- Download our Moving to Seoul Guide (PDF)
The cost of living in Seoul is exceptionally high. In the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Seoul was ranked as the 16th most expensive out of 227 cities worldwide, outdoing cities such as London and Vienna 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 there are frequent traffic jams in the capital.
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, there is a range of international schools on offer in the city.
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 take care of 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 centre
|Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment in the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|Food and drink
|Milk (1 litre)
|Loaf of white bread
|Chicken breasts (1kg)
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant
|Big Mac Meal
|Bottle of beer (local)
|Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)
|Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)
|City-centre public transport fare
|Gasoline (per litre)
What do expats say about the cost of living in Seoul?
"Compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, Seoul felt as expensive actually. Well, the rent is a bit lower, BUT, and it is a big 'but' here, the rental system in South Korea is unique and for expats quite inconvenient in South Korea. Instead of paying a monthly rental amount to the landlord, Koreans have something called jeonse. Here the tenant must pay a large lump sum, which is deposited for the duration of the contract. This deposit, also called 'key money', is usually between 50 and 70 percent of the property's value! Insane, right!? Well, this key money is returned to the tenant in full after leaving the property! So, if you have some savings, it is not that bad." Read more about Guillaume and Hammer, French and Hong Kong expats, and their experience living in Seoul.
►Read more about the lifestyle 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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