Living in South Korea: The Expat Guide


Are you considering a move to the vibrant and technologically advanced country of South Korea?

With its unique blend of ancient traditions and modern marvels, South Korea has become a popular destination for expats from all corners of the globe.

Yet before packing your bags and moving here, it’s important to do enough research and understand what life as an expat in South Korea truly entails.

More importantly: is living in Korea even the right choice for you? That’s indeed crucial to answer before potentially moving to the other side of the planet.

In this guide, we’ll cover essential aspects about expat life, from the best locations to live, to getting a long-term visa in South Korea and cultural nuances.

Places to Live in South Korea

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make as a prospective expat in South Korea is where to live.

While Seoul, the capital city, is the most popular choice, there are plenty of other great options depending on your lifestyle and preferences. 

We’ll cover several cities where expats choose to live in Korea. In addition to Seoul, a few other common places are Busan, Jeju Island, and Daegu.

Seoul: The Mega-City That Never Sleeps

Seoul, with its population of above 10 million, is a bustling metropolis that never sleeps.

As the capital and largest city in South Korea, Seoul is considered a special city, with more than 20 million people living in the greater metropolitan area.

It’s the economic and cultural heart of Korea, offering a wide range of job opportunities, international schools, and a vibrant expat community.

The city is known for its efficient public transportation system, world-class healthcare, and endless dining and entertainment options.

Each neighborhood in Seoul has its own distinct vibe – from the party atmosphere of Hongdae to the beauty product mecca and high-end street food of Myeong-dong. Getting around is easy thanks to the extensive bus and subway system that runs like clockwork.

Seoul also boasts a massive expat community filled with foreigners who came for “a year” and never left. Yet the cost of living in Seoul can be quite high, especially when it comes to housing.

For those who thrive on the energy of a mega-city, living in Seoul is hard to beat though!


Busan: Korea’s Coastal Metropolis

If you’re looking for a more laid-back atmosphere with a lower cost of living, consider living in Busan, located on the southeastern coast.

As Korea’s second-largest city with a population between 2-3.5 million, Busan offers a more relaxed pace of life compared to Seoul.

Busan boasts beautiful beaches, mountains, and a thriving expat community. It’s a great choice for those who want the amenities of a big city but with a more affordable cost of living and a touch of coastal charm.

The famous Haeundae Beach attracts visitors from all over, while the Gamcheon Culture Village offers a colorful and artistic respite from the urban bustle.

Foodies will delight in Busan’s seafood scene, with the sprawling Jagalchi Fish Market serving up the freshest catches daily.

For a taste of traditional culture, the Beomeosa Temple, nestled in the mountains, provides a serene escape.

With its mix of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and urban convenience, Busan is a compelling choice for expats.



Busan is a great choice for those who want the amenities of a big city but with a more affordable cost of living and a touch of coastal charm.

Jeju Island: The Hawaii of Korea

For those seeking a truly unique experience, Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea is a popular choice.

Known as the “Hawaii of Korea,” Jeju offers stunning natural beauty, a subtropical climate, and a slower pace of life. It’s a great option for retirees or those working remotely who want to trade the city grind for island vibes.

Jeju’s visa-free entry status has made it an increasingly attractive place for foreigners and expats. The island is home to lush green tea fields, picturesque waterfalls, and the iconic Hallasan Mountain, the highest peak in South Korea.

In addition to its natural wonders, Jeju also offers a rich cultural heritage, with sites like the Jeju Folk Village showcasing traditional architecture and crafts. The island is also known for its unique cuisine, including the famed Jeju black pork and fresh seafood.

While job opportunities may be more limited compared to the mainland, Jeju’s growing popularity as a tourist destination has created openings in hospitality, English teaching, and remote work.

For expats seeking a more tranquil and nature-centric lifestyle, Jeju Island is a breath of fresh air.

Incheon: South Korea’s Transport Hub

Incheon, located just west of Seoul, is another metropolitan city with a population between 2-3.5 million.

As the site of South Korea’s largest international airport, Incheon serves as a major transportation hub for the country.

But Incheon is more than just a layover spot. The city has undergone significant development in recent years, with the futuristic Songdo International Business District attracting companies and expats from around the globe.

This “smart city” boasts eco-friendly design, cutting-edge tech, and a growing community of foreigners living in Korea.

Incheon also offers a mix of modern amenities and traditional charm. The Incheon Chinatown is a bustling enclave filled with delicious Chinese-Korean fusion cuisine and colorful architecture.

