FAQs - Living in Korea

I dont speak any Korean. Can I survive?
Most foreigners I know here speak very little Korean; some of them have even lived here a long time. Body language, a polite smile, and a few phrases will get you by. I suggest trying to learn the Korean alphabet, Hanguel, which should take only three or four hours, prior to coming. I only learned it after ten months and I shouldve learned earlier. I also suggest learning the number system used for money. This will make life easier when you are shopping or dining out.
How do people who need washers get them? Do you know how much they are?
Used, at the used furniture/desk/tv/fridge/computer places that are everywhere. They deliver everything with these small flatbed trucks, called Bongo's.
Do I need to bring a computer?
There are PC rooms EVERYWHERE here. They are cheap, and all have top quality computers because there are so many gamers here. You will also have a computer available to you at your school. You can bring a laptop if you want, or invest in one (or a PC) once youre here and settled. Please be aware that some PC rooms computers do not have burning devices to make CDs of your photos. You can use online storage, or borrow a friends computer sometime.
Will I want to date Korean guys or girls?

Most guys who come here are really into dating Korean girls. Korean girls are generally thin and well-dressed. I have heard they are very loyal, but may also expect you to be the sole provider for the family if it gets that far.

Of the single girls I know here, about half have dated Korean guys, and the rest arent too interested. By Western standards, the Korean guys dress and act more feminine than we might be used to. The guys are well dressed, highly motivated and hard working. They may expect a wife or girlfriend to stay home and not work if it becomes a long-term relationship. The girls I know who have dated Korean guys say mostly good things.

Is it clean in Korea?

I do not think the normal urban streets in Korea are that clean. Youll often see advertising pamphlets, business cards, or even some common trash on the street. Since the tax rate is so low, the city does not have the resources to have garbage cans around the city, or to employ people to empty them. The mountains are usually very clean. Korea is starting to put more emphasis on beautifying projects in various cities. Seoul has recently finished a gigantic beautification project in which they created an entire river thru the middle of the city. Gwangju has recently completed an impressive project by the downtown river and is also in the middle of a HUGE project downtown in which they are clearing several blocks of old buildings to make a new democracy park.

How do I make phone calls, local or international?

The easiest way to make international calls is to buy an international phone card. Some cards have a small activation fee for each call, with a lower cost per minute, while some have just flat rates for each minute. The card I use is $13 and gives me 200 minutes on my land line or 120 minutes on my cell. DONT make international calls without a card, unless you need to, because they are very expensive. ($1/min to Canada)

For local calls, you will most likely have a land line. There are no long distance charges when calling anywhere in Korea. Your school, will set-up your land line for you. You will pay a flat rate each month, and pay a bit extra depending on your usage.

You can also get a cell phone, but you may have to wait until another foreigner is leaving. This is because most Korean cell phone companies will not let foreigners buy a cell phone. If you have a close Korean friend, you can ask them to sign you up to a monthly plan. If not, you will be using Pay Per Service (PPS), meaning youll put money on your account when you run out.

All teachers with Teach ESL Korea will receive a free international phone card when they arrive in their Intro to Korea Package.

How do I send money home?

Sending money home is easy. The smoothest way to do it is to just wire the money directly to your current bank account in your home country. Its easy, fast and will only cost you $xxx each time you do it. Bring all of your account info, and a void check to make this process easier.

You can also order a draft from your bank in Korea, which is like a check, and mail it home. The cost for a draft is 16,000 won.

**Always have your passport, and alien card (which you will get from the Korean Immigration office two weeks after you have been in Korea) with you for any banking transactions.**

How do I get a Korean bank account?
Once you get your work E2 visa, and alien card, you can just go to the bank and they will set-up your account. Bring your passport with you and maybe one additional piece of I.D.
What bills do I have to pay?
You will have to pay water ($20 per month), electricity ($35 per month), cable TV ($7 per month), phone and internet ($45 per month) approximately each month in Gwangju.
How do I pay my bills?
You just bring a copy of the bill to your bank and give the bill and the cash to the teller or have it set up to be paid automatically. You can also set-up Internet banking for your account to help you pay bills, and control your money.
Do I have to pay taxes at home while I am in Korea?
Youll have to ask your family accountant or tax official. Our experience is that most people dont need to claim their Korean income in their home country. Youll be paying Korean Income Tax.
What other furniture may I want or need for my place that my school will not provide?
This depends on the person. You will have a small place, and you will not want to fill it up too much. You may want to invest in a kettle, microwave, or something simple like a night table for beside your bed. Keep in mind you will not be comparing to the Jones as much when you are in Korea.
How do I order food in a restaurant?
Until you learn some Korean, you may be pointing at various pictures in the restaurant, on the menu, or even bringing your server outside, so you can show them the picture of what you want. If all else fails, smile politely, and gesture for the server to bring you whatever they suggest. Most restaurants specialize in one or two main course items so this is not a big problem. The most helpful site I have found is trifood.com.
Where should I shop for food? Home supplies?
For food, you will get all of your fresh veggies, fruit, meat, fish, milk, bread or home supplies such as toilet paper in your neighborhood. Once every two weeks you may want to venture to a larger store like E-Mart or Home Plus to stock up on a larger variety of food or home supplies. A limited number of western style foods will be available in larger grocery stores (canned food, salsa, pasta).
How do I get Internet access?
Your school will help you set-up internet access.
What are my exercise options?
Hiking is the best form of exercise in Korea, in my opinion. There are countless mountains that are not too steep, and will take between thirty minutes and two hours to hike. The gym I go to is $20 per month, and is an excellent facility that is rarely busy. The friendly staff will provide you with free advice at any time.
Is it dangerous?
Korea is statistically one of the safest countries in the world. Most crime in Korea is fraud at the top levels of government or corporations. I have heard that the taxi drivers will sometimes call women Russians. I think you will feel perfectly safe walking through the poorest neighborhoods in Korea, in regards to crime.
Where do I do laundry?
There are dry cleaners seemingly on every corner, while Laundromats as we know them are harder to find, but are available. Shirts or pants will be only $2 at a dry cleaner. You may receive a washing machine with your apartment, but dryers are not common in Korea even for locals. You will dry your laundry on a clothes line on your roof, or in your apartment.
How much can I save, working in Korea?
I think you can comfortably budget to save 1,000,000 won each month each month. (see www.xe.com) My 3 co-teachers, who are all single, eat out for every meal, and all go on regular day trips outside of Gwangju all save over 1.0 mil won/month.
What is it like in Korea day to day?
You work only 6-7 hours a day so I suspect this will mean you will have for more free time than your current situation. This free time can be spent doing whatever you want, such as shopping, dining out, meeting friends for coffee or hiking. Remember your disposable income is also much higher which allows you to relax a bit in regards to your entertainment budget.
Is Korea the same as say USA or Canada?
No. Although it is a First World country, with high employment and education rates, it is very different than your current country. This is not a bad thing, but please be aware it is different, and come to Korea with an open mind. People drive cars, use the Internet every day and enjoy Korean dramas. They work hard to get ahead, or maybe even more importantly in the Korean family unit, to ensure the children succeed.
What is the weather like in Korea?

