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If you want to get an apartment in Seoul, you should know about Korea’s housing system. Korea’s housing system may be very different than what you’re used to in you own countries. Also, you might want to check out what kind of housing options are available. Make sure you know the types of housing, and what kind of money you’ll need!
Note: This article mostly focuses on apartments in Seoul for foreigners, but is applicable to apartments in all parts of Korea.
Rental System in Korea
1. 전세 (jeonse)
For those with some serious cash
This is by far the most expensive, but also one of the most money saving options you have for getting an apartment in Seoul. Doesn’t make sense? Well, the jeonse system allows you to stay in your Seoul apartment totally rent free! Rent free?! Of course there’s a catch, though. If you want to stay in your Seoul apartment without paying rent, you’ll have to put down a huge security deposit, which is essentially the jeonse system. This huge jeonse deposit can range anywhere from 30,000,000 won to more than 100,000,000 won (approximately $26,000 USD to more than $90,000 USD) for a small studio apartment in Seoul. The owner holds onto this money for the duration of your contract and gives it back in full when you’re ready to move out. The basic idea is the owner is supposed to invest that money somewhere else, and make money for themselves. So if you’ve got that kind of money to spare, this is one of the best options out there!
Tip: Many people unfamiliar with the jeonse system are weary of lending out so much money. But generally, it’s a pretty safe option. This system wouldn’t be around if all landlords were a bunch of crooks, right?
2. 월세 (wolse) – Monthly Rent
For those with less cash… (but still kinda a lot)
Generally, most foreigners who are moving to Korea don’t have the kind of money needed for jeonse. So monthly rent is the more popular option. But the thing is, you can’t be totally broke if you want to get your own apartment in Seoul. That’s because the security deposit (aka key money) for housing in Seoul is quite high, even if you’re going to be paying wolse (monthly rent) for your Seoul apartment. Security deposits can range from 5,000,000 won to 20,000,000 won for studio apartments in Seoul (approximately $4,500 USD to $18,000 USD). Of course, if you’re looking for something bigger than a small studio in Seoul, the more expensive the key money will be. Rest assured that you’ll get it all back when you move out, but renting an apartment in Seoul is no joke, yo. You need some serious cash to front.
Tip: Try negotiating! Landlords in Korea will usually be willing to drop the price of monthly rent if you give a larger security deposit.
Tip: To find places with smaller key money (i.e. 1 months rent), try searching Itaewon (이태원), the foreigner district of Seoul. Generally, the monthly rent will be higher, but you won’t have to front millions and millions of your hard earned won!
Types of Housing in Korea
1. Villas (빌라) Apartments in Seoul
For those that like… character
Villas are residential buildings that exist all around Korea. Most of these are around two to five stories high, typically without elevators. These buildings are located in residential areas and are typically older buildings. Villa apartments in Seoul are usually characterized by bathrooms without separate shower stalls and furnished and unfurnished rooms (you may or may not have to get your own refrigerator, washing machine, gas burner, drawers, desks, etc.). These are also usually cheaper than the other options on this list.
Check out your homie Keith‘s villa apartment in Hongdae, Seoul!
(note: loft and included furniture is not always common)
2. Officetel (오피스텔) Apartments in Seoul
For ghetto fabulous
Officetel is a combination of the words “office” and “hotel.” As the name suggests, these are used as both offices and residences, and for single people (or couples) looking for a nice apartment in Seoul, you might want to check this out as they are considered the “nicer” apartment options. Officetels can be found in metropolises across Korea, and they feel mega modern because they usually come with refrigerators, washing machines and drawers that are built into the walls of these Seoul apartments (cool!). The buildings are usually fairly new, and they are often located close to subway stations or major transportation hubs (sweet!). The buildings also have stores, restaurants, cafes, nail salons and other businesses located on the bottom few floors. So that means you can wake up and go downstairs to eat some breakfast at a restaurant, get your nails did, play some screen golf, get a massage, and go back to your apartment in time for daytime Korean dramas! Holla!
Tip: Of course, nicer buildings with furnishing will come at a price typically more expensive than apartments found in villas. If you want to live in an officetel rather than a villa apartment, expect to pay 100,000 won (approximately $100 USD) or more for similar sized apartments in Seoul.
3. Apartments (아파트) in Seoul
For families or ballers
The meaning of the word “apartment” in Korea and in your home country may have two very different things. The word “apartment” (아파트) in Korea usually refers specifically to an apartment in an apartment complex. Typically, “apartments” in Korea are for families, as they offer the most amount of room. But since these are bigger, you’ll have to have a decent chunk of cash to get an apartment in Seoul. Think anywhere starting from 250 million won (approximately $250,000 USD) to buy. Of course these also have jeonse and wolse options as well, but that’s still a big chunk of cash. If you’ve got the goods, good for you homie! The rest of the readers on this site might want to get a 2nd job in Korea
This is a high-end apartment, so pretty expensive. But nice!
Bonus: Goshiwon (고시원)
Renting a Closet
No, the byline isn’t a joke. You are pretty much renting a closet that can fit a bed and desk. This is by far the cheapest option for those looking for a place to rent in Seoul. Essentially functional as a dormitory, you have your own closet-spaced room that squeezes in a small bed and table. Typically these are reserved for students but are also rented by anyone that needs to save some cash. Usually there’s free internet and TV, and sometimes even free rice and kimchi included starting at the very cheap price of 200,000 won a month (approximately $180 USD) without the crazy key money you’ll need for the other apartment options. It’s not very comfortable, but at least it’s a closet-room you can call your own!
Now that you know the deal with apartments in Seoul, here’s how to get your own apartment in Korea!