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Moving to Seoul

As the political, cultural, financial and educational hub of the country, it is hardly surprising that Seoul is the most popular choice for expats moving to South Korea.

A buzzing metropolis situated on the Han River, Seoul combines fast-paced, high-technology living against a rich historical background of palaces, fortress walls, royal shrines and single storey wooden hanok houses. At the same time, the city is the birthplace of K-Pop and the epicentre of the Korean Wave, exporting the country's culture around the globe.

The lifestyle in Seoul is equally diverse as the city provides a range of activities to appeal to shoppers, nightlife hoppers, sports enthusiasts and art lovers. 

With a wide range of accommodation options, international schools and quality healthcare, expats will have all the essential amenities to make their stay as safe and comfortable as possible.

The options for public transport in Seoul are vast and efficient, and taxis are numerous and cheap. There are huge shopping malls throughout the city as well as a large selection of both local and international restaurants.

Seoul is South Korea's major business hub and produces about a fifth of the country's gross domestic product. Many expats working in the city find jobs working in information technology, electronics and finance, especially as Seoul is home to major corporations such as Kia, Hyundai, Samsung and LG Electronics. It is also the centre of the English teaching industry, another popular avenue of expat employment.  

Although Seoul's big city reputation can be intimidating to some, it has a cultural charm that can endear even those people who are uncomfortable in cosmopolitan urban environments. Especially as the contrast between parks, rivers, mountains, teahouses and tall, modern skyscrapers uniquely form to create a city rich in experiences.   

Working in Seoul

As the capital of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Seoul is a fast-paced, cutting-edge city with a highly desirable working environment. Working in Seoul can be difficult as competition for jobs in the city centre is fierce, but becomes a little less so in some of its outlying suburbs.

Despite occupying less than one percent of the country’s surface area, Seoul generates a huge proportion of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). 


Job market in Seoul

Many of the core industries in Seoul are concentrated in the manufacturing sector in fields such as information and communications technology, electronics, food and beverage production, and publishing. The city is home to the headquarters of major corporations such as Samsung, LG, the Hyundai Group and Jinro, which produces its own brand of soju, a local drink that has consistently ranked as the highest selling spirit alcohol in the world. 

The majority of jobs available to English-speaking foreigners tend to involve either teaching English or working for the US Army. Expats who are interested in non-teaching jobs in South Korea generally need to have postgraduate education and experience in a highly specialised field to be seriously considered. Otherwise, they will directly be competing with the local workforce. 

Outside of teaching, most expats with jobs in Seoul work in the service sector and the electronics, automobile, and chemical industries. More often than not, the difference between being employed and unemployed depends on who a candidate knows at least as much as their qualifications and experience. 

For those that do find employment, many of the biggest companies in Seoul insist that their managerial staff be able to speak English. As a result, doing business in Seoul is fairly straightforward as the language is less of an impediment. However, there are certain rules of etiquette and social customs that should be researched before attempting to climb the Korean corporate ladder.


Finding a job in Seoul

Most expats find a job before relocating, as this is often a necessary condition of receiving a work visa and because Korean employers often provide key support, such as helping expats find accommodation.  

Many expats find employment through the many job portals available online. The high number of expats wanting to teach in Korea has resulted in a large number of recruitment companies which organise placements on behalf of private schools, of which there are many in Seoul.


Teaching English in Seoul

A steady stream of English-speaking foreigners make their way to the country each year in search of financial, professional and cultural gain. By far the most popular source of income for these expats is teaching English in South Korea. 

English teaching jobs have traditionally been fairly easy to obtain for expats from countries such as the UK, the USA, Canada and South Africa, as long as they meet a few basic requirements. At the same time, competition, especially for placements in schools based in Seoul, has increased and requirements have become slightly more stringent.

Most expats secure a job in Seoul from overseas before they arrive, and often the employer applies for a work permit on their behalf.

Accommodation in Seoul

As South Korea's economic powerhouse, Seoul has a wide range of accommodation options available. Very few expats buy housing, however, renting property in South Korea can nonetheless be considerably more complicated than doing so in Western countries. As a result, employers often organise accommodation close to their offices on behalf of their foreign employees.  

Most accommodation in Seoul often comes in the form of towering apartment blocks. These tend to consist of four to eight apartment blocks which are clustered together and most will have small communal playgrounds or recreational areas along with parking facilities.

