Monday, March 25, 2013

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Living Expenses in Seoul

Dear Korean,

I'm seriously thinking of moving to Seoul. Do you have an idea of what the budget listing would be for about a 15 week stay in Seoul, a detailed tally of expenses? Are there any other unexpected expenses expats/non-citizens are known to incur?


Here is the problem: the Korean never visits Korea as a foreign tourist. He always has a free place to stay in various parts of Korea, because he has numerous relatives and friends who would be positively offended if he did not spend a few days at their places. Half the time, his meals are free also. Plus, he would not purchase any large items (such as furniture,) or order any consistent service (like the Internet or cable television.) So while the Korean is aware of how much things cost generally in Seoul, he cannot confidently say exactly how much living in Seoul for, say, more than a month will cost. 

So let's hear from mid- to long-term residents of Korea. Can you describe your budget, with as much detail as possible? One thing to keep in mind is that many expats in Korea are English teachers who usually receive free housing--which is usually the biggest part of the living expense equation. For this exercise, it would be great to hear about the list of items that generate a constant stream of expenses, such as rent, utilities, etc. Future visitors to Korea will thank you.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Well, you won't want to stay in a hotel that long.... Maybe try the 정진고시원 in Anam-dong? I lived there once. w150,000 per month, inc. internet, as I recall.

    1. Hi, I plan to travel this summer. Can you tell me more about 정진고시원.

  2. Costs vary depending on what you like to do. Because of the rental system here, it's not easy to find an affordable, furnished place for a stay for less than six to 12 months. You might be able to get a small furnished studio for between $1,000 and $1,500 per month in Sinchon, with a security deposit of about the same. Double that price for a serviced residence. Add even more if you want to live in Gangnam. Make sure to negotiate utilities and internet as well. Those are more expensive on less than a 1-year contract. (A 3-year contract makes things even cheaper. I pay about $40 a month for cable, internet and home phone.)

    Daily Expenses:
    - Breakfast: Cheap pastry and some juice from the convenience store: $2.50. (For a box of cereal it's about $5 and milk is about $2.30 a liter)
    - Lunch: $6 to $10 (average) Fast food is cheaper but...
    - Dinner: $8 to $15 (average) Again, fast food is cheaper
    - Snacks: $3 for street food / Chips and candy are about the same as other developed countries / Fruit tends to be a bit pricier but relatively high quality
    - Coffee: $3 - $3.50 for Americano / $5 for a latte / $7+ for something special
    - Bottled Water: $0.80 for .5 liters / $1.25 for 2 liters (convenience store prices)
    - Bus or Subway fare: $1 to $2 one-way
    - Taxi Fare: $5 for a short trip / $15 across town

    One other expense you might be leaving out - a visa. 90 days is the max tourist visa for visitors from most countries. That means you'll have to leave and come back at least once during your stay.

  3. Your biggest expense will be the place you want to stay. Figure that out online well before you go.
    Other than that and the 90 day limit unless ur a visa holder, Seoul's pricing is comparable to any place in the US. It just depends on how much shopping ur planning on doing and whether u will cook at home or eat out more often.

    If ur going to get a visa, u'll need to apply at least 2 months in advance. If not, u will have to leave the country after 90 days, but can come back in.

  4. The academy I work at is paying for my apartment, so I have no experience there, but I wanted to chime in about food. If you like Korean food you can eat (and drink) very well and VERY cheaply here.

    It is not at all uncommon to find places that sell very satisfying meals including Bi Bim Bap, soup, kimchi and another side or two for $3 or $4.

    In fact, eating Korean meals at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants can be substantially cheaper than grocery shopping depending on where you live. I spend about $15 - 20 a week on groceries and maybe $50-$100 per week on prepared meals and drinks, and I live (and drink) pretty extravagantly in Jamsil, a high-end town very close to Gangnam.

    As far as drinking goes, I tend to avoid Gangnam and Itaewon, where you can easily drop $50-$100 in one night, and try to stick to more Korean-oriented areas like Konkuk University, Cheonho and Sincheon. If you like Makgeoli and Soju you can get VERY toasty for under $10, and even treat some friends, though you normally need to buy a round of food, too, for another $10 or so. Beer can be cheap, too, if you stick to Korean brands (I like Max and Stout!).

    The only really expensive "luxury" I indulge in are cigars. If you smoke cigars you're looking at $8-$10 a stick, minimum. Fortunately at the JW Marriot Hotel near one of the Express Bus Terminals (near Seoul National University of Education) you can get cheap, good pipe tobacco.

    I have no idea who I'm helping with this post, but have fun and be responsible!

