- Download our Moving to South Korea Guide (PDF)
South Korea is a small mountainous country dotted with valleys and narrow coastal plains. 51.6 million inhabitants populate its many large cities and smaller rural towns scattered throughout its diverse landscape. Expats moving to South Korea will discover a fiercely competitive modern country that is still steeped in ancient history and tradition.
Living in South Korea as an expat
Most foreigners find employment teaching English in Korean schools or working in electronics, finance, IT and production. As the home of industry giants such as Samsung and LG Electronics, South Korea has a tech-centric economy. Fittingly, the country consistently ranks as having one of the fastest internet infrastructures in the world. This is useful for doing business in South Korea and helps expats keep in touch with family and friends back home.
Many expats move to Seoul, the country's capital, its most densely populated city and the chief industrial centre. Like 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. The KTX and SRT high-speed trains connect Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu and Busan – the most popular expat cities in South Korea – and enable passengers to hurtle from Seoul in the north to Busan in the south in about three hours.
South Koreans enjoy entertainment, and the country's nightlife is fantastic, especially in the larger cities. There are several cultural festivals celebrated throughout the year, and the country has a bustling K-pop scene that frequently attracts international stars.
Cost of living in South Korea
The cost of living in South Korea is high, with Seoul being among the 20 most expensive cities in the world. The rest of the country is slightly, if not significantly, cheaper than the capital, though.
Accommodation is expensive, despite apartments being tiny, and all imported foodstuffs and goods are also costly. That said, salaries are competitive, and employment contracts often include accommodation and schooling. Transport, locally manufactured goods and Korean food are also largely wallet-friendly.
Families and children in South Korea
The standard of education in South Korea is excellent. Expats generally send their children to one of the country's many foreign-language or international schools, as the language of instruction at the local public schools is Korean. There is a culture of excellence at schools in South Korea, which places a large amount of pressure on children to do well. Luckily, a large tutoring industry in the country exists to assist children with their learning.
Expat parents will be delighted to find that 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. There will also be plenty of things to entertain the little ones over the weekend.
Climate in South Korea
South Koreans pride themselves on their country’s distinctive and beautiful four seasons. The country has a continental climate of freezing, dry winters and humid, hot summers, with short, mild spring and autumn months in between.
Despite certain challenges, Korean culture is intriguing and rewards those who seek an understanding of its traditions. The country is incredibly safe with low crime rates, and expats moving to South Korea can expect a warm welcome from locals and other foreigners.
Population: Over 51,6 million
Capital city: Seoul (also the 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). Although English is widely spoken in business circles in large cities, this is not the case throughout the country.
Money: The South Korean Won (KRW) is divided into 100 jeon. The banking system in South Korea is modern and efficient, and ATMs can be found almost everywhere.
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: 220V, 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-hand side of the road. South Korea has a reliable and efficient transport system, with buses and taxis in all cities and metro stations in the main cities.
►Read about the ups and downs of life in the country in Pros and Cons of Moving to South Korea
►See Frequently Asked Questions for answers to any questions you may have about moving to South Korea
"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!" Read Guillaume and Hammer's interview to learn more about their expat experience in South Korea.
"My advice would be to accept that you are in a different country, and it will not be the same as home. Instead of focusing on what you miss, be open to experiencing all the new and wonderful things that Korea has to offer!" Learn about Bronwyn's move to South Korea and her experience of expat life in the country.
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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