What is wrong with Seoul? I definitely think there is more that is ‘right’ in Seoul than wrong with it, but nowhere is perfect. I love Seoul and I love living here, however, there are some downsides that often come up in day to day life. There are also a few that usually stand out to foreigners as soon as they come here.
As I mentioned above, Seoul is a great place and somewhere that everyone should visit at least once. It isn’t for everyone, but everyone should at least visit! I am writing this post because a lot of people have asked me to talk about a few downsides to Korea, and what I don’t like about Seoul.
As a blogger that I hope people can trust, I think it is important to cover both the positive and negative, and that is why I am writing this post now. This original article comes from a Quora post that I was asked to answer. So this is my answer to the question ‘what is wrong with Seoul?’
- The first thing that is wrong with Seoul is the general stress. Many large cities are always in a rush, however, Seoul is a leader within stressful cities. From a crazy education culture (with many students studying for 14 hours a day) to bad work ethics, Korea is highly stressful overall and Seoul is the pinnacle. If you want a calm life in Seoul, you will either have to avoid a lot of jobs/education opportunities or avoid it altogether. I believe that this is the biggest problem with Seoul personally.
Seoul public transport is amazing!
- The city is massive. I know a lot of cities are just as big or possibly bigger, but if you aren’t used to large cities then this is definitely an issue. Don’t be surprised if you spend two hours on the subway just to meet a friend. For me to get to any of the ‘party’ areas of Seoul it takes about 40–60 minutes. That’s at least an hour and a half travelling just to go out for the night. However, on the flip side, the public transport is amazing and clean. Travel times are long, but it isn’t painful. I don’t really consider this a problem in day to day life. It is definitely a problem with Seoul though if you travel lots.
- Korea, and Seoul, can be racist and discriminatory. Depending on how long you stay, this may not happen to you and I’ve found it quite rare. However, there will be times when taxi drivers reject you (because you are a foreigner), or you are not allowed to enter a restaurant (or bar, or club) because you are a foreigner. I’ve had both happen, and yes, it was because I was a foreigner. I was literally told that. These are very rare occasions though, and in general, the people and experiences here are positive.
- Taxi drivers! Public transport is great in Seoul, we all know that. As are taxis. However, taxi drivers can be frustrating to deal with! Sometimes they will reject you because you aren’t going in a convenient direction, or maybe because you aren’t going far enough! It is worth noting, that it is illegal for them to refuse you though. However, unless your Korean is good or you really want a conflict, this knowledge won’t do you any good. However, just the fact that taxi drivers will happily reject you if your travel plans don’t suit them is very frustrating.
- The number of people. While I haven’t noticed this to be too much of a problem in the usual places I spend time, this is definitely a factor if you visit areas that are more populated. Myeongdong, Hongdae, Gangnam and Jamsil are all very very busy and if you don’t like crowded areas you will hate these places.
- This isn’t so much something that is ‘wrong’ (the native language is Korean after all!), however, it is something that you may possibly have trouble with. As a foreigner looking at moving to Korea, I remember hearing that a lot of people here spoke English. However, this is not my experience at all, and depending on where you are and what you are doing you may have trouble with communication as not many people speak English here. Once again, this isn’t something that is wrong by any means, it’s just something that you may have trouble with. A lot of people know English words, however, not many people can hold a basic conversation. If you want to learn Korean, check out this article on the best platform to learn Korean!
- The climate. It was 40.5 degrees here a few weeks ago! It was unbearably hot when coupled with the incredibly high humidity. Winter, on the other hand, can easily be -15 degrees and very dry. Spring also brings a lot of dust. This means that wearing a mask is essential if you want to maintain your health. Weather in Korea has some pretty crazy extremes. If you plan on visiting Korea, make sure you check the forecast! As weather patterns change this problem with Seoul will also become greater.
- Watch out for bad drivers! The rush that everyone is in, coupled with bad driving in general means that many drives here wouldn’t be allowed to drive in other countries. Scooters on the footpath (be careful), cars driving through red lights, people not stopping at pedestrian crossings, you name it. Always keep an eye out when on the streets (and footpaths) of Seoul. If something happens from their bad driving it’s their fault, but you are the person who will be harmed. Even when crossing at green lights you should be careful here. Admittedly I am from New Zealand which has very strict driving laws, so maybe you won’t feel the same way as me.
- Rubbish (trash). I feel like a lot of people will disagree with this because so many people say they are amazed at how clean it is, but I don’t agree. Once again, maybe I have a different opinion because I am from New Zealand, but Seoul is not very clean. It’s cleaner than many cities, but it doesn’t even compare to some other big cities I have visited. Coffee cups will be left on the street (people will just leave their cups wherever they want), rubbish sits on the side of the street. Not only that, but finding vomit in the streets isn’t uncommon on Friday or Saturday nights. Further, in many places, you can smell sewage. Seoul is beautiful in many ways, but it isn’t always clean. However, as I said earlier, public transport is exceptionally clean. As a reader on Quora mentioned in the comments, it is also true that this rubbish is always cleaned up within the day. Vomit is also not a general occurrence, but rather an uncommon sight. So while the city is very dirty at times, it is promptly cleaned and the rubbish disposal system is very efficient.
- A complete lack of rubbish bins (trash cans)! If you EVER have a look at r/Korea you will find someone complaining about the lack of rubbish bins. This is probably the cause of the above problem, and apparently it is this way because people dumped their household rubbish in them. However, this lack of bins makes people place their rubbish elsewhere on the streets.