The city is divided into 25 districts known as gu which, in turn, contain a number of neighbourhoods called dong. Each gu has its own legislative council and is afforded a city-like status, which means that many administrative functions are carried out at a district level.

Renting an apartment in Seoul requires a lot of time, energy and usually a helpful Korean-speaking colleague or friend to handle negotiations and lease agreements. Korean landlords often use a "key-money" system which is similar to a deposit, except that key-money usually consists of a huge amount and the more key-money that a tenant pays to their landlord, the lower their monthly rent will be.

Key-money is paid into a separate account and the original amount is returned to the tenant at the end of their lease, while the landlord gets to keep the interest generated over that period. Many Koreans who can afford it choose to pay a large amount in key-money and, in doing so, are not charged monthly rent.

As a result of such an unfamiliar system, many expats insist that their employer either organises their accommodation on their behalf or agrees to pay a set amount of key money for the apartment of their choice. Some landlords do, however, prefer a regular deposit with an accompanying monthly rent, especially when interest rates are low. Most apartments will come furnished with a few basic necessities including a stove, refrigerator and washing machine.


Types of accommodation in Seoul

While the apartment is by far the most common type of housing in Seoul, there are other options for expats to consider.

Serviced apartments

These are a good option for expats staying in Seoul for a short amount of time. They are usually furnished and offer services like cleaning and a foyer concierge, and amenities such as a swimming pool and gym. These are usually quite expensive compared with non-serviced apartments. 

Officetels

An officetel is a unit within a high-rise building that houses both office and residential space. These apartments are usually furnished and are quite popular with young expats and students. 

Private houses

A private house is ideal for an expat family, but unfortunately these are few and far between in a city like Seoul. Expats living on the outskirts of the city might, however, be lucky enough to find one. 

Hanoks

A hanok is a traditional Korean house with a distinctively sloped roof that is either tiled or thatched. These can be found in most towns and cities, and many have been renovated to include modern appliances and heating, although this is often more convenient than it is necessary. 


Finding accommodation in Seoul

It might be difficult for expats whose employers have not arranged housing for them to find a place to live in Seoul. There are, however, some useful tools available to assist expats in their search for the perfect accommodation. Local English-language newspapers such as the Korea Times and The Korean Herald usually contain property listings. Property listings can also be found through online property portals and expat social media groups.

Aside from searching online and in the media, it is a good idea to check the advertising boards in apartment buildings for listed vacancies. Visiting estate agents directly is also a good place to start as they will be privy to a wide selection of availabilities. Although many estate agents may not speak English, there are some estate agencies which specialise in the expat market, which minimises language barrier issues. 

Areas and suburbs in Seoul

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

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. 

Apgujeong-dong

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

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.

Haebangchon-dong

This is another popular expat area, mainly because it is 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 

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

Hannam-dong is a popular residential area for diplomats to settle. It is 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

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

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 is close to shopping centres and the subway. 

Seongbuk-dong 

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. 

Yonhi-dong 

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.

Healthcare in Seoul

The standard of healthcare in Seoul is equal to that of most Western cities. Many of the city's hospitals and international clinics have English-speaking staff, and the majority of them offer high-quality medical services.


Pharmacies in Seoul

Although they can't be found attached to hospitals, pharmacies in Seoul are plentiful and easy to find throughout the city. 24-hour pharmacies are rare but there are many pharmacies that close at late hours.

Unlike many Western countries that use the medical cross symbol, Korean pharmacies, called yak-guk, are usually indicated by the yak symbol prominently displayed at the front of the store.


Hospitals in Seoul

Apart from Western-style hospitals, there is also a wide range of Eastern medicine hospitals that cater to those who wish to relieve their symptoms through more holistic practices such as acupuncture. Many of the universities in Seoul have hospitals attached and there are a number of private clinics as well.

