Before I came, everything I read had recommended bring $1,000 USD in cash for the first month. This is to cover anything you need before you receive your first paycheck. It’s also supposed to take into account that you may not be able to use your credit or debit cards here.
I found $1,000 to be way too little. I’d recommend doubling that to $2,000. Here’s why.
1- No one’s ever complained about having too much money. So you might as well over-prepare than under-prepare.
2- You need to pay for your normal expenses plus additional things related to the move. This can vary greatly from person-to-person. I’ll detail what I spend money on normally and what I had to spend money on when I first got here.
3- I know several people who were broke the last 2-3 weeks before we received our first paycheck. If you don’t believe me, you can read about my friend Carmen’s experience. She was so hungry she almost stole a potato from a food vendor.
- Groceries ($60/week – $240/month)
- Public Transportation ($20/week – $80/month)
- Phone ($70/month)
- Internet ($40/month)
- Apartment Building Fees ($95-$190/month)
- Going Out ($200/month)
Sub-Total: $725 – $820
- New Toiletries ($60)
- Furniture ($300)
- Staple Groceries ($100)
- Cleaning Supplies ($50)
- Phone / Internet Start-up Costs ($50)
- Bedding ($230)
- Extra Clothes ($200)
- Kitchen Items ($100)
- Medical Check-up ($60)
- Alien Registration Card (ARC) ($10)
Total: $1,885 – $1,980
Like I mentioned earlier, expenses will vary from person-to-person. That said, I think this breakdown will be a safe bet. Even if you don’t buy all this stuff when you first arrive, you will likely need these things, or other things, that will add up to around $2,000.
Here’s more detail on what some of the above includes:
- Apartment Building Fees: I live in an officetel, which is a large apartment building with small businesses on the first floor. The building charges a flat fee of $70/month for all tenants for general building maintenance. I have other expenses that vary month-to-month like hot water, electricity, air conditioning, gas, and heating. During the fall and spring the bills are as low as $95/month. During winter and summer when I have heat and a/c on they climb as high as $190/month (heating and a/c are VERY expensive in Korea, so Koreans generally only use heaters and a/c for a short time and then turn them off). Even though my school pays the rent on my apartment, I am responsible for this monthly bill. Everything is clearly listed on the bill, so there’s nothing shady about it. But this is a monthly expense I did not expect, so keep in mind that you may have it.
- Furniture: Everything I read about coming to Korea said I would get a furnished apartment. Then when I got my contract it said I may get a furnished apartment. When I got to my apartment I saw that it was partially furnished. I ended up buying a couch, desk, and desk chair for around $300. I know other people who walked into fully furnished places, and others that were completely empty. Depending on your province/school, you may get help with the expenses. That said, most people I know (including myself) had to pay for furnishings out of their own pocket. And yes, that includes one person who had to buy a bed the day she moved in so she’d have something to sleep on that night. This expense could be $0-A LOT of money depending on how lucky you are. So be prepared.
- Medical Check–up: This was required by my program to prove I was in good health. I had to pay for it.
- Extra Clothes: It’s pretty hard to pack all the clothes you need into one suitcase. I know I spent a lot more than $200 on clothes in the 9 months I’ve been here, but in the first month I realized I’d need a few more staples to be comfortable, especially after seeing how the other teachers at my school dressed.
- Other Staples: Remember, you’re starting a new life in a new country. Things that you normally had around (like pots and pans, extra toilet paper, etc) and didn’t have to worry about buying will have to be purchased, new. Plus, you won’t know where all your purchasing options are. So factor in some of the things I listed as part of your start-up costs.
- Drinking: I don’t drink or go clubbing, so if you plan to do this, factor in another $200+, depending on how hard you party. Lots of people I know went out a lot their first month and burned through a lot of cash. So if you think that’s you, bring some extra money.
- Membership fees: Many of my friends here have gym or yoga studio memberships, or they are part of some activity club. It’s the same as home, there are monthly fees for these things. But I’ve found in Korea you often have to pay all the fees upfront. So for a 4-month gym membership I paid about $400 upfront and for a 6-month membership to a yoga studio I paid $660 upfront. No other costs came after that, but it can be a lot of money right away. If you want to start as soon as you arrive, have extra money ready.
One last note: If you need to buy a lot of things for your apartment, good starter stores are Daiso, E-Mart, Homeplus, GMarket and The Arrival Store.
- Daiso: This is basically a dollar store. You can get most of the starter things you’ll need there. The quality won’t be the best, but if you take good care of your things it will be fine. These are all over Seoul.
- E-Mart & Home Plus: These are like Walmart, Target, Tesco type stores. They are grocery stores / cheap department stores. You can do pretty much all your shopping there. These are easy to find in Seoul.
- GMarket: This is an online retailer, like Korea’s Amazon.com. You can order pretty much anything you need here and it’s often cheaper than buying it in-store. If you can wait a few days for something, buy it there.
- The Arrival Store: This is another online retailer, specifically serving expats. I found them very easy to use and have great customer service. They were totally okay with me canceling/changing my order after I arrived in Korea and realized I didn’t need some things I anticipated.