Saving money can be hard. Every student knows that!
Especially when you are in a foreign country – it often takes years to learn all of the secrets to saving money that locals know.
Often, you won’t ever learn about the secrets until you are far past your student years!
While I know there are many tips that I have yet to stumble upon, I have been able to discover a few in my almost four years of being a student in South Korea.
This article is great if you are interested in learning more about the costs of living in Seoul as a student.
With that being said, this is a list of tips to save money as a student in Korea!
This article contains affiliate links. To learn more, please read my affiliate disclaimer.
Shop in the Right Places
Shopping in the right places can save you a LOT of money!
Shopping is perhaps the easiest way to lose money quickly. However, you can save a LOT if you know where to shop!
When shopping for food, be careful where you shop. Don’t stick to the big supermarkets like Emart and Homeplus – they are often a big waste of money.
For the cheapest food, you want to strategically pick where you purchase different goods. Let me explain!
Fruit, Vegetables, and Meat
For fruit and vegetables, you want to make sure to stick to local markets. These markets can be found all over Seoul and they often have the best deals for local produce.
Not only will you be saving money, but you will also often be getting a better quality of food.
If you don’t have a market near you, go to a local supermarket (local, not a chain supermarket). You will find that these smaller supermarkets almost always have cheaper produce than chain stores.
Meat, on the other hand, often seems to be the cheapest at local supermarkets. While many markets also have good prices on meat, I tend to stick to the supermarkets as they seem more hygienic. However, that’s just me!
Online services are far cheaper for packaged goods that you want in bulk. For example, a 10kg bag of rice can be found on Coupang for under 20,000KRW. In my local supermarket, you would be lucky to get 5kg for that price.
This also goes for items such as coffee. It is far cheaper to buy 1kg at a time than to purchase smaller amounts. To save even more, purchase it online!
Of course, the same goes for other goods that you want in bulk and that are packaged. Some other items that you want to purchase online include ramyun (in bulk) and Kimchi (if you purchase brand kimchi).
If you are looking for houseware on the cheap then Daiso is the place to go. Nearly everyone in Korea already knows about this, but if you haven’t, go and find your closest Daiso right now!
Korea is an amazing place to shop for clothes. Not only will you find the most expensive brands in the world, but you will also find the best discounts around.
At the end of the year, I purchased two pairs of Slazenger shoes – for 10,000KRW each. These sites will often have massive discounts like this going on!
Another tip is to shop in underground markets. These are located all over the city and are often attached to subway stations. They often offer very cheap clothing and they are a great way to save money.
Finally, if you are looking for women’s clothes, you can shop around women’s universities. These areas exist around most women’s universities. Two popular areas are Sungshin Women’s University and Ewha Women’s University. These university shopping areas have massive selections of clothes that are also very cheap.
If you need anything else, try to purchase from markets or the internet if possible. Electronics, for example, are cheaper at Yongsan Electronics Market and Gmarket than at a shopping mall.
Save on Heating
Housing in Korea is usually very small, this makes heating very cheap!
Heating is one of the biggest costs of living in Korea. Especially in the winter! Luckily, there is a way to save on heating.
Most Korean apartments and houses use ondols. An Ondol is underfloor heating and is the reason that you will often find the floor in Korean houses very warm. However, even in a one-room, this can cost up to 100,000KRW per month. It’s not cheap!
A better way to heat your apartment is to use a cheap space-heater, especially if you are living in a one-room or other smaller housing. A space-heater can be found as low as 30,000KRW online.
These heaters are a very small investment and can be used for under 50,000KRW per month. Since one-rooms are very small, these heaters will have no problem quickly heating every corner. For small housing, they are very budget-friendly.
Save on Cooling
In summer, air conditioning is one of the biggest costs. While I know that AC feels incredible in the summer, it’s far from cheap. Rather, consider purchasing and using some cheap fans.
Often you can even run more than one fan and it will still be cheaper than using AC. While fans don’t offer the same relief from the heat that AC does, they are far cheaper and can be run for longer. Electricity costs in Korea are exponential. They are NOT linear.
This means that using double electricity will cost MUCH more than double the price. For this reason, AC can quickly push up the price of your electricity bill. If you do choose to use AC, make sure that you use it sparingly at first so that you understand how the cost of electricity works. I know people who have used it for 6+ hours a day and received bills of over 100,000.
Are you a student coming to Seoul? If so, make sure to learn the essentials first!
Use U24 Phone Plans
Using under 24 (years old) phone plans is a great way to save money as a student!
Most phone companies offer cheaper phone plans for people under the age of 24. I personally use KT and they offer plans called Y24. These plans are for anyone under the age of 24 and they offer substantial discounts as well as having other special bonuses.
At the time of writing, a 6gb plan on KT (6gb LTE data) costs 55,000KRW. However, I have a Y24 plan with 6gb LTE and then unlimited 3g data. This plan costs only 33,000KRW per month. That’s almost half the price! Not only is it almost half the price, but I also get unlimited (slower) data and occasional bonuses like movie tickets.
Even if you are on a contract, you can usually change the plan for free. As long as you stay with the same carrier, the contract is usually flexible.
Eat Like a Local
Korean food is some of the best around!
Did you know that eating out in Korea can be cheaper than eating at home? Since food is usually one of the most expensive monthly costs, this is a great way to save money in Korea.
I recently wrote about this in my travel Seoul on a budget article, however, it’s the same for anyone living here. The catch is that you should eat Korean food. Even the cheapest pizzas will cost you around 6,000KRW while fast food is often more expensive.
