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Moving to Busan

As the second-largest city in South Korea, Busan is a popular alternative to fast-paced Seoul. The city’s good weather and beaches make it an even more alluring prospect for expats who can’t face the extreme winters the northern provinces suffer through. 

Living in Busan as an expat

Busan houses the country’s largest port. This generates a booming economy which has lead to a healthy job market. Though many expats find work related to shipbuilding or logistics, the city is also one of the most popular choices for young expats moving to Korea to teach English.

With the city divided into 15 “gu” districts, expats will have many expat-friendly neighbourhoods to choose from when it comes to accommodation. That said, apartments tend to be smaller than many expats may be used to. 

Public transportation options in Busan are vast and efficient. Expats will find it easy to navigate the city’s subway and bus systems. Taxis are also widely available and affordable. This makes it easy for expats to visit the various sights that are spread across the city.

Even though Busan is best known for its beaches, it also hosts numerous festivals and cultural events throughout the year, making it a cultural hub. The lifestyle in Busan is surprisingly diverse. The city has a mix of huge shopping malls and traditional street markets. Expats will be able to eat Korean food quite cheaply at local restaurants, and there is also a wide selection of international restaurants.

Cost of living in Busan

Although Busan is slightly cheaper than Seoul, the city is expensive to live in. That said, salaries are competitive and employment contracts also frequently cover accommodation and schooling, saving expats a lot of money.

Expats will discover transport, locally manufactured goods and Korean restaurants to be extremely affordable, while all foreign goods and foodstuffs come at a high price. Eating at Korean restaurants may even at times be cheaper than buying groceries for one person. This is partly due to the fact that Korean groceries are often sold in bulk, which may not be an option for an expat living alone. 

Expat families and children

Expats with children will find the city child-friendly with many attractions that will keep children entertained. There are also a number of international schools in the city, which are generally preferred to the local Korean schools due to the language barrier. The American curriculum and International Baccalaureate are taught at many of these schools. There are also Japanese schools in the city. 

Climate in Busan

Thanks to Busan being far enough south and close to the sea, winters are slightly warmer than in the rest of the country. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and accumulated snowfall is rare. That said, the warmer months are hot, humid and wet, with monsoon season lasting for much of summer. Typhoons are also possible towards the end of summer in Busan. 

Busan is a beautiful South Korean coastal city, boasting a rich history and culture. Those who make an effort to learn the language will be welcomed with open arms. Friendly locals, low crime rates and great amenities make Busan a comfortable destination even for first-time expats.

Pros and cons of moving to Busan

When people consider living in South Korea, Seoul is naturally the first city that they think of as a destination. That said, living in Busan can be a great alternative for those who want to have the conveniences of big city living without being overwhelmed by the enormity of a megalopolis like Seoul. Though its population is dwarfed by Korea’s capital, Busan is still a hidden gem of Southeast Asia despite being a city of around 3.4 million people. Below are some pros and cons of living in Busan.


Public transportation in Busan

+ PRO: Affordable, reliable options

Busan contains a considerable public transit system that makes it easy for everyone to travel in and around the city. Six metro lines connect to all the major parts of Busan and a few of its surrounding cities. For those who prefer to be above ground, there are a variety of bus routes that can conveniently get people to any part of the city. In a pinch, it’s easy to grab a taxi at a fare far lower than one would find in other cities of Busan’s size. For those looking to travel, Busan is well connected to the rest of Korea by intercity buses and trains including the KTX bullet train connecting Busan to Seoul.

- CON: Limited international travel options

Nearby Gimhae Airport offers nonstop flights throughout East Asia and has recently broken into Europe with flights to Helsinki, though travellers will have to transfer to larger airports for longer trips. Compared to Seoul, international flights through Busan may feel limited. Some flights may also be more expensive. Expats often choose to travel to Seoul and then fly from there, which can add to travel time and expenses.


Weather in Busan

+ PRO: Warmer winter weather

Thanks to Busan being far enough south and close to the sea, winters are slightly warmer than in the rest of the country. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and accumulated snowfall is rare. 

