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Cost of living in Seoul Korea 2012

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For anybody who is planning to move to South Korea either for job or for study, the first thing that you would want to know is – what would be the cost of living in Korea for me and my family (if applicable) and second thing you would want to know is – Can I survive in Korea – in terms of food, language and culture.

I did write about Cost of living in Korea, when I first moved to Korea in 2010. And that article has helped a lot of people planning to relocate to Korea. It pretty much addressed the question about what is the cost of living for an individual in Korea but it does not necessarily answer questions about cost of living for a family in Korea. So this time I did a small survey with my friends in Korea to understand their cost of living as a student, as a working professional, as a married couple with no kids and as a couple with kids.

These are my findings that I would like to share with you so that it can help you with your relocation to Korea. You can directly jump to the section that is more relevant to you.

Cost of living in Korea for a bachelor (single student or working professional)

Expenses Minimum Maximum
Accommodation – Housing Rent 300000 600000
Maintenance – Electricity, Water and Gas 100000 200000
Food 200000 500000
Mobile 20000 80000
Internet 20000 40000
Traveling – daily commute to work 50000 100000
Doctor 5000 10000
Other Expenses (partying, trips etc.) 60000 400000
Total Cost of living for bachelors 755000 KRW 1930000 KRW

Let me present two hypothetical individuals to understand the cost of living better.

Cost of living in Korea for Maya, 22, Female Student from South Africa

  • Receives 500,000 KRW in scholarship per month towards her living expense
  • She lives in a Goshiwon where one time meal is provided along with breakfast
  • The Goshiwon where she stays is close to her university so she does not have to travel much.
  • Owns a basic mobile phone with a calling card facility to call home (abroad).
  • She uses the Internet facility in her college lab.
  • She is not insured, as she cannot afford the insurance. She asks her parents to send her the medicine from her hometown.
  • All her weekends she is busy studying and completing her assignments, so partying and hanging out with friends is out of question for her.
  • She manages to keep her monthly expenses below 500,000 KRW – (approx. $500 per month).

Cost of living in Korea for Sameer, 27, Male, Chemical Engineer from Syria

  • Lives in a Studio Apartment in Seoul.
  • His office is in downtown Gangnam area whereas he stays in the metropolitan area of Seoul, so he has to commute daily to work via subway trains.
  • Owns a smart phone with a 3G facility for Internet browsing on the move.
  • His monthly visits to the doctor are as low as 10,000 won (including medicines) as his employer insures him.
  • On weekends he is busy clubbing, partying or exploring Korea.
  • A major chunk of his salary goes towards maintaining his lifestyle.
  • His expenses are around 1800,000 KRW per month - (approx. $1800 per month).

Few important things to remember

  • Individuals who live frugally manage to keep their expenses well below 500,000 KRW per month
  • Individuals who stay close to their office or university manage to save some money on their daily commute. But if the office were located in the popular or commercial area then the rental would be very high.
  • Individuals who cook their own food have managed to cut down their cost to a great extent.

Cost of living in Korea for a married couple with no kids

Expenses Minimum Maximum
Accommodation – Housing Rent 500000 1700000
Maintenance – Electricity, Water and Gas 100000 200000
Food 100000 800000
Mobile 20000 140000
Internet 40000 40000
Traveling – daily commute to work 50000 100000
Doctor 15000 60000
Other Expenses 50000 200000
Total Cost of living for Couples 875000 KRW 3240000 KRW

Let me present two hypothetical couples to understand the cost of living better.

Cost of living for Rajeev and Riya from India

  • Rajeev, 27 is a PhD Student and Riya, 25 is a housewife.
  • They both live in small apartment in Seoul.
  • The apartment is close to their university so he does not have to travel much.
  • They both own a basic mobile phone with a calling card facility to call home.
  • They have Internet facility at home.
  • They are both insured, so visiting a doctor is not very expensive.
  • They prefer cooking food at home.
  • They prefer online shopping on gmarket and craigslist.
  • Weekend expenses are minimal as most of the time they are busy attending community gatherings. Trips to exploring Korea are occasional.
  • They manage to keep their monthly expenses below 800,000 KRW – (approx. $800 per month).

Cost of living for Eric and Kim, from United States

  • Eric 32 is a Marketing Consultant and Kim 27 is an English Teacher in Korea
  • They both live n a spacious apartment in downtown Gangnam area of Seoul.
  • Since his office is in downtown Gangnam area he does not have to commute much to work.
  • They both own a smart phone with a 3G facility for Internet browsing on the move.
  • Their monthly visits to the doctor are as low as 15,000 won (including medicines) as his employer insures both of them.
  • Sometimes they cook, sometimes they order food from restaurants.
  • On weekends they are mostly at movies or watching plays, shopping, exploring art galleries and cafes around Seoul. They like exploring interesting places in Korea.
  • Their monthly cost of living is around 3000,000 KRW - (approx. $3000 per month).

Few important things to remember

  • Couples who live frugally have managed to keep their cost of living well below 800,000 KRW
  • Couples who cook their own food have managed to cut down their cost to a great extent.
  • Couples who are insured are more prepared to face unexpected contingencies.
  • Finding an accommodation is based on mutual convenience most of the time.

