Cost of living in Seoul

Written by admin on May 31, 2008 – 10:37 pm -

According to a recent survey, Seoul is now in the number 3 spot of the 50 Most Expensive Cities to live in with Moscow taking the number one spot and Japan taking the fourth.

So how much will an expat expect to spend in Korea? Everyone has different lifestyles and spending habits so what I’m going to have listed below might not hit the spot but at least you’ll have an idea of how much you’ll need to survive in Seoul.

First thing on the list would be accomodations and more often than not the most expensive. There are basically three types of dwellings, villa, apartment and a house. I’m assuming that the typical expat is not a CEO of some multinational corporation  so I’m just going to look into a villa or apartment. The interior of a typical villa or apartment do not differ signigicantly. They differ in the way that they are managed, a villa does not typically offer security, garbage collection and other maintenance services while apartments offer weekly garbage collection, pest control, security. For villas you manage your own utility bills while apartments usually have a monthly bill which includes electricity, gas, garbage and other maintenance fees. The closest thing I can think of is a typical western apartment vs. a condo. I lived mostly in Kangnam-gu which is considered one of the most expensive areas in Seoul to live in, fortunately the company I work for shoulders the cost of my accomodation and utilies. Expect to pay around USD 800-1000 for a 40-45 sqm. studio in Kangnam.

Groceries and meals are a bit difficult to compute so I what I’ve got is based on my own personal shopping habits. For my groceries I’ve got the usual mix of beef, fish, prawns and chicken and veggies the biggest chunk of my grocery budget goes to junk food which sometimes cost more than the essentials. Minus the junk my groceries usually cost around USD100-150 per week and that’s because I only eat dinner at home. I also do most of my shopping at a nearby E-Mart which is your equivalent of Target or Shopwise. I occasionally go to Costco for my foreign needs such as Eggo Waffles, Snapple, Cereals and their bakery goodies. Expect to spend another USD 50-150 on a typical shopping trip. 

If you’re living alone like me, cooking for one sometimes seems impractical so eating out might seem more appealing. I personally eat out during weekdays and cook during the weekends. A typical Korean meal will cost between USD 5 to 10, while eating at a western restaurant like Outback, Sizzler or TGI Fridays will cost you between USD 20-35 depending on what you order.

Now that we’ve got a roof on our heads and food, lets take on the cost of keeping ourselves in touch with loved ones and also entertained. Broadband connections in Korea in my opinion are relatively cheap especially if compared to countries like New Zealand or Australia. A fiber optic based with unlimited time and data internet connection costs about USD 50.

Mobile phone service in Korea is a tad expensive if you ask me especially if compared to U.S. calling plans where you are free call minutes per month and more importantly being able to rollover those unused minutes. Anyway mobile phone service in Korea will put you back USD 50-80 depending on your calling habits, take note that these do not include international calls. I would suggest leveraging on Korea’s fast internet speeds by using VOiP services such as Skpe, Yahoo Voice etc… to call home. I’ve not used a phone card for the past 8 years but it’s another option too.

Last but not least we need to move around especially since we need to commute to work everyday to pay for those bills and hopefully save enough to make all our sacrifices working abroad worthwhile. The good thing is that South Korea has a fairly good public transportation system. Spending between USD 1 – 2 is usually sufficient to get you to your destination on either the bus or subway. Taxis although convinient might prove to be really expensive especially if you do it on a daily basis. For more information on transportation in Korea click here.

Below is a breakdown of what you can expect for you monthly living allowance in Seoul.

Housing USD 1000
Utilies USD 350
Food and groceries USD 600
Internet and communications USD 150
Transportation USD 120

Total of USD 2,220

A list of useful Korean websites in English :

Real Estate – Nice Rent

Mobile phone – SK Telecom

Mobile phone – KTF

Wireless Broadband – KT Wibro

Broadband Internet – Hanaro Telecom


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