If you’re thinking about moving to South Korea, cutting-edge mobile phones, K-pop, and Netflix’s hit series Squid Game are probably the first things that come to mind. However, there is infinitely more to this country than what people typically associate it with. With a bustling city culture, laidback countryside, and superb transportation (plus, the cost of living in South Korea is more reasonable than many believe), the Land of the Morning Calm is a popular destination for travelers and digital nomads from across the globe.
Not to mention it has one of the fastest internet speeds globally — every digital nomad’s dream come true! Are you a digital nomad moving to South Korea or simply a fellow traveler hungry for new adventures and a taste of the Korean lifestyle? If so, this article will provide you with all the information, as well as some useful money-saving tips and tricks so you can have an easy, successful relocation and a care-free stay in your new Korean home.
The Republic of Korea is a unique country in the southern half of the Korean peninsula where high-tech, sci-fi-like urban landscapes mix with ancient palaces and traditional neighborhoods. Dubbed the Land of the Morning Calm, it’s also a land of beautiful nature – pristine pine-covered mountains, breathtaking bamboo forests and beaches, lush tea plantations, urban parks, and nature preserves.
“Is South Korea expensive?” is one of the burning questions for digital nomads looking to relocate to this beautiful Asian country. Yet, the answer is: it depends. It’s essential to keep in mind that, just like anywhere in the world, the prices between large cities and smaller towns differ. Your day-to-day lifestyle will also affect how much you spend while living in Korea.
There’s no way around it – South Korea is an expensive country by many people’s standards. Still, if you look at other urban and developed countries like South Korea strives to be, it’s actually on the more affordable side. In fact, South Korea is generally 2.5% cheaper than the United States! For example, you would on average pay 39.1% less for eating in restaurants, while paying 49.6% more for groceries. We’ll take it!
There are, of course, numerous other ways to keep expenses down and make the most out of your stay. Keep reading to learn more!
Location is a crucial factor to consider when talking about the cost of living in Korea and one of the key things a digital nomad should ponder. As is typical in most countries, the most significant living expense in South Korea will be your housing. If you get a good deal on your accommodation, it’s possible to keep other costs as low as you like.
The accommodation costs and security deposits are usually why Seoul often appears on the top lists of the world’s most expensive cities. So, keep in mind that the most expensive living costs in the country will be found in the capital, Seoul, and other major cities like Busan and Jeju Island. Utilities in South Korea will not add too much expense to your rent.
Most of the housing in Korea comes down to apartments. Houses in South Korea are typical in the countryside, but not in major cities. Most people live in small apartments, and renting one can cost anywhere from 300,000 won ($265.60) to over a million won per month for bigger and luxurious apartments in popular areas such as Gangnam or Yeonhui.
The average cost of living in South Korea per month for a single person is around $1,111 (1,409,037₩) without rent. Rents for homes in South Korea depend on the location, the facilities, and whether it’s a new or an old building, but the average rent in South Korea is around 500,000 won ($425) per month in larger cities.
Digital nomads who aren’t looking to stay long within the city may opt for a hotel instead. You can find excellent hotels for around $1000 per month ($46 per night) and even less in the outskirts of Seoul. If you choose to stay in Seoul, stay away from the fancy, popular areas if you want to save money. Sangam, Hongdae, and Mangwon are lovely areas with more affordable prices and excellent connections to the city center.
Outside of Seoul and other major cities, things get a lot cheaper. Cities in other, more rural provinces are more affordable, especially when staying in some of the older neighborhoods. The population of South Korea is concentrated in a few big cities, making living in the countryside relatively more affordable.
People also tend to burn through cash much more quickly in larger cities such as Seoul and Busan, not just because rents are higher but because the array of stores, restaurants, and events is a constant source of spending temptation.
Seoul offers one of the best metro and bus systems in the world. Public transportation in South Korea is very well-developed, interconnected, and reliable in general. Buses, subways, trains, and taxis are all affordable.
As a convenient and common way of getting around, a standard ride on a bus or subway will cost between 1,250 ($1.11), and 2,000 ($1.77) won, depending on the distance. While single-use tickets are available, most commuters use transportation cards because it makes commutes easier and allows you to change between public transportation for free. You can use the money on the card to pay for taxi rides and even make purchases in convenience stores, as well.
Abundant and inexpensive, taxis are affordable for short distances (as long as you have a metered taxi), especially if you are sharing the ride with friends. It's easy to flag one down on the streets or at taxi stands around the city.
Whatever your budget and food preference, there are numerous food options in Korea. After all, it’s well known for its spicy cuisine. You can find an abundance of delicious food for all budgets. Grocery prices in the country are fairly reasonable, and even food in Seoul can be very affordable. For example, a dinner at a cheaper restaurant for two people will cost an average of 20,000 won ($17), while dinner at a nice restaurant will be around 56,000 won ($50).
You can always opt to cook at home, but you can find very well-priced food almost everywhere. Most digital nomads eat out frequently since the average cost of a Korean restaurant meal is $10. Due to the low cost of food, it is often cheaper to eat at a restaurant than to cook for yourself, especially as most Korean stores sell food in bulk, leading to spoilage and considerable expenses when living alone.
As a bustling metropolis, there’s no shortage of things for you to do and see in Seoul. Each season comes with its highlights, so nature lovers in Korea will also have plenty of opportunities to explore hiking destinations, well-tended parks, and ocean-side escapes across Korea.
There are many forms of entertainment in Seoul and Busan, from karaoke to nightclubs and bars to baseball or soccer games. Seoul has a buzzing nightlife, and it is a city that is always ready to get a groove on. A good night out at a local pub will rarely run more than 30,000 won, as long as you’re prepared to stick to domestic beers or spirits.
Going to the movies, watching a baseball or soccer game, or going to the gym, however, might take a toll on your pockets. Cinema and game tickets are usually in the 10,000 ($8.85) to 12,000 won ($10.60) range. If you want to top it off with snacks, double it. In smaller Korean towns and provinces, there won’t be as much to do, but the prices will be more affordable.
There’s a widespread impression that it’s very expensive to live in South Korea, but don’t let it put you off! The cost of living in South Korea is far more reasonable than it seems, and it’s possible to live very comfortably without breaking the bank, as your expenses can vary dramatically depending on your lifestyle choices.
Here are some practical money-saving tips to keep in mind:
South Korea as a whole has a warm and welcoming feel. With lots of things to do, fantastic traditional cuisine, and super-fast WiFi, spending some time living in South Korea and exploring the Land of the Morning Calm should be on every digital nomad’s bucket list. Hopefully, you now have a good idea of the general cost of living in Korea. By following our advice, you will quickly find that South Korea can be very affordable to live in, when done right!
Not many banks or exchange offices in the US hold South Korean won. Luckily, at US First Exchange, you can exchange over 20 different exotic currencies, including the won.
When you place online money orders at US First Exchange – you get your currency delivered right to your doorstep. Pay by credit card, bank draft, or money wire, and expect your fresh wons to arrive within 24 – 48 hours.
Ready to sell? No more waiting. We provide everything you need to ship and receive funds for currencies you own.