11 Ways to Save Money in South Korea: Locals and Foreigners

Published on:

Wherever you live in the world, saving money is an important aspect of being able to live comfortably and sustain yourself. 

This is especially true for students and teachers abroad in places like South Korea, where pinching won will be imperative. 

Regardless, being financially sound ensures you have everything you need.

The article below will teach you how to save money in Korea. This will include practical accounting, such as monitoring your bank account and creating a ledger. 

But, it will also detail how to budget and find a way to leave a little room for leisure.

Fortunately, the living costs in South Korea are far less expensive than in the United States. 

Of course, this will depend on what you have to spend money on versus what you want to spend money on.

Overview of How to Save Money in Korea

Consider the steps below to develop healthy spending habits. You may not need all of these, but they are the best methods for how to save money in Korea. 

This just gives a basic overview; you will have to tailor things to how you live along with your preferences and lifestyle.

  • Needs versus Wants
  • Treat Your Bank Account like a Bill
  • Income/Expenditure Ledger Is Important
  • Devise a Budget
  • Prepare Meals at Home
  • Leave Something for Leisure
  • Drink Tea Instead of Coffee
  • Avoid Exchanging Money at Airports
  • Get a Combined Internet and Phone Plan
  • Avoid Local Taxis
  • Get Lunch Deals

1. Needs versus Wants

To save money in South Korea or anywhere in the world, first determine what things you absolutely must have. 

These will include things imperative to your survival while also providing a basic layer of comfort. 

Rent, utility bills, telephone payments, food, transportation, clothing, etc will all be essential.

Then, you should employ a little self-honesty and refine your definition of what you consider a need compared to something you want. A “want” in this way means something you really like to have but can live without. 

For instance, you may like the organic coffee drinks from the café down the street, but you can live with a can of instant coffee instead.

2. Treat Your Bank Account like a Bill

While living, studying, and/or working in South Korea, it’s crucial you first pay yourself before paying bills. You should ensure this happens long before the bills are due. 

This will be the best way to keep your head above water and not inadvertently drown in debt.

Therefore, you should secure employment and understand exactly how much you’re going to get. 

It also means that you should have alternate means of putting money into your account, as through savings. 

Some banks will allow you to set up an auto payment schedule to your main account once you get paid from your job.

So, if you don’t know where to start, first determine your source(s) of income. 

For foreign teachers living in Korea, you can deposit 10% into your bank account and keep 90% in your savings. 

Once you understand more about what you pay on average, adjust the amount to suit your purposes.

3. Income/Expenditure Ledger Is Important

The only way you’ll know you’re actually saving money is if you understand earnings versus expenditures. 

Therefore, creating a ledger that documents everywhere you spend your money and each place from where you receive income will be ideal.

College students may find this more difficult to do because of the demanding class and study schedule. But, if you can show some discipline and keep track, you’ll be better off for it.

Most people don’t do this and make the mistake of spending too much money every month. Eating out, partying, and going out to drink soju are all things that can be avoided.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do any of these, but make sure to do it in moderation. Because it’ll add up very quickly, and you want to avoid that at all costs.

Even though there are other ways to save money, this is still by far the best way to save on your overall expenses in South Korea.

4. Devise a Budget

After the first month of living in Korea, devise a budget based on what you spent. Go through everything in your ledger with a fine-toothed comb. 

Ask yourself this very important question: “What did I spend money on that isn’t quite necessary to living a reasonably comfortable life?”

Remove those items or find cheaper ways to get them. 

Write down what you spent on your “needs” and round up. For instance, if your electric bill was $20.85, then budget $25.

Most people don’t budget when they visit or live in Korea. And because Korean food is quite expensive compared to other countries, it’s a must.

Even though you can save money by shopping at a local grocery store, it’s still better to save money by creating a budget.

5. Prepare Meals at Home

It will always be more cost-effective to eat at home as much as possible.

Definitely cook during the week, and perhaps you can eat out on the weekends if the budget allows. This is one aspect where living in South Korea is easier than in the US.

Groceries are not very expensive, with a social focus on healthy food in South Korea

So, things are intentionally affordable while also being excellent for the body in this regard.

That’s why the majority of foreigners tend to eat out instead of preparing meals at home. And because this is a general money-saving tip, it’s still ignored by many.

Going to the local grocery store will save you so much money.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you should never eat out, but it’s generally cheaper to do your groceries at a local store.

6. Leave Something for Leisure

With so much to see and do throughout Korea, you are going to want to leave a little wiggle room in your budget for leisure. 

