- Download our Moving to Seoul Guide (PDF)
As South Korea's economic powerhouse, Seoul has a wide range of accommodation options available. Few expats buy property, but renting property in South Korea can be considerably more complicated than doing so in Western countries. As a result, employers often organise accommodation close to their offices on behalf of their foreign employees.
Most accommodation in Seoul frequently comes in the form of towering apartment blocks. These tend to consist of four to eight apartment buildings which are clustered together. Most will have small communal playgrounds or recreational areas along with parking facilities.
Areas and suburbs in Seoul
With 25 districts and countless neighbourhoods, Seoul boasts a plethora of diverse areas and suburbs. One of the most important factors for expats to consider when choosing a home in their new city is proximity to their workplace and children's schools. Traffic congestion in Seoul is known to get terrible during peak hours, so expats could find themselves spending hours commuting.
Students and young professionals looking to be within the hustle and bustle of things should look no further than neighbourhoods such as Hongdae, Itaewon and Gangnam. These are some of the most sought-after areas, as they boast excellent amenities, bars, restaurants and clubs. That said, accommodation in these areas can sometimes go for a premium, so expats who do not have their housing covered by their employer will need to consider this.
While Seoul may be a sprawling metropolis, expat families will find pockets of tranquillity and green spaces nestled between the concrete jungle. Single-family homes are uncommon in Seoul, so expats looking for a family-friendly neighbourhood that won't break the bank should look no further than Seodaemun-gu. With plenty of nature parks, Seodaemun-gu offers apartments but with more opportunities for outdoor living.
Hannam-dong and UN Village, Seongbuk-dong, Pyeongchang and Seorae Village are all family-friendly areas that have beautiful freestanding houses with gardens. As these areas offer convenient access to international schools and have majestic properties, they are largely home to diplomats and affluent expat families.
Read more about Areas and Suburbs in Seoul
Types of accommodation in Seoul
While the apartment is by far the most common type of housing in Seoul, there are other options for expats to consider. Serviced apartments are a good option for expats staying in Seoul for a short amount of time. They are usually furnished and offer services like cleaning and a foyer concierge, and amenities such as a swimming pool and gym. These are usually quite expensive compared to non-serviced apartments.
An officetel is a unit within a high-rise building that houses both office and residential space. These apartments are usually furnished and are quite popular with young expats and students. A private house is ideal for an expat family, but unfortunately, these are extremely rare in a city like Seoul. Expats living on the outskirts of the city might, however, be lucky enough to find one.
Finding accommodation in Seoul
It might be difficult for expats whose employers haven’t arranged housing for them to find a place to live in Seoul. There are, however, some useful tools available to assist expats in their search for the perfect accommodation. Local English-language newspapers such as the Korea Times and The Korean Herald usually contain property listings. Alternatively, listings can be found through online property portals and expat social media groups. It’s also a good idea to check the advertising boards in apartment buildings for listed vacancies.
Visiting estate agents directly is also a good place to start, as they will be privy to a wide selection of availabilities. Although many estate agents may not speak English, there are some estate agencies which specialise in the expat market, which minimises language barrier issues.
Renting accommodation in Seoul
Making an application
Renting an apartment in Seoul requires a lot of time, energy and usually a helpful Korean-speaking colleague or friend to handle negotiations and lease agreements. Most expats will not need to go through this process as their employer will typically provide accommodation. New arrivals to Seoul will need proof of employment, their residence card and a passport to legally rent housing in the city.
Leases, costs and fees
Typically, rental leases in Seoul are signed for a one- to three-year term. Renters have to give at least three months’ notice if they want to move out. The financial aspect of renting accommodation in Seoul will depend on which rental system expats choose. South Korea allows tenants to pick between the jeonse, wolse and banjeonse rental systems, which are different in the amount expats need to pay as a deposit. All deposits are refundable at the end of the term should there be no damage to the property.
See Accommodation in South Korea for detailed information on the rental process in the country.
Utilities aren't typically included in the monthly rent, so expats will need to budget extra for this. Expats moving into apartment complexes or villas will usually have their utilities connected and will only need to add their names to the bill. Expats should note that utility bills can be paid via bank transfer at the bank, ATM, through a mobile app or even at some convenience stores.
Electricity and gas
South Korea's electricity provider is Korea Electricity Power Corporation (KEPCO), and expats must call or email their local office in Seoul to set up their accounts. It is also possible to do this online, and it will usually be activated relatively quickly.
Although South Korea's government is working towards deregulating the electricity and gas markets, the process remains in progress. Seoul City Gas Company supplies the gas in the city. Expats are encouraged to monitor their usage as the monthly bill can be unpredictable.
Water in Seoul is provided by the waterworks of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and it is sourced from the Han River. Similarly to electricity and gas connections, new arrivals moving into complexes and villas will likely only need to change the name on the bill. This can be done by visiting a local waterworks office with a passport and bank account details.
Bins and recycling
Waste management and recycling in South Korea are taken seriously, and expats may be subjected to warnings or fines if they fail to adhere to local regulations. Waste disposal in Seoul works on the Volume-Based Waste Fee (VBWF) system, making residents pay for the waste they generate.
Expats will need to buy different coloured bags to dispose of their food waste, recyclable materials, general waste and large items. These bags are unique to specific districts and cannot be used in other districts. They can be purchased from local grocery or convenience stores, and the prices vary in each region and according to size.
Waste collection typically takes place once a week, and there will usually be a designated collection area for expats living in apartments or officetels. For large items, it's best for expats to contact their local district office and schedule a collection for a fee. There are also additional regulations regarding how rubbish should be disposed of, and expats should visit their local district's website for more on this.
Seoul boasts several excellent telecommunications companies that provide fast internet and mobile services. See Keeping in Touch in South Korea for more information.
►Areas and Suburbs in Seoul gives an overview of the city's most popular expat neighbourhoods
"Apartments tend to be incredibly small. My apartment only has space for a cupboard, single bed, a small bathroom and a kitchen sink." Read Malcolm's advice on accommodation in Seoul.
"[My apartment] has everything I need and even has heated floors. Also, it’s just quite cute and compact and I have a great view of the city." Read Maggies's thoughts on living in Seoul.
Are you an expat living in Seoul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Seoul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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