Some of the most reputable hospitals in Seoul include:

 

Asan Medical Center

http://eng.amc.seoul.kr/gb/lang/main.do

Address: 88 Olympic-ro 43-gil, Songpa-gu

 

Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine

www.jaseng.net

Address: 142-3 Nonhyun-Dong, Gangnam-gu

 

Gangnam St Mary’s Hospital

https://www.cmcseoul.or.kr/en.common.main.main.sp

Address: 222 Banpo-Daero, Seocho-gu

 

Samsung Medical Center

www.samsunghospital.com/gb/language/english/main/index.do

Address: 81 Irwon-Ro, Gangnam-gu

 

Seoul National University Hospital

http://www.snuh.org/global/en/main.do

Address: 101, Daehak-Ro Jongno-gu

 

Severance Hospital

www.yuhs.or.kr/en/hospitals/severance/Sev_Intro/Gnr_info/

Address: 50-1, Yonsei-Ro, Seodaemun-gu 

Education and Schools in Seoul

Schools in Seoul are excellent and famed for their academic rigour. Although the fees are extremely high, most expats choose to send their children to international schools as the language of instruction in public schools is Korean, and because many expats find Korean teaching approaches to be too strict. 

Most schools in Seoul will be single-sex schools, but international schools are likely to be co-educational. 


Public schools in Seoul

Expats moving to Seoul rarely send their children to public schools. The Korean education system is praised for the results its students consistently produce, but very few Westerners would subject their children the high pressured and singularly focused approach adopted by Korean public schools. Another reason for this is that Korean is the language of instruction in public schools.

Attending primary and middle school is compulsory, but high school attendance is not. In-line with this, public schooling up to the end of middle school is provided for free but parents must pay for high school attendance. 

Children usually start kindergarten at the age of three or four and then start primary school at the age of six. Students in South Korea finish school after grade 12 at the age of 18. Primary education lasts for six years followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school. 


International schools in Seoul

Expats moving to Seoul with children might find that international school fees are their greatest expense. As a result of Seoul's medium-sized diplomatic community and significant American army population, there is a wide range of international schools to choose from, many of which follow either the International Baccalaureate or the American curriculum. However, French and British international schools also exist. 

Most expats send their children to international schools to retain some continuity in their lives. However, expat parents should be aware that the South Korean culture of putting great importance on academic achievement does spill over into Seoul’s international schools to some extent. Because of this, expat children might feel more pressure to excel academically than they did in their home countries. There is also a culture of maintaining the utmost respect towards teachers which might be an adjustment for children from more relaxed teaching environments.

Expats sending their children to international schools in Seoul should explore their options as soon as possible, as schools may have long waiting lists. Expat children might also have to be interviewed before they are accepted into an international school.

International schools in Seoul

Seoul is home to a sizeable diplomatic community as well as a significant population of US Army personnel and their accompanying families. To meet the demands of educating their children, there is a wide range of international and American schools to choose from. 

Some of the most prominent international schools in Seoul include:

Asia Pacific International School 

www.apis.seoul.kr 

Gender: Co-educational 

Curriculum: American 

Ages: 3 to 18 

 

Dwight School Seoul

www.dwight.or.kr

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate (IB)

Ages: 3 to 18

 

ECLC International Kindergarten

www.eclcseoul.com

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

Ages: 2 to 6

 

Kids of the Nations International School (KONIS)

www.koniskorea.com

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: Montessori

Ages: 2 to 6

 

The Korean Kent Foreign School

www.kkfs.org

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: American

Ages: 5 to 18

 

The Korea International School

www.kis.or.kr

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: American

Ages: 3 to 18

 

The Namsan International Kindergarten

www.nikseoul.org

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: IB

Ages: 2 to 6

 

Yongsan International School of Seoul

www.yisseoul.org

Gender: Co-educational

Curriculum: American

Ages: 5 to 18

Lifestyle in Seoul

A vibrant, bustling atmosphere pervades every aspect of the lifestyle in Seoul. Whether an experienced employee in one of the city's embassies or a young teacher in search of new experiences, the Korean capital accommodates almost anybody regardless of their taste in music, shopping or sport.


Shopping in Seoul

Whether on the lookout for budget buys or designer labels, there are many shopping districts in Seoul. Areas such as Myeong-dong and Dongdaemun house large assortments of international brands and reasonably priced boutiques. The more upmarket Gangnam district and Apgujeong have huge department stores and a number of restaurants. 

Another area with notable shopping options is Itaewon. Popular with US servicemen stationed in South Korea, the area boasts its fair share of shops, restaurants, tailors and designer products largely aimed at a Western market. 

Technophiles will be in their element in Seoul, as it has some of the largest electronics markets in Asia.

For general grocery shopping, there are a few stores such as Costco which provide Western goods. The area of Itaewon is home to other stores that provide Western favourites, as well as some English bookstores.


