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I can’t believe I’m saying this, but July 13th marked 4 years in Korea for us! We’re a little bit late on celebrating this, but with our Youtube milestones and summer vacation, we didn’t want to overwhelm you guys with too much of the same thing (that thing being awesomeness hehe)!
Anyway, you may be wondering, “Did you plan on staying this long in Korea?” And the answer is, yes and no! We knew we would be here for more than one year. After the first year, I got an amazing job (the same one I have now), and since then we have found no reason good enough to leave! Now that Evan also has a job he loves, I can safely say that we will be sticking around for much longer than 4 years too.
I’ll save you all of the cliche “It went by so fast”, mostly because we said all that in the video. But what I didn’t say in the video is that every year in Korea has gotten better – more adventures, better Korean, better food, better teaching methods, and just all around a more richer and fulfilling life with each year that passes. We still have other passions and things we want to do and accomplish in other parts of the world, but I can very well see Korea as a home base for us in the future, no matter where life takes us.
Now to get to the interesting bits! Change happens fast in a country this size with this many people. Trends in food and fashion change seasonally, and with new fair trade agreements having been signed, we’ve witnessed an influx of western products into Korea over the past 4 years. In the video we highlight some of these things, but we already know we’ve left out a ton! If you can think of something we’ve missed please leave it in a comment below!
Western chains more widespread
Subway – I remember being excited when we lived in Seoul our first year when we saw the Subway in Itaewon, but now there are too many to count in Seoul and we even have two in Yangsan! It’s weird that there are none in Busan, but I think they will be opening soon. Yay for easy access to sandwiches!
Mexican food – It’s been getting more popular with Koreans every year we’ve been here. There have been a lot of attempts of Korean-Mexican fusion food that has recently become popular in California, but I have to say that most of those have been a fail. If it’s not a fail, it’s so inordinately expensive that it makes it taste worse than it is, if that makes sense. But if you’re desperate, you can actually find Mexican food! Definitely couldn’t in 2010.
There are so many more western chains now that we actually made a video about all the western chains we’ve noticed in Korea! You can check that out here and check the comments for all of the ones we forgot.
Personal Hygiene Products
TAMPONS! They have them now. In 2010 I either saw none on the shelves or 1 box(the cardboard kind) for waaaay more than I wanted to pay for them. Now there is much more of a variety and they’re not AS expensive. But pads are still preferred by Korean women so just be aware ladies!
CONDOMS! They have them now. I never saw condoms prominently displayed in convenience stores or grocery stores until this past year! Isn’t that crazy? Korea also just aired its first commercial for condoms this past year, and since then, I’ve several different brands next to every check out counter. A noticeable change for sure.
The bottom line is that Korean beer is not good. It’s worse than Bud Light in my opinion. But thank god the whole craft beer scene has caught on in Korea in recent years! Craftworks in Seoul has expanded but is now not the only place serving up tasty brews. We have a popular brewery in Busan called Galmegi and we just got a craft beer and pizza place in YANGSAN. We really hit the suburb city jackpot here.
As far as imported bottles go, they are much more abundant and cheaper than they were in 2010. Self-serve beer bars have been really popular the past couple years. These bars have large coolers full of imports that you just get yourself and then pay later by the bottle. They’re still more expensive than we would pay back home, but not by that much.
Fresh Produce & Cheese
Everyone complains about how expensive fresh produce is in Korea. I always think the complaints are hyperbolic, but expats were right about the price of some fruit in 2010. Our first year a watermelon would easily cost you 20 bucks, and blueberries were incomprehensibly expensive! These days a watermelon will cost you 5-10 dollars, which is pretty much the same that I paid in the US.
Blueberries are also much more reasonably priced, although I haven’t splurged and bought them yet. I’d say they’re still about double the price than they are back home.
Avocados and limes are something that I see now in stores that I would have fainted at the sight of in 2010. Avocados will run you about 3 bucks a pop, but for some avocado lovers that’s well worth it!
Cheese, cheese, cheese. Good cheese is now available in stores, but it’s still too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis. I would still suggest buying a block of cheese at Costco for 20 bucks, than 5 slices for 5 bucks. Still though, for cheese emergencies, it’s there for you.
