Cost of Living in South Korea [Real-Life Case Study]

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Moving to Seoul, Busan, or any other place in South Korea? Well… it’s important that you know what your expenses are and what to expect.

After doing 32+ hours of research, and digging through different papers I got the answer.

On average living in Korea will cost you about $1200 to $2500 a month including rent. These monthly costs include utilities, transportation, food, and insurance. 

If you’re looking for a realistic breakdown, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve got a ton of useful tips, tricks, and secrets on how to keep your cost of living down. 

Especially in Korea… not cheap. 

Please, do not make the same mistake as I did. Over the last 3-years, I overpaid $550/mo for the small things I didn’t notice.

In this article, I’ll cover:

  • How to save on rent in Korea
  • Cheap but delicious food at the best prices
  • Insurance…
  • Hidden costs you must avoid

Let’s get started.

Example: Cost of Living in Korea

I have been living in Korea for 3 years now and on average I spent $1440 a month. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Rent: $700/mo (Seoul is very expensive!)
  • Internet: $15/mo
  • Phone Plan: $50/mo
  • Groceries: $350/mo
  • Transportation: $100/mo
  • Utilities: $195/mo
  • Gym: $30/mo

Now, looking at these numbers may be shocking for some people. However, when you compare this with cities like NY, Shanghai or Amsterdam, then $1440 is very reasonable.

Especially, when you can find a cheaper place to stay at. Or if you split the rent with some roommates, then you can cut the cost down to $700/mo. But this depends on where you want to rent and what you want.

Some of my friends live in a very studio, which is about 40m² to 60m².

Note: with these small studios you have a shared kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and there’s no living room.

For most people that are studying in Korea, it’s perfectly fine. But if you want some luxury, then you should probably move to the less expensive cities in Korea.

Renting in Korea

Looking to rent in Korea, make sure to do your due diligence. Because I’ve seen countless people overpay for their rent. 

Most real estate agents charge foreigners way more than they actually should. And if you don’t know the average prices for rent in Korea, it can get really difficult.

So to make it easier for you.

Here are the average renting prices in Korea for each metropolitan city:

  • Busan: $434
  • Daegu: $359
  • Incheon: $491
  • Gwangju: $284
  • Daejeon: $385
  • Ulsan: $336
  • Seoul: $832

As you can see renting in Seoul isn’t cheap at all. Compared to some other capital cities in the world, Seoul is often even more expensive.

And especially when you’re a student that lives on a budget, it’s important to consider. On average, the estimated monthly costs for expats are $750 to $1000 a month.

When we look at foreign students that study in Korea, those that are mostly studying in their dorm room have an estimated monthly cost of $450 to $650 a month.

Keep in mind that this data is from 2022. 

Detailed Breakdown

Now let’s break down what the actual costs are for renting in Korea as an expat and student.

Example 1: Expat living in Korea

Here is a breakdown of an average expat living in Korea:

  • Rent: $300/mo
  • Internet: $10/mo
  • Groceries: $150/mo
  • Transportation: $50/mo
  • Utilities: $150/mo

Example 2: Student living in Korea

Here is a breakdown of an average student living in Korea:

  • Rent: $350/mo
  • Internet: $20/mo
  • Phone Plan: $30/mo
  • Groceries: $175/mo
  • Transportation: $50/mo
  • Utilities: $150/mo
  • Other: $70/mo

Example 3: 4-Person Family

Here is a breakdown of a 4-person family living in Korea:

  • Rent: $950/mo
  • Internet: $50/mo
  • Phone Plan: $50/mo
  • Groceries: $550/mo
  • Transportation: $250/mo
  • Utilities: $150/mo
  • Other: $150/mo

Medical Costs in Korea

Korean medical care is well structured and compared to the US, it’s very cheap. Every visit to a private doctor in Korea will cost you anywhere from $4 to $9 without insurance. 

This is extremely cheap. And because it’s so well structured in Korea, there are a lot of people going to the doctor regularly.

It won’t break the bank, and you can go whenever you want.

A full general health checkup once every 3 to 6 months, will cost you about $220. This includes a blood test, X-ray, and urine test.

Someone with an average salary can easily pay this. In most cases, people get a general health checkup every 1 to 2 years. It’s actually quite common in Korea for people do to this.

There are hundreds of these wellness centers in Korea, so it’s not hard to find one.

Some clinics even offer a student discount.

Cost of Utilities in Korea

The cost of utilities depends on how often you use a heater, water, cable TV, and need maintenance costs. The average person spends about $80 to $90 a month.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t include the internet. Now, during the winter months, it can get very cold in Korea, and that’s where most people use an Ondol (Korean heating floor).

It’s not like other countries where they use a heating system like a boiler. In Korea, almost everyone has an Ondol.

Not only because it’s cheaper, but because Koreans tend to sit on the ground.

For many years, it’s been known that Koreans have this tradition of eating, sleeping, and talking on the floor.

That’s why Koreans always take their shoes off, before going in.

For people that live in an apartment, you probably have to include the maintenance fee for that too, which is around $85 a month.

Cost of Transportation in Korea

Going to work every single day will cost you money, especially when you have to travel by car or metro. Even though they have monthly subscriptions, you probably won’t start out with that. And depending on how often you go to the office or work from home mattress a lot.

