Seoul is divided up into districts known as gu, which are further separated into neighbourhoods known as dong. If an area has the suffix '-gu' it is a larger area made up of various dong. If the name has '-dong' at the end of it, then it refers to a specific neighbourhood within a gu.
Split in two by the Han River which runs through the city, there are various areas and suburbs in Seoul that are suitable for expats. Some of the newer, more expensive suburbs can be found south of the Han River. This includes Gangnam and Apgujeong, which are popular with young professionals.
Expats have, however, traditionally settled north of the river in central areas such as Itaewon, Yongsan and Hannam-dong. Many diplomats and their families have also made their homes north of the river. Expats will most likely choose their suburb based on its proximity to their workplace or their children’s schools.
Most areas in Seoul are connected to the city centre by its efficient train and bus services, so expats who need to commute will be able to do so easily.
Areas south of the Han River
Areas in Seoul south of the Han River are becoming increasingly popular with expats, especially young professionals.
Gangnam-gu is a popular district that has a large foreign community and is also home to many Koreans. The area has many apartment complexes and numerous studio apartments that are very popular with the young and affluent. It has a central built-up area with many offices, bars and restaurants, and boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
Despite the relatively high prices, Gangnam is a popular area for English teachers to live since it offers easy access to transport as well as some of the best schools in Seoul.
Daechi-dong is one of the more residential areas in Gangnam-gu and is popular with expats who prefer a quieter lifestyle that isn't too far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
This affluent area contains many upmarket shops and restaurants. Apgujeong Rodeo Street is one of the best shopping streets in Seoul. This area has good access to public transport and is another ideal choice for young professional expats.
Areas north of the Han River
Although expats have traditionally settled in areas north of the Han River in Seoul, the expat community has increasingly found itself settling in all areas of Seoul. Despite this, some areas north of the Han River still remain more popular with expats than others and Itaewon, Hannam-dong and Ichon-dong remain areas with some of the largest expat communities.
Itaewon-dong is an area close to the US Army Base in Seoul which has resulted in the neighbourhood being filled with Western restaurants, shops and English-language services and amenities. This neighbourhood has one of the largest expat communities in South Korea.
Itaewon-dong is a hilly region with a range of affordable accommodation options available. Expats can choose between apartments, villas and large houses with gardens. The area also has good access to public transport and a variety of excellent schools.
This is another popular expat area, mainly because it's very close to Itaewon-dong and the US Army Base. Many English language teachers settle in Haebangchon-dong and the community is quite multicultural.
Ichon-dong in Yongsan-gu has a large community of Japanese expats and is known as “Little Tokyo”. There are many authentic Japanese restaurants in this area. There is also an abundance of apartment complexes, making it a convenient place to look for accommodation.
Hannam-dong is a popular residential area for diplomats to settle. It's close to the expat hub of Itaewon and is made up of the UN Village and a residential neighbourhood. Hannam-dong is quite exclusive and the houses are large and luxurious. The accommodation in the area consists mainly of free-standing homes, but some apartments are available. Hannam-dong is only 45 minutes away from the Seoul International School and there are two English pre-schools in the neighbourhood. There is also a school bus service to most of the international schools in the area.
The UN Village is an exclusive compound within Hannam-dong that is patrolled by security guards. The accommodation is luxurious and is close to the German International School.
Seodaemun-gu is a residential area that is close to many of Seoul’s universities, making it a popular district for students and professors. There are also a large number of international schools in the area, which is a big draw for many expats. Seodaemun-gu is surrounded by mountains, making it a great place for expats who enjoy the outdoors.
Bangbae-dong is an area popular with French expats because of its close proximity to the French School. There are many accommodation options available in this neighbourhood and it's close to shopping centres and the subway.
Seongbuk-dong is an affluent suburb where expats can find large, spacious homes. The suburb is relatively close to the city centre, making it convenient for expats who need to commute into the city. Although the suburb is great for expats with families, it isn't as well connected to the public transport network as other areas in Seoul are. As such, expats who live in Seongbuk-dong might need to invest in a car.
Although the area can feel isolated, there are many large and beautiful houses and convenient shopping areas in Yonhi-dong, as well as open areas for children to play in. Accommodation in Yonhi-dong is less expensive than in areas such as Hannam-dong and Itaewon-dong, and the Seoul Foreign School and the British School are nearby.