However, Korean food can be found for under 4000KRW. The most popular cheap dishes are kimbap and bibimbap. You can also find many other cheap foods if you visit the local family-run restaurants. Usually, the best way to find an affordable restaurant is to find a local business that looks like it is smaller, private, and not part of a chain. These restaurants exist all over the city and are often cheaper than other alternatives.
Alternatively, to save even more, buy bulk foods online.
Save Money on Housing
Goshiwons are one of the best ways to save money on student housing in Korea!
Saving money on housing is one of the most important aspects to saving as a student in Korea. If you have already found accommodation or are staying in a dormitory, then this part probably isn’t for you.
However, if you are someone who is looking for student housing in Korea then there are a few things to consider!
If you are in Korea for a shorter period of time (less than one year), a goshiwon might be the best option. Not only are the most convenient, but they are also the cheapest form of housing in Korea.
The downside is the size – they are small. However, considering that they can be found for under $400 per month (including utilities and some food!) they are a fantastic deal. If you are looking to learn more about goshiwons then check out my guide to goshiwons in Seoul.
Alternatively, studio apartments can also be found for less than $400 per month, exclusive of utilities. Including utilities, you are more likely to be looking at around $450-$500 per month. Short-term rentals can even be found in Seoul if you are an exchange student!
There are a few important aspects to consider when finding a place. Most importantly, look for somewhere close to your school. While it might seem nice saving a few hundred dollars by living 20 minutes further away, you also have to factor the public transport that you will be using.
A one-way trip on public transportation in Seoul costs around $1. If you have to take a bus two times every day that’s a further $60 per month (assuming you take the bus every day).
It’s also worth considering where the local necessities are. Will you be able to walk to the supermarket? Are there some cheap local restaurants?
Another factor to consider is how new the building/appliances are. New AC systems are substantially more efficient, as are newer fridges. If your apartment comes furnished, this is something to keep in mind – it might be worth paying a bit more for newer appliances.
Is water included in the rent, or is it an additional cost? If it’s an additional cost then you are probably looking at around $20 per month.
There are many aspects that I haven’t mentioned here, and I am sure that lots of the above points seem obvious. However, when every dollar counts, these are all important things to look out for.
Use Cheaper Transport
Seoul has great public transport, but there are cheaper methods!
This ties into my above point with making sure that you are within walking distance of the necessities. However, I have a bit more to add!
The obvious rules for transport apply here – don’t use taxis, try to walk when you can, and try to transfer from trains to buses (and vice-versa) within 30 minutes.
But did you know that Seoul also has a fantastic bike-sharing service that has a fully English app? The app is quite terrible, but being available in English is a great step.
If you are going somewhere that’s a bit too far to walk, but not quite far enough to take public transport, why not hire a bike? They are only 1000KRW per hour! That’s less than $1.
On top of that, you can also get some exercise and enjoy the sights of Seoul. Just make sure to check the air pollution first and wear a fine dust mask if needed.
Bike stands are all over the city and you can simply return the bike when you are done. Luckily these stands are plentiful and located every few blocks.
Make the Most of Free Activities
Make the most of free (and very cheap) activities in Seoul!
I always hear this tip and feel doubtful. Of course free activities are the best for saving money! But realistically there aren’t that many. Right?
Not quite! Seoul actually (truly) has a lot of free activities. There are the more obvious activities such as checking out the amazing parks of Seoul. However, there are also a few other choices!
As I mentioned earlier, many phone companies have loyalty plans. Every month I get free tickets to the cinema with KT!
Not everyone will get these rewards (it depends on your phone/internet plan), however, a lot of people do get them and don’t realise!
The only issue is that the rewards apps are usually in Korean. If you have a Korean friend I would recommend asking for some help – otherwise, you could always try asking your local service provider’s store.
If you are looking to explore Seoul a bit then the Seoul government runs a lot of free cultural activities for foreigners. On top of this, a few different student groups offer free tours around the city!
During many public holidays (especially Chuseok), some of the palaces will have free entry. This is especially great because often it can be hard to find activities to do during Chuseok.
Seoul has a TON of fantastic outdoor areas that can be enjoyed for free. From the fantastic parks in Seoul, to the Han river and the many mountains. There is a lot to do outdoors!
Naksan, Namsan, Inwangsan, Bukhansan, and more can all be enjoyed for free. As can the Han River and the parks such as Haneul Park and Olympic Park. There are a lot of options that you have!
If you’d prefer a more urban activity then why not check out Cheonggyecheon or some of the markets in Seoul?
This list barely scratches the surface of free activities in Seoul… Maybe that’s a future post idea? Anyway, I hope that this list can inspire you to find more free activities in Seoul. There really are a lot!
Get Internet/Phone Plan Bundles
Korea has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world!
Internet in Korea is generally quite cheap – it begins at about $20 per month for the lowest tier. The lowest tier which is generally 100mpbs. Gigabit internet can be found for about $30 on a contract!
The key here is to look for bargains when it comes to your choosing an internet provider and phone carrier. With most carriers, it’s possible to find a discount if you get you get your internet and phone plan with the same carrier.
But make sure that you look into this before choosing either plan. Once you get locked into a contract it can be hard to change, and sometimes you won’t be able to receive the benefits. For this reason, I would recommend trying to purchase your phone plan and internet plan at the same time.
This is perhaps the easiest way on this list to save $10 or more every month!
Some of these tasks can be difficult if you don’t speak Korean – I understand that very well! If you are in this situation, it can be hard to even do something as simple as organising a phone plan or ordering groceries using a Korean app.
If this is your situation, check out Gowonderfully. They are a personal assistant service which can help with any tasks that you might need assistance with!