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Housing in South Korea
Everything You Need to Know about Finding a New Home
When looking for places in South Korea, the last thing you should expect is finding spacious accommodation. Korea is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and, with more than 50 million inhabitants, every available square foot is precious.
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The advantage of such a competitive housing market is that it takes no time for someone to find a place to live in South Korea. Many who opt for short-term rentals when they first relocate to the country, can move into long-term accommodation within a month of arriving here.
However, when it comes to the different types of housing available, the options are limited. Most expats choose to live in small studios or apartments with no more than one room. If you are looking for houses or apartments to rent that could fit your whole family, know that getting a bigger place is considered a luxury and houses are mostly reserved for the rich and privileged. The best option to get a bigger place is prioritizing the suburban areas over the more popular city centers.
Considering taking a step further and buying a house in South Korea? Know that it is quite expensive to do so. Still, the buying process is not much more complicated for expats than it is for locals, so if you have enough savings, investing in property can be a viable option.
Renting a House or an Apartment
There is some good and bad news for those thinking how to rent an apartment in South Korea. The good news is that the rental market is very fast and, once you land, you can find a place here in a matter of a week or two. South Korean rental prices are also not terribly expensive, especially when compared to some European and North American countries, but expats moving to Seoul should expect to pay the most. The bad news is that most of the apartments are quite small compared to what most expats might be used to.
Renting in South Korea as a Foreigner
The common problem that most foreigners come across when trying to find a place in Korea is that everything, including the most popular apps and websites for rentals, are in Korean. If you do not know the language you might struggle to find anything good and if you do, you will have trouble contacting or negotiating with your potential landlord.
Another problem that is very common in South Korea is misleading ads. It is not unusual for the apartment to look completely different than in the advertisement. Furthermore, the ads might be completely fake, designed to lure in a potential tenant. That is why it is highly advisable to hire a real estate agent that can communicate for you and get exactly what you are looking for. Contact local InterNations GO! specialists to help you navigate the Korean rental market.
Things to Know When Looking for an Apartment
If you do decide to look around, there are a few things you have to keep in mind. For example, all expats that are looking for accommodation in South Korea will come across pyeong (평, 坪). It is a measuring unit used to measure the size of the apartment. One pyeong equals 3.31 square meters or 35.58 square feet. Balconies as well as public areas, such as hallways and stairwells, are included in the measurements when the property’s size is evaluated. Also, note that a deposit here is called “key money” and is very important when drawing up your lease. You can find more information about it further on in the guide.
Types of Accommodation in Korea
- Apartments – these are more luxurious in Korea. Apartments here are high-rise complexes comprised of 8–16 buildings. The height and the number of the buildings might differ in smaller cities, but in general they are owned by a company that has its own brand (e.g.: Hyundai or Lotte). The apartments themselves are often bigger, with more than one room, about 30 pyeong. This is one of the pricier options available.
- Officetels – as the name suggests, these are a combination of an office and a hotel. These types of spaces are small and popular among people that live on their own and allow for the tenants to register their business at the address. They are studio-type rentals that have all the essentials in one room. These are an affordable option, especially for those living in big cities.
- Villas – while it might sound like a big fancy house, villas are actually apartment buildings as well. These are usually situated further away from the center and have fewer than six floors. Typically, villas are individually owned, so your landlord might be living next door to you. The accommodation in these buildings is more spacious, with no elevator, and fewer residents. Compared to other options, villas are usually cheaper both in terms of rent and utilities.
- Houses – single story homes are very rare and expensive in South Korea. However, they are available further away from the big cities. If you want to rent a house while still enjoying the commodities offered by local metropolises, you will need to pay a substantial amount for both, your deposit and the monthly rent.
What is Korean Accommodation Like?
Note that most accommodation in South Korea is pretty small. It is not unusual for a person to live in a 300 square feet apartment (9 pyeong). If you are used to bigger spaces and you are looking for one in Korea, be prepared to pay a lot of money for it.
