There's no denying that South Korea is an expensive country. Indeed, the capital, Seoul, frequently ranks as one of the world's most expensive cities in which to live. In 2023, Seoul ranked 16th out of 227 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey.

That said, South Korea boasts competitive salaries and a world-class quality of life. Employment contracts also frequently cover costs such as accommodation and schooling, which saves expats a lot of money. Thanks to this, the cost of living in South Korea can be reasonable for many expats. 

There are many ways to keep expenses down. Public transport costs are low, and Korean food is cheaper than Western food, for instance. Shopping at markets and smaller shops is more cost-effective than shopping in tourist hotspots or major department stores.

It is also worth considering that prices between cities and smaller towns will differ. The cost of living in Seoul is higher than in other cities in South Korea.

Cost of accommodation in South Korea

Accommodation in large cities such as Seoul or Busan will be pricier. Generally, accommodation in South Korea is organised and paid for by an expat's employer. If a foreigner chooses to organise their accommodation, they will be expected to pay 'key money', which is a large deposit from which the landlord earns interest. 

This will make the upfront costs of housing in South Korea steeper. Basic utilities, including gas, electricity and uncapped WiFi, tend to be affordable.

Cost of transport in South Korea

South Korea boasts an advanced and extensive public transport system, making getting around the country a breeze. Major cities such as Seoul and Busan have integrated public transit systems, allowing passengers to save by purchasing rechargeable smart cards such as the T-money card that can be used on the subway, buses, and even in some taxis. Expats can buy this card to reduce their travelling expenses significantly.

It is highly unlikely that expats will need a car in South Korea, as they will have to contend with regular traffic jams, particularly in larger cities. Expats who opt to buy a car in the country should also be prepared to deal with maintenance, petrol, and parking fees.

Cost of electrical and household goods in South Korea

Electrical goods such as televisions, DVD players, digital cameras, cell phones (notably Samsung), computers and high-tech gadgets are all relatively affordable in South Korea.

On the other hand, foreign manufactured goods, which include everything from toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste containing fluoride) and English-language books to Nikon cameras and Apple products, are more costly than locally made items.

Cost of groceries in South Korea

Foodstuffs that are mostly taken for granted in Western countries, such as fresh produce and cheese, will generally cost more in South Korea than an expat would have paid back home. Most Korean stores also sell products in bulk, making groceries quite heavy on the wallet for a single person.

Overall, dining out is inexpensive when sticking to Korean food. This often makes eating out a better option than buying groceries, especially for single expats. Naturally, dining out at Western restaurants comes with a higher price tag.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in South Korea

Eating out in South Korea can range from moderately priced to expensive, depending on the type of restaurant and the location. The quality of food is largely high, with a focus on fresh ingredients and traditional dishes. Compared to many Western countries, dining out in South Korea can be cheaper or similarly priced, depending on the specific city and the individual's personal spending habits.

Entertainment in South Korea can be similarly priced or even cheaper than in expats' home countries, but it depends on the specific activity and location. Some popular forms of entertainment, such as visiting cultural sites, watching traditional performances, and going to local festivals, can be relatively cheap or free.

Other activities, such as going to clubs, seeing a film or visiting amusement parks, can come at a premium. Expats can expect a wide range of entertainment options in South Korea, including both traditional cultural experiences and modern leisure activities.

Cost of education in South Korea

The cost of education in South Korea can be expensive, particularly in international or private schools. Public schools are generally less expensive, but may not offer education in expats' native language. Many expats choose international schools because they offer a familiar language education and provide a globally recognised curriculum.

Public schools in South Korea mainly offer instruction in Korean, which may not be ideal for expats, but they are more cost-effective and can provide a unique cultural experience for children. Private schools are also an option, offering a mix of Korean and international education, but they may be pricier than public schools.

Cost of healthcare in South Korea

Healthcare in South Korea is much more affordable than in Western countries such as the US. The National Health Insurance programme is compulsory for all expats. Many companies will pay half the monthly fee, leaving the other half for expats to pay themselves.

South Korea has become a medical tourist destination due to the affordability of healthcare. This is especially true for cosmetic procedures and LASIK eye surgery, which many expats take advantage of.

Cost of living in South Korea chart

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Seoul for February 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreKRW 3,600,000
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreKRW 2,000,000
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreKRW 1,120,000
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreKRW 700,000
Food and drink
Dozen eggsKRW 6,300
Milk (1 litre)KRW 2,900
Rice (1kg)KRW 4,500
Loaf of white breadKRW 4,100
Chicken breasts (1kg)KRW 6,900
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)KRW 4,500
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantKRW 65,000
Big Mac MealKRW 8,000
Coca-Cola (330ml)KRW 2,100
CappuccinoKRW 5,200
Bottle of beer (local)KRW 2,900
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)KRW 184
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)KRW 29,000
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)KRW 270,000
Taxi rate/kmKRW 1,000
City-centre public transport fareKRW 1,400
Gasoline (per litre)KRW 1,650

Expat Health Insurance

Cigna Health Insurance

Cigna Global Health Insurance.

Moving your family abroad can be intimidating, but learning about medical options such as family health insurance early on can help you settle successfully.

  • Comprehensive Family coverage, wherever you go
  • Paediatric coverage for well-child visits & immunizations
  • Access to dental and orthodontic care
  • 24/7 multilingual Customer Service

Get a quote from Cigna Global (10% off family health plans in June)

Moving Internationally?

Sirelo logo

International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.

Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.

Get your free no-obligation quotes from select removal companies now!