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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Seoul

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Life in Seoul

At a Glance:

  • Seoul has flourished into a vibrant business hub since the Korean war.
  • There is a variety of different and stylish accommodation to suit your needs.
  • Seoul has plenty of thriving international and expatriate neighborhoods.

The locals in Seoul like to refer to their city as “the miracle of Han”. After having survived the Korean War without sustaining major damage, the historic city of Seoul has grown and developed exponentially, becoming the booming 21st century metropolis that it is today. The government has invested heavily into making Seoul the attractive and wonderful place that it is today. Some of this money has gone towards designated green zones, in the form of parks and other recreational areas, adding to the existing green areas in the city. Between 2012 and 2016, 197 new green spaces have been created in downtown Seoul, with the total area amounting to 1,880,000 ㎡ , Furthermore, Seoul currently has 2,278 green spaces (146.22 ㎢), approximately a quarter of the city’s total area.

Despite this, plans for the construction of green zones show no sign of letting up. In 2017 alone, the Seoullo 7017 and Culture Depot Base parks were opened to the public. The Gyeongchun Line (Railroad) Forest Park was also opened, in the second half of 2017. The SMG claims it will construct a further seven “ green passageways” by the end of 2019, as well as investing money in camping sites across the city. The Choansan family camping site was opened in June 2017.

Finding a Place to Live

  • When looking for accommodation in Seoul, it is important to know that, housing space is often measured in pyeong (1 pyeong = 3.3 m²). Please note that the total area listed often includes common areas such as the hallway in front of the apartment, the elevator, the parking garage, etc. These common areas are added up and divided by the number of apartments in the building, meaning that your actual living space may be smaller than what is advertised. Luckily, there are many options when it comes to house-hunting in Seoul. Serviced apartments are furnished and come with hotel-like services and facilities. In addition, they are often located within close proximity to public transportation and tourist attractions. They are a convenient option for expatriates who come to Seoul on short-term assignments. A serviced apartment is usually more expensive than a regular apartment.
  • Regular apartments are the most popular housing option among Koreans. They are often located near postal or district offices, schools, and stores. As expected, rents vary depending on the apartment’s location and size. The units in apartment complexes are often smaller than what Westerners might be accustomed to.
  • Another option is to rent space in an officetel. An officetel is a high-rise building which offers both offices and residential units for residents of Seoul. Officetels are particularly popular with students and singles in Seoul, as they offer contracts of 1–2 years and come fully furnished.
  • Private houses are particularly attractive for families. They are easier to find in the older neighborhoods north of the river. The majority of expats in Seoul who rent private houses reside in the areas of Itaewon, Ichon-dong, and Pyeongchang-dong.
  • Multi-family houses and terraced houses usually offer less space than apartments and are home to at least two families. However, they are also cheaper than most apartments of equal size.
  • One-room and studio apartments are most popular among students and young foreign employees living in Seoul. On average, these apartments are about 27 m² and come with basic furnishing. They are cheaper than officetels.
  • If you want to experience the traditional side of life in Seoul, a may be more to your liking. These can be seen in the old part of Seoul, north of Hangang. However, not only Bukchon Hanok Village offers traditional homes to people living in Seoul. Remodeled hanoks appear all over the city. Modern amenities have been added to their historical exterior, to bring them up to the level needed to support the fast paced, high quality life in Seoul.

Popular and International Neighborhoods

There are several districts in Korea’s capital which are particularly popular among expatriates. Some of them offer nice and quiet areas which are ideal for families, while others are within easy reach of public transportation and important business facilities.

The most popular international neighborhoods and districts are:

  • Itaewon-dong (Yongsan-gu)
  • Hannam-dong (Yongsan-gu)
  • Ichon-dong (Yongsan-gu)
  • Seodaemun-gu
  • The Greater Gangnam Area (Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu, and Songpa-gu)

All of these districts have something different to offer, ranging from parks and green spaces, to clubs and restaurants. Please refer to our article on moving to Seoul to learn more about the various international districts.

