Seoul, South Korea Report of what it's like to live there - 07/30/08
Personal Experiences from Seoul, South Korea
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
11 hours to West Coast and 14 hours to East Coast - direct flights are available to major cities.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Single family duplex housing on a military compound. Commute time to Embassy is about 15-25 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cheap and affordable on base. Expensive on the economy.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing I can think of.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Just about every type of fast food and world foods are available. Quality of world cuisines are rapidly increasing although often expensive.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Embassy officers are allowed to sponsor domestic help. The process is not that difficult but you have to have someone identified. Also, very affordable compared to the local economy and any help you can get in the US.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
On base, credit cards are accepted and ATMs are available. Off-base, major hotels and restaurants accept foreign credit cards. Some ATMs accept foreign cards.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, on base.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes - affordable.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much although would be very helpful when traveling outside of Seoul.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many buildings have handicapped access and so do many forms of public transportation (subways, buses).
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are all very affordable and safe.
3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Any and all types of vehicles are fine. Luxury foreign vehicles are an increasingly common sight, despite high prices. Traffic can get heavy like most major cities but experience will help you navigate more efficiently. Most drivers in Korea use a GPS Navigator (including almost all taxi drivers).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Very good service at around US$35/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Internet based phone if you can but its pretty cheap now. Korea is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of telecommunications.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Seems that way. Always demand for English speakers.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire. Koreans are very fashion conscious.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
It has improved a lot in the last 10 years. But still a problem like most major cities around the world.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None to speak of really. One of the safest places on earth. Some incidents due to excessive drinking.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Top notch medical care. Koreans are particularly good at dental and skin care.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons - similar to DC.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several choices -excellent reputation.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Available on the base. Mixed reviews.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally not to bad although you hear the usual whining about pollution, traffic, etc.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Great night life. You can find people out eating/drinking well past midnight every single day of the week.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families. For singles, definitely mixed. Some love it, some not so much.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Generally not that tolerant but there are sections of the city that are known to have gay bars/clubs.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Religiously tolerant society.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots. Palaces, museums, water parks, theme parks, sightseeing, etc. Also, hiking, golfing and skiing are popular activities.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Art work and pottery.
9. Can you save money?
If you like traveling, shopping, and eating good food outside the base, definitely not. But if you rely mostly on the base, you can definitely save.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Impressions of Korea as a developing country.
3. But don't forget your:
Wallet. It's expensive.