Nightlife and entertainment in Seoul

Itaewon is a popular area for restaurants, bars and nightclubs and the areas around Hongik University in Sinchon, as well as the Gangnam district, are other fun locales to spend an evening in.

Korean restaurants are found on every city block but anyone looking for a traditional Korean dining experience should head to Insadong. Even expats with unadventurous palates, but who are willing to experiment, will find something to enjoy.  

Street performers and independent theatres can be found in the areas around Hyehwa and the Hansung University. There are also numerous annual festivals happening in Seoul, as well as the international film festivals held in both Busan and Jeonju.


Outdoor activities and sports in Seoul

Despite its size, expats will still manage to find a fair amount of outdoor activities in Seoul. Many residents choose to get their fresh air along the Han River, which cuts through the middle of the city. At various spots along the river, expats will be able to find picnic spots, basketball courts and bicycle hire stations, which also offer tandem bikes for couples.

The Seoul Grand Park and city zoo are easily accessed by subway and make for a great day out for the family, offering a combination of exotic animals, plants, an amusement park and cable car. 

The Seoul Forest is also a major attraction, occupying a massive tract of land in the middle of the city. The area has developed from being royal hunting grounds, a military inspection facility and golf course, to housing several naturally themed parks in one area. Visitors have the opportunity to see local fauna and flora, go bird watching or enjoy themselves at the Hangang River Waterside Park.

The mountains that surround Seoul are some of the most beautiful in the country, and hiking is a popular Korean past-time. The Gwanaksan, Achasan and Bukhansan Mountains are all a convenient subway ride away and offer spectacular views of the city.

Active expats can also enjoy a variety of social clubs and facilities all over the city. Prominent among these is the Korea Social Sports, which facilitates unisex football (soccer) and kickball leagues at different experience levels.

See and Do in Seoul

The people of Seoul have seamlessly married their ancient traditions with their desire to live in one of the most technologically advanced and modern cities in the world. Consequently, there are almost limitless opportunities for any kind of person looking for things to see and do in Seoul.


Historical attractions in Seoul

For those who want to get a feel for how Seoul was in the past, the city has preserved some of its historic buildings and neighbourhoods.

The ancient city wall and gates

If expats want to explore Seoul's history, a hike along the old city wall is an excellent way to get a history lesson and some truly amazing views of the city. The wall snakes along the mountains around Seoul and impresses upon expats how strategically and well-defended the city was in ancient times. 

The four great city gates of Seoul (Sukjeongmun, Heunginjimun, Sungnyemun, and Sungnyemun) have all been lovingly preserved. Originally, Seoul was a completely closed off city and could only be entered or exited either through one of these four main gates or through four of the smaller, lesser gates. This walk offers views of the city that can’t be found anywhere else.

The Great Palaces of Seoul

Korean palaces contain some of the most unique architecture in the world. Ancient Korean design ensured that palaces complimented the surrounding nature. However, due to Korea being controlled at different times by both China and Japan, the marriage of Chinese, Japanese and Korean palace styles has created something wholly unique. 

There are five different palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung) in Seoul and each of them was constructed during different eras in Korean history, with each exhibiting varied styles of Korean architecture.

Hanok villages

Hanok villages, traditionally-styled residential areas, have been either constructed or preserved in order to give both Koreans and visitors a sense of what life was like in old Seoul. The two largest of these are Bukchon and Namsangol. Bukchon gives a feel of the ancient city with winding streets, small businesses and still functioning homes. Namsangol is more of a museum to showcase the rural aspects of Korean life and is surrounded by a serene park.


Outdoor activities and sports in Seoul

Hiking

Every weekend the subways of Seoul are filled with middle-aged Koreans flocking to one of the many mountains surrounding the city, with the hiking difficult of these mountains ranging from easy to quite difficult. A hike up Namsan is very doable and offers spectacular views of the city. Bukhansan has the widest variety of hiking trails and views. For expats who prefer rock climbing, a short subway ride out to the surrounding Gyeonggi Province offers a wealth of locations which provide for all skill levels.

The Han River

The banks of the Han River, which intersect Seoul, are lined with recreational areas such as parks, swimming pools and hiking trails. Anything from kayaks and jet skis, to bicycles, tandem bicycles or scooters can be hired along the river.

