South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, is a sophisticated destination full of skyscrapers and modern buildings. Juxtaposed with them, however, is a mass of ancient temples, museums and palaces. This mixture of old and new is a prominent characteristic of the country.
Expats in South Korea can expect a high standard of living – the transportation system is extensive and healthcare is advanced and efficient; education receives high priority; and international schools can be found in the cities across the country.The world’s fastest internet facilities can also be found here, allowing you to stay connected with friends and family back home.
Here are the top ten insider tips for expats living in South Korea.
1. Business dealings in South Korea typically involve lunches, dinners and entertainment. It may be considered rude to turn down these invitations. But expats should come prepared for such events because they usually involve plenty of drinking. Beer and the traditional rice liquor, soju, tend to flow freely. Here, an important custom that is followed is that no one pours their own drink. So, to fit in with the group, take the bottle and pour drinks for everyone, except yourself!
2. Avoid ordering too many dishes at South Korean restaurants since most places serve banchan or small appetizers before the main meal. They are complimentary dishes ranging from kimchi to stir-fried anchovies and candied lotus root. The banchan keep coming, so you may end up feeling quite full even before your actual meal begins.
3. When in South Korea, a visit to a jjimjilbang is a must. This is a segregated public bathhouse with a joint resting area and sauna. The Dragon Hill Spa is a jjimjilbang with a difference and is definitely worth a visit, with its basement swimming pool, arcade, movie theatre, restaurants and even a small indoor playground.
4. Numerous English-speaking foreigners work as English teachers in South Korea. These jobs are easy to find and don’t require too many qualifications. But here’s an important tip – learn a bit of Korean. This isn’t necessary, but is can prove helpful. It is a respectful gesture towards the local people. Some words that can come in handy include kamsahamnida (thank you), hasibsio (please), shillehagessumnida (excuse me) and mianhamnida (sorry).
5. If you live in Seoul and plan to cook at home, don’t forget to visit the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market. Here’s where you can get some of the freshest seafood at competitive prices. Daily catches from various locations all land up at this market.
6. Tteokbokki is one of the most popular dishes in Korea. These are rice cakes that are cut up and cooked with gochujang or red chili pepper paste, fish cakes, seasoned beef and onions. One of the best places to try out this spicy treat is Meokshidonna, in Samcheong-dong, Seoul.
7. Seoul has a considerable expat population because of the job opportunities. But expats should know that accommodation in this bustling city can be cramped and rather plain. This is because most of the apartments are built in bulk with very little variation. You can expect more spacious housing if you are willing to move further away from the city.
8. When in Korea, you never have to tip! This applies to everything from restaurants to taxis. If you do leave a tip, it is likely to be met with some confusion. Some of the bigger restaurants may include the tip in the final bill, but for the most part, Korea is a tip-free destination.
9. If you’re looking for typically South Korean gifts to send to family and friends back at home, skip the chopsticks and K-pop paraphernalia; opt for some traditional oriental herbs instead. The best place for this is Seoul Yangnyeong Market, an herbal medicine market where you can find everything from cactus fruits and giant mushrooms, to different varieties of ginseng and specially made herbal preparations.
10. A useful tip for expats planning to use public transportation in South Korea is to always remain on the right. Even though the signs at subway stations often indicate that pedestrians should simply stand still on escalators, the unwritten rule among the locals is to stick to the right.
Those are our top tips for people who are planning a move to South Korea. Have you lived there? Share your experiences in the comments.