Should you expect a furnished or unfurnished apartment? If you are lucky, you might find accommodation that offers more than just the white goods. However, unfurnished places are way more common.
Rental Process and Rules
The real estate market in South Korea likes to keep you on your toes. When going to apartment viewings, you need to be quick and decisive. Your real estate agent might give you only a few minutes to decide whether the place you are visiting is suitable for you. The upside of this is that the rental process here is very fast. You should have the documents signed and ready within a week or two of choosing the place. For that same reason, you shouldn’t start looking for a place too early in advance––one month prior to when you want to move is usually more than enough.
Rental Contract and Deposit
There are three types of rental contracts in South Korea:
- wolse (월세)
- jeonse (전세)
- banjeonse (반전세)
Wolse is a western type of lease that most expats sign when they find a place in Korea. It involves putting down a deposit (called “key money”) and paying rent every month. The rent is usually set, yet you can negotiate, by asking to increase the key money and lower the rent. As the key money is kept in an account with interest rates, this type of negotiation is beneficial for both the landlord and the tenant. At the end of your stay, if no damage is done to the apartment, you receive your key money back.
A Jeonse contract requires the tenant to put down key money that pretty much equals the price of the property and no actual rent is paid. Usually, this means your key money will be around 200 million KRW (170,800 USD). No rent payments are necessary as your landlord collects the interest rate for the deposit for the length of the contract (usually two years) and at the end you get all of your deposit back.
People who do not have a couple hundred million won in their pocket can take out a bank loan for a jeonse type of contract and pay monthly installments to the bank. These types of payments are usually lower than average rent, so both the tenant and the landlord are profiting from this type of arrangement. A Jeonse contract is very popular among Koreans, but is rarely seen among expats, as they cannot take out bank loans this size for lease purposes.
Banjeonse literally translates to half-jeonse. This type of contract is a sort of mixture of wolse and jeonse where the tenant needs to put down a sizable deposit and pay rent every month. However, both the key money and monthly payments are lower. In this case, the deposit is about 100 million KRW (85,500 USD).
In general, no matter the type, most contracts last at least two years. However, if you do want to sign a one-year lease, you might be able to negotiate that with your landlord. If no new contract is drawn up six months prior to the end of the lease, the tenant can continue to live in the property under the same rules. You are allowed to break your lease if you desire to leave earlier than the contract intends. However, how you go about it depends on the landlord you are dealing with.
It is advisable to sort out all the documentation with your real estate agent. They will take care nothing is missing from the paperwork and act as a witness to your deposit down payment. That way you can be more certain that you will get back your key money after the lease is over. Find a real estate agent in Korea that suits your needs by contacting InterNations GO!.
Pricing and Average Rent in South Korea
In South Korea, the ratio of the monthly rent and the key money (deposit) is very important. The more you can put down as your key money, the lower your monthly rent installments have to be.
When looking through the listings you will find that both the key money and the monthly rent is noted. The first number is the key money and the second one, after the slash, indicates the monthly payments (e.g.: 500/45).
Understanding Korean Numbers
When calculating what is affordable to you, remember to read the Korean numbers accurately. These are common numbers you will come across when looking for a place:
- 천 – thousand (if you see this symbol, add three 0’s to the number quoted on the ad)
- 만 – ten thousand (if you see this symbol, add four 0’s to the number quoted on the ad)
- 억 – 100 million (if you see this symbol, add eight 0’s to the number quoted on the ad)
Note that if there is no Korean symbol next to the number quoted on the ad, you should add four 0’s at the end of the number to know the actual price. For example, the listing can say “500/45” which means the key money is 5 million KRW (4,300 USD), while rent is 450,000 KRW (385 USD) per month.