Recreational sports

Expats living an active life can enjoy the hundreds of driving ranges, virtual golf rooms, billiard halls, tennis courts, swimming pools and gymnasiums to be found in Seoul. Most gyms also have virtual golfing equipment but there are also entire complexes devoted to it. Hotels always have indoor pools which residents can pay to use on a daily or subscription basis.

City parks

There is no better place to people watch than in Seoul’s parks. The largest, Hangang Park, runs the entire length of the Han River on both sides. Though sorely in need of more trees, it is excellent for a picnic, a game of Frisbee or just relaxing and watching people slide by. Yeouido Park offers more shade and a more interesting landscape. Seoul Forest and Seoul Dream Forest are other well-maintained parks, but they are less centrally located. 


Arts and culture in Seoul

Hongdae area

Hongik University (Hongdae for short) is a top Korean art university and the dynamic area surrounding it has a wealth of galleries, outdoor art installations, unique bars and cafés. At night the streets are full of performance artists and musicians.

Museums

There are many museums to explore in Seoul, the largest of which is the National Museum of Korea. It houses a combination of traditional art and history, and regularly hosts international exhibits. Traditional Korean art is wholly unique to the peninsula, and the museum is curated to provide an art history lesson for those unfamiliar with Korean art. The Seoul Museum of Art also hosts famous travelling exhibits throughout the year. The Leeum Art Museum is the most architecturally striking museum and boasts a diverse collection of ancient Korean pottery as well as modern installations and sculptures. 

Galleries

Gallery areas are scattered throughout the city, but the largest concentration can be found in Samcheong-dong. This unique neighbourhood is a popular dating spot for young and trendy Koreans. The modern galleries of this area provide a wonderful overview of modern Korean art. Expats could easily spend an entire day walking through this neighbourhood, popping in and out of galleries and cafés.

What's On in Seoul

Seoul is a vibrant cultural hub which hosts a plethora of cultural festivals as well as world-class performing arts and creative events throughout the year. However, expats shouldn't restrict themselves to the Korean capital, as South Korea's compact size and excellent public transport network mean that visitors can explore the rest of the country with relative ease.

Other large cities such as Busan and Incheon are only a few hours away by express train, and also host a number of festivals and events throughout the year.


Annual events in Seoul

New Year Festival (January/February)

A three-day festival celebrating the lunar new year, also called Seollal, is hosted by the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul every year. In a bid to give the festival more international appeal, the museum hosts live performances, instrument demonstrations, traditional outfits and food from around the world for visitors to sample.

Cherry Blossom Festivals (April)

Cherry and other fruit trees bloom in March and April, and many towns across the country celebrate the coming of spring by holding flower festivals. The Seokcheon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival, Yeouido Spring Flower Festival and Incheon Baeksa Sansuyu Blossom Festival are all held in mid-April and are within easy reach of Seoul. Together, they attract millions of tourists each year.

Lantern Festival (May)

According to Buddhist beliefs, the lighting of the lotus-shaped lantern symbolises a desire or commitment to doing good deeds. Held every May on the weekend closest to Buddha's birthday, this festival takes place in downtown Seoul and sees many live performances, food stalls, arts and crafts tents, and a parade of thousands of elaborate lanterns – some small, some enormous, some in motion and some even breathing fire.

Seoul NewMedia Festival (July/August)

The Seoul NewMedia Festival (NeMaf) is Korea's leading film festival. Since its inception in 2000, it has continued to celebrate independent and experimental films while pushing the boundaries between film and art.

Seoul Fringe Festival (August)

The biggest independent performing arts festival in Korea, the Seoul Fringe Festival sees two weeks of voluntary performances by participating artists. The aim is to offer an alternative to mainstream popular Korean culture by challenging traditional boundaries and creating a platform for discussion and exploration.

Seoul Street Arts Festival (October)

The Seoul Street Arts Festival is the biggest street festival in the city, attracting around a million visitors every year. The festival is a favourite with locals and tourists alike and sees a variety of live performances, concerts and other activities take place over the course of four to five days.

Seoul International Fireworks Festival (October)

This multimedia fireworks display is held every year in October on the banks of the Han River. Fireworks are set to spectacular displays of music and lasers, with displays orchestrated by Korean fireworks experts and international professionals, all set against the backdrop of the Seoul skyline. Attendance is free and the festivities are within walking distance of the subway.

Seoul Drum Festival (November)

The Seoul Drum Festival features displays of drums, performances, a parade, workshops and markets. The highlight is an international percussion competition, where professionals and amateurs gather to showcase drum skills with a variety of instruments, styles and genres.