- CON: Extreme weather in summer

Summers are when Busan experiences its most extreme weather. Humidity starts to creep up as early as May, and monsoon rainfall occurs from June to August. In recent years, Busan has been affected more frequently by typhoon storms that have passed through the area as late as September.  


Eating out in Busan

+ PRO: Lots of cheap local options available

Busan has a robust variety of restaurants for Korean food at extremely affordable prices. This makes it easy and affordable for expats to try out the local cuisine.

- CON: Western food can be expensive

While there’s plenty for those who want to experience Korean culture, it can be tricky at times to find comforts from home. Western products can be found at stores like Costco and major supermarket chains, but shoppers should be prepared to pay higher prices for things like cheese and spices. While it’s fairly easy to find popular international options like Italian and Japanese food throughout the city, more niche cuisine is typically limited to touristy places like Haeundae Beach.


Entertainment in Busan

+ PRO: Wide variety of events

Busan has made great strides to make itself an entertainment hub. Whether it’s a sporting event, concert, art exhibit, gaming expo, theatrical performance, or cultural festival, Busan offers a variety of events throughout the year to make a stay there memorable. 

- CON: Limited international options

Expat residents can enjoy international artists such as international touring productions at the Dream Theater and movies at the Busan International Film Festival. That said, they should be prepared to travel to Seoul to catch most musical acts going on world tours.  

Working in Busan

Busan houses South Korea’s largest port. This generates much economic activity which in turn has created a healthy job market. Those who don’t enjoy the fast-paced work environment in Seoul often choose to settle in sunny Busan. The job market attracts a wide variety of expat employees from English teachers to marine engineers.

With its laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals and competitive salaries, competition for expat jobs can become fierce.


Job market in Busan

With Busan being a port city, it makes sense that the city’s economy is heavily driven by the port sector. Aside from shipping and logistics, expats can also find employment in the information and communication sector, finance, information technology and education. Busan also hosts several international and multinational companies like Renault and Samsung.

Like in most of South Korea, most jobs available to English-speaking foreigners tend to be focused on teaching English. Expats who want to work in other industries aside from education would have to have a high level of education or be experienced in a highly specialised field. 

Many large companies in Busan have a policy that managerial staff must be able to speak English. This makes doing business in Busan easier. That said, Korean society doesn’t necessarily follow the same rules most Westerners may be used to. Expats should do their research and try to keep up with the country’s cultural and social rules they hope to make their work-life successful.


Finding a job in Busan

It's standard for expats to find a job before relocating, as this is often a necessary condition of receiving a work visa. Korean employers often provide key support, such as helping expats find accommodation and applying for the necessary visas.

Many expats find employment through the various 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 schools, of which there are many in Busan.


Work Culture in Busan

Traditional social practices and etiquette still have an important role in South Korean business. If expatriate businesspeople want to be accepted by their colleagues, they need to display an awareness of Korean business practises and a willingness to engage in the social codes that are at the foundation of business culture in South Korea.

There is an elaborate system of hierarchy that imbues business culture in South Korea that is based on position, age, prestige and, to an extent, gender. Saving face is also an important part of business practice and expats should therefore not expect a direct negative answer from Korean people if they can’t help or don’t know. This is done in order to maintain honour and dignity. 

Koreans need to be able to trust the people they are doing business with and social relationships are directly linked to business success. For this reason, prospective business partners spend a lot of time getting to know each other. Dinner invitations, after dinner drinks and karaoke are also likely to feature at some point and should not be turned down.


Teaching English in Busan

Teaching English as a foreign language is by far the most popular form of employment in Busan. Many young English-speaking foreigners move to the city with the hope of saving money, paying off student debt and getting the chance to travel around South-East Asia. 

Due to the large number of private English schools (Hagwons) in the city, job opportunities are in abundance, but there are strict rules that go with the job. The E2-visa expats need before they can teach in the country is only available to citizens from certain countries (like the UK, US and South Africa). Applicants need to meet basic requirements and aren’t allowed to have any other form of employment while on this visa. In recent years, the government has been cracking down on foreigners who teach English without the proper visas.