The ratio of key money versus rent is important when trying to understand average house prices in Korea. The minimum key money you should expect to pay is at least 3–5 million KWR (2,500–4,300 USD), while the average is about 10 million KRW (8,500 USD) for a small studio in an officetel. Note that it is not uncommon to pay double, triple, or even ten times that if you are planning on renting a bigger place or looking for something in a popular area. When it comes to fancy apartments, it will usually be the key money that will skyrocket and not the monthly rent payments.
Minimum monthly house rent in South Korea is around 300,000 KRW (250 USD) for a small officetel studio (5–8 pyeong). On average, however, expect to pay about 500,000 KRW (425 USD) per month for this type of accommodation in big cities. Bigger apartments in Seoul average around 1 million KRW (850 USD) per month, yet it is not uncommon to see listings with 5–6 million KRW (4,300–5,100 USD) monthly price tags.
Utility Bills Payment
Gwanlibi (관리비), is a service fee that is usually not included in the price of your listing. These additional monthly payments might cover your building’s security, cleaning services, elevator maintenance, or even your cable or internet. Each building includes different types of services as gwanlibi, so make sure you know what your payments cover. Expect it to be around 100,000 KRW (85 USD).
It is rare for your rent or your gwanlibi to cover your energy and water bills. In most cases, you have to pay them on top of your rent. However, if your building does include all of your bills in gwanlibi, expect for it to be fairly high.
Requirements and Documents for Renting
The documents required for setting up a lease differ depending on what type of contract you are signing. For example, if you have the funds to opt for a jeonse contract, you will not need to prove your employment. However, if you are signing a wolse type of lease, your landlord will most probably ask for your work contract. In general, you will need your passport, visa, and Alien Registration Card.
As visiting the potential accommodation is important before signing the lease, it is highly advised to find a short-term place when you first move to South Korea. Your best options are serviced apartments and private listings, such as Airbnb, that are available for rent under short-term leases. Many expats tend to opt for them as they are reliable, and their websites are available in languages other than Korean.
The average price for temporary rentals is typically higher than what you would pay for a place with a long-term lease. You can expect to spend around 40–80 USD per night for a place in bigger cities such as Seoul or Busan. If you opt for more luxurious monthly furnished rentals, you might be charged 120–200 USD per night.
However, the important thing to know is that the accommodation hunt does not take too long here. You might be able to leave the short-term rental place about a week or two after you arrive.
What the documents do you need in order to rent? In general, the requirements are minimal. A form of ID is often sufficient enough to prove your legitimacy to your landlord.
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Buying Property as a Foreigner
Foreigners that are wondering how to buy property in South Korea can breathe with ease––they do not need to meet any specific requirements to do so, especially if they have established residence in the country. And while non-residents need to take extra steps to purchase real estate, they are still allowed to do so here.
South Korea House Prices
In general, one can say that buying a house in South Korea is expensive. While the government is taking serious measures to curb the increasing house prices in the country, the so-called speculation zones with overblown prices are still unavoidable. That is especially notable in the country’s capital Seoul. Hence, if you are looking for a cheaper option, consider buying property in smaller cities or the suburbs.
In general, you should expect to pay around 1.5–2.5 million KRW (130,000–215,000 USD) for a small apartment or a studio in Korea. Prices for bigger accommodation start at about 4 million KRW (340,000 USD). However, here––the sky is the limit.
Types of Property
The most common types of for-sale properties in Korea are apartments. Their price might depend on:
- the age of the building;
- the brand name of the building;
- the proximity to public transportation;
- which floor the apartment is on (the higher the better);
- which side the windows are facing (the more sunlight, the higher the price).
Process and Steps for Buying Accommodation in South Korea
When it comes to shopping around for a potential property, doing it in South Korea is not much different than it would be in any other country. Establishing a budget and your requirements, hiring a real estate agent, and together discussing your possible options are all part of the initial process.
Once you do find a place that fits your needs and budget, you can start the official process of purchasing property. As any Korean, you will have to abide to Real Estate Registration Act that describes the procedure of property registration. This act is basically a rulebook you need to follow that explains property ownership, the possibility of renting, mortgages, and more.