The great thing about Korea and specifically Seoul is that the subway system is very efficient. 99.99 of the metros are on time and you’ll never run late.

Looking at the average cost of transportation in Korea ranges anywhere from $75 to $125 a month. Consider getting a Seoul Subway Commuter Card, which will save you at least $20 a month. Anyone can get this card, it’s not like you have to live in Korea for X many years.

Seoul Subway Commuter Card Explained:

The Seoul Subway Commuter card is basically a card that you can recharge, it’s created for people that need at least 60-rides throughout the month. These 60-rides must be used within 30 days (It’s also available for foreigners).

It’ll cost you 55,000 WON, which is about $43.

Now, where this comes in handy is when you’re traveling within Seoul for at least 30 days.

  • Total Costs: 55,000 WON
  • Cost Per Ride: 1,250 WON
  • Savings with Commuter Card: 334 WON
  • Cost Per Ride with Commuter Card: 916 WON

Note: these prices only apply when you travel within Seoul. Traveling outside of Seoul will add an additional 100 WON and will increase the further you go.

Cost of Food in Korea

If you’re living alone or in a small studio, then your cost of food in Korea won’t be that high. On average it’ll range anywhere from $120 to $250 a month. Including eating out once every 2- weeks.

Due to the low cost of food in Korea, most people tend to go out a lot. Especially in the street food markets, which are always very crowded during the summer months.

And because of the nightlife in Korea, there are always people grabbing a quick snack. 

Let’s say you don’t want to cook and rather grab something quick. Well, then fast food is the perfect option. Fast food in Korea is extremely affordable, and you can it pretty much anywhere. 

Here are the average prices of fast food in Korea:

Fast FoodKR WONUSD
Bibimbap6,000$4,60
Gimbap5,000$3,90
Tteokbokki4,500$3,50
Bulgogi8,000$6,20
Japchae7,500$5,80
Jajangmyeon4,500$3,50

Eating fast food is sometimes cheaper than cooking yourself. However, these types of food are not always the healthiest, which makes eating Korean fruits for example a great balance.

Insurance Costs in Korea

Korean insurance is pretty cheap compared to other countries. The only thing that you have to keep in mind is that on average it’ll cost you $80 to $110 a month.

There are many orthopedics in Korea, especially in bigger cities like Seoul. If you want to get a medical health checkup, you do have to pay out of your own pocket. It won’t be compensated by the government.

However, when you look at the US, then Korean insurance is extremely cheap.

Also if you’re thinking about getting a car, then it’s mandatory that you get insurance.

As long as the car is registered in Korea you have to make sure it’s insured. If not, you can get a huge fan, which is anywhere from $15 up to $80. If you don’t pay, it will add up and get even more expensive. 

But since most foreigners don’t own cars in Korea, it’s not really something you should look at if you already own one.

And most people that live alone in South Korea and have a minimum to average wage can’t really afford a car. It’s mostly the upper-middle class in Korea that own a car.

Foreigners living in Korea do have to pay more for car insurance. There’s no written rule about this, but it’s been known that foreigners tend to pay more.

And if you think about it… cars are not very cheap in Korea.

Most foreigners staying in Korea that won’t stay longer than 5+ years don’t really need to consider very expensive insurance unless you want to of course.

Other Costs

Living in Korea also comes with other costs such as:

  • Gym membership
  • Getting regular haircuts
  • Clubbing 
  • And more

These costs add up, but if you’re not that type of person that goes out a lot, then you can ignore this part. 

However, if you are that person that loves going out and likes to drink, work out, and care about your hairstyle, then you also have to take this into consideration. Most people that go to Korea forget to add this into their costs.

Mainly, because they either forget it or don’t think about it.

The good thing is that these are not the most expensive things, so that’s a huge plus. 

Gym Membership

In Korea, there are many gym memberships. The average price of a gym membership in Korea ranges anywhere from $30 to $50 depending on the contract you sign.

A 1-year or 2-year contract will be significantly cheaper than a monthly contract. With these contracts, you can go as many times as you’d like. There’s no limit to it, which makes it great if you want to get a quick workout in.

Popular gyms in Korea are:

These gyms are perfect for expats living in Korea. The staff speaks English, so that’s a huge benefit. And what I personally really like about these gyms is that it’s huge compared to other gyms in Korea.

Haircut

Hairstyles in Korea are very important. Someone that doesn’t look at their best often gets judged silently. You probably won’t notice it, but Korean beauty standards play a huge role in society.

Even in getting a job or going out, people will judge you by your looks. So getting a haircut in Korea also adds up to your monthly costs.

The average haircut in Korea charges anywhere from $20 up to $40 for men. For women, this ranges from $35 up to $50 for a regular haircut.

If you’d like them to style your hair and get a full treatment, then it can add up to $150+.

Final Thoughts

After all, living in Korea compared to some other countries isn’t extremely expensive. The average costs range anywhere from $1200 up to $1500 including rent, utilities, and all other costs. 

So if you’d like to live in Korea as an expat, student or foreigner then always make sure you have a steady income or some savings.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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