Seoul, South Korea Report of what it's like to live there - 12/27/10

Personal Experiences from Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea 12/27/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, also lived in Lome, Abidjan, Cairo, Ottawa, Port au Prince, Douala, Seoul, Sidi Slamaine (Morroco), St. George (Bermuda)

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Las Vegas. One hour to LA, 11 hours to Seoul

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 1/2 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomat

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Terrible embassy housing, drafty, all clustered on an Army base, not close to public transportation. Very well maintained, however.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

For diplomats, cheap food and supplies are at the military commissary, Mostly all American products, some Korean items. Off base, better fresh vegetables.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing special.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Nice restaurants of every kind. From 5.00 to 50.00 per dinner, depending on what you like. You have McDonald's, Taco bell, and just about everything you can think of. And the Bulgarian restaurant is just perfect!

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

The commissary has Bob's Red Ball stocked, for gluten-free products and some-gluten free Pasta. There are also boca burgers in the commissary. It's adequate. Off base, there are gluten-free bakeries with bread and rolls.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

US diplomats have the APO, pretty reliable, but wrongly-routed mail is not unusual. Books can very very slow, over a month.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Help is usually 10.00 per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The gyms on base are free for diplomats, but are dirty and unplesant, but with nice machines. Gyms are easy to find and are much nicer off the base.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

you can use credit cards just about everywhere, very reliable. For non-Korean-issued ATM cards, you need to find a "foreign" machine. On base the ATMS give local or US currency with no service charge.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The base has military cable TV, you will just love watching FOX news! Also included: HBO,Star, local stations and Animal Planet! There is also satellite and internet TV available.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None if you keep to the international areas and the base. Other times, you would be very lost. The US Embassy switchboard is open 24 hours a day, and I have used them for translating.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Not good, lots of stairs, cabs are ok though, subways have lots of stairs.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The KTX travels at 200 miles per hour across the country and it is inexpensive. Other trains are less expensive. The buses are nice: a four-hour trip can cost up to 18.00 US dollars -- not bad!

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You can bring any car, but fixing a Korea car is very inexpensive, parts are made next door in China. It is easy to buy a used car here. There is no car theft or carjacking. Driving is organized but agressive. People will run lights and stop signs, you have to be very aware while behind the wheel.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

On base, the Korean Telephone Internet is about 35.00 per month, fiber optic, fast.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You must use a Korean cell phone and buy it here, the system is not universal. Any phone that works anywhere else often won't work here. Some BlackBerries work here, good luck!

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No, if your papers are proper. Rabies protection has to be within a certain time frame, and a certificate of good health has to be current upon arrival.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Seems ok for cats on base.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Teaching English is easy to get, but a visa can be required. For American diplomats, you can bring students on base "legally" to teach them. The US military advertises jobs as well.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Suits mostly, for English teachers, very casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None. It's a very safe place, no real crimes against persons.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The military hospital is undependable. It is first for the military. You can wait hours and be turned away; not recommended. Off-base, Samsung is top notch, and St. Mary's is good, too, with international reception centers. Skin care is fantastic. Hair transplants, the best.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air is ok, not much polution.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Very cold winters, mild summers, not too hot.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Many, thousands with the US military and the English-teaching community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good morale, except for singles forced to live on base, who dislike the living arrangements very much. Families just love it though!

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Easy to find a party, and the bar scene is fun.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

U.S. Embassy housing is particularly nice for families all clustered together. It's terrible for singles, in a fish bowl, all clustered together. As a diplomat, you're in the Army now, not in Korea.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

It's great for gay and lesbian people, lots of places to go and the expatriate gay community is friendly and interfaces with the Korean gay community well.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

This is not a very religious country. Koreans deal ok with other races in general. They had put up with the US military for 60 years.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Touring Korea is fantastic, there is so much to see, and the clasical Arts are available, symphony, dance, and many visiting artists.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Great art centers, concerts, performances, great guest artists, great places to visit, beautiful beaches, all pretty reasonable.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

furniture and custom-made clothes.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's a very modern town, with very inexpensive public transportation, and many things to do and see.

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11. Can you save money?

Only if you don't eat out (its expensive here) or eat cheap Korean food.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Never. I hate group housing compounds, and the constant interface of the US Army base and the army police is terrible. Living on base pretty much kills the experience here unless you have a family, and then it's really nice living close to your kids' friends. So for families, yes, singles, no.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

not much.

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3. But don't forget your:

wallet and your sense of adventure. There is lots to do here. Get out of Seoul and see the countryside.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This post is an Army post. You don't experience Korea in you day to day life. If you ever wanted to be in the Military, this is the post for you. If you are single and want privacy, don't come here, if you can't stand living in a fishbowl. Your neighbors are your co-workers, its just hard to seperate work and your personal life. On the other hand, Koreans are fun and easy to mix with and the expatriate community is great. Once you get off base, you can have fun.

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