Organized Tours for Foreigners
This is something I’ve noticed just in the last year. It seems like there are countless organized trips for foreigners run by English speaking Koreans usually. (Gyopos or otherwise) I may just have not noticed them in previous years, but I only remember Adventure Korea being the main company that ran organized tours around the country. If you’re planning on coming to Korea in the future, you won’t have any trouble finding weekend trips already organized for you! The only one I’ve had experience with that I can recommend to you is Adventure Korea linked above and WINK-When in Korea.
The ESL market is always changing in Korea, and expats have a wide range of opinions on the matter. In my opinion, not much has changed except for the major cuts made to middle and high school teaching jobs in Seoul and Busan. Being an elementary teacher, this hasn’t effected me, but I know many that have to make the switch from middle or high school to elementary in the past year or two.
As for our public school contracts, they recently capped the pay at 2.7 million won(previously you could make more than that), and they took away 1 week of vacation from our re-signing bonus. So now, instead of 2 extra weeks of vacation, we only have one. But considering it’s amazing we get ANY extra vacation just for staying with the same school, I didn’t think that was a big deal.
Myeongdong is the famous shopping district in Seoul, and in 2010 it was the only place you could find Western clothing chain stores like H&M. This has changed a lot since then, with there being multiple H&M’s just in Myeongdong alone, as well as other neighborhoods and in Busan. You can also find Forever 21 and Uniqlo, a Japanese chain that I like to call the Asian Gap.
Also, as obesity is becoming more of a problem in Korea, I have noticed bigger sizes (that fit me) in Korean clothing sections in stores like Emart. Score!
Again let us know if you’ve noticed other changes, or if you have any questions!
It’s been an incredible four years, here’s to four more?!?!
The post 4 Years in Korea – How Korea Has Changed 2010-2014 appeared first on Evan and Rachel.
Home of the “world’s best airport,” Incheon is the port of arrival in Korea for international visitors. But its much more than an airport; it was a city of great importance in the American/UN victory in the Korean War, it was home to the majority of Chinese immigrants not so long ago and its port is responsible for ushering in the modernization of Korea as a center of industrialization.
For foodies, Incheon is a must-visit destination for fresh grilled seafood and jajjangmyeon, a dish of black bean noodles that originated in the city's Chinatown, a picturesque (though not so authentic) neighborhood of snack vendors, souvenir shops and art galleries. Red lanterns and Chinese murals decorate the streets, adding to the quaint atmosphere.
Just a short bus ride from Chinatown is Wolmido, a Coney Island-esque locale that boasts an amusement park as well as the entertaining games, performers and cotton candy stalls one would expect to find on a boardwalk. For those seeking a bit more quiet, hop a ferry to Muuido, a tranquil island of sandy beaches and hiking paths.
Located east of Seoul, Chuncheon is a city for nature lovers and those eager to get a breath of fresh air. One of the perfect places to soak up the city's natural beauty is Nami Island, an idyllic stretch of land made up of tree-lined nature paths, water-side picnic spots and nature-inspired sculptures and artwork. Rent a bike or partake in one of the many water sports available on Nami.
Don't leave Chuncheon without sampling dalk galbi, the city's most famous (and my personal favorite) Korean dish, made of stir-fried chicken and veggies in a spicy sauce. Chuncheon's Myeongdong neighborhood has a street dedicated to the dish, but don't fret about which restaurant is the best. They're all good. I assure you.
When I first visited Paju, I was surprised at how bright and colorful it was, considering its proximity to the North Korean border. In fact, Heyri Art Village is the definition of cheerfulness, with its quirky museums, beautifully landscaped parks and funky modern architecture. The village is also a popular filming location for a number of K-dramas, music videos and movies so Hallyu fans might recognize certain spaces and places.
If you manage to not spend all day in Heyri, go bargain hunting at the Paju Premium Outlets, which houses over 200 shops including Polo Ralph Lauren, Lacoste and Tory Birch to name a few. The outlet mall is spacious and not nearly as crowded as the stores in Seoul.
Many tourists usually make their way to Yongin, as the city boasts some of Korea's most famous attractions.
The Korean Folk Village is set in a natural environment and contains over 260 restored traditional Korean homes from all regions of the country. There is also a variety of workshops where traditional handicrafts are made. Additionally, visitors can watch reenactments of important cultural ceremonies and partake in fun activities around the village.
