Coming to Korea was a huge, daunting move, and needless to say I did a lot of research beforehand; finding out about the culture and customs (bowing your head and removing your shoes inside), weather (yes, there definitely are 4 distinct seasons), and shopping (being told that buying clothes/shoes/underwear was pretty much impossible).
The information I found was helpful, but ultimately it’s living here which gives you the best knowledge. So here, in hindsight, is what advice I’d give myself, and anyone else about to move to Korea.
- Learn Hangul before you arrive
I had a quick look at some ‘learn to read Hangul’ guides before coming, but not in much detail, and I wish that I had. Once you’ve arrived, there’s so much else to sort out and distract you that you might not have the time to focus on learning to read in Korean- this happened to me, and in the end it was a while before I properly taught myself Hangul.
Don’t be put off by thinking it’s too difficult, because it’s much simpler than you’d imagine (everyone else I know agrees that it’s surprisingly easy to get a grip of). Being able to read it upon your arrival makes things much less daunting, even being able to read the city names and find your correct destination when you arrive at the airport.
I used the infamous Ryan Estrada method which can be found here, which I found pleasantly straightforward, and would definitely recommend.
- Phones are generally on contracts
I imagined that I’d be able to get a simple pay-as-you-go phone in Korea and that I wouldn’t use it too often, but that’s a pretty difficult thing to do. I was told by co-workers to set up a contract, as it would be hard to find somewhere to find a pay-as-you-go option.
Everyone I know has ended up setting a phone contract and getting a Korean phone as part of that contract- so if you’re coming out with your own phone, it could be that you’ll end up getting a new one instead.
- Deodorant does exist-for women
I was pretty worried when I read that deodorant isn’t really used by Koreans, and came out with about 10 sprays in my luggage. Luckily for women, you can find deodorant now in most marts, even if it is the roll-on kind and more expensive than you’d expect.
But for men it’s more difficult. My male friends tell me it’s pretty much impossible to find stuff in a standard supermarket. So for them, they fill their cases with extra deodorant… or resort to buying the female version if they run out.
- Underwear is expensive
On the whole, the cost of living is so much cheaper in Korea, apart from where underwear is concerned. The price of underwear is pretty similar to the price of proper clothes, which I found pretty shocking. Plus, the selection isn’t the best to say the least… If I were packing to move out here, I’d cram my suitcase with extra items.
Oh, apart from socks, which are sold everywhere, are extremely cheap, and also amazing. In fact, I wouldn’t bother to pack any socks and buy them all when you arrive!
- Cosmetics are good
I didn’t have a clue what to expect from Korean cosmetics, so packed double the amount I needed: two makeup bags, extra face creams and wipes, just so many products. But luckily, there was no need as there are so many options in Korea, ranging from the very-cheap to the luxury, expensive items.
I’d guess there are even more options than you’d have back home. You only have to walk into a cosmetic shop to be faced with so many face creams, lotions, cleaners, toners, and goodness-knows what else, that you’ll be in the shop for hours, confused over what to buy.
- G Market is the new Amazon
Amazon ships some stuff to Korea, but not everything. And so the other option is G Market. There’s an English website which is convenient, and you can find most things you’d need on there.
- Buy your winter gear in Korea
Winter is hideously cold, but it’s alright as long as you have proper winter clothes. I came out with a winter coat, gloves, hat, scarves etc., but when the colder months arrived I realised that they weren’t enough, and that I needed proper winter clothes which are actually designed for the freezing temperatures.
They have everything you could ever need in Korea: thermal vests, leggings, hats, gloves, fluffy socks, pajamas, snoods, the list goes on. And while a lot of the winter coats are insanely expensive, there are cheaper options which are still perfect for facing the cold. My coat is my saviour during winter, it isn’t a huge puffer-jacket, and it cost a fraction of the price of the majority of coats.
- There are more and more Western food products
Another thing I read online about Korea was the lack of certain foods, cereal being one of the main things which people claimed you couldn’t find. However I think that now, the majority of things can be found in marts. In fact, there is quite a large selection of cereals in all 3 of our local marts, even if it is slightly more expensive than you’d pay back home.
In the past few months I’ve even seen things like quinoa and oats (yay) appear on the shelves, which weren’t here 18 months ago. The only thing I find I miss are confectionery goods and bread (it does exist but the selection isn’t great, and the taste isn’t as good). And for things which you can’t find in the shops, I Herb is amazing.
- Daiso is amazing
One of the first shops you venture into should be Daiso. It is just the best, selling everything from tableware to shampoo to shower gel to headphones to slippers to towels to decorations for your home. It’s so cheap, but it isn’t rubbish either. Daiso is my go-to shop for most things other than food.
- You can find clothes and shoes
I’d read a lot about the lack of clothes/shoes to fit Westerners, but there are options out there, even if they’re limited/in Seoul. It’s true that a lot of the clothes are tiny, but there are larger shops which have a bigger selection, UniQlo being a good example. My boyfriend is much bigger than the average Korean male at over 6 foot, but he has found plenty of things to fit him here, as have I. And as for shoes, ABC Mart sells bigger sizes, and their biggest size was fine for my boyfriend.
If you’re finding it really hard to find clothes, there’s always Seoul which has a lot of Western shops, so you should be able to find something suitable, if you look hard enough!
- Lastly (and most importantly, the food is good
I obviously had to mention the food in Korea, which I love. But it is something I worried about before coming to Korea, as hating the food would be pretty bad. And there are some strange meals which most Westerners would shy away from (raw seafood and animal innards spring to mind), but there is plenty of normal, delicious food. And it isn’t all spicy, as some people warn you. There’s a list of 20 Korean meals here, to give you an idea of what to expect.
If you really hate the food, there are Western restaurants even in smaller cities. And there’s guaranteed to be some of the Koreans’ favourite: fried-chicken. Although it might not be the healthiest choice to eat this too often.
I could start raving about food here, but that would be a whole new post…