Cost of living in Korea for a married couple with kids

Expenses Minimum Maximum
Accommodation – Housing Rent 500000 1000000
Maintenance – Electricity, Water and Gas 150000 450000
Food 150000 500000
Communication – Mobile & Internet 50000 200000
Traveling – daily commute to work 50000 100000
Kids Education 1000000 1700000
Doctor 10000 50000
Total Cost of living for Families 2000000 KRW 4000000 KRW

Let me present two hypothetical families to understand the cost of living better.

Cost of Living for Salim, Sanjida from Pakistan and their newborn kid

  • Salim, 33 is a Software Engineer and Sanjida, 26 is a housewife with a newborn kid.
  • They both live in small apartment in Seoul.
  • The apartment is not close to the office so Salim has to travel for work everyday.
  • They both own a basic mobile phone with a calling card facility to call home.
  • They have Internet facility at home.
  • They are both insured, but their expenses on their newborn kid are a bit high.
  • They cook food at home.
  • They prefer online shopping on gmarket and craigslist.
  • Weekend expenses are minimal as most of the time they are busy attending community gatherings.
  • They manage to keep their monthly expenses below 1200,000 KRW  - (approx. $1200 per month).

Cost of living for Madhav and Megha from India and their two kids Mansi and Mandar

  • Madhav 45 is a Sr. Research Engineer and Megha 40 is a housewife in Korea. They both have 2 kids – Mansi who is 11 yrs old and Mandar who is 5 yrs old.
  • They live in a spacious apartment in Daegu.
  • The apartment is not close to the office so Madhav has to travel for work everyday.
  • They own a basic mobile phone with a calling card facility to call home.
  • They have Internet facility at home.
  • They are all insured, which helps them to keep their medical expenses low.
  • They cook their food at home.
  • They prefer online shopping on gmarket and craigslist.
  • They send Mandar to an English Kindergarten and Megha to an International Highschool in Korea
  • They manage to keep their monthly expenses below 4000,000 KRW  - (approx. $4000 per month).

Few important things to remember

  • Families who send their kids to a Korean kindergarten pay around 250,000~300,000 KRW per month as Kindergarten fees.
  • Families who send their kids to 100% English kindergarten pay around 500,000~600,000 KRW per month as kindergarten.
  • Fees for educating your kids from a Korean elementary school is free, but its start from the age of six.
  • Families who send their kids to an International English pay around 1,300,000~1,700,000 KRW per month per kid as fees.
  • Families who are insured are more prepared to face unexpected contingencies.

Other important points to remember

Accommodation: your Korean company can help you with the accommodation in the following ways.

  • They provide you with accommodation so you do not have to worry about the monthly rent, deposits and maintenance.
  • They provide you with accommodation so you do not have to worry about the monthly rent and deposits but the maintenance expenses will have to be borne by you.
  • They do not provide you with accommodation but they can provide you with the deposit money. In this case you have to pay the monthly rent as well as the maintenance.
  • They do not provide you with accommodation or deposit money but they sometimes provide you with relocation expenses.

Deposit: The refundable deposit for a studio apartment could be anywhere around 2000,000 KRW (2 Million Won), whereas the refundable deposit for a spacious apartment would be around 15,000,000 KRW (15 Million Won).

Lease: There is a Lease system in Korea called as “Jeonse”. This system is almost outdated and abolished in Seoul but is still applicable in other parts of Korea. Under Jeonse system, one is supposed to pay around 15 Million Won as refundable deposit for atleast a year along with the monthly rent of 150,000 KRW to 250,000 KRW depending upon number of rooms in the apartment.

Studio apartments – also known as Goshiwon or Hasuk Jib in Korean are the cheapest for students if your college is not providing you with hostel or accommodation facility. Your monthly expenses would be as low as 10,000 won per day (or 300,000 won per month) including one time meal and breakfast.

Maintenance: As you would be required to keep your house warm by heating the floors during winter, your cost of maintenance (gas and electricity) could go up by almost 100 percent. In short, be prepared to pay double the maintenance during winters.

International Calling Cards: Internet VOIP services works out much cheaper than calling cards for making international calls.

Doctor: For general sickness like fever and cold, your one time consultation fee with a doctor would be around 6000 won, if you are covered by National Health Insurance (mandatory for employees working in a Korean company).

Food: Your cost of living would reduce considerably if you cook your food at home. So if you all your meals at home then your expenses on food would be as low as 250,000 won. If you eat one meal in a Korean restaurant and cook the other meal at home your expenses would be around 400,000 won and if you eat all your meals outside then your expenses would be around 500,000 won.

Working hours: People work normally for over 10 hours a day going up to 12 – 14 hrs per day.
Other expenses: like clubbing, drinking, movies, dining out, partying, weekend trips across Korea could be anywhere around 200,000 won to 500,000 won per month per head.

Scholarship / Assistantship: The scholarship or assistantship money, which you get as a student in Korea, is generally very less considering the expenses for living in a costly city like Seoul. It is difficult to save money if you are a student so life can get a bit tough for students in Korea.

To answer your second question – Can I survive in Korea? We recommend you read the following articles:

Total no. of people surveyed: 15

I would like to thank all of the above members personally for taking out time from their busy schedule and giving us their valuable inputs for this post. I am sure a lot of people across the world would benefit from their inputs. But I am sorry I am not at the liberty to disclose their names so as to respect their privacy.

If you are living in Korea and have something valuable to add to this post from your experience then please leave your feedback in the comment section below.

image source: Corbis and Imagebazaar




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