For thrill-seekers, Everland is an impressive theme park with attractions for the entire family. The T Express is one of the world's biggest wooden roller coasters and alone, makes the one hour trip from Seoul worthwhile. Attached to Everland is Carribean Bay, Korea's best water park complete with water slides, wave pools and plenty of areas to soak up the summer sun.
Although not technically in Yongin, but in the general vicinity, is Suwon's Hwaseong Haenggung, a former summer palace of Korean royalty. Unlike Seoul's palaces, each room of the complex is decorated in the style of the period in which it was first constructed, which makes it far more interactive and interesting in my opinion.
Like Paju, Pocheon is located rather close to the DMZ, but despite the obvious military presence, there is still a number of ways to enjoy what the city has to offer.
The Pocheon Art Valley, located in what used to be a granite quarry on Cheonjuho Lake, makes for a great family picnic spot. Interesting sculptures and art installations (including a makgeolli igloo) are also sure to be the center of all your selfies. However, if you'd like a more memorable meal, head over to Deulmusae, a family-run restaurant that serves up traditional Korean fare on ceramic plates in the shape of genitals. (See what I mean here.)
Finally, the city's Herb Island is in major need of some renovations and upkeep, but does have some pretty gardens and quaint restaurants and shops. The ideal time to visit is spring, when the flowers are in bloom. Otherwise, it's a bit on the creepy side.
Other day trips worth mentioning include Ilsan Lake Park, Icheon Ceramic Village and the DMZ.
Which day trips are your favorites? Which did I leave out? Leave them in the comments box below.
Stepping on cracks, walking under ladders, black cats crossing your path, a rabbit’s foot, and crossing your fingers—all superstitions that are said to affect your levels of luck. Whether or not you believe in luck, you’re bound to come across superstitions in your life to some degree.
And as a savvy and socially aware person, it’s always good to be conscious of them so you don’t commit any social faux pas and send someone on a bad luck tailspin!
With all the superstitions going around, Korea didn’t want to lose out on the fun. Koreans have their own set of bad and good luck actions, so we’ve collected the top 10 for your reading enjoyment.
Bad luck superstitions are in red and good luck superstitions in blue, so plan accordingly when you put these into action!
We know many of you want to learn Korean fast, so we’ll give you the key phrases for each superstition. For example, the Korean word for “superstition” is “미신”.
Want a quick association to learn Korean fast? Try thinking of “me” + “shin”. Nobody likes to get kicked in “미” + “신” (“me shin” sounds like “my shin”), so best to avoid offending anyone with 미신!
If you don’t know how to read Hangeul (Korean alphabet) yet, you can download a free guide here, which teaches you how to read Korean in about one hour.
Without further ado, let’s meet our team of superstitions!
1. Evil Sprit Moving Days
It’s moving day, so make sure you have everything packed. Favorite athletic shoes? Check. Giant coffee mug from trip to India? Check. Evil spirits? Best to leave those behind!
Koreans believe that if you move on certain days of the month, that evil spirits will follow you to your new place. According to folklore, the ghosts will be prevented from heading into the heavens if you block them with your moving activities on certain days.
Luckily, there is a calendar that will help you choose the right dates to keep your new pad spirit-free. Follow this calendar and stay away from any day that has “손없는날”written on it.
2. Fan Death
Since the electric fan has contributed to a number of deaths in Korea, Koreans have adopted the “Fan Death” superstition.
Not all fan situations are bad though. If you have some windows or doors open, you’re good to go. However, if you close the windows and doors in a room with a fan on, you’re asking for trouble.
A popular belief for the cause of death is that the fan creates moving air around your face. That moving air makes it hard to breath, so people suffocate.
It’s such a widespread believe in Korea that many consider the fan timer to be lifesaving function. Nobody wants “선풍기사망설” (fan death) written on their tombstone, so you may want to look at your fan settings.
Learn Korean fast so you know where the shutoff timer is.
3. Whistling at Night
Whistle while you work? Sure, that shows you’re a happy person. Whistling at night? It’s probably not a great idea.
Even if you ARE happy, it’s probably best to avoid doing this 미신 (superstition). Ghosts and snakes love a good whistle tune at night, so Koreans believe it’s best not to summon that twosome.
