Expat essentials: A simple guide to South Korea life for new arrivals
Are you moving to South Korea? If so, then this guide is all you need to prepare yourself. Here we list the most important things to keep in mind before you set off.
Choosing a place to live
One of the key issues you will have to take into account if you work in any major Korean city is traffic. Every large road in Korea is jam packed, bumper to bumper, pretty much non-stop leading up to business hours. If you want to avoid 2 hours trapped in your car at the beginning or end of every working day, then find an apartment close to your place of business. Though this might cost you a little extra, the effect on your quality of life is well worth it.
You should not expect to find a house in Korea for anything other than top dollar. The vast majority of accommodation is apartment-based, though you can find very nice, fairly spacious flats without burning your budget. Condos are also available, which are somewhere between an apartment and a house, for a little extra.
How to get around
As we've mentioned already, traffic makes driving in big cities a trek, so reliance on public transport is a general fact of life. The subways are cheap and the one in Seoul is very large and very reliable. It can take a long time to get from one place to another, but this is something you will have to get used to regardless of how you travel. We would recommend leaving the bus system alone until you have settled in properly and know your way around (which might take a while!). The bus routes are very complicated and figuring out which bus goes where and when is not so easy unless you are familiar with the entire city. Taxis are very, very cheap, though finding a driver who speaks English is not likely.
The South Koreans are very sociable people and love nightlife, food and getting out. There are, however, a few subtle rules to drinking and eating in Korean company that are worth knowing before you hit the bars and restaurants. Hierarchy is important: the older you are, the more important you are at the table. The eldest person in the party always begins eating first, so don't dig in as soon as the food is placed under your nose. When Koreans offer a drink, they mean it. It is very impolite to refuse when your host goes to fill up your glass. Also, if you are out with business friends, talking about work is the biggest faux pas you can make. When Koreans are drinking, the last thing they want to do is chat about business. When the bill comes if the senior member of the party offers to pay do not counter-offer or suggest splitting it. If it is your turn to pay, tipping is, generally, not done and no waiter will expect a tip.