Korean culture is sweeping the world more and more. Ever-increasing amounts of students are looking at moving to South Korea.
As the country develops more, the cost of living in Korea is steadily rising. With the eighth-most expensive real estate in the world, Seoul especially is not a cheap place to live.
But as a student who plans ahead, it is definitely not impossible to live here and enjoy life as a student. In this post, I will cover the aspects that make up the cost of living in South Korea – with a focus on students. However, even if you aren’t a student you will be able to learn from this post.
This post will cover the standard living expenses in South Korea. It will also cover some other elements such as university tuition. I will also cover the cost of living in South Korea per month.
Your costs may differ, but after living here for two years this is my experience. Some of the costs of living in Seoul that I have listed below might not be relevant to you. Costs such as tuition fees or internet plans. But, it will give you a broad idea of what to expect.
Finally, these costs will differ if you don’t live in Seoul. The cost of living in South Korea is similar to that of Seoul, but it will also be cheaper.
The biggest differences you will notice with Seoul and other cities are the prices of food and rent. Other prices such as phone and internet plans will stay the same nationwide.
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Table of Contents
South Korea Minimum Wage
Before I begin this list, I think it is important to mention the minimum wage. Since the cost of living in South Korea is relative compared to the average income.
The minimum wage in South Korea is 8350KRW. At the time of writing, that is equal to $6.91. Check the exchange rate.
This makes the daily and monthly minimum wage 66,800KRW and 1,745,150KRW respectively. That is $55.28 daily and $1444.07 monthly at the time of writing.
Keeping in mind that the minimum wage is about $1500 per month, let’s get into the cost of living in Seoul.
Costs of Living in Seoul
The greatest cost that you will experience as a student in Seoul is university tuition. Korean university tuition fees are often moderately priced. Typically they cost $3000-$7000 per semester.
According to Insider.com, the average cost for a South Korean student is $4578 for a year of college. This is more reasonable when you consider that South Korea has some of the best universities in the world.
This graph by BusinessInsider places average tuition fees between those of New Zealand and Australia. That’s almost half of the average cost in the United States!
The variation in cost depends primarily on two factors. The type of university (national or private), and the major. Majors such as medicine are usually more expensive than a humanities subject for example.
For national universities, the costs will usually range from about $2000USD a semester to $4500USD. This is dependent on your major and university. Some courses (such as medicine) being near $4500, and others (like humanities) just being $2000.
Private universities on the other hand range from about $3000 to $7000USD. There are many private and national universities and there are a lot of options open. Further, many universities readily offer scholarships, as does the Korean Government.
Student living in Seoul is costly when considering the tuition fees. However, relative to many other countries the cost is low.
Even if you feel like you can’t afford these costs, it is still worth applying. As I mentioned above, there is a multitude of scholarships available to cover your costs.
If you simply apply you can often be offered these scholarships. A great example of this is the GPA based scholarship that Korea University offers to any student with a GPA above 3.3 (out of 4.5).
Simply applying and ticking the box to apply for the scholarship will net you a 100% discount on tuition if you meet the requirements.
If you are interested in studying at a Korean university, learn more!
One-room apartments in Seoul can be found quite cheap!
The greatest living expense in South Korea is rent. Rent in South Korea is very affordable, with many different housing options available.
Costs can range from $275 a month in a dormitory or goshiwon (an off-campus dormitory) to $1000 in an expensive one room. Really, there is something for everyone’s needs.
Rent in South Korea is generally very affordable for students. Many one-room apartments starting at $300 in student areas. Some places will also include utility costs and can be found for around $300 inclusive of these. That’s a total of only $75 for rent every week.
When coming to Korea to study you will typically have four main options. These are dormitories, one-room apartments, goshiwons and share-houses. Thankfully, all of these have great budget options and it is always possible to find somewhere that fits your needs and budget.
For example, the average rent in South Korea for a student one-room is around 500,000 ($420). This is far more affordable than most other countries with comparable education levels.
If a one-room is a bit too pricey then you still have some great options. Goshiwons start at around $150 per month and many dormitories start at around $200.
These are great options if you have a tighter budget or if you just want to save some money. The biggest downsides that you will face are that they can be very small and (in the case of a dormitory) you will have roommates.
This post covers student housing in far more detail. On top of covering the costs, it also goes over the house finding process, useful resources, and more.
Utilities are another cost of living in Korea. Monthly utility costs include electricity, water, and gas, all of which are cheap.
Depending on the month, gas can be as low as $0 and as high as $100 in winter. Korean apartments usually have ondols, underfloor heating. Considering that it is around $100 for constant heating throughout the winter months, that’s not a bad price at all.
Electricity is the same. In winter it is usually a minimal cost of under $20, but in summer (with AC and fans) it can go up to $100 easily. However, if you are conservative with your use of AC then summer doesn’t have to cost much either.
Something to keep in mind with Korean electricity costs is that they are exponentially increasing. This means that while using X amount of power might cost $5, using double that amount of power may cost $25, and double that might be $150. This is usually great for students as it means the costs are very low. But in summer you should always be wary.
The final cost of utilities if you are a student living in Seoul is water. I’ve found that even when using a large amount of water that your costs will barely be $15 per month.
Overall, utilities in Korea are very affordable as long as you manage them well. This can possibly be the biggest costs for a student living in Seoul. If managed well it can be minimized.
These costs are for a one-room. If you are moving into a bigger apartment, these costs will likely be significantly more expensive.
Korea is known for its food – and for good reason!
Food is another major factor in the cost of living in Seoul. It will usually be either the second or third biggest living expense that you will face.
The cost of food in South Korea is similarly priced to many other developed countries. In fact, when I compared groceries in Seoul to Los Angeles, Seoul is 30% more expensive.