To stay free of 귀신 (ghosts) and 백 (snakes), schedule the whistling sessions after sunrise!
4. Number Four
There is a saying that goes “Two is company, three is a crowd”. If that’s the case, what can we say about four?
How about death! Koreans believe that the number four is bad luck, since it also means “death”. As a result, the fourth floor of a building is often replaced with an “F”.
Apartments with multiple “4s” in them have a lower value since they are seen as bad luck. To look on the bright side, the number four can help you learn Korean fast.
Since it has two meanings, you can have two different associations. 사 means “four”, and it also means “death”.
5. Beautiful Food, Beautiful Kids
Some superstitious Koreans believe that the appearance of your food contributes to the appearance of your kids.
Let’s take a gimbab for example. If you look at a sliced gimbab, the middle pieces are more organized look more appealing than ends.
Therefore, if a mother eats the middle pieces while she is pregnant, she has fortune on her side to bring her some good-looking offspring.
If Mom loves to chow down on the gimbab ends, then she’s less likely to have to worry about her children becoming celebrities.
6. Shoes as Gifts
Aside from the fact that it’s hard to find someone’s correct size, giving shoes as gifts in South Korea is a no-no. It is believed by the superstitious that giving shoes will cause the receiver to run away.
This is especially bad to do with your significant other, unless you’re trying to find a subtle way to give a hint!
선물is the word for gift, 신발for shoes, which will get you up and running on your quest to learn Korean fast.
7. Shaking Legs
Not only does it distract Grandma at the dinner table when you shake your legs, but it also brings bad luck your way!
In Korean culture, your legs symbolize wealth and prosperity. If you shake your legs, you’re shaking the wealth right out of you.
8. Red Ink Name
It’s bad luck to write names in red ink. The main reason is that the names of the deceased used to be written in red. Therefore, if you write someone’s name in red, you’re giving that person a death wish!
You’re safe with other words in red, but make sure the names stay in standard blue or black ink. If you’re current on the path to learn Korean fast, add in “빨간잉크” (red ink) to the vocab list and make sure you don’t use it to make your next party guest list!
9. Pigs Dreams
If you wake up from a dream and feel like you just got back from a trip through an animal farm, you may be in for some good luck!
This is because the pig symbolizes good luck, wealth, and fortune in Korean culture. If you believe in 미신(superstitions) and you wake up with pigs on your mind, you may have wealth, a promotion, or other good luck coming up in your future.
To learn Korean fast, toss in 꿈 (dream) and 돼지 (pig) into your flash card stack.
10. Eating Yeot
엿 (yeot) is Korean hard taffy that is made from glutinous rice. Because of its stickiness, the superstitious believe that it will cause good luck to stick to you.
This is true for the correct answers for exams as well, so students often eat it for exams to help them recall the correct answers.
What Korean superstitions have you heard of? We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below!
Photo Credit: sanickels
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn
If there is any one trope in Korean and Chinese international relations writing I don’t like, it is the causal, constant, angry insistence on reading Japan as always ‘remilitarizing.’ In just about everything I read by Korean and Chinese authors on northeast Asia this is repeated relentlessly, as a truism, and usually in the worst possible normative light: not only is Japan ‘remilitarizing,’ it also apparently has neo-imperial designs on Asia.
Sorry, Koreans and Chinese, but this is just not true, not at all really. Note for example, that Japan always seems to be in the process of re-militarizing in this manner of writing. It is never actually done doing so; it’s constant and insidious. No matter what Japan does on national security, it always is described as re-militarizing. Apparently Japanese remilitarization has been going on for decades; which is another way of saying it isn’t really happening at all. Note too, that no one ever seems to remark on Japan’s paltry defense spending or systemic dependence on the US military. So this is just silly boilerplate; it’s far more about Korean and Chinese nationalist dislike for Japan than any real empirical trend. But since it gets repeated so often, and seems to be taken for granted by just about everyone in Korea and China, it is worth laying out in some detail why is is bunk.
The essay below the jump is re-post of this essay for the Lowy Institute in Australia.
“Last week, I argued that the last few months have seen a spike in punditry that the status quo is about to change in northeast Asia, and that conflict is more likely. Japan’s constitutional revisions have provoked exaggerated responses from South Korea and China, while Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent successful trip to South Korea has been interpreted in Japan in a similarly negative manner.
