Moving to another country is no easy task! However, with planning, this process can be made painless. This in-depth guide is created to help make your transition as easy, and as smooth as possible. These are the first things to do after landing in Seoul!
This guide today is aimed at people who have already moved to Seoul or who are planning on being in Seoul soon. It will cover the important aspects of settling down in the city and will include many of the basic foundations of life here. While the content is tailored specifically for Seoul, much of it is relevant to Korea as a whole.
Tasks such as getting a phone plan, an ARC, and a transport card are vital pillars of life in Korea. Other tasks on the list such as learning basic Korean, while not essential, will make life far easier for anyone trying to settle. As such, I have included both essential requirements and quality of life aspects in this post. Please note that I am always willing to answer any questions you may have, so if you need to know anything further, leave me a comment down below!
Lightning strikes over Seoul in the rainy season.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Alien Registration Card – ARC
- 2 Get a Korean Phone Plan
- 3 Get the Essential Apps
- 4 Finding Accommodation
- 5 Transport Cards
- 6 Convert Money
- 7 Learn Basic Korean
The Alien Registration Card – ARC
Anyone wanting to stay in Korea for longer than 90 days MUST acquire an ARC to legally stay in the country. However, there are numerous benefits to getting your ARC as soon as possible. It will make your life far easier – and in many cases, cheaper. In Korea, nearly everything is tied to your identification number. The number which your registration card gives you. This card will allow you to get a bank account, get a real phone plan (rather than a ‘foreigner’ phone plane), and much more. This should be the first thing on everyones list of first things to do after landing in Seoul!
If you want to rent a house, you need an ARC. If you want to get NHI (National Health Insurance), you need an ARC. While getting the card is a legal requirement for long-term visitors, getting it as soon as you can really make your life easier.
Getting the card can take a few weeks, and as such, it is something that is important to set up either on or before arrival. Appointments can be set up at the HiKorea website – however, you will often see no free slots for weeks at a time. This means that it is vital to create an appointment as soon as possible. Further, getting the actual card can sometimes take time. I got mine on the same day I applied, but I have heard that it can take time from others.
A quick word of advice – always make sure to update your address within two weeks of moving. If you move houses, it is a requirement that you at least book the appointment to update your address within a two-week window. I have been one day out, and I got fined. To make life easy on yourself, use Internet Explorer when navigating the HiKorea website. I know it sucks. I know it’s bad. But trust me on this – use Internet Explorer. If you have a Mac, it is possible (as it is with other browsers), but there are a lot more issues which can arise. Also, make sure to allow pop-ups. If you have an adblocker preventing them, the site will not work at all.
Lotte Tower stands 555 meters tall, offering stunning views of the city.
Get a Korean Phone Plan
Another of the first things to do after landing in Seoul is getting a Korean phone plan. Directly tied in with getting your ARC, it is vital for life here. If you are a heavy cellular device user, then this step is not only essential, but it will help you save a lot of money. If you use your phone lightly, then this will also open up a lot more options for you. Getting an ARC allows you to sign up to any plans offered by KT, SKT, and LG. Not only that, but it also allows you to get a phone on contract (provided that the contract is within the time constraints of your visa period).
While getting a phone plan may seem like an obvious step towards getting set up in a country, I chose to mention it specifically in regards to it the ARC. Many people I know have come to Korea and either stayed on the foreigner SIM cards or have stayed on roaming plans from abroad. While these are possible alternatives, the costs quickly rack up. If you are going to be staying in Korea, get a Korean phone plan from one of the big carriers. If you are interested in more information about the providers, check out this post.
Arguably the most important aspect of getting the phone plan, however, is the power of the Korean phone number. If you have been in Korea for any length of time, then you have at some point been faced with verification by phone number when browsing the web. The catch? Most of these verification’s ONLY allow KT, SKT, and LG phone numbers. Naver is a great example. Even playing games such as Fortnite in Korea requires you to have a number from one of the big name carriers.
For these reasons, I chose to include the seemingly obvious phone plan. You can’t use many online services without a phone number, and you can’t get a phone number without an ARC. Yet another reason why I recommend getting the ARC as early as possible.
Seoul has some of the most stunning sunsets in the world. Namsan Tower is a great place to watch them.
Get the Essential Apps
Apps make life so much easier. Some apps will make your stay in Korea much easier. From transport apps to messengers, these are the essentials!
There are a few alternatives to the Subway Korea app – Kakao metro is also very popular. However, my personal preference is Subway Korea due to the map layout and the ease of use. A subway map will make every trip easier, no matter how well you know the subway! Subway Korea can be used to plan trips, see transfer stations, and even to see the most efficient carriage to sit in. It has everything. For Apple device users – Subway Korea. For Android users – Subway Korea.