For a taste of history, the Open Port area showcases colonial-era buildings and museums highlighting Incheon’s role in Korea’s modernization.

With its strategic location, innovative developments, and international flair, Incheon is an appealing option for expats seeking opportunities in business, technology, and logistics.



Jeju Island’s tourism industry is heavily influenced by its presence in famous K-Dramas. Visitors often travel to sites featured in their favorite drama series to reenact their favorite scenes.

Daegu: The Artistic and Industrial Center

Daegu, located in southeastern Korea, rounds out the list of metropolitan cities with a population between 2-3.5 million.

Known as the “Fashion City,” Daegu has a thriving textile and clothing industry, as well as a growing reputation as an artistic hub.

The city’s Dongseongno area is a trendy district filled with boutiques, cafes, and art galleries showcasing the works of local creatives. Daegu is also home to several universities, giving it a youthful and energetic vibe.

For history buffs, sites like the Daegu Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Cultural Center offer a glimpse into Korea’s traditional medical practices.

Foodies won’t want to miss the Seomun Market, the largest traditional market in Daegu, serving up local specialties like napjak mandu (flat dumplings) and sikki myeolchi (dried anchovy).

With its mix of industry, arts, and academia, Daegu offers a unique blend of opportunities for expats looking to immerse themselves in Korean culture while still enjoying the amenities of a major city.

Visa Options in South Korea

Before you can start your new life in South Korea, you’ll need to obtain the appropriate visa. The type of visa you’ll need depends on the purpose and duration of your stay.

For those planning to work in Korea, the most common visas are the E-2 (teaching English) and the E-7 (other specialized fields).

The E-2 visa requires having a bachelor’s degree and a job offer from a Korean school or educational institution.

The E-7 visa is for individuals with expertise in fields like IT, engineering, or business and requires a job offer and proof of relevant qualifications.

If you’re planning to study in Korea, you’ll need a D-2 visa, which requires admission to a Korean university or language school.

For those looking to live in Korea off personal savings or investment, the F-2 or F-5 visas may be options, but they have strict eligibility requirements based on age, income, and ties to the country.

The visa application process can be complex and time-consuming, so it’s important to start early and gather all the necessary documents. It’s also a good idea to consult with a reputable visa agency or immigration lawyer to ensure a smooth process.

Cost of Living in South Korea

For expats considering a move to South Korea, understanding the cost of living is crucial for budgeting and maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.

While expenses can vary greatly depending on personal preferences and location, here’s a general overview of what you can expect.

Seoul is unsurprisingly the most expensive place to live in South Korea. To enjoy a decent standard of living, you’ll likely need a monthly budget of around $2,000 to $3,000 (approximately 3.5 million KRW). This accounts for rent, utilities, groceries, and transport.

If you’re looking to save some won, consider settling in other major cities like Busan, Incheon, or Daegu.

While still offering a lively urban experience, the cost of living in these areas is relatively lower than in Seoul. In Busan or Daegu, for example, you can live comfortably on a monthly budget of $1,500 to $2,500 USD (1.8 to 3 million KRW).

When it comes to groceries, expect to allocate around $200 to $300 USD per month (250,000 to 350,000 KRW) for a standard local diet. However, if you have a taste for imported goods or frequent upscale supermarkets, your food bill can quickly add up.

Dining out is a beloved pastime in South Korea, thanks to the country’s diverse and delicious cuisine. A meal at a mid-range restaurant typically costs $5 to $15 USD (6,000 to 18,000 KRW). Of course, if you opt for fancy restaurants, be prepared to spend more.

Getting around in South Korea is a breeze, with its efficient and affordable metro system. A monthly pass for buses and subways in major cities usually ranges from $50 to $70 USD (60,000 to 85,000 KRW). Taxis are widely available but cost more than public transit.

To summarize: compared to many Western countries, the overall cost of living in South Korea is generally more affordable, particularly when it comes to healthcare, public transportation, and dining out.

However, housing costs in major cities like Seoul can rival those in large Western metropolises. Additionally, utility expenses, especially heating during the chilly winter months, can be quite high.

So, while South Korea may not be the cheapest expat destination in Asia, it offers a high quality of life at a relatively reasonable cost. 

Adapt to Korean Culture and Lifestyle

Living in South Korea offers a unique blend of modern conveniences and traditional charm.

One of the highlights of life in Korea is the incredible food scene. From street food favorites like tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and odeng (fish cakes) to the communal experience of Korean barbecue, your taste buds will never be bored.