But much of this is exaggerated nationalism and posturing from regional hawks (and some American think-tanks) about a stable, but disliked status quo. As I argued yesterday, South Korea is not in fact ‘finlandizing’ or going over to China. Such talk is more indicative of the Japanese right’s glee in snubbing Korea whenever possible. Not to be out done, one can always rely on Chosun Daily in Korea, or the Global Times in China (here is a link of special interest to Australian readers) to over-react to Japanese military developments.
But most of this is exaggerated and little of it is helpful. Northeast Asia is fairly stable. It could certainly be better, but compared to many regions, it is doing rather well. Trade and tourism are robust. The problems of state-failure and irregular wars, so common elsewhere, are not apparent. As Dave Kang has noted, much of the maritime tension is being ‘fought’ by fishermen and coast guards; for all the big talk, there has no war in the regions since the 1950s. So should you really care that Japan ‘re-interpreted’ its constitution? Not really:
1. Until Japan actually spends more on defense, the ‘re-interpretation’ makes little difference.
Japan spends less than one percent of GDP on defense. This is even lower than the European members of NATO who are routinely castigated by the US for free-riding (as the Ukraine crisis is demonstrating yet again). Modern militaries cost huge amounts of money to field comparatively small forces. The logistical tail – the number of support staff, technicians, trainers, crew, and so on – behind each actual warfighter or platform is longer today than ever before. Modern militaries – basically since WWI – have also increasing relied on technology and combined arms tactics whose complexity requires even greater resources. (Steven Biddle explains all this nicely in the opening chapters here.) The long, troubled, and hugely expensive history of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aptly demonstrates the spiraling costs and troubles of modern platforms. So sure, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may want to buy an aircraft carrier, but does a troubled economy have an extra 5-10 billion USD for that? Perhaps, but until the budget numbers change, it’s all just talk.
2. Unless Japan can actually translate that extra spending into genuine capabilities, that too reduces the importance of the ‘re-interpretation.’
A basic materialist approach to Japanese ‘re-armament’ would simply be to look at GDP percentages as in point 1. But just bigger budgets are not enough either, because money has to be translated into capabilities – the deployment of modern complex platforms by highly skilled technicians in complicated ways (combined arms, the networked battlefield, and so on) to achieve some goal. Very few modern militaries have been able to do that successfully, and most of them in the twentieth century were western. Just throwing money at the defense ministry is not enough.
Japan too of course had a reasonably successful military in the twentieth century, but that is 70 years past and coupled to a decisive social break against Bushido, militarism, and so on. Since then the Japanese military has not fought once. No one really knows how well it fare (a point that applies to all regional militaries actually). The conventional wisdom seems to be that JSDF navy is the most competent, followed by the air force, then the army, but these are soft qualitative judgments at best. (Here is a good outlet on this issue.)
Finally, it has been widely noted that the Japanese public is either indifferent or opposed to the ‘re-interpretation.’ That should be comforting to those worried about militarization. Abe may be able to squeeze more resources out of the finance ministry (point 1 above), because his parliamentary coalition is unnaturally large due to quirks of Japanese election law. But without public support – not just tepid disinterest, but genuine support – he will find it hard to build a force capable of much beyond homeland defense. A serious expeditionary or power projection capability – necessary to do anything serious with the Americans in the region – will require public support, and, at the moment at least, it is not there.
3. Engaging in ‘collective self-defense’ is a right every other country in the world has. By embracing that, Japan is becoming more, not less, normal, and so more predictable.
David Pilling makes the useful point that collective self-defense is the right of every other country, that moving Japan in that direction is no big deal. Indeed, Pilling couches the argument in normative language, stating that it is Japan’s right to arm itself as it sees fit and align itself with whom it likes. All that is so, but it is clearly uncomfortable to Seoul and fuel for the Chinese effort to isolate Japan in Asia over its alleged militarism.
