There's no denying that South Korea is an expensive country. Indeed, the capital Seoul frequently ranks as one of the world's most expensive cities to live in. In 2021, Seoul has ranked 11th out of 209 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey.

That said, South Korea boasts competitive salaries. Employment contracts also frequently cover costs such as accommodation and schooling, which saves expats a lot of money. Thanks to this, the cost of living for many expats in South Korea can be reasonably affordable.

There are many ways to keep expenses down. The cost of public transport is low and eating Korean food is a lot cheaper than buying Western food, for instance. Shopping at markets and smaller shops is more cost effective than shopping in tourist hotspots or at major department stores. 

It is also worth bearing in mind that prices between cities and smaller towns will differ. The cost of living in Seoul is higher than in other cities in South Korea.


Cost of accommodation in South Korea

Accommodation in large cities such as Seoul or Busan will be more expensive. Generally, accommodation in South Korea is organised and paid for by an expat's employer. If a foreigner chooses to organise their own accommodation, they will be expected to pay ‘key money’, which is in effect a large deposit that the landlord earns interest from. This will make accommodation more expensive.

Basic utilities including gas, electricity and uncapped WiFi tend to be affordable.


Healthcare in South Korea

Healthcare in South Korea is much more affordable than in Western countries such as the US. The National Health Insurance programme is compulsory for all expats. Many companies will pay half the monthly fee, leaving the other half for expats to pay themselves.

Owing to the affordability of healthcare, South Korea has become a medical tourist destination. This is especially true for cosmetic procedures and LASIK eye surgery, which many expats take advantage of.


Cost of electrical and household goods in South Korea

Electrical goods such as televisions, DVD players, digital cameras, cell phones (particularly Samsung), computers and high tech gadgets are all relatively affordable in South Korea.

On the other hand, foreign manufactured goods from toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste containing fluoride) and English-language books through to Nikon cameras and Apple products are more expensive than items made locally.


Cost of food in South Korea

Foodstuffs that are mostly taken for granted in Western countries, such as fresh produce and cheese, will generally cost more in South Korea than an expat would have paid back home. Most Korean stores also sell products in bulk, making groceries for a single person quite expensive.

Overall, dining out is inexpensive when sticking to Korean food. This often makes eating out a better option over buying groceries, especially for single expats. Naturally, dining out at Western restaurants comes with a higher price tag.


Cost of living in South Korea chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Seoul for June 2021.

Accommodation (rent per month)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

KRW 600,000 - 1,800,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

KRW 1,2000,000 - 4,400,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

KRW 400,000 - 1,200,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

KRW 1,200,000 - 2,300,000

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

KRW 3,714

Milk (1 litre)

KRW 2,550

Rice (1kg)

KRW 4,703

Loaf of white bread

KRW 3,029

Chicken breasts (1kg)

KRW 10,592

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

KRW 4,500

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

KRW 6,500

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

KRW 1,740

Cappuccino

KRW 4,777

Local beer (500ml)

KRW 3,887

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

KRW 50,000

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

KRW 157

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable  – average per month)

KRW 26,960

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

KRW 215,590

Transport

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

KRW 800

Bus/train fare in the city centre

KRW 1,250

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

KRW 1,521