Don’t miss the opportunity to try local specialties like bibimbap, kimchi, and samgyeopsal.

Korea is also known for its love of outdoor activities, particularly hiking and mountain climbing. With stunning national parks and well-maintained trails, it’s easy to escape the city and enjoy nature. In the winter, hit the slopes at one of Korea’s many ski resorts.



Skiing is one of the nation’s favorite pastime activities. Ski towns and resorts are often fully occupied by locals and expats alike come winter time.

For those seeking cultural experiences, Korea offers a wealth of options, from exploring ancient palaces and temples to attending traditional performances and festivals.

The country is also a hub for art, music, and fashion, with an absolutely thriving creative scene in cities like Seoul and Busan.

Expats in Korea can find a strong sense of community through various social clubs and networking events. Joining groups based on your hobbies or interests is a great way to meet like-minded people and make friends here.

While the cost of living in Korea can be high, particularly in Seoul, there are ways to enjoy life on a budget. Taking advantage of public transport, shopping at local markets, and enjoying free cultural events can help stretch your won.

Banking in South Korea

For expats moving to South Korea, understanding the local banking system is a crucial part of ensuring a smooth transition.

The good news is that South Korea’s banking sector is highly developed and can hold its own against those in the US and Europe when it comes to safety and tech.

Opening a bank account in South Korea is a relatively straightforward process for expats, but it does require some preparation.

To get started, you’ll typically need to bring your passport, a valid visa, proof of residence (such as a utility bill or lease), and in some cases, a Korean phone number. Banks may also ask for your Alien Registration Card, which you can apply for after arriving.

Once you’ve opened your account, you’ll have access to a wide range of banking services. These include standard checking and savings accounts, foreign currency accounts, online and mobile banking, international money transfers, and more.

Most banks in South Korea offer English-language services on their digital platforms which makes it easy for expats to manage their finances.

South Korea is known for its technological prowess, and this extends to its online banking services. However, setting up online banking for the first time can be a bit of a process, as it often involves setting up digital certificates or security tokens.

Once you’re up and running, you’ll find that online banking in South Korea is efficient and user-friendly. The hard part is opening your bank account in the first place.

When it comes to accessing your money, you’ll be pleased to know that ATMs are widely available in South Korea. You can find them in banks, convenience stores, subway stations, and shopping centers, and many offer English language options.

While most ATMs are available 24/7, it’s important to note that international card usage may incur additional fees, and not all ATMs accept foreign cards.

Transferring money into and out of South Korea is relatively straightforward, although there are regulations in place. For large transactions, you may need to provide documents explaining the source of the funds.

Finally, it’s crucial for expats to consider tax and financial planning when moving to South Korea. The country’s tax system differs from what you’re used to in your home country, so it’s important to understand any obligations.

Income earned in South Korea is subject to Korean income tax. With that said, depending on your home country, there may be tax treaties in place to avoid double taxation.

Is Moving to South Korea a Good Idea?

Moving to South Korea as an expat can be an exciting and rewarding experience, offering the chance to immerse yourself in a fascinating culture and build a global network.

There will be challenges along the way, from navigating the visa process to adapting to cultural differences. You’ll can thrive in your new home with preparation and an open mind though.

From the bustling energy of Seoul to the serene beauty of Jeju Island, there’s a place and a pace for every type of expat in Korea.

Just remember to do proper research before moving to Korea and to connect with other foreigners once you’ve arrived.

Make sure you truly want to live here before finalizing your move and taking the plunge. It might appear like basic advice, yet it’s absolutely crucial!


Living in South Korea: FAQs

What's it Like to Live South Korea?

Living in South Korea is a thrilling experience, offering a unique blend of the exotic and the familiar. This mega-city boasts a vibrant, fast-paced culture where hard work and play are equally valued.

Residents enjoy access to delicious cuisine and efficient public services, making daily life both enjoyable and convenient.

How Much Does Housing in Korea Cost?

The amount you'll pay for housing in South Korea depends heavily on location and quality standards.

Seoul is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. Property costs about $15,000 per sqm in a central location if you're looking to buy. For rentals, expect to pay at least $1,500 monthly for a one-bedroom in the city center.

With that said, if you're looking at homes further out into Seoul's suburbs or in other Korean cities, it's possible to pay half those amounts.

What's the Most Expensive Place to Live in Korea?

On average, it costs more to live in Seoul than anywhere else in Korea.

A few of the most expensive neighborhoods in Seoul itself include Gangnam, Seongbuk, and Yongsan.


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