Seoul: Education and International Schools

The Changing Education System

South Korea’s education system includes six years of primary education, followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school. Back in 1996, only 5% of all high schools were co-educational. Even in a metropolis such as Seoul it is still common to find classes divided by gender, although this has changed significantly in recent years. In typical Korean schools, teaching focuses heavily on health, independence, creativity, and moral values. Teachers enjoy a lot of respect and authority.

Seoul’s high schools are divided into academic and vocational high schools. Most students choose to attend academic schools leading them on the path to higher education. Seoul’s high school students face a challenging and rigorous school day. Beginning around 08:00 and ending around 22:00 or even midnight, a typical school day involves studying before and after school. Luckily, elementary and middle school schedules are not as demanding.

What Are the Options for Expat Children?

Seoul offers three different schooling options for your children: local Korean schools, homeschooling, and international schools. Here is a brief introduction to all three options.

  • Local Korean schools make a lot of sense if you stay in Seoul for several years. That way, your children may find it easier to adapt to Korean society. At the same time, it may be hard for children to adjust if they are not proficient in Korean yet. There are many public and private schools in Seoul. While public elementary schools are free of charge, private and public middle and high schools charge tuition.
  • Homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular among expat parents living in Seoul, mainly due to the quality of homeschool education and practicality of it.
  • International and foreign schools are spread throughout the city of Seoul. Fees are usually in the region of 12,000–30,000 USD per year. Most foreign schools are located in Gyeonggi-do, Incheon Metropolitan City, and Seoul City, especially in Yongsan-gu. To apply on behalf of your child, make sure to add transcripts and report cards as well as standardized test scores and letters of recommendation to the application documents.

International and Foreign Schools

There are a number of foreign and international schools in and around Seoul which are fit to deal with the challenges expat children face:

For more information on international schools in and around Seoul, please refer to the website of the city government of Seoul.

Healthcare and Hospitals in Seoul

Taking a Look at the Healthcare System

Medical facilities are categorized into three types according to standard and size.

  • First-tier facilities include private hospitals and public health centers. They are usually limited in their number of medical departments and offer services to treat early symptoms of illness.
  • Second-tier facilities offer services by medical specialists in more than four departments. They usually offer between 30 and 500 beds for the treatment of in-patients and out-patients. Emergency medical services are available as well.
  • Third-tier facilities include general hospitals and hospitals belonging to medical schools. They offer services by medical specialists, medical care in different departments and over 500 hospital beds. Specialized emergency services are also available.

Before you enter a hospital for medical care, you should make sure to go to a first-tier or second-tier facility for help or to get a referral. Third-tier hospitals will, of course, also accept you as a patient if you do not bring a referral. However, it is possible that your health insurance will not cover the costs and you will be stuck with high medical fees.

Medical Referral and Payments

In most cases you have to pay your medical costs upfront before you can make a claim with your insurance company. You can make a payment at the administrative office of your hospital or medical center. While most of them accept credit cards, some of them may not, so make sure to bring enough cash.

In case of an emergency, you can dial 1339 to reach the hotline of the Emergency Medical Information Center. They have trained medical personnel on call 24/7 who can give basic medical instructions over the phone or call an ambulance if necessary. The hotline is available in English, Chinese, and Japanese.

The Most Important Hospitals in Seoul

As mentioned above, there are a vast number of medical institutions which offer top-notch care and services. Specialized services in fields such as ophthalmology, dentistry, plastic surgery, or infertility treatment are available as well. Many hospitals and medical centers now also have international staff that cater to the expat community. These include:

For more expat-friendly hospitals as well as contact information for the clinics mentioned above, please refer to Allianz Worldwide Care.

Vaccinations and Safety: What You Need to Look Out For

It Before arriving in Seoul, it is advisable to stop by your family doctor and check whether you or your family are in need of booster vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and hepatitis A and B. Unfortunately, the risk of catching typhoid and Japanese encephalitis is high in rural areas, so it is worth considering whether you want to get these vaccinations as well. More information is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

Currently, it is relatively safe to travel to South Korea. Life in the country is generally very safe, and violent crimes are rare. Expats nowadays are advised to be wary of the political situation with North Korea, although to this point, political tensions have had very little effect on life in Seoul.

Seoul is a very safe city, and violent crimes are rare. As in every major metropolis around the world, however, you should use your common sense to avoid obvious dangers.

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