Pros and Cons of Moving to South Korea

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Life in South Korea provides plenty of unique opportunities, but sometimes with a cost. Regardless, if expats are flexible and open-minded, adjusting to the change of scenery should be easy.

Accommodation in South Korea


 PRO: Often taken care of

For expats moving to South Korea with a job-contract already in hand, often an apartment is already provided and paid for. Expats need only worry about utilities: typically, gas, water, Internet and telephone fees.

 CON: Cramped and boring

If living Seoul, expect apartments to be tiny; one-bedroom or studio apartments are the most common. The farther away from the city an expat moves, the more spacious the potential arrangements become. In addition, apartments are almost exclusively built in bulk, which calls for little to no architectural variation. Interiors frequently include white walls, plain kitchens and no-frills furnishings.

 PRO: Futuristic locks

Many apartments and homes have done away with traditional lock and keys, moving towards an electronic lock that requires either a magnetic door key and/or a keypad combo. 

 CON: Expensive

If interested in buying or have to hunt for rentals, expats will be in for a small shock. Rentals, especially in Seoul, will cost a lot for a space much smaller than expats may be used to. In addition, deposits are typically much steeper than in other countries.

Safety in South Korea


 PRO: Little to no crime

There are very low crime rates even in the big cities of Seoul or Busan, and while expats still need to use common sense, crime isn’t a serious issue in South Korea.

 CON: Technically still at war

While North Korea and South Korea have been on friendly enough terms since the ceasefire of the Korean War, they are still technically at war with each other. It’s advisable to keep up with news regarding the two neighbours and know where the nearest embassy is, should anything occur.

Cuisine in South Korea


 PRO: Abundance of traditional fare

Even in the tiniest of towns, there will always be one or more traditional Korean restaurants willing to satisfy an expat’s appetite for authentic dishes. The fierce competition also means lower prices; a quality Korean meal is always affordable.

 CON: Lack of comfort foods

Unless an expat is living in a very urban area, it’s difficult to find food that isn’t Korean or Asian-inspired. More exotic, foreign cuisine options are hard to come by outside the city, and oftentimes of disappointing quality.

Culture shock in South Korea


 PRO: Tight-knit expat communities

In Seoul especially, there are many foreigner meet-ups and parties at which expats can meet and socialise with other expats in the area. In smaller cities, the groups may meet up regularly and are generally very welcoming to newcomers.

 CON: Staring

Expats should anticipate being stared while in public. Older Koreans especially will not be shy about watching foreigners; however it’s out of genuine curiosity and not any ill will.

 CON: Shy locals

South Koreans are often unable to speak any English or too shy to attempt it for fear of making a mistake. While there are exceptions, it’s not uncommon for a local to shy away from answering a question completely, for lack of English skills.

Work culture in South Korea


 PRO: Friendly and amicable

Koreans value their interpersonal relationships with coworkers and will make it a priority to get to know each other’s personal lives. The standard corporate atmosphere is very friendly and social. After work, employees will often go out dining and drinking.

 CON: Unpredictable scheduling

Koreans will often make last-minute adjustments and expats will need a certain degree of flexibility to survive. Expect unplanned meetings, projects and cancellations as well as obligatory social gatherings after work, announced shortly before quitting time.

Cost of living in South Korea


 PRO Cheap basic amenities

Groceries, utilities, public transport and even alcohol are all more than reasonable when compared to most Western countries. Most expats find that living in South Korea is an efficient way to quickly save up money.

 CON: Expensive non-essentials

Don’t expect the newest trends to come without a price, like any city, but especially so in South Korea, where looking one's best and having the newest and fastest gadgets is considered essential by many locals.

Education and schools in South Korea


 PRO: Excellent education

Public Korean primary and secondary schools are generally quite good and focus on sciences and math, as well as English and Korean. Many schools also employ a native English speaker, even in rural areas. Private education is extremely popular and rigorous as well, including afterschool tutoring academies, called hagwons.

 CON: Stressful atmosphere

South Korea has a notably high suicide rate, partially as a result of the very stressful atmosphere surrounding education. Students account for many of these suicides and are constantly pressured to perform better and study longer, in order to get into a good university: the perceived cornerstone of a successful life.

Healthcare in South Korea


 PRO: Cheap public healthcare

If an expat is employed, they will be covered by the public health care system, which costs little and offers a lot. In urban areas, many of the doctors will also speak English, although bringing a friend to translate is still advisable.

 CON: Travel/wait time

If an expat does not live in an urban area, they may need to make a long trip to see a doctor at one of the official University hospitals. Because these hospitals are also centrally located, wait time can be inconvenient but not outrageous.

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