Competition for good schools in Busan is very high. Expats should also be careful of being scammed while looking for a teaching job. For these reasons, expats should ensure they work with a reputable recruiter who will negotiate the best salary and benefits on their behalf. 

Accommodation in Busan

Most expats moving to Busan won’t have to go through the process of finding their own apartment, as many employers provide their employees with suitable accommodation – this is especially true for expats teaching English in Busan. Those who want to rent their own accommodation will find that Busan is quite affordable compared to Seoul.

Due to the short-term nature of expat assignments, most people tend to rent rather than buy property. Rentals tend to move quickly in Busan and expats should therefore research the processes involved in securing accommodation in the city ahead of time.


Types of accommodation in Busan

Like in other Korean cities, most people live in apartments in Busan. Large multi-storey apartment blocks (apateu), as well as smaller apartment buildings (yeollip jutaek), can be found across the city. 

Less popular forms of accommodation include individual houses (jutaek dandok), officetels and villas.


Finding accommodation in Busan

Expats who aren’t provided accommodation by their employer may struggle finding a place to live in Busan. That said, using newspapers, such as the Korean Times or Korean Herald, or expat social media groups or online property portals may be useful.

Though most real-estate agents (budongsan junggaesa) don’t speak English, they may still be the best option for expats to find accommodation. These agents act as a mediator between the property owner and the renter. Expats are more likely to find English speaking agents in neighbourhoods popular with expats. Asking a Korean friend or colleague to assist in finding housing may also ease the process.


Renting accommodation in Busan

Once expats have found a property that meets their requirements, the next step would be to sign a lease and secure the accommodation.

Leases

A typical lease in Busan is signed for one year. Renters have to give at least three months’ notice if they want to move out.

Deposits

Tenants have to pay a large deposit (or 'key money') to secure a property. There usually is a minimum amount that needs to be paid, but the larger the deposit one puts down, the lower the rent. Any damages to the apartment will be paid for out of the deposit when moving out. The remainder of the deposit is returned to the tenant.

Utilities

Utilities aren't typically included in the monthly rent, so expats will need to budget extra for this. These bills can be paid via bank transfer at the bank, ATM or through a mobile app. Some bills can even be paid at convenience stores.

Areas and suburbs in Busan

Apart from being a popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia, Busan is also home to a large expat community. Whether these residents are there to work in education, business, industry, or other vocations, members of Busan’s expat community have come together to help make Busan a welcoming place for foreign residents.  

Busan is divided up into districts (gu), which are further separated into neighbourhoods (dong). If an area has the suffix '-gu' it’s 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.

While the choice of which neighbourhood to live in will depend largely upon where new arrivals are working, below are some of the most popular expat areas of Busan.  


Popular expat areas in Busan

Busan

Haeundae-gu

Haeundae District (Haeundae-gu) contains some of the more foreigner-friendly neighbourhoods in the city. There’s a large variety of shops and restaurants catering to both Korean and foreign tastes. Residents can also enjoy being adjacent to the beaches and coastal parks of the area, and nearby Jangsan Mountain is a popular hiking destination. 

Haeundae is also one of the more family-friendly areas of Busan. There are several international schools in the area.   

While affordable housing can be found here, the general cost of living is slightly higher than in other parts of the city. The area can also become congested with tourists, especially in the summer.

Centum City and Marine City

Just down the coast from Haeundae Beach, these two areas have become two of the most prestigious areas to live and work in the entire city. Both are located just two metro stops away from each other.

Centum City has become a hub of both commerce and entertainment. While living in high-rise apartments, residents can take a short walk to Shinsaegae Department Store, the Busan Museum of Art, the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center, the Busan Cinema Center, and other attractions.  

Marine City is a collection of high-rise luxury apartments on the coast near the mouth of the Suyeong River with its own set of shops, parks, and restaurants. It’s a small community unto itself.  

