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What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Korea

I’ve been in Korea for almost six months now, and reflecting on these past few months, there are a handful of things I wish I knew before my big move.

I’ve been in Korea for almost six months now, and reflecting on these past few months, there are a handful of things I wish I knew before my big move.

I’m sharing them here to help make the process smoother for anyone moving to Korea for a year (or more).

7 Things to Know Before Moving to South Korea

Optional: Read with 7 Things by Miley Cyrus playing as background music.

1. You don’t need to pack multiple jackets.

While Korea may have four distinct seasons, if you live further south, chances are the “fall” weather won’t feel very crisp. Where I come from, fall isn’t really a thing. Sure, the leaves change and pumpkin-flavored everything is for sale, but the weather is still pretty hot. So, admittedly I don’t have much to compare it to, but the idea of wearing a coat when its 70 degrees outside is a bit much. That is to say, hold off on bringing a bunch of lightweight jackets. Unless you’re planning to layer them in the winter, one should be plenty. I opted not to pack a winter coat because a) it would have taken up valuable luggage space and b) I didn’t have one in the first place. If you’re coming over in the warmer months like I did, I recommend this. I honestly wish I’d saved myself more space by not packing any winter accessories at all – there are tons of affordable options for heat tech, hats, gloves and such.

2. You can’t learn Hangul in a day.

You’re probably thinking “…duh,” but I heard this secondhand through an acquaintance who also taught in Korea and foolishly took it as fact. Just like it’s tough for my students to learn English without practice, learning Korean – even just the alphabet – takes time. I recommend learning what you can before you arrive. Knowing Hangul helps a ton with reading signs and menus! LingoDeer is a great app to practice Korean, but I’ve heard Drops is an excellent app for learning Hangul in particular.

3. You can still use Spotify in Korea.

Unless you’re planning to set your phone’s details from your home country to Korea*, there is no reason why Spotify won’t work. I came over using Spotify Free (I’d downgraded because I thought it wouldn’t work internationally) but the free subscription only works for 14 days overseas. Note: Even if you buy a new phone here, you should still be able to set the country of the phone to the US, UK, etc. instead of the default Korea setting. *Note: One benefit to changing your phone’s country to Korea is access to certain apps like the Korea Starbucks app (rip my US rewards account), but I’d rather keep my Spotify over earning stars.

4. If you are allergy-sensitive at all, the fine dust will likely affect you.

I noticed it more when I was closer to Seoul, but when the air quality is bad, it can give you a persistent dry cough. AirVisual is a useful app to track the air quality and see if you need to wear a mask that day. A humidifier and/or air purifier is also a good investment if you’re located near Seoul.

5. Google Maps will not help you when you’re lost.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. However, in my experience, default apps aren’t necessarily the best option in Korea. Here are a few everyday transportation apps I wish I’d had on my phone when I first arrived:

  • KakaoMetro – If you’re lucky enough to be in a city with a metro system, KakaoMetro is extremely intuitive and great for when you’re still getting used to the train routes.
  • KakaoT – Instead of Lyft or Uber, there’s KakaoT. As long as you have the right address, it’s great. I like it best because you can opt to pay the driver in person vs. through the app, so you can pay by cash or card.
  • KakaoMap – The maps app isn’t perfect, but I’ve never encountered a GPS app without quirks. KakaoMap does the job and the “favorites” option is very helpful for navigating unfamiliar areas. One of the first things I did when I moved was set my home address in the app, so I can always get back to it without much trouble. Speaking of which, there is a bus app, but if you pull up the address in Maps, you can navigate using the bus without much trouble.

6. Snacks err on the sweet side.

There’s a reason honey butter chips sold out when they first released. Spicy and sweet flavors reign in Korea, so salty and savory snacks aren’t very popular here, unless you count seaweed. If you have friends or family sending care packages, make sure they throw in your favorite savory treats. I’d love to be proven wrong about this, so if you know if any salty Korean snacks I should check out, let me know!

7. Visa Runs are not “mini-vacations”.

Anyone who tells you this is either supremely optimistic or maybe just delusional. I recommend talking to any contacts you have in Korea (be it a friend or recruiter) to learn more about what a Visa run involves and if you will need one. When I was going through this process, I threw dozens of questions at my TravelBud contact and they always responded promptly. And Reddit is always a great resource for any questions you have about moving to Korea – this thread was my go-to for questions. Ultimately, I’d suggest doing everything you can to secure your Visa before you leave your home country, if only to avoid the headache and extra cost when you first arrive. Then you can save for a real vacation.

There you have it! Aside from the above little tidbits, I did manage to gather some useful information before arriving here, thanks to many other amazing blogs. To close this out, I’m linking my favorite resources for those gearing up to move to South Korea:

  • Moving to Korea: The Ultimate Packing List – This is a good starting point for anyone overwhelmed by narrowing down what to pack. However, I would ignore the advice to bring a power strip unless you’re not moving into your accommodation right away.
  • How to Pack for a Year in Korea – Informative and honest, with great advice not to “bring your whole life with you” when you move to Korea.
  • 43 Tips for Preparing to Move to Korea – A start-to-finish guide that covers everything from vaccinations to finance. The sections on visa documents, packing, and departure are particularly helpful.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any unanswered questions about moving and/or teaching abroad, throw them my way. I’m happy to help!

By Kathryn

KATIE is a twenty-something held together with iced coffee and her wits. She writes personal confessions and pop culture chronicles.

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