Kakao Bus is basically the subway app… Except for buses! In my opinion, this is by far the best bus app, and I use it nearly every day. It has bus timetables, crowd statistics (it even shows how many seats are left!), and shows every bus stop around your location! This together with the Subway Korea app and the next app will make up your transport trio of apps! For Apple device users – Kakao Bus. For Android users – Kakao Bus.
This app isn’t essential (despite the title), but it will make your life much easier! Kakao Taxi is the best app for calling taxis… Without the calling. Even better is the fact that you don’t need to know Korean to call taxis! Basically, this app will broadcast your location and within a few minutes a taxi will show up that is able to take you to your destination. At times, taxis can be very hard to catch, and this app will make sure the taxi is coming for you and won’t stop for others. It’s like a personal taxi! As far as I know, Kakao Taxi really has no alternative. There are taxi call-lines, however, for people who are unable to speak Korean, Kakao Taxi is unbeatable. For Apple device users – Kakao Taxi. For Android users – Kakao Taxi.
While Google Maps reigns supreme in most countries, Naver Maps is the #1 navigation app in Korea. Until recently, Google maps wasn’t even allowed in Korea. Since then, it has been allowed, but it is missing years of content. Naver Maps, on the other hand, has been building up its database for years at this point. The app recently launched in full English, and this makes it even better! If you need to navigate your way through Korea – which you will, Naver Maps is what you need. For Apple device users – Naver Maps. For Android users – Naver Maps.
A quick note – While Naver Maps has the best navigational information about Korea, Google Maps is quickly catching up. Personally, I don’t use Naver Maps anymore. Since I usually only use map apps for bus routes and walking directions (no driving, which I have heard Google Maps is terrible for), I much prefer Google Maps. The area that Google Maps greatly lacks is in finding locations near you. If you want to find a bank, restaurant, or cafe, Google Maps will have hardly any entries. Naver Maps on the other hand usually returns far more options.
By now it’s almost looking like you may as well download the whole suite of Kakao Apps! If you only download one app though, make sure it’s Kakao Talk. Over 95% of Koreans use Kakao Talk (and I feel like this is an underestimation, I’ve never met someone in Korea without Kakao Talk!). 99% of messaging is done through this messenger, and as such, make sure you are prepared and have it! Honestly, this is basically the be-all-and-end-all of messaging in Korea. You don’t need any other messaging app. For Apple device users – Kakao Talk. For Android users – Kakao Talk.
While Kakao Talk is used by everyone, it is also usually not the only messenger that people use. Facebook Messenger is still very common, and most people will have it downloaded on their phone. WhatsApp, Line, and other messengers are more hit or miss, as few people will use them. Instagram is another app that every younger person will have downloaded, and this is another messaging alternative.
Similar to Google Maps vs Naver Maps, Google Translate is also inferior to the local alternatives. Papago is a much better translation app as it specialises in Korean/English translation. Rather than simply translating word by word, it is able to pick up some context and give more accurate predictions. In saying that, it is far from perfect. There are oftentimes no perfect translations for English to Korean, but Papago will serve you much better than Google Translate. For Apple device users – Papago. For Android users – Papago.
Many ‘must have app’ lists for Korea will also include Naver Dictionary for translation. However, I am someone who LOVES to have a clean phone. I don’t like having apps unless I need them. Papago functions also as a dictionary app, and as such, I don’t think that Naver Dictionary is an essential. Since Papago is owned by Naver anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if both apps have the same dictionary information.
Naver itself. The Korean Google. A lot of information about Korea is missing from Google. Like I mentioned earlier – many places aren’t even registered on Google Maps. This is because Google is a far second in terms of market share in Korea. Naver dominates the market and is the local search engine of choice. While Naver is in Korean, there are limited results that can be found by using English. For Apple device users – Naver. For Android users – Naver.
There are many more apps which can help your stay in Korea, but I find these apps far to niche for me to use on a regular basis. Apps like Yogiyo (food delivery) are very helpful, as is the noraebang song catalogue app. If you are interested in more fantastic apps to help you with your stay in Korea please feel free to refer to the links below.
The problem that I have found with Korean apps personally is the language. Of course, with a 99% Korean population, you can’t expect the apps to have translated versions. However, it does make it very difficult if you don’t understand Korean or are still a beginner. The good news is that most apps are quite easy to understand. While they may be in Korean, normally they follow common sense. Not all apps, but many are at least useable if you just use common sense.