A better approach is to see that defense normalization makes Japan more like any other country in the world and therefore more predictable. It is Japan’s weird post-war state – radically pacificist, yet disturbingly unrepentant about the empire, located in Asia, but not really a part of the region – that makes it such a hot potato and hard for the region to predict. The more Japan is responsible for its own military and security, the more like every other country it is, the more it will come under pressure to conform to modern democratic norms on force. A more independent and normal Japan will be less tied to the US and more a part of its own region where it will have to engage normal diplomatic back-and-forth, including finding a modus vivendi with South Korea and China. A Japan responsible for its own defense, directly facing the costs of bad behavior, such as historical denial, is far more likely to come around, than one permanently hiding in America’s shadow as some kind of weird semi-pariah.
Northeast Asia is fairly stable. China’s rise is unnerving, but compared to places like the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean Basin, South Asia, or central Africa, regional politics is fairly predictable. Local elites are nationalist, but they are calculating. There has not been a major war since the 1950s, and the non-state violence so common elsewhere is non-existent. Nor do regional states spend as much on the military as the this year’s WWI analogies suggest. There’s no need to make it worse with hyperbole.”
Filed under: Asia, Japan
The oddest thing about being back home for two weeks was the way it made my life in Korea seem almost...unreal. As if it was nothing more than a very vivid dream. Now, part of this was caused by how much jetlag was addling my brain, making everything a bit more confusing and strange. It was a scary feeling, though. Before I moved to Korea, my life wasn't great. I was done with Seattle, and I felt like my life was on hold, like I wasn't moving in any useful direction. I was anxious all the time, frustrated, unclear about what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
Moving to Korea marked a huge change for me, not only geographic. I have a great job, a purpose, the feeling that I'm actually moving forward with my life. I'm happier, way less anxious, and problems that used to floor me seem much more manageable. So the feeling that all of that wasn't real that kept lurking around the edges of my brain was really scary and upsetting. Fortunately it was easily dismissed by a quick Kakao message to friends in Korea, or a browse through the pictures on my phone. Now that I'm back to Korea, it's Seattle that's started to fade back into unreality, but frankly? I'm pretty okay with that.
Returning to Seattle for two weeks made me realize something that I already suspected- Seattle isn't my home anymore. Before I even left Korea, I hesitated before ever saying I was "visiting home". "I'm going to Seattle," I'd say. Or "I'm visiting my family." Somehow calling it home stuck in my throat, even in regards to my hometown. Yes, many of my friends are there, but plenty of new friends are in other places. Yes, my family is there, and that's important, but what with Facebook and Skype and all the convenient ways to communicate over the distance, I don't feel a strong need to necessarily live near said family. Then again, I've always been the sort chomping at the bit to get out into the world, with less of a need for the nuclear family unit. Just don't tell my mom, okay?
So all this musing begs the question: where is my home? I may have felt the comfort of a homecoming when I stepped out of the taxi in front of the bakery near my apartment, but I don't really have strong feeling of home here yet. Seattle, Port Townsend, Sequim...I felt like a visitor in all three. In Korea I will never entirely belong, I will always stand out; that's okay with me, but in the long dark tea-time of the soul I do wonder if I'll ever find a place I can really put my roots down. Then again, Groot doesn't seem to have roots and he's doing just fine. Maybe I just need to become a space bounty hunter. Problem solved?
Back in 2003, when there were only two subway lines and every Busan traveler had to make their way through Seomyeon, there was a man named Seomyeon John. He lived in the station, and devoted his life to 'helping foreigners.' He was well known at the time, and got a cover story in the foreigner magazine that came before Haps. But I haven't seen him in a decade, and can't find anyone who remembers him.
In a hope to round up someone who knows something, or just hear another Seomyeon John story, I'm sharing the complete 68 page graphic novel I made about him. If you know anyone who was here in the early aughts, please show this to them! I'd love to know what happened to my friend.
Thank you for reading. If you know anything about John, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don't, and you just want more free comics, go to www.ryanestrada.com
If you want to help me keep making comics, visit my Patreon!
In ten hours I’ll be on a plane to Korea. At the moment, the only thing that amazes me more than that fact is your boundless love and support. Where ever my passions have called me, you have been a constant force of guidance and encouragement. No words are good enough to adequately express how much that means to me, and how lucky and proud I feel to be your son.
During these last twenty-five years, you have prepared me in every way to take this next step–literally–out into the world. Thanks to you, I am clad in armor of self-confidence and optimism. I carry a shield that inspires me to walk through fire for the ones I love. And I hold a sword that is sharp with wit, intellect, and inquisitiveness.