Gwangan

Gwangan has become one of the most popular gathering spots for foreigners. Gwangalli Beach, with its iconic view of the Diamond Bridge, is a popular hangout among both Koreans and expats, day or night.  

The beach features many seaside cafés and restaurants for residents to enjoy. The number of affordable housing options have increased considerably as more apartment buildings are continually being constructed and renovated. While not as trendy as more upscale areas of the city, there are several expat bars in the area. Cheaper accommodation and many entertainment options make this a popular area for younger expats.

Pusan National University

Pusan National University is one of ten national universities in Korea. Its main campus is conveniently located in the north-central part of the city. One of the original hubs of Busan expat social life, the area remains a destination for music, art, food, and culture. People living in this area can easily get to other areas in the northern part of the city such as Oncheonjang Hot Springs, Geumjeong Fortress, and Sajik Baseball Stadium.

Seomyeon

The downtown area of Busan is a convenient central area with access to any part of the city. Located at the junction of Metro Lines 1 and 2, people living in Seomyeon will discover the commute around Busan to be easy.    

While businesses in this area don’t specifically cater to foreign patrons as much as more tourist-friendly parts of the city, the area still offers plenty of options for food and shopping. In particular, Jeonpo Café Street has many food and drink options and has become a trendy gathering spot.  

There are also many affordable apartment options. Residents living in this area would be just one metro stop away from the Busan Citizens Park, the Dream Theater, and the Busan International Finance Center. 

Healthcare in Busan

The standard of healthcare in Busan is high. Hospitals are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, and staff are well trained. Many hospitals in Busan are attached to universities. There are also many reputable private clinics throughout the city.  

South Korea's National Health Insurance programme is a compulsory social insurance system that covers the whole population. Foreigners are required to register for the national scheme if they have lived in the country for six months. 

Doctors and specialists will claim most of the costs of a consultation from the NHI, and expats will have to pay only a portion of the cost. Prescription medication and traditional medicine (including acupuncture) are also covered, and will therefore also incur small costs.

Expats don’t have to be concerned about language barriers when it comes to healthcare in the city. Most large hospitals and international clinics have English-speaking staff. It’s also common for hospitals to have interpreting services available.

Pharmacies in Busan are also plentiful and easy to find throughout the city, but they are rarely attached to hospitals and seldom open 24 hours. Korean pharmacies, called yak-guk, are usually indicated by the yak symbol displayed at the front of the store or in the window. It’s advisable to have a Korean friend or colleague write down what is needed in Korean as many pharmacists don’t speak English well.


Hospitals in Busan

Some of the most reputable hospitals in Busan include:

Dong-Eui Medical Center 

Website: www.demc.kr
Address: San 45-1, Yang-jung 2-dong, Jin-gu

Pusan National University Hospital

Website: www.pnuh.or.kr 
Address: 179 Gudeok-ro, Seo-gu

Kosin University Gospel Hospital

Website: www.kosinmed.or.kr
Address: 262 Gamcheon-ro, Seo-gu

Inje University Haeundae Paik Hospital

Website: www.paik.ac.kr
Address: 875 Haeun-daero, Haeundae-gu 

Busan St Mary’s Hospital

Website: www.bsm.or.kr
Address: 25-14, Yongho-ro 232beon-gil, Nam-gu 

Education and Schools in Busan

Education is regarded very highly in Busan. The language of instruction in public schools in South Korea is exclusively Korean and the country also has a reputation for its strict approach to teaching and for pushing children to excel. For these reasons, most expat parents choose to rather send their children to an international school in Busan.

International schools in Busan have an excellent reputation, but there are heavy school fees that come with this reputation. Expats will also find that, in most cases, school fees don’t cover extra expenses such as uniforms or school excursions. Expats should therefore try to negotiate a schooling stipend as part of their employment contract.


Public schools in Busan

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.

It’s rare for expat parents in Busan to send their children to a public school. The Korean education system is praised for the results its students consistently produce, but few Westerners would subject their children to the high pressured and singularly focused approach adopted by Korean public schools. Children are taught only in Korean in public schools – another factor that discourages foreign children to attend.

