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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Seoul

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Relocating to Seoul

At a Glance:

  • Located in the heart of the Korean Peninsula, Seoul is a growing city surrounded by numerous mountains.
  • The visa application process for South Korea is strenuous and the application requirements may differ depending on the type of visa.
  • Seoul has many popular international districts and the city has excellent transportation links.

So , you have packed your bags and are ready to relocate to Seoul? If you are a big city person, you are in for a treat! Seoul is the capital of South Korea and also the country’s biggest city. Staggeringly, almost 50% of the South Korean population currently live in Seoul or in the city’s national capital area.

Relocating to Seoul is an opportunity to benefit from everything South Korea’s economic, financial, and cultural center has to offer. As a settlement, Seoul has a rich 2000-year history, 600 years of which have been spent as South Korea’s capital. Today Seoul belongs to the top 10 leading global cities, ranking sixth in the Global Power City Index

About the City and Its Residents

Seoul is a city surrounded by a number of peaks and mountains, which used to function as a natural fortress. The highest peaks among them are the Bukhansan and the Dobongsan, standing at 836 meters and 740 meters respectively. Seoul itself is made up of 25 districts (gu), which are again divided into neighborhoods (dong). Each gu has its own mayor, legislative council, and sister city.

Expats in Seoul will find their new home in the heart of the Korean peninsula. The city is located near the North Korean border and within easy reach of popular Asian destinations such as Tokyo, Beijing, or Shanghai.

The government is striving to develop Seoul into an attractive and universal city. The global village and global business zones are examples of the growing multi-cultural influence. Seoul’s international population is still quite small however, with about 264,000 foreign residents (compared to a total of 10,178,000 people living in Seoul City and even more in the greater metropolitan area).

Support Center for Foreigners

The government of South Korea’s capital has opened a support center for foreigners moving to Seoul moving to Seoul in order to ease the transition and help with common issues. Expatriates in Seoul also have the opportunity to participate in cultural exchange programs and attend Korean classes there. You can find this center on the fifth floor of the Seoul Global Center building at Jong-ro 38-gil, Jongno-gu.

In addition, there are seven global village centers which offer help and advice to expats moving to Seoul. They are located in Yeonnam, Yeoksam, Seorae, Itaewon, Ichon, Yeongdeungpo, and Seongbuk. You should be able to quickly find one of these centers in your area of residence when moving to Seoul. They can provide you with information on banks, hospitals, drug stores, convenience stores, and public transportation. They can also help you with various administrative issues.

Seoul: Visa Types and Expat Registration

The Different Visa Types

There are different types of visas for expats moving to Seoul for work or business purposes. Which one you need usually depends on the duration of your stay and the type of employment you wish to take up. Some of the most common types of visas for expatriates are :

  • Temporary Employment (C-4)
  • Intra-Company Transfer (D-7)
  • Foreign Language Teaching (E-2)
  • Special Profession (E-5)
  • Specially Designated Activities (E-7)
  • Employment after Industrial Training (E-8)
  • Non-Professional Employment (E-9)
  • Temporary Journalism (C-1)
  • Short-Term Business (C-2)

After your visa has been granted, you have 90 days to enter the country. If you fail to do so, it will expire, and you will have to go through the application process all over again.

How to Apply for Your Visa

You will likely need a temporary employment visa (C-4) to rightfully move to Seoul and take up gainful employment.

In any case, you should contact your nearest South Korean embassy or consulate for details regarding your visa application. You can usually apply by submitting the following paperwork:

  • one passport-sized photo
  • a valid passport
  • an employment contract
  • a copy of the certificate of registration of your Korean employer
  • a recommendation of employment by the responsible Korean minister or another document which attests the necessity of your employment
  • proof of payment of fees

However, the application requirements may differ depending on the type of visa. Keep in mind that your employment visa is only valid for the time and place of your actual employment. This means that, when your contract expires, you will have to leave South Korea within 14 days. If you are able to secure another job or simply change your place of employment, you will have to contact the Immigration Office to receive a brand-new visa.

Paying for Your Visa

In terms of fees, your visa for moving to Seoul falls under one of the following three categories.

