All you need to know before moving to Seoul

 

 

If there's one quick thing expatriates have to say about Seoul, there's only one word that does it - engaging.

Indeed, South Korea's capital, Seoul, is one of the most fantastic cities anyone will find. There are a hundred thousand things going on around the metro at any given time. Even more exciting is the fact that amidst the growing skyscrapers, one will realize that the locals have found a way to keep their rich culture intact.

Being the largest city in the Republic of Korea and one of the most populated in the entire world, Seoul is divided into 25 districts or gus. Some of these districts are Songpa (the most populated) and Seocho (the largest). Each gu is further divided into dongs or neighbourhoods, which sum up to 522 administrative dongs in the entire city. Some other well-known districts are Yangcheon, Seongbuk, Eunpyeong, Gangdong and Jung. The climate in Seoul is generally humid as Korea lies between subtropical and continental climates. It does, however, experience about 28 days of snow around December through January.

In Seoul, there is a wealth of choices for one who would like to experience the good life. One is fly fishing in Lenok Stream which is surrounded by a thick forest that is also home to huge trouts and a wonderland for all fishing enthusiasts. Those who want more laid back fun will enjoy sightseeing in the historical palaces built in the Joseon Dynasty. One of these structures, the Changdeokgung is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is regarded as one of the best examples of Asian architecture and design. 

Although this city has not escaped cosmopolitanism, locals are still mostly loyal to their Buddhist beliefs. On the other hand, Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, has also gained quite a following over the years. This is evident in the number of cathedrals all over the city. 

When packing for Seoul, it might be wise for an average-sized person to pack lighter than those who are bigger or heavier in physique. Sizes in Seoul are typically smaller as expected of apparel made for Asian users. It will also be convenient for an expat to bring along basic toiletries such as deodorants and tampons as Koreans don't use much of these and finding them in stores may take long, especially for those who are picky with the brands they use. Sometimes, these items can also be very expensive. Of course, an English-Korean dictionary is always indispensable as Koreans are still essentially speakers of their native language, although some have improved tremendously in speaking English or at least increasingly interested in studying the language.

Settling in South Korea may be difficult for non-Asian expats due to cultural differences but one thing remains certain. Learning to love the place is going to be a whole lot easier, especially with the warm, welcoming smiles of its locals.

Essential relocation information

 

 

Located on the Han River, Seoul has always been the top choice of expats who want to relocate and start a new life in South Korea. This city is the thriving capital of the country and serves as its centre of politics, education and business. It's no wonder that you will be attracted to the idea of working in Seoul because of many promising job opportunities in various sectors such as service, telecommunication, electronics and automobile production. The lifestyle in this city is influenced by both its rich traditions and continues quest towards modernisation. You will also witness the locals’ strong passion for their cuisine that is evident in the infamous Korean street food market which is bustling with people any time of the day. Seoul is a place that will inspire you with its bright lights that already lead many other expats toward success. So if you are wholehearted in making that big leap in this city, here are a few tips that can help you out.

Preparations 

Housing is usually part of the relocation package where employers are the ones who will secure the expats’ accommodation. If you do not have this kind of privilege from your company, its best that you start your search for a home as quick as possible. Finding a place to live in Seoul requires a lot of time and effort. You can start with browsing through websites that contain real estate properties in the city which will give you some idea about the properties’ locations and their price range. One you arrive, the most efficient way is to hire a local broker who can assist you in searching through the neighbourhoods and negotiating with the landlords. This method is proven to be faster and easier since realtors are very familiar with the place and has many connections in the housing market.

Utilities in Seoul can range up to €150 per month which usually includes the bill for your water, electricity, gas and maintenance like garbage collection. An unlimited internet connection in the city is around €25 monthly while local mobile calls are charged €0.15 per minute.

House and Apartment Hunting

You can find several types of accommodation in Seoul such as officetels (work and residential buildings), serviced apartments which are best for short-term stays, private houses and hanoks (traditional Korean house). However, the most common kind of accommodation for expats is what they call the ‘apartment cities’ where a whole block is dedicated just for this type of housing. You can find a one bedroom apartment in the heart of the metropolitan for around €900 per month and a one bedroom unit for roughly €3000. Some expats, especially those with children usually live outside the city centre where the environment is a little laid back. Rental prices in the outskirts usually start at €600 monthly for a one bedroom flat and €2300 for a three bedroom unit.

International and Local Schools

International schools in Seoul can be very pricey, so if you prefer to enrol your kid in one of these institutions, it's best that you coordinate with your employer regarding their educational assistance package. One of the schools in the city that follow the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) is the Dwight International School-Seoul.

A majority of public and local schools are single-sex institutions where education usually starts at the age of three (kindergarten) and ends at the age of 18 after finishing grade 12. The Seoul National University is a leading state school that has been providing quality education since 1946.