In terms of eating out, Seoul is 45% cheaper! This creates an interesting conundrum that most other countries don’t face. Eating out is often cheaper than eating at home.
When eating at home then you can expect to spend around $30-$70 a week. Depending on if you plan to buy wholesale goods then you also have options such as Costco which is very cheap for large amounts of food.
If you plan to eat out then expect to be paying anywhere from $3 to $20 per meal. If you prefer to eat cheaply it is more than possible to find meals less than $4.
Many Korean restaurants will serve meals for as little as $3. When you compare the costs of cooking at home, this actually seems to be very cheap – there aren’t many meals you can cook for under $3.
If you do decide to eat out for every meal, you can often spend less than $10 per day! However, the food selection will be limited. You’ll usually be looking at kimbap, cup-bob, and other rice-based dishes.
The Seoul food prices for other foods such as common western options (pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, etc) will usually begin at around $5. Food options such as (cheap) pizza start at $5. Sandwiches (such as Subway and competing stores) also begin at $5.
Fast food prices in Seoul begin at around $6 for a set menu. Luckily there are cheaper options! If you are in a rush, there are also Korean fast food options (such as cupbob) starting at $3.
In comparison, cooking food at home is often more expensive. If you are okay with eating foods based on rice, eggs, and cheap vegetables (mushrooms, onion, potato, etc), then you can get away with spending less than $3 per meal.
As soon as you add any meat though, the prices will rapidly increase. While it’s still cheaper to eat at home in Korea than many other countries, most other countries don’t offer such cheap options for dining out.
Also, be prepared to possibly factor in bottled water. Depending on your house, tap water may or may not be safe to drink, and a filter may be necessary. Bottled water can also be purchased at around $3 for six 2 litre bottles.
The price of a coffee in Seoul depends on the store. Chain stores generally start at around $3. On the other hand, local stores will often begin at $2 with some even selling americanos for under $1. Drinks like bubble tea will usually run you about $3.
The Seoul Metro is one of the best subway systems in the world!
Public transport will be your next-biggest living expense in Seoul. Train rides and bus rides are around $1 (1250KRW) each way, and this means that you can expect to spend around $2 for every trip. My usual monthly costs for transport are about $80.
The biggest factor to consider here is your proximity to your university or place of work. If you will be needing to use public transport every day, this cost will become one of your major monthly costs of living in Seoul.
However, if you live close enough to walk or bike to school/work, then public transport costs are often negligible. This is something to consider when considering where to live, as many people overlook it.
If you do take public transportation every day, expect to be paying over $80 on public transport every month.
Confused about Seoul public transport? Learn everything you need to know!
Internet and Phone
The next greatest living expenses in South Korea are internet and phone plans. Prices in South Korea vary greatly depending on what you are expecting. The Internet can be as had as low as $25 a month (100mbps) and as high as $70 (10gbps).
Phone plans, however, have much more variation and it highly depends upon what you want. Plans start at around $20 and unlimited data plans can cost anywhere from $60-$120 depending on your carrier and exact specifications. More info can be found on the carriers’ sites, KT, SKT and LGU+.
I am unsure about the options offered by SKT and LGU+, but KT offers under 24 plans. These are plans for anyone under the age of 24 and often they are cheaper than the usual plans. I have a plan for 6gb of monthly LTE and then unlimited (slower) data after that runs out. The whole plan costs me about $30 per month.
These plans are great options as they are usually far cheaper than the non-student comparable plans offered by the companies.
If you purchase a phone on contract, you will often pay about $25 extra per month. The iPhone 8+ that I got on a contract (with my $30 monthly plan) costs me $70 monthly. This is on a two-year contract.
The prices in South Korea for medical insurance are very reasonable and far lower than most other countries. Foreigners are eligible for the National Health Insurance after being in Korea for three months.
The insurance costs $50 per month, however, there is a catch. If you live in Korea for one year and then sign up for the plan, you will be charged for nine months (since that is when you become eligible).
To avoid this charge you can leave the country and re-enter (for example by going to Japan for a day). Just keep this in mind if you plan to join the National Health Insurance.
Typically the plan costs more than 100,000KRW (about $80), however, students receive a 50% discount.
This year the Korean government tried to make this cost mandatory for students. But, due to the opposition, they decided to wait a few years before implementing mandatory NHS for students. If you are coming in 2021 this is definitely something to consider, as the insurance will most likely be mandatory by then.
Activities are another aspect that can’t really be discussed without knowing specifics. They could either be the lowest, or the highest cost!
On average, a night of drinking will cost about $15-$30 provided that you stick to Korean beer and soju. Cafes are usually about $3-$10 (they will be more if they are themed). Many other activities exist, but there are far too many to include here!
Here are the prices for some common activities:
- Cinema ticket (average) – 12,000KRW ($10)
- Korean Karaoke – 1000KRW per 4 songs ($0.83)
- Beer (Korean) – 5000KRW for 2 litres ($4.14)
- Cafe coffee (average) – 4000KRW ($3.31)
- Themed cafe (Cat cafe, VR cafe, etc) – 10,000KRW ($8.27)
- PC Bang (PC room) – 1000KRW per hour ($0.83)
- Escape Room (one hour, average) – 20,000KRW ($16.55)
The cost of living in Seoul is comparable to most western countries. However, depending on where you are from it may also be very costly. As a student living in Seoul for two years now I have found that costs can often be high, but usually they are affordable.
If you try to keep your costs as low as possible and avoid spending money outside, then costs can be as low as 800,000KRW per month.
However, a far more common amount is around 1,000,000 – 1,200,0000KRW per month. Luckily there are many options to help lower your costs while living in South Korea – goshiwons and public transport are great examples.