Practical Tips for Foreigners Living in Korea

Banking: The single biggest problem for non-Korean citizens living in Korea is banking. You cannot just open an account at Kookmin Bank (KB) and then take your ATM card to the U.S. and withdraw money at the Citibank ATM in Los Angeles. It doesn’t work.

I must recommend KEB, Korea Exchange Bank, which has a global banking account, where foreigners can open accounts, which have the same online banking capabilities as the other banks in Korea. In addition, with the global banking account, you can with withdraw money when you are back home (assuming that is not Korea).

VITAL POINT: You need to designate a foreign exchange bank with a form at KEB. Without this, you will not be able to withdraw money in a country outside of Korea, even if you have the correct acccount, and ATM card. This is a VITAL POINT (the phrase native Koreans love is “key point”). I cannot stress how important this is!.

UPDATE (2/23): Apparently, Shinhan Bank has made this easier. I do not have personal experience there, but found this post for expats in Korea.

Tips for Drinking While on Business: Or, if you work at a company in Korea, some rules are found here:

Commuting: Taxis are cheap, subways are cheaper, buses only if you know what you are doing.

Traveling in Seoul is quite convenient and inexpensive, given its size. Here are some simple tips, which may be different if you live in a small city.

Taxis are inexpensive. Sitting down in a cab costs less than $250 USD. Of course, there is the convenience. There is GPS, but the address system is different from … almost anywhere. Loosely translated, a common set of directions is “Go over there, and after a little while, turn right at the Samsung building.” There is almost no use of street addresses like 500 Main Street. It may be impossible because there are so many small sidestreets. The negatives are: many taxi drivers in normal taxis do not speak English. There is a translation service, but I have never used it since I do not need it. The phone number exists in every taxi.

Subways are even cheaper. Seoul has a large subway network, and in addition to being cheap, they can get you close to where you are trying to go. Maps are in Korean and English, which is convenient. There are rules, which are followed. There are special areas for seniors and pregnant women. These areas are not occupied by anyone else, and this rule is quite strictly followed. If you want to make some “brownie points,” stand up and gesture to offer your seat to an elderly man or woman if you are seated. Some of the people on the subway have to ride it for over an hour each way. When I am 70, I know that I won’t want to do that. Great features of the subway: many are air-conditioned, and in Seoul, there is wi-fi. (That may become a leisure activity for young people, sitting on the subway looking at the internet.)

Negatives regarding the subway system. First, there is no concept of “express stops.” You will stop at every stop without exception. A trip from Samsung Station to City Hall is approximately 45-50 minutes. The system would be greatly improved if there were express stops but that isn’t available at this time. Second, the subway does not run very late in the evening. There is virtually no subway service beyond midnight. For Korea, that is an issue since the late-night “scene” can be very busy.

The Lost Seoul recommends learning the subway system so that you can get to the general vicinity, and then take a cab to your final destination. This is far more reliable in that the amount of time that you can be stuck in traffic is minimized.

Buses are cheap but you need to know where you are going. I have no idea why bus routes have been established in Korea in the way that they have been. You will need to know precisely where you are going and what bus goes there. Make no assumptions that the “next one” just goes there. Wrong, wrong, wrong. However, you can get much closer to the final destination than if you take the subway, which is what you would expect.

Traveling to Seoul from the Incheon International Airport is convenient, and the best methods are here.

Internet/Wi-Fi: This is a problem. Please read this post in order to understand the issue. The bottom line is that you, as a foreigner (including gyopo), need to have a friend that shares the cost with you in some form.

Eyeglasses or Contact Lenses: Korea is much more convenient than Europe or the U.S. For example, you do not need to get another exam if you need additional contact lenses. All you need to do is have the contact lens box (Accuvue, etc) with the prescription and size of the lens, bring it to the lens store, and you can buy new ones. In addition, the price is superior. In Korea, 60 lenses will cost somewhere in the 60-80,000 KRW.

Eyeglasses are convenient from another perspective. All you need to do is to hand your glasses to the technician, and he/she will be able to get the prescription from the lens. From there, if you need a replacement lens, it will take less than an hour to complete, unless you have a very special lens.

Mobile Phone:  This used to be a problem, but now, it isn’t. If you are in Korea permanently, then go to KT’s expat blog. If you are only visiting, then there are MANY phone rental desks at the airport. Note: certain hotels have this service as well, and you may want to ask the hotel before arriving. It may be more convenient.

That list is obviously incomplete, and I will add to it over time. If you have questions/comments/suggestions, please feel free to comment below.