Expats moving to South Korea will discover a fiercely competitive modern country that is still steeped in ancient history and tradition. As the home of tech giants such as Samsung and LG Electronics, South Korea has a tech-centric economy. Fittingly, the country consistently ranks as having the fastest internet in the world, ahead of both Hong Kong and Japan. Not only is this useful for doing business in South Korea, but it also helps expats keep in touch with family and friends back home.
Most foreigners find employment teaching English in Korean schools or working in electronics, finance, IT and production. Many expats also move to Seoul, the country's capital, its most densely populated city and the chief industrial centre. Of the estimated 51 million people who call South Korea home, around 25 million live in the Seoul Metropolitan Area. As with many Asian cities, it's dominated by high-rise buildings and apartment blocks. Between all the high-tech, modern buildings, however, is an interesting array of temples, palaces and museums, all conveniently connected by Seoul’s efficient subway system.
The extensive road, rail and ferry transport systems in South Korea connect its nine provinces. Similar to Japan’s bullet train, the KTX and SRT connect Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu and Busan – the cities most popular with expats – and enables passengers to hurtle from Seoul in the north to Busan in the south in about three hours.
The healthcare system in South Korea is as advanced as its transport network. The country is at the forefront of medical research and constantly strives to push the boundaries of medical knowledge. Similarly, the standard of education in South Korea is also high, with a number of foreign language and international schools in Seoul and other major cities, as well as in some smaller towns. Living standards are also high and, although accommodation is expensive, the cost of living is reasonable.
South Korean cuisine is very different from Asian foods that expats are often familiar with and may initially challenge their palates. Perseverance is crucial, however, since there are many regional delicacies worth sampling, although Western food is also readily available in larger cities.
South Koreans enjoy entertainment, and the country's nightlife is fantastic, especially in the larger cities. There are a number of cultural festivals celebrated throughout the year and the country has a bustling music scene that frequently attracts international stars.
Politically, South Korea does not enjoy a good relationship with its neighbour, North Korea. However, this rarely affects ordinary people going about their daily business.
Despite certain challenges, Korean culture is intriguing and rewards deeper understanding. South Korea is an incredibly safe country with low crime rates, and expats can expect a warm welcome from locals and other foreigners.
Population: Over 51 million
Capital city: Seoul (also largest city)
Neighbouring countries: North Korea, Japan and China
Geography: The country shares a border with North Korea to the north. It's separated from China by the Yellow Sea to the east, and Japan by the Sea of Japan.
Political system: Presidential constitutional republic
Major religions: Christianity, Buddhism, but largely secular
Main languages: Korean (Hangul). English is not widely spoken.
Money: The South Korean Won (KRW), divided into 100 jeon. The banking system in South Korea is modern and efficient and ATMs can be found almost anywhere.
Tipping: It isn't usual to tip in South Korea. Top restaurants and luxury hotels sometimes add a service charge of 10 percent to the bill.
Time: GMT +9
Electricity: 220 volts, 60Hz. 'Type C' and 'type F' rounded, two-pin plugs are used. Adapters are widely available at the airport and city convenience stores.
Internet domain: .kr
International dialling code: +82
Emergency contacts: 112 (police), 1345 (foreigner information service), 119 (fire and ambulance)
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right. South Korea has a reliable and efficient transport system, with buses and taxis in all cities, and metro stations in the main cities.
"I love the friendliness of Koreans and locals, and the amazing transportation system. Plus the nightlife is great!" Read more about Samantha's experiences in South Korea.
"People often worry about safety in South Korea due to political tensions with North Korea but honestly, I’ve never felt safer." Read more about Brit's experiences living in South Korea.
Are you an expat living in South Korea?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Korea. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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