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Interview with Guillaume and Hammer – a French and Hong Kong expat in South Korea

Updated 28 Jun 2023

Hammer and Guillaume are an expat couple from Hong Kong and France who lived and loved everything about Seoul, South Korea for four years. Besides the language barrier, Hammer and Guillaume enjoyed exploring South Korea, finding its hidden gems and sharing them with their audience on their informative and fun blog. They have since packed their bags and jetted off to Malaysia to create even more memorable experiences.

For more from Hammer and Guillaume, check out their blog, A Fun Couple which features plenty of helpful information for successfully relocating to and living in South Korea. You can also connect with them on Instagram and Facebook and watch their videos on YouTube

About Hammer and Guillaume

Q: When did you move to South Korea?
A: We moved to South Korea back in 2018 and left in 2022 after four fantastic years! 

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Before South Korea, we lived in Singapore for three years. 
Guillaume is from France, and he lived in over 10 different countries in his life! That's quite a number. He studied or worked abroad most of his life. 

We actually met in Hong Kong when Guillaume was working there for a large automotive company. I am actually from Hong Kong. After living together for three years in Hong Kong, we decided to move to Singapore. This was my first expat experience, and I loved it!

Q: Did you move to South Korea alone or with a spouse/family?
A: We moved together, Guillaume and I.

Q: Why did you move?
A: Guillaume's company transferred him from Hong Kong to Singapore and then to South Korea. After my first expat experience in Singapore, I was super excited to discover another country again! We had the option to either move to Bangkok in Thailand or Seoul in South Korea. We finally opted for the latter. After living in South East Asia for a while, we wanted to discover something completely new again.

Q: How have your interests changed since moving to South Korea? Have you adopted any new hobbies? 
A: One of the reasons we moved to South Korea was also to enjoy the four distinctive seasons and the different climate compared to South East Asia. We moved to South Korea right after the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. While watching the mountains and the snow on TV, we were already picturing ourselves going snowboarding every weekend during winter! Which we actually did, and it was super awesome. South Korea has plenty of fun ski resorts all around the country!

Guillaume is also fond of surfing. We discovered that South Korea is full of amazing surf spots, and we've listed them all in our blog. We especially enjoyed going to the east coast around Yangyang and Gangeung.

In autumn and spring, the natural beauty of South Korea blew us away. In spring, you have the amazing cherry blossoms all around the country. It's absolutely stunning! In autumn, the entire nature turned into sharp yellow, red and orange colours. So, we hiked many different mountains, even the country's highest Peak in Jeju called Hallasan. There are so many amazing places to discover in South Korea. As you can see, we are a very outdoorsy couple, so South Korea was perfect for us!

Q: What does your daily life look like? What are some of your favourite restaurants to eat at? 
A: Ah, the food! This is another BIG PLUS of living in South Korea. Food here is delicious. You might already know about the famous Korean barbeque. Well, this is just a small part of their cuisine. There is so much more to it. Our ultimate favourite dish was the grilled eel called Jangeo-gui in Korean. This is a freshwater eel that is then grilled Korean-barbeque style, after which you can add different sauces and wrap everything with different green leaves.

We also got 100 percent addicted to kimchi! A fermented and spicy cabbage. We eat it every single day. Even after leaving South Korea, we still crave kimchi every week! Guillaume and I stopped eating meat a few years ago. We still eat fish/seafood though, and as Korea is basically surrounded by the sea, there are so many options for delicious seafood. For vegans out there, there are more and more meatless restaurants opening in South Korea.

Q: What has this international move taught you about yourselves? And how has it affected your relationships with your loved ones?
A: For me, I never considered moving out of Hong Kong, but then Guillaume convinced me to move with him to Singapore. As my first international move, it wasn't easy. I had to start everything from scratch again, as I had my own business in Hong Kong. Besides, I felt like I had left my family behind. However, after the first couple of months, I started to feel more comfortable, met some good friends and started to learn to become a yoga teacher. 

This was also the time I started to embrace all these cultural differences and enjoyed being a foreigner in a new country. My family also came to visit me to see where we lived. It was really fun to show them my new life!  
After Singapore, moving to South Korea didn't feel so hard, as I already knew what to expect when moving to a new country. It's actually super exciting to move to a new country and start a new chapter in life abroad! 
Recently we moved to Malaysia, this is now my third move, and secretly I am already thinking about where to go next after the next few years! I now fully embrace this expat life.

Living in South Korea

Q: What did you enjoy most about living in South Korea? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home countries?
A: To be honest, settling as a foreigner in South Korea wasn't super easy. At least, not as easy as in Singapore, for instance. The language barrier is a big thing there! The cultural differences can also be quite jarring. I would say it took us roughly six months to get fully settled and to start appreciating our life there; after that, it was pure bliss!

This country is so amazing, with so many incredible places to visit. I think we probably visited more places in South Korea than the average Koreans would in their life. Every weekend we were exploring new parts of the country. This is the time we decided to start our blog to let the world know about all these fantastic places! From incredible tea plantations in Boseong to rice paddy fields in Namhae, incredible beaches all around the country and historical places such as Gyeongju or Jeonju, we were completely stunned by the landscape! Besides, Seoul, where we lived, is a fantastic place with so many awesome districts to discover. 

