Survival Guide – South Korea

My time in South Korea has finally come to an end. Have I enjoyed it? Yes I did, even taking into account some saddy days. Do I wish I knew more about life in Seoul before I came here? Absolutely!

Living in a foreign country has its challenges. The language is different, and it could be a little difficult to get around and make your life just a little more comfortable, especially at the beginning. So here is my “survival bible”. I guess it is more relevant to people planning to spend some time overseas in the near future. For those of you, residing in your home countries, here is a list of silly things that expats living in Asia could be facing!

Upon arrival in South Korea, you will need to complete your formal registration and wait for so-called Alien card. Why do we have to be called aliens, I don’t know, but hey, it is not the first rather interesting translation you will see here. So, registration process will take approximately a month, which includes medical test, and a short visit to the immigration office for finger printing and processing of your application form. Once you have your card, and only then, you will be able to open bank a account, sign up with an internet provider and also get a mobile phone contract. It is possible to get a prepaid sim card, but getting a new phone here is not cheap. Funny enough Samsung products, including phones, tablets, etc cost a few hundred dollars more, compared to other countries. Until then, you will have to use free wifi at cafes, shopping malls and cafes which isn’t a problem if you live in Seoul or in reasonably big towns.

Subway could be a little tricky to navigate at the start. The best app is Jihajul Seoul Subway app. Bear in mind that there is free wifi for Olleh customers on all trains and SK on all major lines too. The first carriage is has the lowest temperature inside, and the ones in the middle are usually the warmest! I had no idea about it until a few months in, when a Korean friend of mine mentioned it to me 🙂

Itour Seoul is an excellent app too, showing the main attractions of the city. It is available offline, but you will need to download all content before venturing outside.

I started craving some really bizarre foods in Korea too. Partially because they aren’t easy to find! Things like cottage cheese, sour cream, gherkins, rye bread (or any type of unsweetened bread to be honest), salami, non plastic cheese, oats, avocado and grains. It is possible to find most things listed above… if you are willing to go an extra mile hehe. So avocado, cheese and salami is available at some Lotte Department stores, alternatively at E-mart (big supermarket) or a department store at Sinchon station (nice selection of salami). Sour cream and cottage cheese – Russian shops near Dondaemun History and Culture park station. Oats, bran, dried fruits, food supplements can be ordered online from For a quick fix of other western food, head to Itaewon, where you can find a little overpriced foreign supermarkets and a range of cafes and restaurants serving western food.

And speaking of shopping. There are thousands of shops and many shopping malls in and around Seoul. However, some things are impossible or very hard to find. Things like big towels (majority of the stores here sell hand towels only), ladies shoes size 8 (38 Euro, UK 6) and up, bras (from C cup and up), makeup for darker skin and deodorants. And nice tea and chocolate! I had no idea that deodorant could be such a big problem, but it is true. So stock up! My favourite online shopping website for clothes and shoes is of course, free shipping and great selection.

Next up on my list are gyms, swimming pools and saunas. Most gyms and fitness centers in residential areas do not have English speaking staff, so bringing a friend is a must, but on average monthly membership will set you back around 100,000 per month, for pretty basic equipment. Gym classes and climbing gyms charge between 10,000 and 15,000 won per visit. Jimjilbangs, or saunas if we speak in English were a big part of my life here, I absolutely love them! More info can be found here. I had to look for alternatives, such as hiking and cycling and later skiing. Websites such as have a whole range of classes and clubs if you want to join a group and is also a great way to meet fellow expats all over Korea. I met some great people though meetup groups!

Bed linen. Stores such as E-mart and Lotte mart have the biggest selection. A set of duvet, fitted sheet and a pillow will cost at least 50,000-60,000 for a single size bed.

Fruit and veg was a biiiiiig problem for me here. Let’s be honest here, I am addicted to apples, oranges, persimmons, carrots, avocadoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, bananas and potatoes and many other delicious food, all of which is super expensive here. I mean eye watering sometimes. A bag of six apples of 7,000 won or more? Welcome to Korea! Avocado is around 4,000 if you are lucky and costs for other fruit is around twice as what you’d expect to pay overseas and could be tricky to find. If you are in a residential area, try to find a local veg shop. They are hard, but possible to come by. Otherwise there are markets and local sellers on street corners. There is also a number of large food markets around Seoul, here is a link to one of them. I survived on broccoli, soups, apples and a lot of tofu, which is super cheap here! Hummus in Korea makes great hummus, which can be ordered online with delivery options Seoul-wide.

If you want to watch TV online, the best plug in to use is unblock us – all you have to do is pay 5 usd per month, and download a plug-in for your computer. You can select a region that you want, for example US, England or Canada and watch any TV channels that are available online on demand. I watched BBC iplayer pretty much everyday :).  Some people I know use hola unblocker, but it only works with Google chrome and for some reason it didn’t work for English websites that I wanted to access.

If you need a haircut, I would recommend giving a call to Johnny from Hair& Joy in Hongdae. Everyone at the salon speaks in English and Johnny himself is a really nice chap. I’ve been there  a few times and was always happy with the result. A cut and colour (highlights) costs between 120,000-150,000 won, which is reasonable I think for what you get. The atmosphere there is lovely.

Another “first world problem” I came across in Korea was a lack of newspapers and magazines in English. Of course you could find overpriced editions at big book stores at like 20 dollars a pop, but it is not an option for frequent purchases. One day I came across an app called Zinio, which became my friend ever since. You can buy digital editions of a wide range of magazines for a much much cheaper price. I also really like Daily Mail, BBC and NZ Herald apps, all of these sites will allow you to pre-upload info which you are in wifi range. There are two local newspapers in English, The Korea Times and The Korea Herald. Both cost around 1,000 with a special edition on the weekends.

There are many other things I can talk about here, finding many things can be tricky in a city like Seoul. Don’t be shy to ask around, or me or go to the website for foreigners in Korea

Last, but not least, a few more links to the websites I really enjoyed reading over the last year or so

* – a guide to foreign food in Seoul – a nice guide around town, lots of good tips – a guide to Korean make up and skin care – a well-written blog about travelling and living in Korea and also lots of advice on Korean skincare.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s