Going to another country requires a lot of planning and preparation. To make your transition as smooth as possible, it’s important to arrive at your destination with everything that you need. Below are some things to keep in mind before moving to South Korea.
It’s a good idea to take anywhere between $1,000 to $2,000 with you to Korea. This amount should be enough to hold you over until you get your first paycheck. You can exchange dollars for won inside the airport at a currency exchange desk, or you can use an ATM. Getting money from an ATM is probably the better option since you will likely get a better exchange rate. Either way, I recommend getting some Korean won as soon as possible so that you have some cash to get around. Once you open up a Korean bank account, you can exchange your dollars for Korean won and make a deposit. You will also be issued an ATM card that you can use virtually anywhere in the country.
Advances and bonuses
In some cases, employers offer new hires bonuses or cash advances upon arrival. This money is to help you get started and purchase things like transportation cards and meals. The specific amount depends on the employer. Be sure to clarify the specifics with your recruiter or manager before you travel. This is a huge benefit that makes the transition easier for people moving to Korea.
Before moving to Korea, notify your bank and credit card company
To avoid unfortunate surprises (or major meltdowns), be sure to notify your financial institutions about your trip, and thus card usage abroad. If not, your cards will likely be flagged, which can lead to the accounts being frozen. This is the last thing that you need to deal with, especially after a long flight to a place far from home. Plus, you might not have immediate access to phone service, which can make the situation exponentially more frustrating.
Korean stores and markets have a huge selection of products, including cool stuff that you’ve probably never seen before. But there is a chance that certain items may not be readily available. Therefore, you should bring these with you, at least initially.
Personal care products
If you need a special kind of shampoo, deodorant, lotion, or other personal care product, you should take it with you. Once you run out, you may be able to purchase certain products online or at the major department stores. However, the items might be more expensive if they are not usually stocked. The local selection is substantial, yet it might not fit the bill if you need a super specialized product (e.g., deodorant without certain chemicals).
Cologne and perfume
While cologne and perfume are commonly sold in Korea, the local shops might not carry your scent. Therefore, if you have a preferred fragrance, take it with you. Later on, you can shop for toiletries locally. The department stores have an awesome selection, and you’ll probably find something to your liking. On a side note, fragrances dissipate very quickly during the humid summers. Nevertheless, you can (kind of) combat this if you buy a refillable atomizer, which you can use sparingly throughout the day.
Korea is world famous for cosmetics. There are numerous cosmetics shops scattered throughout every popular district, in virtually all the big cities. To my surprise, it isn’t that easy to find non-comedogenic (non pore clogging) products. Even though I’m not the pickiest shopper when it comes to face wash and lotion, this is the one thing that I look for on labels. Overall, I’ve had the most success by sticking with foreign brands that explicitly state that their products do not clog pores. On the bright side, the local companies innovate very quickly, so I would not be surprised if more brands trend in this direction in the near future (if they haven’t already).
Over-the-counter medicine is widely available in Korea. You can easily purchase basic products like cold medicine and pain relievers at a pharmacy near your workplace or in your neighborhood.
Moving to Korea means living in a different climate. It gets extremely cold in the winter, so it’s important to have the proper clothing. If nothing else, take a jacket that can hold up in the snow—you’ll need it. Jackets can be a bit pricey. That’s why I recommend taking one with you. You can always buy layers later on, at decent prices.
Clothing options in Korea are specifically tailored to meet the needs of local consumers. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for foreigners to have difficulty when shopping. In general, clothing sizes are smaller. So if you are very tall (over 6′ 3”), or have a large build (waist size over 40 inches), you might have a hard time finding clothing that fits you properly. To be specific, the arm holes of shirts, suits, and jackets are smaller and cut higher than in the US. The sleeves might be shorter, too. Other products like socks, pants, gloves, and underwear might have a slimmer fit as well. Overall, I hear more about sizing issues from women than men.
One really great thing about clothes shopping in Korea is that there are plenty of shops that make custom clothing. For example, it’s possible to buy custom dress shirts in virtually any pattern, at prices between $60 – $75. Custom suits are widely available as well, and the prices are far lower than what you would pay in the US or Europe.
There are numerous international retailers and brands in Korea that carry larger sizes. In fact, it’s quite common to see European and American retail shops in every major mall and shopping center. That’s probably the best place to start if you are looking for international sizes and styles, in terms of both men’s and women’s apparel.
Major shoe brands are sold in Korea, but they might be more expensive on average. Also stores don’t always have a plentiful stock of sizes over a US men’s 10/women’s 12. Anyone who needs something larger than that should probably buy a few pairs of shoes before moving to Korea.
Additionally, be sure to take shoes or boots for snowy weather. In the winter, the sidewalks get very slippery, which makes it easy to slip and fall. In fact, when it snows, it’s common for people to wear winter footwear while walking outside, and then switch to different shoes indoors. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen down on slippery roads and sidewalks a handful of times because of poor footwear choices.
Do you like hiking? Since there are so many excellent hiking spots in Korea, expect to be invited to go hiking at least a few times when the weather is nice. I recommend buying a pair of quality hiking boots before moving to Korea. Even if you do not plan on going hiking, hiking shoes are still useful during the winter.
Electricity and voltage
Before moving to Korea, it’s important to keep in mind that the standard voltage and power outlets are different from those in the US.
Electricity in Korea:
Standard voltage: 220
Plug types: C, F
If you plan on taking devices to Korea, you will need a plug adapter and/or a voltage converter.
Fortunately, voltage hasn’t been a huge issue for me because many devices these days are made for a global customer base. For example, the chargers for my electrical devices are marked “100-240v”, which means they operate within that range. However, I still use a plug adapter.
Korea VPN (virtual private network)
Korea is world famous for its blazing fast Internet speeds. Wi-Fi is widely available virtually everywhere you go, in both public and private facilities. Government buildings, schools, universities, cafes, and even the subway offer Wi-Fi connections, and most of the time it’s free.
Free Wi-Fi is great! But I urge you to proceed with caution because public Wi-Fi connections can be risky. For this reason, I recommend getting a VPN. In fact, using a VPN helps keep your information safe anywhere, both at home and in public.
What does a VPN do? Basically, it provides an additional layer of protection when you connect to the Internet by encrypting your data. Additionally, a VPN connection can mask your location, which allows you to access content that may have regional restrictions. Overall, because of the convenience and security benefits, many people choose to use a VPN when traveling abroad.
VPN prices vary by company. Also the yearly rates are much cheaper than the monthly rates. For example, month-to-month contracts cost around $12 per month. But the prices can drop by around 50% if you pay up front for an entire year. Although many people overlook VPNs, it certainly is something to consider before moving abroad.
- Having a minimum of $1,000 should cover most of your basic needs when moving to Korea—at least upon your arrival. Plus, it gives you something to immediately deposit into your Korean bank account.
- Some employers give employees bonuses or cash advances as soon as they arrive to Korea.
- Make sure to notify your financial institutions about your trip abroad.
- Purchase any special products that you need before moving to Korea. They might not be widely available in the local stores.
- Clothing sizes are generally smaller. Nonetheless, international retailers often stock larger sizes.
- Having the proper footwear makes your life much easier. It’s wise to take at least a few pairs of shoes for different types of weather and activities.
- Take a plug adapter and/or a voltage converter with you if you plan on packing electrical and electronic devices.
- Using a VPN secures your information when you surf the Internet. A VPN is a good way to protect your data and account information when you use free Wi-Fi or other public, shared networks.