Attending primary and middle school is compulsory, but high school attendance isn’t. For this reason, public schooling up to the end of middle school is free, but parents must pay for high school.


International schools in Busan

Expats moving to Busan with children will find that international school fees are their greatest expense. Though Busan doesn't have such a variety of schools as Seoul, the schools all have high standards of education. Most of these schools cater to English-speaking families and follow American or International Baccalaureate curricula. Some of these schools do offer ESL classes to students who aren’t English speaking. Busan also has schools following Japanese curricula.

Generally, classes are small, giving students a better opportunity to learn. That said, expat parents should be aware that the South Korean culture of pressuring students to achieve academically does spill over into international schools to some extent. Because of this, expat children might feel more pressure to excel academically than they did in their home countries. 

Expats sending their children to international schools in Busan should research possible schools long before they move. Parents should contact schools as early as possible as schools could have long waiting lists. Expat children might have to be interviewed before they are accepted into an international school.


Special-needs education in Busan

By law, children in South Korea cannot be refused admission or discriminated against by any school because of disabilities. Education is also free for children with physical and intellectual disabilities from the ages of five to 18 in South Korea. While there are special needs schools throughout the country, and Busan is no exception, many children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. Students who spend a lot of time in hospital can also study online while receiving medical treatment. 

For a child to attend a school for special needs, they must first be registered as a child with a disability at their local district office. Parents can then apply at the school of their choice. 

Not all international schools cater for children with special educational needs, and expat parents should therefore check with the relevant school.


Tutoring in Busan

Tutors can be useful for expat children transitioning into a new school environment, and can be hired for anything from general assistance with school subjects to helping maintain a child's mother tongue or helping them to learn Korean. Differences in education systems may result in expat children being behind in some areas of their new curriculum, and tutors are an excellent way to catch up.

Tutoring in South Korea is a huge industry, so expats will have plenty of choices. Expats should research different options thoroughly before deciding on a tutor. Tutoring can be done one-on-one, through online classes and videos, or by attending a hagwon (private after school academy). Many schools will have a list of tutors or hagwons they can recommend.

International schools in Busan

Though there isn’t a wide variety of international schools in Busan, the schools that are available boast high standards. Most of the schools offer US or International Baccalaureate curricula. Spaces at international schools in Busan are limited so expat parents should start applying early to secure a spot for their child.

One of the biggest benefits of international schooling is that expat children get to continue their home-country curriculum. The most well-known schools in Busan are the American schools, and there are also schools offering Japanese curricula. Small class sizes are another advantage that most international schools pride themselves on. This results in students being cared for individually.

Below is a list of some of Busan's best international schools.


International schools in Busan

Busan Foreign School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.busanforeignschool.org

International School of Busan

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.isbusan.org

Busan Japanese School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Japanese
Ages: 6 to 18
Website: www.busanjs.com

Lifestyle in Busan

Built among the eponymous pot-shaped mountain range on Korea’s southeastern coast, Busan is a continually expanding city that takes full advantage of its natural setting while providing all the amenities of modern urban living. 


Shopping in Busan

Busan’s most complete shopping experience can be found in Nampo-dong which is just a few subway stops away from Busan’s KTX bullet-train station and international ferry port. The streets are filled with stores featuring the trendiest brands from Korea and abroad. Shoppers looking for bargain products can spend hours in the Nampo Underground Mall which features more traditional mom-and-pop-owned stores. For one of Busan’s more unique experiences, it's just a short walk to Jagalchi Market, Korea’s largest seafood market where many go to try the fresh fare on offer.

Another of Busan’s popular shopping areas is Centum City, an urban development area that has become a hub of Busan’s commerce and tourism. The centrepiece of Centum City is Shinsegae Department Store which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest shopping mall. In addition to its fashion shopping complex, grocery store and food courts, Shinsegae also contains a luxury spa, an ice skating rink and other cultural centres hosting activities for both adults and kids.