This will include dining out, museums, festivals, overnight stays, drinking with friends, and other such excursions.

For singles looking to date, you will have to budget for that as well. 

This may also mean establishing one day per week for going on dates, especially if there’s a serious love interest in the mix. It will allow you to splurge a bit without going over your budget.

The good news is that there are plenty of free things to do around the country. So, it’s entirely possible to balance your budget with these free or very inexpensive places. 

The other fantastic thing is that most liquor and cocktails aren’t expensive in Korea. You can find a decent bottle of soju or makgeolli for one or two dollars.

And trust me… a bottle of soju goes a long way.

The majority of the people that start drinking soju can’t even drink a whole bottle. It’s often the locals that are used to drinking, which drink 3 to 4 bottles in one night.

But what if you don’t like drinking soju? 

There are many beer brands you can try. Even though beer is not as popular as soju is, it’s still a great way to save money.

7. Drink Tea Instead of Coffee

Most people don’t do this, but in Seoul, it’s very common to grab a cup of coffee at a coffee shop.

A cup of coffee costs, on average $4 to $8, depending on the store. As you can see this is quite expensive and will add up very quickly over time.

That’s why it’s better to drink tea. Not only is Korean tea better for health, but it’s also way cheaper in terms of costs.

Albeit not something you should drink 24/7.

With hundreds of Korean tea brands out there, you can choose any flavor that suits your taste some even have caffeine, which is great to stimulate your brain while working.

So, if you’re short on money and want a quick way to save money, don’t buy coffee at coffee shops.

8. Avoid Exchanging Money at Airports

Never exchange money at airports. The exchange rates will literally be insane compared to the money you could get in Seoul.

It’s been known that exchange rates at airports are at least 20% to 25% above the normal price. I mean… if you can afford that, that’s up to you.

But if you’re an expat or foreigner visiting South Korea for the time being, then it’s way better to exchange your money in the city.

And these days you don’t even have to exchange money anymore. Almost everyone in South Korea pays by card or Apple Pay.

It’s never been easier, so don’t exchange money at airports unless you have to.

9. Get a Phone and Internet plan Together

Make sure to get a Korean phone number and internet plan together.

This will save you at least $20/mo, and it’ll add up very quickly.

Because the Korean internet is so fast (one of the fastest in the world), it’s quite cheap to get an internet and phone plan together. 

You can get them at the airport, grocery store, or any traditional market that sells these. Consider getting a sim card instead of getting a monthly plan.

If you’re not staying in South Korea for too long, it’s way cheaper to get a sim card with 10 GBs. 

But if you’re staying there for at least a couple of months, it’s probably better to get a monthly plan for 3 to 5 months.

10. Avoid Local Taxis 

Always avoid local taxis whenever you’re visiting Korea. If you can, download the Kakao T app.

This is like Uber in the United States but for Korea, and almost everyone uses this. It’ll be at least 20% cheaper than getting a local taxi.

These days all younger people use Kakao T, where you can see the rate in advance instead of paying afterward like old taxi services.

It’s great because it doesn’t only save you money, but also a lot of time. In places like central Seoul, you’ll find a lot of local taxis waiting for you.

Avoid those at all costs and download the Kakao T app. 

Even if it saves you 10%, it’s better than paying 50% over the market price for your taxi. Sadly, it’s still a thing that you get scammed in Korea as a foreigner.

11. Get Lunch Deals

If you didn’t know already, there are tons of Korean grocery stores out there that offer lunch deals. You can get up to 80% off when you come at the right time.

It’s extremely popular, and you always see office workers go to the same stores to grab their lunch deal.

And you can get this too. You don’t need any fancy card, app, or discount coupon. All you have to do is go at the right time and ask for a lunch deal.

Even the most famous fast food chains offer this, like Mcdonald’s, Popeye, and Subway. And trust me, this is by far one of the easiest ways to save money if you’re thinking about eating out anyway.

Most importantly, is that you fit into Korean culture and get used to these money-saving tips because it’s a common thing in Korea.

Conclusion

Knowing how to save money in Korea isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t have to be very burdensome. 

It’s all about being smart, understanding what you need to live comfortably, and staying within the confines of a budget. 

It’s a lucky thing, however, that many living expenses are quite affordable.

Whether working or studying in South Korea, saving money will be essential to have a peaceful, calm, and worry-free experience. 

This means being honest about where you waste money too. If you can do all this successfully, you’ll not only have what you need but also a little fun.

About The Author

Photo of author

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.

You May Also Like