    1. Oh -- and for day to day transportation, I encourage everyone to own a bicycle! I ride my bike two and from work over the Han River every day. Unlike in America, it is perfectly safe and acceptable to ride on the sidewalks. I also brave the city streets and I find that the traffic, though aggressive, is actually pretty welcoming to and patient with cyclists. Even infamously insane taxi drivers and bus drivers will tend to "let me in" or give me space and I have had zero incidents with other vehicles in eight months of cycling in Korea, vs. America where I would have close-calls with motorists almost every day. (Be careful for the "Ajumas," or upper-middle-aged ladies, however, who ALWAYS have right of way!)

      The river is also a convenient highway for bicyclists, and using it you can get all the way across the city in an hour or two. I can usually beat the subway going almost anywhere in town on my bike.

      Because of this I only spend maybe $15-$20 per month on the subway or cab fare and I am constantly on the go.

      Oh... But get a really nice bike lock. I had a brand new bicycle stolen at Lotte World. I replaced it with a crappier-looking (but nice riding) used bike and now I have two sturdy locks, haven't had any problems since.

  5. This was worth writing a whole post about. See the 1,300+ word post at

  6. Motels are cheap accommodation, depending on the area they range in price from 30,000 won to 50,000 won. I understand that Goshiwons may change only 200,000-300,000 won a month but I don't know.

  7. staying in seoul shorterm - it's all about airbnb now.

  8. In the last fews years I twice have been in the situation were I needed to find a place to stay in Seoul, and both times I managed to do this within several hours (!) after arriving in Seoul. The number of short stay rooms available is staggering, there is an oversupply on the local housing market at the moment in certain areas inside and (just) outside of Seoul. However (and there always is an “however”) because of the strange rental arrangements in Korea actually getting a contract which is convenient for you is a completely different story. The easiest thing for you, with your 15 weeks stay, is to look for “one room” places and pay for a total of 4 months.

    Some people are desperate to live in Gangnam or Sinchon or such popular areas. I have no idea about the prices there at the moment. I did however live for a month in 2011 in Gangnam (in a one room) for 500.000 won (plus 500.000 won deposit), excl. electricity (but incl. internet) in a very small room. That place I only managed to find due to help from a Korean I knew, otherwise it would not have been possible as a foreigner to be so lucky!

    If however you understand that traveling in Seoul is cheap and fast (if you use the subway) or cheap and fast at night (if you pay for a taxi; much cheaper than you may think) you can of course also live further away. I have lived in both Doksan and (currently) Gasan, and finding a place to stay there is very easy. I am now paying 600.000 won (plus 600.000 deposit) per month incl. electricity and internet, but the duration of such contracts is usually a minimum of three months (payable by the month, you don't have to pay everything up front). I was also offered places for 500.000 won and 800.000 won (plus anything in between). Notice that most of these one rooms do not come with a bed, so you would have to invest in a mattress (can be bought as cheap as 100.000 won at the Emart etc.) and blankets. Some of these places come with cooking utensils, others don't. But don't worry: the initial investment to get yourself a water cooker etc. won't be more than 100.000/150.000 won.

    By far the easiest way to organize anything is by befriending a Korean. Okay, befriending one just for this reason might be a bit shallow, but you will definitely need a Korean who can translate for you, or else you are in trouble: despite most (young) Koreans having studied English for over 10 years most of them in practice don't speak a word of it. The reason why is a completely different discussion... But just understand that you won't be able to find much at reasonable cost without meeting a Korean who can speak English.

    1. (because of character limit second part as reply to myself:)

      The way Koreans find these one rooms is by going to an agent. The agent knows which rooms are currently available. Do understand that these agents are not your friend: the market is extremely competitive and they desperately need your cash. They will often ask you as much as 450.000 won for their services, but do haggle: 250.000 won is the going rate, just refuse to pay more! The agent will drive you around and show you the rooms. Do make them work for their money! You can easily see 4 or 5 rooms, and as long as you don't sign, you don't have to pay their fees either, so you can always walk away if you are not happy with what they show you. Do look around, do ask questions (like incl. or excl. electricity etc.) and make notes, but never decide on the spot. I always had to find something within a day (don't ask), but if you have more time, take a few days. Once you sign, the contract is usually for a minimum of three months, so don't sign too early!

      Although I personally don't like the agents (again: they are NOT your friends!), you will need them: they actually show you all paperwork regarding ownership of the building. Too many people get ripped off by signing (and paying!) for a contract with someone who doesn't own/run the building and then immediately runs off with your money.

      So, if you decide to live in such a place: anything between 500.000won and 1.000.000 per month is a reasonable estimate.


    No I'm not affiliated with seoulistic but it will provide you with some of the information you want. In terms of how much do you need to live in Seoul? 1.5 million - 2.0 million all inclusive for you to not feel like you're living like a pauper. Of course it can go much lower, only eat ramyeon and eggs, become addicted to a video game, etc.

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