If you’re thinking about visiting or moving to South Korea, you may have some questions about everyday costs. We had read up a lot about what to expect with expenses before moving, to get a better idea of saving capabilities. The good news is the cost of living in South Korea is rather low for most things.
We find that many things here are much more affordable than what we’re used to back in the United States. This is true with transportation, utilities, and often times even restaurant costs. We lived in a city back home, so that may play some part into it — but overall, things cost a lot less in this country. Take a look below for a breakdown of some of our regular expenses.
I travel the most on a daily basis. My main school is 20 minutes by bus from our apartment and my two travel schools are another 40 minutes away. I spend a lot of my day on buses. (I tell Nick all the time that his school better be the further away one next year :P) I pay about 145,000 won a month to ride back and forth from my schools to our apartment. This is about $130. The good news is that my program gives me an allowance for travel schools — since I have two they pay me 150,000 won a month. So this covers the costs of my transportation completely.
We don’t have cars here, so we don’t have that cost. We also don’t have the cost of car insurance. We sometimes (1-2 times a month) visit a city by bus. We can get to and from Seoul (about 4.5 hours away by bus) for about $60 each. Another city, Gwangju, which we visit often, can be visited round-trip for about $28. As you can see, it’s very affordable to get a ride several hours away.
When we visit cities, taxi rides are also very affordable. You pay by mileage, which is calculated on the meter, but you can easily take a 10 minute taxi ride and only pay around $5.
Back home, we were paying $1,200 for a 2-bedroom rental in the city. This included most utilities, except for cable, internet, etc. Still, this was a major expense of ours each month. We are lucky because our program pays for our rent here. Almost all teaching jobs in South Korea cover the cost of rent. The apartments are often tiny studio size spaces, but it doesn’t matter, because you get used to it!
If we had to pay for our apartment here, we would probably pay under 450,000 won a month — or around $400 a month. The one thing to take note is key money (what they call a deposit) in Korea is extremely high! While you may pay a month’s rent in security deposit back home — you could easily be asked to pay $5,000-$10,000 in key money deposit depending on where you live! This is one thing to really consider if you’re coming to Korea and don’t have a provided apartment.
Not having to pay rent is a big savings!
Utility costs are also extremely low. In the winter, we didn’t run the heat all the time. With ondol (floor) heating here, it’s easy for your small apartment to heat up quickly and stay warm, in most places. We usually only ran our floor heater for an hour or so each evening. We never felt that our utility costs were too high. It’s important to note that we don’t have an air conditioner. We do run a big fan about 15 hours a day, and it keeps us pretty cool. We’re hoping our next apartment has an air conditioner, which will cost more to run — but so far we’ve been okay here.
As you can see, I’ve included some pictures of our most recent bills for the month of June. Our electric and water bill is 58,090 won (about $52). Our gas bill is 6,810 won (about $6). As you can see, it’s very affordable.
For our cell phones, our lines each cost about 45,000 won ($40) for several gigs of data, minutes, and messaging. We also pay about 55,000 won ($50) for a cable and internet package. You can pay even less than this for cable/tv/internet by signing a 2 year plan (if you know you will be staying in Korea), but we signed a 1 year contract, as we weren’t sure what our plans were at the time.
This adds up to less than $200 a month for all of our utility costs. This varies by month depending on the gas/electric usage with the weather, but it’s extremely affordable!
Eating at restaurants is in most cases, also affordable. At many of the restaurants that we visit in our town, we pay $15-$20 or less for both of us to eat a meal. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, tipping is not a thing here! As for the grocery store, some items (like beef) are a lot more expensive. If you want harder to find items like peanut butter or real cheese, you will pay high costs. Since other costs are so low, it’s easier to splurge on purchasing better food and comforts from home.
So as you can see, the cost of most products and services are quite low in Korea! We knew we wanted to live and work in an Asian country, but the cost of living in South Korea was a big deciding factor when it came to choosing between other countries, like Japan.
We hope this cost of living in South Korea guide helps you better plan your travels in Asia.