20 Important Tips for Living in Korea

Moving in general is tough, but moving abroad often presents a whole additional host of issues. Different countries just do certain things differently. Oftentimes, these differences aren't all that extreme, in fact it seems to me that most of time they just small tweaks in your everyday routine.  But, these numerous small differences do add up, and  knowing about them ahead of time will make adjusting to your new expat life much smoother. So read up, and go forth hopefully feeling a little more prepared :)

1. You need money to use a cart in the grocery store. This whole concept is actually really smart, and probably immensely cuts down on cart thievery. All places like Homeplus and E-Mart (the big chain stores) shopping carts are chained together, and to get one free you need to feed it 100 won (10 cents USD). Then, when you return your cart at the end, you get your money back. See? Easy peasy!

2. You need to bring your own shopping bags. You bring your own bags and do all your own bagging. If you forget, it's not a huge deal because you can either buy a green trash bag or a new re-usable bag in the store... buuuut you'll look like a newb, and no one wants to be seen carrying their groceries in a trash bag.

3. Trash bags are mad expensive compared to the U.S... like $14 for 20... I know, it upsets me too.

4. You will separate your trash, recycling, and compost or your landlord will find you. Trash in the green bags, recyclables in the clear bags, and compost in the huge terrifying compost bin.

5. If you want service in a restaurant you yell, or push the bell button. This, I really love. No hovering server, and no awkward ass-kissing (and I've been a server many times so I can say that). If you want something, yell 'Chugiyo!' or push the handy button on the table. Otherwise, the restaurant staff will leave you to eat in peace. 

6. Korea is not a tipping culture, which is awesome. Really, it's great.

No sales tax Korea happy.gif

7. There's no sales tax, meaning the price on the tag is what you pay. End of story.

8. Koreans don't mess around with transportation. Be there on time, or get left behind. This is no joke. If you aren't standing on the curb, with your pass out when the bus arrives, you aren't getting on. With trains, you literally have a one minute window between when the train pulls up and when it departs. So get it together, and get there on time.

9. If you're visibly sick, and not wearing a mask, you will get the stink eye. This I kind of understandable, until the person next to me sneezes and doesn't cover their mouth... But, I digress. Unlike in the states, it's not weird to walk around with a face mask on, so if you're sick you might as well just do it.

10. Kiss orderly lines and queues goodbye. Be assertive or you'll never get anywhere.

11. Voracious spitting is acceptable no matter where you are... Even inside. Now, I'm not saying everyone just walks around constantly spitting indoors; however, I have definitely seen it happen on several occasions and no one even blinks twice. So, you just have to roll with it.

12. There are no open-container laws, meaning it's legal to drink alcohol anywhere. This does not mean you should be drinking just anywhere. Walking around a regular suburban street with a beer in hand isn't illegal, but you will get some looks. And please for the love of God, don't be that foreigner drinking a beer on the subway. Really. Stay in the nightlife area, or at a convenience store.

13. Walking around eating or drinking anything is very uncommon. Once, I accidentally walked outside with half a pancake, and you would have though I was carrying the Lost Arc of the Covenant for all the surprised looks I was getting.

14. Driving is kind of a free for all. It's in your best interests to wait for at least 5 seconds after the green man pops up and then go, because at least one (probably more) people will run the red. 

15. Koreans don't flush toilet paper. You're supposed to put it in the large bin in the stall that is designated for that use.

16. Actually having toilet paper in the bathroom is not universal. It's a good idea to have some tissues on your person when you go out, so as to avoid those awkward drip-dry situations.

17. If you want to buy, bank, or shop online you need to use Internet Explorer. No joke, none of that stuff with works with Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.

18. There are inside shoes and outside shoes. Do not walk into someone's home, your school, or a floor seating restaurant with your outdoor shoes on! That is a hard no go. For your school you need to buy a pair of indoor slippers, and in floor-seating restaurants you just take your shoes off. 

19. When in a public place keep the volume down. Foreigners have a tendency to talk much louder than Koreans in public, so when you're out and about with a group of people do your best to keep the volume under control. It's easy to get carried away, especially if you're at a restaurant having a good time with your friends, but just be aware and do your best not to be disruptive.

20. Always remember: different is not wrong, it's just different. Living in a foreign country is a unique experience that can render huge rewards. Naturally, there will be challenges, but how you overcome is what ultimately defines you as a person. It's all about attitude and perspective, so keep smiling and try to always keep an open mind :)


For anyone thinking of moving to Korea, I hope this helps! If you have questions about anything specific, please comment below or hit me up on email or social media. For all of my expat friends, did I miss anything important? Let me know and I might just add it in :) If you enjoyed this, you can help me out by sharing with your friends. As always, you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and the Facebook.

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Enjoy the beautiful view!

Morgan S.