asked. Once you get out of the concrete ubiquitousness of the Korean city, you will discover a different Korea. One with an endless supply of hidden mountain temples, old fortresses, winding mountain trails, empty beaches, lime green rice fields, green tea plantations, traditional villages, and more. Korea is very old country with an amazing history. Don’t miss your opportunity to learn more about it while you’re here. For some ideas, visit this site.

What’s the weather like in Korea?

They have four distinct seasons. Summers are hot and humid and rainy. Winters are dry and painfully cold (I’ve also heard this from Canadians so don’t count me out because I’m a Southerner). Spring and fall are amazingly pleasant. Read more about the weather here.

I have heard Koreans are rude. Is this true?

Elbows first. That’s my words of advice when dealing with crowds in Korea. You’ll see it as rude, at first. But before you know it, you’ll be right in there, elbows out as you get on a bus or realize there is no organized line for the bathroom. Lines just aren’t practiced in Korea. It’s frustrating at first. But you’ll get used to it. Rude? Not at all. Koreans are some of the nicest, kindest people in the world. It won’t take you long to realize that at all.

How different is Korea from home?

Very different. My husband and I joke how everything here is the EXACT opposite of back home. For example, you don’t call 911 here, you call 119. If you motion with your hand (fingers up) for somewhere to come here, they will go away. (They use a fingers down come-here). Some things are the same. It is a highly developed country now boasting the 13th largest economy in the world. But, culturally, just about everything is different than what you know and grew up with—which in my opinion—makes the whole experience worthwhile.

What is daily life like in Korea as an expat?

Foreign teachers tend to work 6 to 8 hours a day. You automatically have more free time in Korea because you don’t have the social network in place like you did at home (though this will come very quickly!) Because the cost of living is lower and you don’t pay rent, you also have more disposable income. I enjoyed spending my time jogging on the mountain trails, hiking, blogging, watching Korean dramas, dining out, meeting friends downtown, shopping, etc. There are endless opportunities to just get out and people watch from a coffee shop perch.

Where can I exercise in Korea? Do they have gyms?

There are numerous ways to exercise in Korea—from hiking (the country’s No. 1 pastime) to taekwondo, to yoga classes, to jogging on the countless mountain trails and city sidewalks to bicycling on the bike paths that exist all over the country. Gyms are popping up on every street corner so if exercising outside isn’t your thing, no problem.

What is shopping like in Korea?

There are corner markets, known as marts, on virtually every corner in Korea. These places are the 7-Elevens, Family Marts, and Ministops that have become ubiquitous in Korea. You can buy drinks, snacks, noodles and your basic general groceries and home supplies at these places. For bigger shopping trips, you can visit a nearby box store—much like the Wal-Marts and Targets of back home. Korea’s versions of these are E-mart, Lotte Mart, and HomePlus—places where you can find everything from western foods to western shampoos to peanut butter to imported beer and wine. You can also buy all your home supplies here.

I don’t like kimchi. Can I get Western food in Korea?

Like it or not, western restaurants are popping up all over Korea. Expect to find an Outback Steakhouse, TGI Fridays, and other chain fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Dominos in just about every city in Korea.

How will I order food in a restaurant?

Most of the time (especially outside of Seoul), there will be no English menu. Fortunately, many restaurants have photos of their food on the walls and in menus. Though, unfortunately, most of the photos are taken of the food before it is actually cooked—something that scared me quite a bit upon my arrival in Korea. Until you learn Korean, it's best to point at photos or check out what everyone else is eating and point to what they have. Most restaurants specialize in a certain type of food like pork or fish so you won't have many questions to ask. Just remember, a smile goes a long way in Korea. Check out this site to learn a few Korean sayings for when you’re at a restaurant. And don’t forget to read our section on food in Korea.

How do I send money home?

It’s simple and quick, and only involves you bringing your home account information, your passport and your alien card. Read more about banking here.

How do I make phone calls–local or international?

Most likely, your school will provide you with a cell phone or help you acquire one on your first day at work. EVERY ONE has a mobile phone (called handphones) in Korea—from old grandmothers to 6-year-olds. The easiest way to make an international call is either through an international phone card available for purchase in some corner markets, bus stations, and airports, or through Skype, officially the best invention since sliced bread. Through Skype, you can talk from computer to computer for free (and with video if both parties have a webcam) or from your computer to phone for a ridiculously cheap price.

Is Korea clean?

It's getting better, but, unfortunately, Korea does not have the infrastructure that we enjoy back home. Finding a public trash receptacle can be tough in some locations. And therefore, you will often see children (and adults, rather unfortunately) toss their litter onto the ground without a second thought. But, that said, the country is starting to key into the fact that it doesn’t pay to litter. Beautification projects are abounding in even the smaller cities.

Packing

Should I bring my computer?

I recommend bringing a laptop—most foreigners do. They are easy to carry and pack and will be your lifeline to those you love back home. I honestly kept in better touch with old friends when I was in Korea rather than back home because of the abundance of free time to surf the internet. If you don’t want to bring a laptop, that’s fine too. There are PC bangs (rooms) on virtually every street corner in Korea. Don’t forget you’re moving to one of the most wired countries in the world. Internet access is NEVER a problem.

Utilities

How will I pay my bills?

This is one of the easiest things to do in Korea! Just bring your bills to your bank and they will stamp it, take the money from your account, and transfer it to the companies. You can also make transfers via  your nearest ATM. Almost all cash machines now offer English.

What bills/utilities will I have to pay?

You will have to pay water, electricity, gas, cable TV (if you order it), phone and internet (if ordered) each month. All these together are usually less than $100.