For more general shopping, there are a variety of options for different shoppers. Western products can be found at Costco and the other larger chain stores like Emart and Homeplus. The more discerning shopper can find deals for their fresh grocery shopping among the many outdoor markets scattered throughout the city.


Nightlife and entertainment in Busan

Day or night, Haeundae beach is an attractive spot for both Koreans and expats. During the day, visitors can rent a parasol to relax on this popular beach, or they can check out the array of sea life at the Busan Aquarium and it's efforts towards rehabilitation and conservation of the underwater world. At night, one can hop between Haeundae’s many clubs, bars, and restaurants catering to both Korean and Western tastes. Haeundae also has one of Busan’s three casinos that caters to foreign guests.  

Offering a similar atmosphere, with smaller crowds and lower prices, is Gwangalli Beach. While this beach isn’t as popular for swimming during the day as Busan’s other beaches, it offers a view of Busan’s Diamond Bridge made famous in the movie Black Panther. Whether it’s a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop, there are many places from which to see the iconic view of the lit-up bridge against the night horizon. Gwangalli is also the location of the Busan Fireworks Festival. A million people fill the beach each year to see an hour-long fireworks show that incorporates the notable bridge.

At the heart of the city is Seomyeon, Busan’s downtown area. At the junction of Subway Lines 1 and 2, Seomyeon mixes a variety of traditional bars and restaurants with modern stores and clubs. One can wander the many side-streets finding whatever suits their tastes whether it be a dance club or street-side food carts.


Outdoor activities and sports in Busan

With mountains, coastlines and everything in between, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to do in the city. Hiking is one of the most popular activities for young and old in Busan, with countless paths that wind around the Jangsan, Geumyeongsan and other mountains. Coastal hiking trails can also be found in Igidae and Taejeongdae.  

With five major beaches, Busan residents have access to many water sports. People can often be seen surfing, kayaking and jet-skiing at Haeundae and Gwangalli Beaches. Expats without a surfboard or kayak can also find rentals at these beaches.   

For those looking to play sports, expats can easily find pickup games of beach volleyball or basketball around the city. The city also has clubs for sports including Ultimate Frisbee and Gaelic football.  

For those who enjoy being a spectator, going to a Lotte Giants baseball game and being among Busan’s famously energetic fans is a memorable experience. There are also opportunities to see professional football and basketball, among other sports.  

See and Do in Busan

As the second biggest city in the country, Busan is one of South Korea's most popular destinations. With a rich history and a growing international cultural presence, Busan offers plenty to see and do throughout the city that caters to its locals, visitors and expat community.


Recommended attractions in Busan

Gamcheon Culture Village

For a memorable mix of art and the outdoors, expats can travel to Gamcheon Culture Village. This neighbourhood was originally formed by houses built into a mountainside, which have been restored and repainted to become one of Busan’s most picturesque views. While exploring the steep streets and twisting alleys, visitors can find brightly painted murals, sculptures, and cafés in this artists’ haven.

Busan Museum of Art

Busan is home to plenty of art galleries and museums that are situated throughout the city, the largest of which is the Busan Museum of Art near Centum City. The museum showcases art from both Korean and international artists, and hosts featured exhibitions throughout the year.

Dream Theatre

In 2019, Busan opened the Dream Theatre, its first mega-scale theatre to host touring musical productions. In addition to theatrical productions in Korean, the Dream Theatre has also hosted international English productions.

Busan Museum of Contemporary Art

Situated in Hadan is the Busan Museum of Contemporary Art, a must-visit attractions for all art lovers. This museum opened in 2018 and is Korea’s first public museum to focus on contemporary art.

Geumjeong Mountain Temples 

The Geumjeong Mountain is dotted with prominent historical sites, including some fascinating ancient temples. Visitors can either hike or take a cable car up to the mountain trails. Once there, they’ll see the gates, walls, and watchtowers of Geumjeong Fortress, and on the eastern end of the mountain is Beomeosa, the largest Buddhist temple in Busan.

