With more and more people moving to Seoul every year, one of the questions that I get asked most frequently is how much does it cost to live in Seoul? After receiving the question many times, I decided to put together a post discussing the cost of living in Seoul which will also address some of the costs of living in Korea as a whole.
There is a perception that Seoul is a relatively cheap city to live in. However, this is far from the truth. While some elements of life in Seoul are relatively affordable, there are also many aspects of living in Seoul that are far from cheap.
As the country attracts more attention, the cost of living in Korea is steadily rising. Currently, the tenth most expensive city in the world, Seoul especially is not a cheap place to live. On top of this, Seoul has been rated as having some of the most expensive real estate in the world (8th in 2018).
With that being said, with some planning, it’s possible to live in Seoul on a reasonable budget. Whether you are a student, worker, couple, family, or otherwise, the cost of living in Seoul can be reasonable. However, it all comes down to how you budget and the lifestyle you choose to lead in the city.
A lot of this article will be focused on students and young adults who are considering moving to Korea. Since I was a student in Korea myself, and now that I live here as a young adult, this is where most of my experience lies. However, a lot of these living aspects can apply to anyone looking to move to South Korea – especially Seoul.
Your costs may differ, but after living here for seven 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 elsewhere in South Korea is similar to that of Seoul in most respects, but housing tends to be cheaper. Even other major cities, such as Busan, are substantially cheaper than Seoul when it comes to rent. However, these cheaper prices don’t carry over so much to food, entertainment, and other costs.
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Why Is Living in Seoul So Expensive?
Depending on who you ask, living in Seoul will either be cheap or expensive. Of course, this is based on the previous experiences of the individual and their point of comparison. However, there is another big discrepancy when it comes to the cost of living in Seoul – how you live. While this may sound obvious, it’s worth diving into.
Some elements of living in Seoul are considerably cheaper than in other comparable countries. For example, rent in Seoul is typically affordable and one-room apartments can be found as low as 350,000 KRW per month. For a nicer place, you’ll be looking at around 600,000 KRW. It is also worth mentioning, however, that when finding housing in Seoul you will also be expected to pay a deposit which is usually 10-50x the monthly rent. For example, you might pay a 10,000,000 KRW deposit and 400,000 KRW per month as rent.
You will get the deposit back, however, so I don’t factor this into the overall cost of living in Seoul. With this in mind, if the housing isn’t expensive (at least if you shop around and don’t mind a smaller apartment), where do the high costs come from?
Image from Livingcost.org.
While housing is comparatively cheap, many other goods such as food are more expensive in Seoul than in most other countries. The graph above shows grocery prices in comparison to other cities around the world. As you can see, grocery shopping in Korea is on the very high end – and these are common items which many would consider essentials.
For this reason, I know many students who spend a similar amount on rent and food each month. This may seem crazy, but with cheap rental fees and very high food costs, it isn’t all that surprising. I personally would usually spend more on groceries every month than rent!
Overall, a student or worker living in a one-room apartment can live in Seoul for less than 1,500,000 KRW per month. This cost of living can be decreased to 1,100,000 or 1,200,000 with some simple budgeting. Therefore, I wouldn’t call Seoul an expensive city to live in. Depending on how you want to live, it may be very costly, however.
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 9620 KRW. At the time of writing, that is equal to $7.25. However, the exchange rate is constantly changing, so I recommend checking the exchange rate.
This makes the daily and monthly minimum wage 76,960 KRW (assuming an 8-hour workday) and 1,539,200 KRW (21 workdays per month) respectively. That is $58 daily and $1160 monthly at the time of writing.
While it is possible to live a frugal life on this wage, most ex-pats will be paid more. English teachers will usually earn 1,900,000KRW per month or more, and often some of their expenses will be covered (such as rent).
Costs of Living in Seoul
The graph above shows what you can expect to spend studying or working in Seoul every month. These costs assume that you are living in an average one-room apartment, and have a standard (or under 24) unlimited phone plan and a cheaper internet option.
Of course, everyone’s costs will differ, and this post makes some assumptions. However, these have been the costs I have found comfortable over my past five years in South Korea. It will be possible to make your costs less if needed.
The costs in the table above will allow for some nice benefits. For example, an unlimited phone plan is included in the price, which isn’t essential for many people.
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.
A 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.
A Korean power bill.
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.
Saving Tip: The ondol (underfloor, gas heating) can be quite costly in winter with costs sometimes being close to $80. To save money, you can instead purchase a space heater. Since student housing is usually small, a decent space heater can make your place toasty in no time. There are some options as cheap as $30.
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.
Saving Tip: Although eating out is relatively cheap in Korea, it still adds up. If you want to save money, you will need to adapt to the local diet. Rice-based dishes can be incredibly cheap to make and rice-cookers can be found for very cheap. There are many models that can be found under $30, and in the long term, they will save you a lot of money.
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 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.
Korea has a lot of activities, and it can be hard to save!
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.
Cost of Living in Seoul FAQ
How Much Does Rent in Korea Cost?
How Much Does Eating out in Korea Cost?
Eating out in Korea can vary greatly in cost. You can find local Korean food for as low as $3 per meal, however, western food is normally more expensive. For a comparison, a cheap pizza is around $6, and a typical fast food burger set is around $5-$7.
Can Students Work in Korea?
Yes, students can work. However, there are many limitations on the student visa and students who aren’t fluent in Korean will have limited opportunities. For example, students can’t work more than 20 hours per week.
What Is the Minimum Wage in Korea?
The minimum wage in South Korea is 8590KRW. At the time of writing, that is equal to $7.24. However, the exchange rate is always changing, so I recommend checking the exchange rate.
What Is the Monthly Student Cost in Seoul?
While this depends on your own spending habits. Many students get by with $800-$1200 per month. This includes all costs with the exception of tuition. However, this varies and can be higher or lower.
How Much Is Rent in Seoul?
Rent in Seoul can vary greatly, however, monthly costs start at around $200 for a goshiwon (a dormitory-like accommodation) and $400 for a one-room apartment.