  • single entry visa for no more than 90 days
  • single entry visa for more than 90 days
  • double-entry visa
  • multiple entry visa

Registering as an Expat

After you have secured your employment visa and have successfully mastered your move to Seoul, you are not through with the red tape yet. Everybody who intends to stay longer than 90 days needs to apply for an Alien Registration Certificate. You need to contact the Seoul Immigration Office and submit the following documents:

  • an application form
  • a valid passport
  • one passport-sized photograph
  • the registration application fee (about 30,000 KRW)

Changes in your address or your visa status may mean that you have to re-register with the Immigration Office. Either way, you will have to report your new address if you move and any other changes within 14 days. Upon registration, you will receive a foreign registration card which is valid for one year.

Seoul: International Districts and Transport

Popular International Districts

There are many different international districts in Seoul, which are extremely popular not only among expats, but among locals as well.

  • Itaewon-dong (Yongsan-gu) is located near Yongsan US military base and is home to the largest expatriate community in the entire country. It is also a very popular tourist zone. Visitors and residents enjoy the numerous shopping opportunities, clubs, bars, and restaurants the district has to offer. Consequently, Itaewon-dong has become the residential area of choice among expats.
  • Hannam-dong (Yongsan-gu) lies near Itaewon and has a significant number of foreign diplomatic missions and embassies. It is divided into two areas — the UN Village and an ordinary residential district. It is primarily a residential area, with a significant number of fancy villages and a distinct theme of Western housing
  • Ichon-dong (Yongsan-gu) is renowned as the home of most Japanese expats in Seoul. Currently, there are about 5,000 Japanese people living in Ichon-dong and historically, it has been home to embassy staff and the employees of different trading companies.
  • Seodaemun-gu is situated in the northwest of Seoul, surrounded by mountains, and very popular among foreigners. Foreign students and professors in particular like to settle here. They enjoy the close proximity to different universities such as the Ewha Woman’s University, Hongik University, and Yonsai University.
  • The Greater Gangnam Area (Gangnam-gu, Seochu-gu, and Songpa-gu) offers various cultural and business facilities such as the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) or the Seoul Arts Center. This area is popular among Koreans for its excellent public transportation and its fantastic schools. Despite the rising housing costs and the hectic traffic, expats continue to move to this district and enjoy the excellent opportunities that comes with it.

A Well-Organized Public Transportation System

Seoul has a comprehensive public transportation system which allows you to travel almost everywhere without much of a hassle. The bus system, for instance, is reasonably priced and operates from 04:30 to 01:00. While some bus route maps are also displayed in English, drivers usually only understand Korean. The bus number will tell you which districts the buses serve.

There are three types of buses:

  • The Rapid Bus (red) is used specifically to transport commuters from downtown Seoul to the surrounding metropolitan areas. The main purpose of the bus is to link commuters to other surrounding cities such as Incheon, Ilsan, Bundang, Suji, Suwon, and Anyang.
  • Trunk buses (blue) are operated partly by private companies and partly by the government. These buses run for longer distances than any other city bus, connecting suburban areas to downtown Seoul. The Branch Bus (green) is a more flexible form of bus transportation in Seoul. Operated by private bus companies, the Branch Bus covers shorter distances and links downtown Seoul to major bus terminals and subway stations on the outside.  
  • The Circulation Buses (yellow), which circle around the city center, provide transport to parks, shops, subways, and railway stations.

Alternatively, you can also rely on Seoul’s extensive subway system. Although it is fast, cheap, and safe, you should try to avoid rush hours when the trains are very packed. The subway runs every few minutes between 05:30 to around midnight.

Prefer Traveling by Car?

Taxi rides can be relatively cheap, especially if you share one with your friends and colleagues. Regular taxis (ilban) have a base charge of between 2,800 and 3,300KRW and the fare increase is calculated by distance traveled. Deluxe taxis (mobeom) are black with a yellow stripe and have a base charge of between 3,200 and 5,500 KRW. Unlike regular taxis, they do not require a 20% surcharge between midnight and 04:00.

While only very few taxi drivers speak English, some companies offer a free interpretation service. In addition, Seoul International Taxis started operations in 2009, offering drivers who speak English, Japanese, and Chinese. All taxis come with a meter. However, keep in mind that on the Incheon airport route, you will have to pay for the road toll in addition to the regular meter charge. Tipping is not customary and hence not necessary.

Finally, you could always rent a car in Seoul. It is important for foreigners to note, however, that navigating the busy traffic and different road systems can be very difficult. There are certainly better options!

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