Frequently Asked Questions about Seoul

Expats moving to Seoul usually have many questions, often about what to expect from expat life. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about living in Seoul.

How bad is the pollution in Seoul?

Seoul, like most Asian cities, has its fair share of pollution. Many South Koreans wear face masks to protect themselves from pollution and potential illness. During spring, clouds of yellow dust settle over Seoul. It is strongly advised that everyone going outdoors wears a face mask. Yellow dust originates in China and contains a number of industrial pollutants as well as fine soil particles. The Seoul Metropolitan Government does make a concerted effort to keep the city green.

Is public transport available 24 hours a day?

While there are some forms of transport available in Seoul, the subway and public bus system close at midnight or just after. Metered taxis are always available and many of the drivers understand some English. Metered taxis are cheap for short trips but can be expensive over a longer distance.

Is it easy to get out of Seoul for a weekend?

South Korea has an extensive road and rail network which makes it easy to get out of the city. There are many mountain parks a few hours from Seoul, which have well-maintained facilities and hiking trails. All of the smaller towns in Korea have relatively inexpensive accommodation and a host of Korean restaurants to choose from. Travelling to some of the very small villages will require some knowledge of spoken and written Korean, but locals are typically friendly and are always willing to help.

What is Seoul like for children?

Although Seoul is a significantly large city, it is a fun place for children. There are lots of public parks with playground equipment, and there are ample cinemas and amusement park areas such as Lotte World. Korean culture values children and locals often dote on Western kids. As such, Seoul is a very child-friendly city and it is a safe and interesting place for children to grow up.

Getting Around in Seoul

The best way of getting around in Seoul is by using public transport. Although the city is not as congested as Shanghai or Bangkok, it has its fair share of traffic jams that cause significant delays.

The extensive subway system in Seoul means that there is usually a subway stop within a ten-minute walk of any destination, and its public buses are also an efficient way to get around. Street signs and subway signs in Seoul are usually written in both English and Korean. 


Public transport in Seoul

Expats will easily be able to take advantage of integrated public transit in Seoul. Commuters are able to get almost anywhere in the city using taxis, the subway and buses. They are also able to take advantage of initiatives such as the rechargeable T-money card, which offers lower rates than purchasing single-ticket rides and which can be used on Seoul's metro and bus systems.

Metro

The subway system in Seoul is extensive and can be used to get around most of the city. Passengers need a subway, or T-money card to use the system, which can be bought at subway stations and some stores.

Buses

In addition to the subway, there is an extensive public bus system in Seoul. Buses are colour-coordinated depending on their circuit: green buses travel only around their own neighbourhoods, blue buses go between neighbourhoods across town, yellow buses do short circuits around tourist areas and red buses go to different cities. Passengers pay when they get onto the bus with their T-money cards.

Taxis

There are two types of taxis in Seoul. Black taxis with a yellow sign are luxury taxis that are more expensive than regular cabs but which provide a better service. Silver taxis are regular taxis and are cheaper. Most drivers do not speak English, however, so it is a good idea to have a Korean friend or colleague write the destination down in Korean to show the driver. 

Some taxis advertise a free call-in interpretation service which English-speaking passengers can use to establish a fare before they go or to explain where they want to go. It is also sometimes possible to use a T-money card to pay for a trip if the passenger remembers to swipe it at the start and end of the journey. 

Alternatively, local app-based rideshare service called Kakao Taxi operates in Seoul and it allows expats to order a taxi service to their exact address. Many expats prefer using rideshare apps as they allow for automatic credit card billing as well as a greater control over their route.


Driving in Seoul

Many expats find that owning a car in South Korea is unnecessary or even best avoided – especially if they don't plan to do much travelling in the countryside.

There are plenty of car rental companies, including well-known international names, but parking in the city is often difficult to find and navigating the heavy traffic can be troublesome.


Walking in Seoul

Although Seoul is large and densely populated, there is usually a subway stop within a 15-minute walk of anywhere an expat might want to go within the city. As a result, it is possible to navigate the city through a combination of walking and riding the subway. 

The city itself occupies a relatively large area, making it impossible to cover more than a tiny portion of it on foot. The networks of roads and back alleys can also be confusing to travel through, so it is best for the walking expats to orientate themselves by taking note of major landmarks.