United Nations Memorial Cemetery

This park honours UN soldiers from 21 countries who were killed in the Korean War. There are monuments throughout the park dedicated to many of the nations and their citizens who fought in the conflict. From there, it’s just a short walk to the Busan Museum featuring historical pieces from Busan and the surrounding province. 

Busan Citizen Park

At around 500,000 square meters, Busan Citizens Park is the largest in Busan. Formerly an American military base, the prime real estate near the downtown area of Seomyeon was given back to the Busan city government in 2006. The city converted the land into a spacious park with five themes and 29 attractions scattered around its many walking paths.

Haedong Youngungsa

One of the most unique temples in Busan is Haedong Youngungsa, known as the 'Temple by the Sea'. Just a little east of Haeundae and Songjeong Beaches, the temple is one of the few in Korea that’s on the coast, making it popular with sightseers.  

Taejongdae Resort Park

Busan’s most notable coastal park is Taejongdae Resort Park. On the southern tip of Yeongdo Island, the park features views of evergreen trees, seaside cliffs, and rocky beaches. The lighthouse observatory offers some of the best views of the coastline. On a clear day, observers can even see Japan’s Tsushima Island.  

What's On in Busan

Though Busan is best known for its beaches, the city is also a vibrant cultural hub that hosts an abundance of cultural festivals, creative events and shows throughout the year. The capital city, Seoul is also just a short trip away by express train and also hosts various festivals and events throughout the year.

From swimming in icy waters to watching a world-famous firework show, Busan has something to offer any crowd. Younger expats will enjoy the annual Craft Beer Festival hosted in June. While families with young children may find the International Kids and Youth Film Festival in July more family friendly. Below is just a small sample of the best events that can be found in Busan.


Annual events in Busan

First Sunrise Viewing (January)

One of the biggest Korean traditions is to ring in the New Year by watching the first sunrise. Busan has a few options for those hoping to join the early morning festivities. Two of the most popular venues for this are the Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches. Events usually include cheer performances, new year's greetings and an air show. There are also vendors selling tteokguk (rice-cake soup), which is traditionally eaten to celebrate the New Year in the hopes of bringing good fortune.

Polar Bear Swim Festival (January)

This unique event is held annually in January. It is meant to help embrace the cold winter weather, as well as pray for good health in the New Year. There are pre-festival events that are usually held on Saturdays with the main event taking place early Sunday morning at Haeundae Beach. Participants will jump and run into the sea. This is definitely one of the city's quirkiest events and shouldn't be missed.

Busan International Short Film Festival (April)

This was the first short-film festival to appear in Korea. In the beginning, only Korean films were screened during the festival, but by 2010 the festival had become an international affair and began accepting films from across the world. The festival aims to introduce outstanding short films and inspire up and coming producers and filmmakers. 

Joseon Tongsinsa Festival (May)

This festival symbolises the peaceful cultural exchanges between South Korea and Japan. There are various programmes that run over a full weekend. Expats can learn more about the history of South Korea and Japan through street performances, cultural exchange performances, and a peace procession.

Busan Rock Festival (July)

This is an outdoor music festival that takes place every summer in Busan. The event accumulates acts from different genres such as rock, indie and metal. The festival has grown every year and now includes both Korean and international artists. This is a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon with friends, sharing a few beers and eating Korean street food.

Busan Fireworks Festival (October)

Arguably one of Busan's most popular events, the Fireworks Festival draws over a million visitors each year. The festival takes place along Gwangalli Beach and programmes include cultural events, laser light shows and colourful firework displays. If the beach gets too crowded, the festivities can also be viewed from Hwangnyeongsan Mountain, Dongbaekseom Island and Igidae Coastal Park.

Busan Christmas Tree Cultural Festival (November)

Annually the Busan Christmas Tree Festival is held in the streets of Gwangbok-ro in the Jung-gu district. Families will be mesmerised by grand LED light displays, a giant Christmas tree, street performances and much more.