Requirements to Buy Property: Resident Expats
As a resident foreigner, you are also subject to the Foreigner’s Land Acquisition Act. This act requires you to inform the government about the property purchase within 60 days of the contract being finalized. To do so, you need to present your property purchase contract and a certified copy of property registration to your city (Si), county (Gun), or district (Gu) office.
After you pay the full price for the property you are buying, you need to transfer the ownership of the real estate from the previous owner’s name to yours. That also needs to be done within 60 days. To complete the transfer, you need to have the following documents:
- a certified copy of your ARC;
- property registration application with documents verifying the reasons for registration;
- registration certificate with a certified copy.
If you buy property in protected areas (military grounds, cultural properties that have heritage value, or nature conservation zones) you will also need to get a specific permit from them.
Requirements to Buy Property: Non-Resident Expats
On top of the two above mentioned acts, non-resident foreigners also need to comply with the Foreign Exchange Transactions Act. This is because non-resident foreigners are investing money that they have earned abroad in South Korea. This is why, in addition to informing a local government office about the purchase, non-residents also need to report the transaction to the foreign exchange bank. For that you need:
- a copy of the property contract;
- a certified copy of property registration;
- an official property evaluation report.
They also need to prove that their official address is registered abroad.
After the full price is paid, you need to transfer the ownership registration of the building to your name. To do so, you need:
- proof of address;
- property registration application with documents verifying the reasons for registration;
- registration certificate with a certified copy.
To complete the registration, you also need to apply for a registration number. That can be done through an immigration office by submitting your land acquisition report and a copy of your passport.
Can You Buy Property in South Korea to Get a Visa, Permanent Residence, or Citizenship?
In short—no. Buying property in South Korea will not get you the necessary documents to stay here. This, however, is available through large investments.
There is not much choice when it comes to utility companies in South Korea. That is because most of the services are provided by the government. However, the quality of the services is high, and it allows for fair pricing.
Utility Providers: Electricity
There is only one electricity provider in South Korea and that is Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). As there is no competition, the price for electricity is the same in the whole country and your bill does not depend on where in the country you live. The billing system charges you a flat rate every month, plus the money for every kWh on top of that. Your rates depend on how much electricity you use.
|Electricity usage kWh||Flat rate KRW||Flat rate USD|
|Electricity usage kWh||KRW per kWh||USD per kWh|
To set up electricity you can call KEPCO by dialing 123 (press 7 to reach an English-speaking operator), do it through their website, or visit their office in person. Once you request an account, your electricity supply will be arranged within 24 hours.
Utility Providers: Gas
Gas in South Korea is provided by the Korean City Gas Association, called City Gas for short. Each city has their own gas office (Seoul City Gas, Busan City Gas, etc). Most homes in the country have gas pipes already installed. However, you do need to contact the company to set up your account. The required documents for that are your Alien Registration Card or your passport. Once you have an account, a person will come in to hook your place up to the system and check for possible gas leaks.
Note that you can only set up your gas account if you speak Korean. Contact our local professionals who can help you with that and other settling-in services.
Utility Providers: Water
Water in Korea is provided by Korea Water, or K-Water for short. The company has offices in cities across the country. Most accommodation is already connected to the pipelines of the city and you will not need to do much to have water in your accommodation. Whether or not you need to call up the local office to set up your water usage depends on your landlord, so ask them for details on this matter. If you have purchased a place in South Korea, clarify the water utilities situation with the seller.
Utility Providers: Garbage Disposal
In Korea, your waste is sorted in three different categories:
- Food waste;
- General waste.
Food and general waste need to be sorted in different colored bags. The color depends on the area you live in, so check with your landlord for the rules you need to follow.
If you live in an apartment building, you will most likely have a designated area to dispose of your garbage. If that is not the case, then you need to put your garbage out on the street for it to be collected. The times you can dispose of what type of trash might also vary, so make sure you are briefed on all the relevant information.
