Renting in Korea

If you come to Korea as an English teacher, like I did, you will usually be offered housing with your job. You can find a bunch of information about this on the internet. However, instead of providing housing, many schools offer 'housing allowance' as an alternative. This means that they do not provide an apartment for you, but pay you some extra money with your monthly wages, that you can use to pay your own rent.

Personally, after a few years of living in housing provided by my employers, the decision to switch to renting by myself was one of the best decisions I made in Korea!

If you have decided to rent your own place, scroll down for my tips on renting in Seoul.

If you're thinking about renting but not sure, read on ...


There are some pros and cons of accepting housing that is provided by your school:

YAY! :)
  • You don't have to plan anything or worry about where you're going to live. Basically if you got a job, you got a home! This is really helpful if you are coming to Korea for the first time.
  • You never have to deal with any issues in your apartment by yourself. Just ask your supervisor at work to fix it for you. No need to struggle with the language barrier.

NOOOO! :(

  • You will have no choice where you live, and you won't know anything about it until you actually get there. 
  • It's most likely to be a one-room. 
  • You won't have time to move in and unpack before starting your new job, and when your contract is over you'll be expected to move out immediately, i.e. a couple of hours after you finish your last work day.
  • You will always feel like your home is not your own, and your job owns your life ...

So what about renting privately? The good points are obvious:

  • Choose where you want to live. The location, the kind of building, the size; everything is your choice.
  • Have a settled place to live, regardless of whether you change jobs. Feel at home, instead of feeling like you're still living in a student dorm!

Of course, there are many difficulties too.

  • You have to do all the legwork yourself - Going to real estate agents, looking at places, negotiating and signing a contract. This can be difficult if you don't know any Korean.
  • You need to be already in Korea on a valid visa. I guess it would be difficult to arrange housing before you arrive here.
  • The biggest obstacle is the 'key money' (보증금), aka a bloody ridiculously massive deposit. Although monthly rent (월세) in Korea can be very affordable in relation to an English teacher's salary, you need to have money upfront for the huge deposit - Often more than 10 thousand dollars USD.

However, it is possible!

So here are my tips for renting in Seoul (Other parts of Korea may be different):
  • Yongsan-gu is your easiest option! I'm talking about Itaewon, HBC and the surrounding areas. Not only is it a fantastic area to live in because it's right in the middle of Seoul and full of great stuff (I'm biased), the rental market also caters specifically to foreigners: Real estate agents speak English and may write up your contract in English too, and key money can be as low as 3,000,000 ~ 5,000,000 Won (3~5000 USD). If you have that much money saved, just walk into any estate agency in the area and tell them what kind of place you want. Easy!
  • If you want to rent in another area of Seoul, you will probably need a bit more money saved up for the deposit. I think that deposits for one-room officetels start from around 5,000,000 Won, while for a two-room apartment it could be as much as 80,000,000 Won. You will also need to either know enough Korean to communicate with the estate agent, or take a Korean friend to help you.
  • If you don't have any savings to put down a deposit, a great option is to move into a shared apartment. Search Craigslist and Seoul Facebook groups for people advertising rooms to rent. A lot of people will only ask you to pay a month's rent as a deposit, and the house will probably already be furnished.
  • After moving into your new home, remember to register your change of address at your local district office (구청) or at the immigration office
  • Landlords should take care of the building for you, but they are not obliged to clean it between tenants, so you may find it's dirty when you move in.
  • Be aware that 'housing allowance' from your school is taxed. It's effectively just a salary increase.

If you are coming to Korea as an English teacher for the first time, it's much easier to take the housing that your school offers. But I would recommend anyone who has been here a year already and knows a little Korean to think about renting privately. I have loved every minute of living in my own apartment in Seoul :)

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