I’ve found that many app lists include apps that I wouldn’t include in the ‘essential’ category. There are many apps that will help you out on your stay, however, they are dependent on who you are. If you use KT, you probably want to KT app. If you are a tourist, then the tour apps will be of great help. However, these are the apps that I think are essential for all.
In addition to the apps listed above, many of the services have their own websites. If you are someone who likes to bookmark websites then make sure to add these sites to your bookmarked list!
Another Seoul sunset. Taken from Nanji Hangang park.
Hopefully, you already had this at least semi-sorted before coming to Seoul! But if you didn’t there are a few things you should know. I have a full article on housing which covers the more detailed aspects of housing in Korea.
If you are coming to the country on a working visa of some kind (especially if you are an English teacher), then there is a good chance that your contract will include housing of some kind. However, if it doesn’t, finding housing in Seoul is a very quick and easy process.
Finding a studio or officetel can easily be done in a single day! Korea really is a country of convenience. While Korean is usually required to communicate with the realtors, there are English speaking realtors that can be found. It’s possible to browse houses in an area, sign the contract, pay the deposit, and then move in within the day.
On the other hand, there really isn’t much of a rush. Motels are super cheap and you can easily find them for 30,000 Won or less. While these motels usually don’t maintain the highest standards of hygiene (they are normally used by couples and are often called ‘love motels’), they are adequate and you get a nice place to stay while you find a more permanent place.
If you would prefer to not stay in a motel, then hotels and Airbnb can also be found. The price and quality of these will vary, but my experience with hotels in Korea has been great. Usually, a nice place can be found for 45,000-70,000 per night.
T-Money and Cashbee are the travel cards used in Korea. With them, you can use the subway, the bus, taxis, and you can even buy food and drinks! Unless you plan to walk everywhere in the country, make sure to pick up your transport card as soon as possible!
These cards can be purchased at any convenience store around the country, and for very little. For less than 5000 Won, these transport cards will allow you to use any public transport you find. Similar to most other countries transport systems, these cards can be topped up in the same stores they are purchased from. Further, they can be topped up in the subway themselves. At every station, there will be a machine which accepts cash to top you up.
The good thing is that there is really no effort involved in getting your transport card. Simply walk into any convenience store, and purchase the card. Sometimes there will be different options from cute Kakao cards to simple designs. However, they all work the same and are simply a matter of choice. There is no requirement for the purchase of these cards, and once purchased, they work until they run out of money!
There are other alternatives for anyone who will be staying in Seoul for longer. It is possible to merge your transport and credit/debit cards at many (or all – I’m not certain) banks. This means that you no longer need two cards for different purposes, and that you no longer need to worry about topping up. These cards function on a credit system, and deduct monthly transport costs. This makes them far more convenient than a card which must be topped-up regularly.
Converting money is another thing which seems obvious, but if forgotten, can land you in quite an awkward position. When you land at the airport, there are numerous money conversion stalls. However, most of these take large conversion fees! The airports usually take around a 5% conversion fee, whereas many banks and other stalls will take 2% or less. If you are looking to convert money and want the most security then most of the booths that can be found around popular areas such as Myeongdong offer good prices. Usually around a 1% conversion fee will apply.
There are also elderly ladies who can convert money. Usually they can be found in Namdaemun and other tourist areas. They will take around a 0.5-1.5% conversion fee. However, while usually trustworthy, I know many people would prefer to use a bank or store. These ladies can usually be identified as they will be holding a calculator and seemingly selling nothing else. If you are very money conscious, then these women are the way.
Learn Basic Korean
Seriously, it takes a lot less time than you’d think, and it will make your life far easier. Not only that, but it will impress people! Learning to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) is one of the easiest language related things you can ever do. No, seriously. I learnt to read it in under an hour. It is one of the most logical languages I have ever seen!
Learning to read the language will instantly allow you to read many of the words you will encounter on a daily basis. A lot of the words are simply Korean variations of English words. While you may not be able to read the native Korean words until you practice more, having a basic understanding of the language and being able to read it will greatly help.
On top of understanding the written system, learning a few basic sentences will prove invaluable. Sentences like ‘can I have…?’ and ‘do you have…?’ Will make your life far easier. The best part is that learning these simple sentences is not hard! If you are interested in learning Korean for free, this Pinterest board has a large collection of helpful resources.
Making the move to another country is a big process. However, along with the other guides listed below, this guide exists to help anyone considering moving to Seoul. Even if you are already in Seoul, I hope that this guide can prove helpful to some.
If you have any questions or comments about this post, or about Seoul in general, feel free to drop them down below in the comments section. I will be sure to reply as soon as I can.
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