As South Korea's economic powerhouse, Seoul has a wide range of accommodation options available. Very few expats buy housing, however, renting property in South Korea can be considerably more complicated than doing so in Western countries. As a result, employers often organise accommodation close to their offices on behalf of their foreign employees.
Most accommodation in Seoul often comes in the form of towering apartment blocks. These tend to consist of four to eight apartment blocks which are clustered together and most will have small communal playgrounds or recreational areas along with parking facilities.
Types of accommodation in Seoul
While the apartment is by far the most common type of housing in Seoul, there are other options for expats to consider.
These are a good option for expats staying in Seoul for a short amount of time. They are usually furnished and offer services like cleaning and a foyer concierge, and amenities such as a swimming pool and gym. These are usually quite expensive compared with non-serviced apartments.
An officetel is a unit within a high-rise building that houses both office and residential space. These apartments are usually furnished and are quite popular with young expats and students.
A private house is ideal for an expat family, but unfortunately, these are extremely rare in a city like Seoul. Expats living on the outskirts of the city might, however, be lucky enough to find one.
Finding accommodation in Seoul
It might be difficult for expats whose employers haven’t arranged housing for them to find a place to live in Seoul. There are, however, some useful tools available to assist expats in their search for the perfect accommodation. Local English-language newspapers such as the Korea Times and The Korean Herald usually contain property listings. Property listings can also be found through online property portals and expat social media groups.
Aside from searching online and in the media, it’s a good idea to check the advertising boards in apartment buildings for listed vacancies. Visiting estate agents directly is also a good place to start as they will be privy to a wide selection of availabilities. Although many estate agents may not speak English, there are some estate agencies which specialise in the expat market, which minimises language barrier issues.
Renting accommodation in Seoul
Renting an apartment in Seoul requires a lot of time, energy and usually a helpful Korean-speaking colleague or friend to handle negotiations and lease agreements.
Typically, rental leases in Seoul are signed for a one-year term. Renters have to give at least three months’ notice if they want to move out.
Korean landlords use a "key-money" system which is similar to a deposit, except that key-money usually consists of a huge amount and the more key-money that a tenant pays to their landlord, the lower their monthly rent will be.
Key-money is paid into a separate account and the original amount is returned to the tenant at the end of their lease, while the landlord gets to keep the interest generated over that period. Many Koreans who can afford it choose to pay a large amount in key-money and, in doing so, are not charged monthly rent.
Utilities aren't typically included in the monthly rent, so expats will need to budget extra for this. Bills can be paid via bank transfer at the bank, ATM or through a mobile app or even at some convenience stores.
►Areas and Suburbs in Seoul gives an overview of the city's most popular expat neighbourhoods
"Apartments tend to be incredibly small. My apartment only has space for a cupboard, single bed, a small bathroom and a kitchen sink." Read Malcolm's advice on accommodation in Seoul.
"[My apartment] has everything I need and even has heated floors. Also, it’s just quite cute and compact and I have a great view of the city." Read Maggies's thoughts on living in Seoul.
Are you an expat living in Seoul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Seoul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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