If you’re thinking about making the move out here, you should know the cost of living in Seoul. Here’s a breakdown of how much you’ll probably be spending out here on food, housing, transportation, bills, taxes and everything else that make the wheels of life turn. We also have bonus content on how much it costs to enjoy all that!
Much like many places in the world, money spent for eating out can have huge fluctuations. Fortunately, if you like Korean food your wallet will thank you for it. There are many Korean restaurants that range from cheap (4-5000 won per meal), mid-range (8,000 won per meal) as well as high range (15,000 per meal) and more. For cheap Korean foods, you can go to college areas as they tend to have cheaper restaurants, or you can try a street food vendor and have some traditional tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and some sundae (blood sausage) for 3,000 won or so. If you like Korean bbq, there are many all you can eat buffets that charge 11,000 won for a hardcore protein binging session. Best of all, there is no tipping here. Keep those extra bills in your pocket. Overall, depending on your eating habits you’re probably looking at around 300,000-500,000 won or so a month dedicated to food. Interestingly enough, cooking food as opposed to eating out doesn’t seem to have too big of a huge monetary discrepancy. So that’s good news for those who are culinarily challenged.
If you’re looking to cook at home a lot, you’ll be happy to hear there are quite a few wholesale stores like Emart, Home Plus, and others. There are also a few Costco locations in Seoul so you’ll still have access to reasonably priced goods as well as those delicious chicken bakes which alone makes the trip worth it. A full bag of bread will run about 1,500 won with a 10 kg bag of rice typically costing about 30,000 won. Unfortunately, fruit is rather expensive. For example, a juicy watermelon will set you back about 15,000 won so just keep that in mind. Things like soda and juice can be had for roughly 2-3,000won for a bottle as well. Beef can be bought for as low as 2,000 won per gram for samgyeopsal (pork belly). Remember that word, no doubt you’ll be seeing and eating a lot of that. There are also high quality cuts available as well. For those of you gym rats, bags of chicken breasts will cost about 11,000 won and milk jugs about 4,500 won. Tip: Ingredients for Korean foods are plentiful and cheap. Authentic ingredients for non-Korean foods (i.e. Mexican, Italian, Thai, etc.) are harder to find and more expensive.
If you’re planning to teach English in Korea, the great news is you’ll get free housing. If not, one of the biggest thorns out here is the fact that you have to put a huge deposit down for a room, typically 10 million won for a small studio. The more deposit you put down up front, the lower your rent and vice versa. Rents for one bedroom apartments range from 300,000 won a month for the cheapest places to more than 1,000,000 won a month for higher-end studios. An alternative is to pay a huge amount up front and not have to pay monthly rent (called jeonse). If you’re cool with living with random people, check out Craigslist as they have a lot of listings up for sublets and shared rooms. In particular, take a look at the Itaewon area as rent tends to be very cheap out there, such as a 3 room bedroom for about 900,000 won.
Paying for housing in Korea is unique. And you’ll need a lot of money. Find out why here.
Heating bills tend to be quite expensive in the winter due to the harsh cold that hits Korea during the end/beginning of the year. A typical heating bill will probably range around the low to mid 100,000 won area but can easily exceed 200,000 won depending on how much you use the heater. Using the boiler out here is quite expensive, and some people opt for a fan heater instead. During summer, blasting the air condition in a small one bedroom apartment often doesn’t cost too much, and a typical monthly bill can easily be less than 100,000 won. Many rooms also have gwallibi (관리비), which is basically a flat maintenance fee. These can range from 40,000 won for smaller places to 100,000 won or more for more luxurious places. Cable TV and internet packages are readily available for roughly 35,000 won a month. A smartphone contract will cost about 60,000 won a month or so, but will obviously increase depending on your specific plan.
See the next page to see if transportation, taxes and medical costs are cheaper in Korea!
Daniel Kang is a Korean-American from Los Angeles, California and currently enjoys living in Seoul. He is a diehard Laker fan and loves playing basketball, poker, and hanging out at the beach. Daniel is a passionate writer and has compiled pieces for Groove Korea and 10 Magazine. Check out his Lakers blog at lakerlinanalysis