Moving Your Belongings

Most serviced apartments in Seoul are fully furnished and ready for occupancy. But if you secured a unit that doesn’t include anything at all (unfurnished), you need to bring in some of your appliances, furniture and belongings. There are international shipping and removal companies that offer door to door service to Seoul, and it is best that you hire these professionals to assist you during the whole moving process. It takes about a month for the containers to arrive at the Port of Inchon where local customs officials will conduct an inspection. To learn about the city’s import regulations, click here.

Your pet is subject to an examination by a Korean quarantine officer upon arrival. If you were able to provide the necessary documents such as the Rabies Vaccination Certificate (issued at least a month and not more than one year prior to import) and the International Health Certificate (signed by a licensed veterinarian at least 14 days before arrival) your pet will be released within 24 hours.

You can get around the city by riding the buses, metros and taxis which are the common types of public transport in Seoul. Driving is also an option but you have to prepare to endure heavy traffic especially during peak hours. If you want to import your vehicle, here are some of the basic documents that you have to present:

  • Original Certificate of Title and Registration
  • Original Purchase Invoice
  • Original Insurance Policy and License

Seoul is a modernised metropolitan where high-technology is used for everyday living. But aside from its futuristic vibe, this city will also please your eyes with its many historical landmarks and beautiful sceneries that are rich with the Korean culture that defines Seoul’s unique identity.

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How to live like a local

 

 

Aside from being the thriving commercial and financial centre of South Korea, Seoul is also ranked as the third largest city in the world by population. This bustling megalopolis has a population of more than 25.6 million people. Expats would find that being in Seoul also makes them more connected to the other famous destinations in the country such as the provinces of Incheon and Gyeonggi.

Seoul, like many other popular Asian cities such as Beijing and Tokyo, has a beautiful mixture of the old and the new. The beautiful union of the past and the present is displayed here whereas high-rise condominiums, towering skyscrapers and buildings of several multinational companies co-exist amidst a multitude of ancient temples and shrines. Seoul is now becoming increasingly popular not just among tourists but also to expats who are searching for an Asian mega city with a high quality of life.

Fun-filled Activities for Kids

Seoul is undoubtedly a massive city that knows how to please its people. Expat parents will not run out of ways to make their kids happy since there are lots of exciting places to visit. Among the top attractions in this city are the amusement parks. Seoul has several amusement parks, and one of the most famous is the Lotte World, the world's largest indoor theme/amusement park that offers a variety of rides and a glimpse to the ancient Korean life. There is also the Children's Grand Park that has a zoo, restaurants and amusement facilities.

Expat families who love to spend time with nature may visit the Seoul Forest which has a botanical garden and even a space for flying kites. Other spots for kids to visit include Seoul Children’s Museum, Haneul World Cup Park, Namsan Park and Teddy Bear Museum.

Outdoor Excitement

Adults who love outdoor activities will also fall in love with Seoul. Those who enjoy skiing can head catch the free shuttle bus along Jong-ro Road which will take them to Bearstown Resort, the most popular skiing resort in the city. Mountain bikers will also be far from bored while living here since there are lots of local shops that rent out mountain bikes and other equipment. Expats will enjoy downhill cycling at Namhansanseong or urban riding in downtown Seoul.

Everyday Life in Seoul

Owning a car is not necessary for Seoul for its public transportation is safe and accessible. Also, there are far too many better options than owning a car such as a car renting, and maximising the use of the extensive public transportation system. Travelling on an expat’s car is only necessary when the travel is too far out and when there is an available parking space for the vehicle.

Foreigners will find that applying for a local bank account in Seoul is easy and user-friendly. The only three primary requirements are their:

  • Valid Visa
  • Alien Registration Card or ARC
  • Passport

The banking services offered by the banks all over Seoul are also comparably good with those in Western countries as it also includes advanced mobile and internet banking. There are several banks to choose from while in Seoul including Korea Exchange Bank, Citibank, Kookmin Bank, Woori Bank and Shinhan Bank.

 

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Understanding Seoul

The primary source of culture shock of an expat might be the difficulty in conversing with the older locals as they speak very little English compared to the younger ones. Part of conversing with the locals is learning and taking note that they bow as a sign of respect, but expats would not have to worry about being unable to adapt to the Korean culture as it is fun to learn and understand.

Socialising is also a huge part of the Korean culture and expats will soon see that the people in Seoul love to go out either to dine or to drink while singing their hears out in a norae bang (karaoke room). Those who will be offered to drink Soju should be aware that though it is just 20% alcohol, it still has a notorious reputation of knocking people down. Koreans are also heavy smokers and smoking is allowed in most establishments such as restaurants and bars.

 

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