Seoul, South Korea Report of what it's like to live there - 07/15/15

Personal Experiences from Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea 07/15/15

Background:

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

No, various cities throughout Asia,.

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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?

D.C. Flights from the U.S. Are about 12 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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

U.S. Government and educator.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing on base is small but not bad. There are front and back yards, so it is great for families with kids.

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

Groceries are expensive on the local market, so we often did our shopping at the commissary on base.

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

Nothing really.

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

Fast food outlets are everywhere and reasonably priced. Restaurants are awesome here; you can eat just about anything, but the local food is what we loved the most!

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

There are mosquitoes but no serious diseases like malaria.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. Korea's postal service is surprisingly affordable, too.

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

Available and fairly cheap. $10 per hour.

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

Yes, on base, and they are free.

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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?

Widely used and available.

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

Many are available.

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

It's helpful, but some Koreans do speak English. They will try to assist you more if you show genuine effort in conversing with them in Korean.

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

Some subway stations have many stairs, but sidewalks are quite good here.

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Transportation:

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

Very affordable and safe.

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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?

Any car is great to have here.

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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?

Yes, it is available, but the qualitycan be patchy on base.

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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?

The U.S. Embassy issues phones for staff, but if you want your own personal phone there is a place on base near Starbucks and also others throughout Itaewon.

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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?

Not sure. I would assume so.

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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?

Yes, my wife taught English in Korean elementary schools.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many. Look at orphanages throughout Seoul for rewarding experiences.

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

Office attire at work. Koreans are quite formal, too, but anything goes, really.

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Health & Safety:

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

Just the usual concerns every now and again --- when North Korea decides to do testing.

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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?

Medical care is great. We have had good experiences.

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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?

Generally not bad, but during the Spring season yellow dust can be problematic.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Yellow dust during Spring can affect allergies.

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

4 distinct seasons. Winter can get quite cold, Summer is very humid, Fall and Spring are wonderful.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are international schools throughout Seoul, but we had no direct experience with them. I believe there are schooling options on base, but it could be difficult to get in.

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

My wife worked in Korean public schools during our time there, and she often mentioned the fact that there is a shortage of special-needs programs here.

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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?

Yes, they are available, but we didn't have any experience with them.

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

Yes there are.

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Expat Life:

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

Quite large. There are many U.S. military personnel, as well as teachers from all over the world. We made lots of friends, it was great. Dinner parties in embassy housing were quite common.

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

"Norebangs" (karaoke/singing rooms) are a lot of fun. We would go out often with our friends and colleagues. There are lots of restaurants. The nightclubs are of fun, too!

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

Great for all. There is always something to do.

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

I think so. There is an active night life in Itaewon for the LGBT community. But in general Koreans are quite conservative, so they don't really talk about this.

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

Yes. Koreans are very nationalistic, sometimes to the point where they think they are completely pure. There is an obvious disdain towards Japan and other Asian countries. People of color usually get the "Africa, Africa" comments even if they are not from Africa. Also, be mindful that some groups in Korea are very religious and will often try to convert you to their beliefs.

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

Making life-long friends, trips throughout Korea.

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

We traveled quite easily and inexpensively using the bullet train to other cities like Busan and Daegu, and we flew to Jeju Island. Throughout Seoul there are a lot of parks, temples, cafes, and restaurants. The food here is amazing, and some places are quite cheap.

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

Chopsticks, hanboks, pottery.

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

This is a great country for cultural experiences, making friends, and night life.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes and no. It is quite expensive to live here, but if you stick to a budget you can save a little.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Koreans like to move quickly, so don't get offended if they seem rushed all the time.

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

Definitely! We have great memories of our time in Korea.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience! It's quite a bustling city, so take care when walking around. It gets crowded on the subway, and Koreans some don't care if they walk into you.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

We usually don't think about going to a post more than once, but we would definitely come back here.

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