The weather for the extended fall and spring months is just excellent. The temperatures range from 15-25 degrees, so you can enjoy many outdoor activities on a daily basis.

The winter was colder than I expected, and Im from Canada. Temperatures would not dip much below -10, and I was able to drive my motorbike to school almost every day. It did feel quite cold though.

In July and August, the weather can be quite hot, humid and rainy.

For more info: Visit Korea Web site

What's there to see in the surrounding areas?
Korea is an old country, with a very interesting history. This provides you with a seemingly endless supply of temples or fortresses to see. You can also pop away to the beach or go hiking on a nearby mountain very easily.
Do Korean girls dig white guys?
I came to Korea happily married, so I am maybe not the best guy to answer this question. But, from what I have seen, even though Korean girls are quite shy, they are interested in foreign guys. My brother-in-law came to visit us for about one month, and he was constantly told how cute and handsome he was.
Do Korean guys dig white chicks?
The shyness factor is also an issue here because many Korean guys are not brave enough to approach foreign girls.
What is the stability of Korea like, politically, in regards to North Korea?
Most South Korean people still look at North Korea as a sibling who needs its help. They want to repair the damage to the relationship and the Sunshine Policy is helping this situation. Even with the recent missile tests by North Korea, most South Koreans are not afraid North Korea will attack. Many do fear that the United States is too aggressive in dealing with North Korea which further escalates the situations.
I have heard Koreans are rude and pushy. Is this true?
Korean people can be pushy, but not rude in most situations. If you are standing in line, even if you are holding a baby, people will not be shy to push past you. The people I have met here have been exceptionally warm and welcoming everywhere we go. I used to think this was just because we happened to have one of the very few white babies in our city with us, but I have come to realize that Koreans are very friendly to everyone, especially foreigners.
Is it polluted there?
The air can be smoggy at times, and I think the streets are not that clean. The further you are from Seoul, the cleaner the air is.
Are people friendly?
Yes, they definitely are.
Can you drink beer out on the street like in Vegas?
Can you get American style restaurant or store-bought food easily?
You can find select western food or fast food restaurants in most large cities. There will be a small section for western style food at the larger supermarkets.
Are there any beaches?
Korea is a peninsula that is less than 225 kms in width, so there are plenty of beaches within a short bus ride from anywhere that you live.
Are the apartments small?
They are smaller than what we may be used to, but when I visit my friends who live in 1 room apartments, it has always been comfortable. Remember mostly everyone you know will live in a similar setting, so that helps your comfort level.
Will I want to stay longer than one year?
Here is how I think it breaks down for those who come to Korea. 5% leave after 3 months due to various reasons, 20-30% stay only one year, while 60-70% extend for more than one year. The reasons and motivators vary by the individual, but overall it is the low stress workplace, low cost of living, excellent travel opportunities to nearby Asian countries combined with the high take-home pay.
Does Teach ESL Korea plan any trips for teachers?
Not yet. But we are working on getting something started. If you are in Gwangju, you are welcome to join the monthly dinner hosted by Teach ESL Korea.
Can I bring a pet?

It is possible to bring pets to Korea but you'd have to clear it with your school to make sure they allow pets in the apartments - each school is different.  Also be aware that your pet will need to be quiet, so as not to disturb other tenants in the building.

You must make sure that your pet has been vaccinated and has received its rabies shot at least 30 days before arriving in Korea.  There is also a fee charged by the airline, and certain restrictions may apply.  You should be able to find out information about bringing a pet through your local airline.  
Here is a link to Incheon Airport's policy on bringing pets and getting vaccines:

A Couple Considerations:
1) Some advise to have their pets sent over to Korea a week or two after they arrive.  I guess a plane can only take on 2-3 pets per flight, so there is a chance that with teachers booking last minute (unavoidable) that they may not be able to bring pet with them. 

2) Also check what needs to happen for your return to your home country – your pet may need to remain in quarantine for 6 months, something some pet owners really do not want to do.

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