When people consider living in South Korea, Seoul is naturally the first city that they think of as a destination. That said, moving to Busan can be a great alternative for those who want to have the conveniences of big-city living without being overwhelmed by the enormity of a megalopolis like Seoul.
Though its population is dwarfed by Korea's capital, Busan is still a hidden gem of East Asia despite being a city of around 3.4 million people. Below are some pros and cons of living in Busan.
Getting around in Busan
+ PRO: Affordable, reliable options
Busan is home to a considerable public transit system that makes it easy for everyone to travel in and around the city. Six metro lines connect to all the major parts of Busan and a few of its surrounding cities. For those who prefer to be above ground, there are a variety of bus routes that can conveniently get people to any part of the city.
In a pinch, it's easy to grab a taxi at a fare far lower than one would find in other cities of Busan's size. For those looking to travel, Busan is well connected to the rest of Korea by intercity buses and trains, including the KTX bullet train connecting Busan to Seoul.
- CON: Limited international travel options
Nearby Gimhae Airport offers non-stop flights throughout East Asia and has broken into Europe with flights to Helsinki, though travellers will have to transfer to larger airports for longer trips. Compared to Seoul, international flights through Busan may feel limited. Some flights may also be pricier. Expats often choose to travel to Seoul and then fly from there, which can add to travel time and expenses.
Weather in Busan
+ PRO: Warmer winter weather
Thanks to Busan being far enough south and close to the sea, winters are slightly warmer than in the rest of the country. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and accumulated snowfall is rare.
- CON: Extreme weather in summer
Summers are when Busan experiences its most extreme weather. Humidity starts to creep up as early as May and monsoon rainfall occurs from June to September. Recently, Busan has been affected more frequently by typhoon storms that have passed through the area as late as September and November.
Cost of living in Busan
+ PRO: Lots of cheap local options available
Busan has a robust variety of restaurants for Korean food at cheap prices. This makes it easy and affordable for expats to try out the local cuisine.
- CON: Western food can be expensive
While there's plenty for those who want to experience Korean culture, it can be tricky at times to find the comforts of home. Western products can be found at stores like Costco and major supermarket chains, but shoppers should be prepared to pay higher prices for things like cheese and spices. While it's fairly easy to find popular international options throughout the city, more niche cuisine is typically limited to touristy places like Haeundae Beach.
Lifestyle in Busan
+ PRO: Wide variety of events
Busan has made great strides to make itself an entertainment hub. Whether it's a sporting event, concert, art exhibit, gaming expo, theatrical performance, or cultural festival, Busan offers a variety of events throughout the year to make a stay in the city memorable.
- CON: Limited international options
Expat residents can enjoy international artists, such as international touring productions at the Dream Theater and movies at the Busan International Film Festival. That said, they should be prepared to travel to Seoul to catch most musical acts going on world tours.
Accommodation in Busan
+ PRO: Affordable housing
Unlike Seoul, Busan offers a variety of accommodation options at a lower cost than can be found in South Korea's capital. The quality of housing in Busan can also exceed that found in Seoul, making it one of the best cities to live in South Korea.
- CON: Difficult to find suitable expat housing
While accommodation in Busan may be more affordable, finding a home in the city can be more challenging. There are few websites targeted at expats specifically and fewer English speakers than one might find in Seoul. Therefore, it becomes essential for expats to hire a real estate agent to facilitate the rental process.
Education in Busan
+ PRO: Excellent teaching standards and facilities
As the language of instruction in Korea's public schools is Korean, most parents opt to send their children to international schools in Busan. These schools typically boast exceptional teachers and school grounds, and they usually offer globally recognised curricula, making them a fantastic option for expat children.
- CON: Fewer international school options
Busan is currently home to only three international schools, meaning parents have limited options. The low number of international schools in Busan also means that space constraints in the city are genuine.
Healthcare in Busan
+ PRO: Several international clinics
As part of their coverage under South Korea's National Health Insurance (NHI) programme, expats living in Busan can access international clinics with services explicitly aimed at foreigners living in South Korea.
+ PRO: English-speaking and interpretation care services are available
Local hospitals and clinics will usually also have English-speaking doctors and interpreters on staff, making it possible for expats to access Busan's exceptional healthcare services.
► For more information on the city, read Frequently Asked Questions about Busan
"I enjoyed the beautiful beaches, the mountains to go hiking in… basically the outdoors! However, in Asia the air quality is very poor (most people wear masks) so as much as I love the outdoors, there are problems with it in South Korea as well. I love the friendliness of Koreans and locals, and the amazing transportation system. Plus the nightlife is great!" Learn about Samantha's experience as an expat in Busan in her interview.
"I love the expat community the most in Busan. It’s easier to make friends as an adult when we’re all sort of forced together. Busan is a hive of creativity. Outside of that, I’d say the public transportation here takes the proverbial cake. Busan has cheap and fast transit all over the city." Read about Azra, an American expat, and their move to Busan.
Are you an expat living in Busan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Busan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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