Not all food scraps are considered food waste. Hard nut shells, big fruit pits, bones, and tea bags do not classify as food waste because that cannot decompose quickly. A common yet quite unusual-sounding tip is considering whether what you are throwing away can be eaten by a pig or not. If yes, it is food waste.
When it comes to recyclables, they need to be cleaned and thrown away into the appropriate bin. They can also be disposed of in transparent or semi-transparent bags.
The monthly garbage disposal fees will depend on how much food and general waste you get rid of. If you have any small electronics, such as hair dryers, toasters, printers, or phones that you want to throw away, they can be disposed for free with other recyclables. Disposing of larger items that cannot fit inside a standard garbage bag, such as refrigerators, beds, TVs, and closets can cost you 2,000–12,000 KRW (2–10 USD).
Things to Know
- When setting up your utilities you might be asked to provide your bank details. You often have an option to set up an automatic direct debit payment for your bills that, in addition to being very convenient, can get you a discount as well.
- The tap water in Korea is suitable for drinking, however, many Koreans boil it or filter it first. Some apartments might have special water filters installed in the sink with a separate drinking water faucet.
- Note that in some buildings (villas especially) the bills are calculated for the whole building and split evenly among the people living there. Make sure to clarify the bill payment policies with your landlord.
- Mold caused by humidity can be a problem in Korea. Hence, people are advised to keep the airflow in their apartments circulating, keep their bathroom doors open, or even purchase specific products that absorb moisture. People should be especially aware of it during the winter months as the temperature difference between the inside and outside can cause condensation on windows.
- Floor heating is the most popular type of heating in South Korea. Gas or warm water pipes installed under the flooring keep the accommodation warm during the winter months.
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Internet and Mobile Phones
How to Get a Phone Number in Korea
Expats have two choices when it comes to getting a phone number in Korea:
- getting a prepaid SIM card;
- getting a contract.
If you want to opt for a contract, know that it can only last as long as your visa. That is why, when trying to sign with a local telecommunications company, you will need to present your Alien Registration Card (ARC) and local bank account. If you do not have an ARC, prepaid SIM cards are your only option. These are usually more expensive than contracts, yet the exact price depends on the carrier.
The biggest carriers in the country are:
- SK T World;
- KT Olleh;
- LG U+.
Note that while these carriers might have English information on their websites, it might be very limited. The smaller companies might not offer English translations at all. That is why it is highly advisable to explore your options in Korean. Cannot speak the language well enough yet? Contact our experts who can help you get a phone number and resolve other matters related to settling in Korea.
Internet and Cell Phones
South Korea’s internet connection is commonly ranked as one of the top 5 fastest in the world. The government provides the basic fiber connection which is passed to customers by telecommunication companies. The biggest internet providers in South Korea are:
- SK Broadband;
- KT Olleh;
- LG U+.
Choose the internet provider and the plan that best suits your needs and contact the company (the best practice is to do it in Korean). When signing you up, they might ask you to provide your ARC and your local bank account details. Then, they will send a technician to your home who will set up your modem and WiFi.
The length of your contract can be anywhere from one to five years, or however long your visa is valid for. The prices vary depending on the provider, yet the longer your contract is, the cheaper the plans are. Buying a TV, phone, and internet bundle is another option that often comes out cheaper.
When it comes to phones, note that not all smartphones are compatible with local carriers. iPhones and Korean brands such as Samsung and LG are your safest bets. If your phone is by another brand, you might need to get a new device.
South Korean Television
Some apartment complexes and officetels have the cable connection ready for their tenants. In that case, you will not need to do anything to watch TV in your home. However, if that is not already sorted out for you, you can do it without much hassle. The best practice is getting a bundle service together with your internet or phone contract. In most cases, to sign a contract, you will need to present your ARC and local bank account details.
For those wondering how to watch your home country’s TV in South Korea, know that there are not many options. The common approach is relying on streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, or Acorn, and a few international channels you might be able to get with your TV bundle.
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!