Although the coming journey will be thousands of miles long, I am confident I will never feel lost. I know this because I’ll be walking with two compasses you have given me: an internal one that knows when to follow my head and when to follow my heart, and the actual one you gave me just last night “so I can find my way home.”
I’m going to miss you and mom so much. I thank you, I admire you, and I love you with all of my being.
Many U.S. individuals living abroad are either unaware that they have the same tax filing requirements as those living at home, or believe that they do not need to file a return if their foreign income is below the foreign earned income exclusion amount. All U.S. individuals, regardless of the geographical location or the amount of tax liability (even if no tax is owed), must file a return each year.
U.S. expats who are out of the country are usually given extra 2-month automatic extension to file their tax returns without requesting an extension, which makes the due date June 30th of the following year. However, if there is a balance due, interest will be assessed on it starting after April 15th. There is no penalty for being late if you owe no tax.
For those who meet the eligibility requirements (e.g., bona fide residence test and physical presence test), foreign earned income up to $99,200 for tax year 2014 can be excluded from being taxed by the IRS. Although this provides relief from being double-taxed by a foreign country and the US, the exclusion can only be claimed by filing a return with Form 2555. It is important to note that the IRS will not allow the exclusion if the return is not filed in a timely manner.
There is also an additional reporting obligation called “FBAR” for any US citizen or alien residents with a financial bank account if the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. If required, FBAR must be electronically filed by June 30th of the following year. Failure to file FBAR is subject to a civil penalty up to $10,000 per violation. A person who willfully fails to report an account may be subject to a civil monetary penalty equal to the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the highest account balance at the time of violation.
Moreover, all Korean banks and other financial institutions have already begun to comply with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, better known as “FATCA”, effective July 1st, 2014 which requires foreign financial institutions to report directly to the IRS all account information of U.S. clients. This will greatly increase the risk of being caught by the IRS if tax returns and/or FBAR are not filed.
One of the most important decisions you can make regarding your income taxes is whether to get your tax preparation done with the help of a professional, versus trying to go it alone. The most obvious drawback to hiring a tax professional who will personally prepare and file your return is the cost. Although you may think your income structure is simple, the fact that you are an expat makes your taxes complex, as it requires you to file extra forms such as Form 2555 to claim foreign earned income exclusion, Form 1116 to claim foreign tax credits, FBAR, etc. The price for getting your expat tax returns prepared by a professional may typically range anywhere from $250 to $1,500 or more, depending on the type and number of tax forms you need filed. If your tax situation is relatively complicated, you should expect to pay more for professional tax preparation.
Some of the most significant benefits of hiring professional tax preparation are convenience and accuracy. Think about the hours you could save yourself from trying to read through and understand the IRS’s form instructions, publications, and news releases. Despite your best efforts and honesty, you may forget something or make an innocent mistakes. You may have to get assistance from a tax professional to resolve such errors and end up costing more with filing amendments.
There are several things you should consider when employing the services of a tax professional. For one thing, you don’t wait until the last minute to schedule an appointment. The best accountants in your area will likely have waiting lists that fill up quickly during the peak season. You will not have many options regarding professional tax preparation if you attempt to contact someone a few days before your return is due.
H&R BLOCK, the world’s largest tax service provider, have several office locations in Korea where they provide U.S. tax filing services. The main expat retail office is located in Seoul nearby the Itaewon Subway Station Exit 1. For more information, please call 02-795-7555 or email to email@example.com. H&R BLOCK also serves the U.S. military community in Korea. Those office locations can be found at http://www.hrblock.com/offices/international-offices.html#southkorea.
Sam Lee is the new country leader for H&R Block Korea effective January 2014. He currently manages one retail expat office at Itaewon and four other military offices located inside the U.S. military bases in Korea, including the 8th U.S. Army Garrison at Yongsan, K-55 U.S. Airbase at Osan, Camp Casey at Dongduchon and Camp Humphreys at Pyeongtaek. He is a U.S. CPA who specializes in international taxes. He had worked at KPMG U.S. offices and Seoul office for more than 10 years as a director. Currently, his primary focus areas are foreign entity reporting, expatriate tax compliance, and the application of U.S. & Korea tax treaty. Sam received his bachelor degree from New York University.