The cost of living in Seoul is exceptionally high. In the 2024 Mercer Cost of Living City Ranking, Seoul was ranked as the 32nd most expensive out of 226 cities worldwide, outdoing cities such as Frankfurt, Germany and Dublin, Ireland to earn this spot.

All the same, salaries are competitive in Seoul, and employment contracts often cover accommodation and education. For expats who can find work here, this should go far in making the cost of living in Seoul more affordable. Other ways to keep costs down include using public transport, eating local cuisine bought at smaller stores and markets, and shopping for local products.

Cost of accommodation in Seoul

Accommodation in Seoul is costly, but expats' employers generally organise and pay for their accommodation. Expats who decide to secure their housing should be aware of South Korea's rental systems and the tradition of 'key money'. The jeonse system requires a massive deposit that eliminates rent but leads to high upfront costs. Expats who cannot afford the initial costs can choose the more accommodating wolse or banjeonse systems that will allow them to pay a small deposit and a monthly rental fee.

Basic utilities such as gas, electricity and uncapped WiFi tend to be affordable.

Cost of transport in Seoul

As long as expats don't plan to travel around the countryside regularly, they typically find owning a car in Seoul unnecessary and inconvenient. Parking is difficult to find, and the capital has frequent traffic jams.

Public transport in Seoul is world-class: extensive, clean, efficient and relatively affordable. Passengers can take advantage of lower rates on the metro or buses using the rechargeable T-money Card instead of buying individual tickets.

Cost of groceries in Seoul

Korean food and brands are largely affordable, especially when buying in bulk. Savvy expats will shop at markets and smaller stores, avoiding the markup often found at supermarkets. Dairy and fresh produce may go for more than expats expect, and those who don't buy in bulk will find that the cost of groceries goes up sharply. Furthermore, imported brands from Europe or the US are costly.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Seoul

Eating out is typically inexpensive for expats who stick to Korean cuisine, and due to discounts for buying in bulk, single expats may find it more affordable than buying and cooking food for one. Eating at foreign restaurants will come with a higher price tag.

Revellers and nature-loving expats alike will feel at home in Seoul, with plenty of nightlife opportunities and outdoor activities. As the costs of these activities can add up, expats may need to budget carefully and search for free alternatives where possible.

Cost of education in Seoul

Public education in South Korea is free throughout all stages of schooling. That said, expats rarely enrol their children in public schools. Although schools in Seoul are well known for their academic excellence, there are a few barriers for expat children, including the fact that Korean is the language of instruction as well as the highly pressured, results-oriented learning environment.

International school fees in Seoul may very well be expat parents' largest expense after accommodation. Given the extensive expat population of diplomats and military personnel, the city offers a range of international schools.

Cost of healthcare in Seoul

Healthcare in Seoul is largely affordable, especially when compared to that of developed countries such as the US. Expats will be subscribed to the National Health Insurance programme, which covers 50 percent of healthcare costs. 

Most employed expats will also have private health insurance coverage that will cover another 25 percent of the costs, meaning expats will only have to pay a small percentage of the total cost.

Cost of living in Seoul chart

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Seoul for February 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreKRW 3,600,000
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreKRW 2,000,000
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreKRW 1,120,000
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreKRW 700,000
Food and drink
Dozen eggsKRW 6,300
Milk (1 litre)KRW 2,900
Rice (1kg)KRW 4,500
Loaf of white breadKRW 4,100
Chicken breasts (1kg)KRW 6,900
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)KRW 4,500
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantKRW 65,000
Big Mac MealKRW 8,000
Coca-Cola (330ml)KRW 2,100
CappuccinoKRW 5,200
Bottle of beer (local)KRW 2,900
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)KRW 184
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)KRW 29,000
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)KRW 270,000
Taxi rate/kmKRW 1,000
City-centre public transport fareKRW 1,400
Gasoline (per litre)KRW 1,650

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