Q: Any negative experiences? What did you miss most about home?
A: The language barrier is definitely not easy... going to the bank, ordering food online, paying your bills, everything is in Korean and very few documents/websites are translated into English. While it can be very frustrating at times, it's also part of the expat experience, and this makes fun stories to tell back home!

Perhaps another point which we didn't expect is the pollution. There are a few weeks every year when the pollution is extremely high in some parts of the country… There are many factors influencing this. But it's not a pleasant experience overall… One must-have household item in South Korea is an air filter! Invest in a good one, and you won't regret it.

Q: What's the cost of living compared to your home countries? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in your host country?
A: Compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, Seoul felt as expensive actually. Well, the rent is a bit lower, BUT, and it is a big 'but' here, the rental system in South Korea is unique and for expats quite inconvenient in South Korea. Instead of paying a monthly rental amount to the landlord, Koreans have something called jeonse. Here the tenant must pay a large lump sum, which is deposited for the duration of the contract. This deposit, also called 'key money', is usually between 50 and 70 percent of the property's value! Insane, right!? Well, this key money is returned to the tenant in full after leaving the property! So, if you have some savings, it is not that bad.

That said, the system is currently changing, so more and more landlords will accept a monthly rental payment, which was the case for us, thankfully. However, they may still ask for a high deposit, which could be equivalent to five or more months. Usually, the higher the deposit, the lower the rent. So having some savings before moving to South Korea is a necessity in our opinion!

Q: How would you rate the public transport in your city? What is your most memorable experience of using your city's transport system?
A: Public transport in the big cities is outstanding! And to go from one city to another, you can use the KTX, which is the high-speed train in Korea. The trains in South Korea are pretty much always on time, at least this was our experience. 

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in your city? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals?
A: Despite the language barrier, the healthcare system in Korea is perhaps one of the most developed in the world! And most of the big hospitals have foreign services, which means someone who speaks English can accompany you to see the doctor. In our experience, most doctors could speak English, so it wasn't a problem. 

Did you know Samsung is not only making phones, TV or A/C, by the way? Don't be surprised if you see the Samsung Hospital! One of our favourite hospitals in Seoul, actually.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in your host country? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Not at all. South Korea is super safe!

Q: Any areas or suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: We would rather recommend living in Seoul or Busan. We made a comparison of both cities on our blog.

Meeting people and making friends in South Korea

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in the country?
A: Well, yes and no… traditionally, if you look back at the history of South Korea, they have had a tough past, with lots of foreign invasions that did not contribute to the development of the country. So over the years, Koreans started to be quite suspicious of foreigners, which is understandable. The country became quite closed off to foreign investment for a long time. And there are many examples of that still present today. For instance, most apps used in Korea were made for Koreans only. Kakao Talk, the main chat app, completely replaced Whatsapp. Kakao Map or Naver are used as the main navigation app, and not Google Maps or Waze. We have hundreds of those examples.

However, the new generations are much more open! More foreign brands are present in the country, and foreigners are generally much more accepted. Personally, we did not feel discriminated against, except once. In fact, during Covid, South Korea was one of the first countries affected after China. Many restaurants started to ban foreigners from entering their place, which felt super strange, to be honest!

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes, absolutely! I think we were quite lucky also to meet so many local friends. Either from work, yoga, sports or via other friends. We were also dog sitters when living in South Korea, so by helping people out with their pets, we also made some good friends over the years. South Koreans are wonderful people. Always here to help, always keen for a night out, and it's always a lot of fun! Even today, our South Korean friends came to visit us in Malaysia. This is the beauty of being expats; we now have friends all over the world! 

Working in South Korea

Q: What are some of the things that are most different in the workplace in South Korea from what you're used to in your home country? 
A: The fact that everyone calls each other by their title in the company rather than by their name. This is because the society in South Korea is very hierarchical. By knowing your title, people know the level of respect they need to apply. As Guillaume was a Director in South Korea, his colleagues called him "Sajang Nim", which would roughly translate to "Dear Director". 

Q: How would you describe the general work-life balance in South Korea and your personal work-life balance?
A: WORK HARD - PLAY HARD! South Koreans work really hard but also know how to have fun after work.
Guillaume had so much fun with his colleagues after work. For him, he said it was actually one of the best working environments. People are so committed to delivering good results and also want to have fun together. 
Although not everywhere is like that, we heard quite a lot of different stories. Our recommendations would be to build strong connections with the employees to fully embrace the working culture in South Korea.

The working hours used to be extreme here, but over the last few years, the government forced companies to limit overtime. The measures in place are quite successful and facilitate a much better work-life balance in South Korea. 

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: We were lucky as an agency handled this for us. Overall, it was very easy. We only had to visit the Korean embassy once when we were in Singapore. We then got approved very quickly.

Family and children in South Korea

Q: What are some of the family attractions and activities you can recommend?
A: There are tons of things to do in South Korea! People don't know how rich this country is in terms of landscape, nature, beaches. But also in terms of great cities like Seoul and Busan. We wrote hundreds of articles about many great things to see in South Korea on our blog. 

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to South Korea?
A: If you have the chance to have an expat experience in South Korea, go for it! You are going to have lots of fun! You will also have the opportunity to discover such a stunning country, which is not yet as known as many other Asian countries. You will also discover a country with a unique culture, amazing people and delicious food! 

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