Bell-tolling Ceremony for New Year’s (December)

The bell-tolling ceremony starts with a 10-second countdown to midnight. The countdown is followed by 33 tolls of the bell to officially mark the beginning of the new year. The event takes place at Yongdusan Park and expats can enjoy hot tea and eomuk (traditional fish cakes) to keep warm. Celebratory performances and fireworks end off the event. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Busan

Expats moving to Busan 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 Busan.

How bad is the pollution in Busan?

Like many Asian cities, Busan has its fair share of pollution, but expats will find that it isn’t as bad as it is in Seoul. It's very common to see South Koreans wearing face masks to protect themselves from pollution or illnesses. The only time it's strongly advised to wear a mask in Busan is during the Yellow Dust season, which is generally their spring. Yellow dust originates in China and contains a number of industrial pollutants as well as fine soil particles.

Is public transport available 24 hours a day?

Though Busan is known for its excellent public transport, the subway and most bus routes don’t run past midnight. That said, there are late-night buses, but it's recommended for expats to research which routes the buses drive at night as they may need a taxi to get to their destination. Metered taxis are always available and many of the drivers understand some English. They are cheap for short trips but can be expensive over a longer distance. Expats can hail a taxi from the street or order one on the cellphone app Kakao Taxi.

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

South Korea has a very well developed railway and bus network. This makes it convenient and easy to travel to other cities. It's possible to get to Seoul in about three-and-a-half hours with the KTX high-speed train. Smaller towns are inexpensive to visit but may be harder to get to. Locals are usually willing to help foreigners who look lost.

What is Busan like for children?

With Busan being right by the beach, it’s a great city for children. There are many public parks scattered across the city with fun playground equipment. Korean culture is truly child-centred and locals often dote on Western kids. Therefore, Busan is a very child-friendly city and a safe and interesting place for children to grow up. There are also a number of international schools in the city for expat children to attend. 

Where can I meet other expats?

Busan has quite a large expat community. Many foreigners hail from English-speaking countries like the UK, USA and South Africa. Most expats are very open to meeting new people and they therefore shouldn’t find it hard to make friends. The city has several “expat bars” where foreigners are known to get together over weekends. Many foreigner bars host other events such as weekend markets or quiz nights. There are also language-exchange groups that bring expats and locals together.

Will I be able to communicate with locals?

Unfortunately, it's true that life in South Korea goes hand-in-hand with a significant language barrier. That said, as Busan is the second-largest city in South Korea, the odds of finding locals who speak some English is higher than in rural towns. Expats will find that most locals, especially taxi drivers, do understand and speak some English, but it is still recommended to learn basic Korean, like greeting or directions, to make life easier.

Getting Around in Busan

The most convenient way to get around in Busan is by using public transport. Though Busan isn’t nearly as congested as Seoul, there can be significant traffic jams closer to the popular beach areas so most expats choose public transport over owning their own car.

The subway system is smaller than in Seoul, but it’s still extensive and an excellent way to get across the city conveniently and affordably. Public buses are another efficient way to get around. Street signs and subway signs in Busan are usually written in both English and Korean.


Public transport in Busan

Expats will easily be able to take advantage of integrated public transport system in Busan. It’s possible to get almost anywhere in the city by using the subway or buses. It's also inexpensive, and the city offers a rechargeable T-money card. Transportation rates are lower with the card than purchasing single-ride ticket. The card can be used for both the subway and bus systems and even in some taxis.

Metro

The subway system in Busan is extensive and can be used to get around most of the city. Passengers can buy single-trip tickets from vending machines at any subway station. That said, the T-money card, which can be bought at subway stations and some stores, is more convenient for those who will use the subway regularly.

Buses

Busan recently converted the majority of its bus fleet to electric buses. Smaller green or blue buses only travel in their own neighbourhoods, while larger buses travel longer distances throughout the city. Major bus stops will have an electronic board showing which routes pass through the stop and when the next bus will arrive. Passengers pay when they get onto the bus with their T-money cards or they can use cash. 


Taxis in Busan

Taxis in Busan are extremely convenient and not too hard to come by. It’s possible to hail a taxi from the street or through Kakao Taxi – a local taxi-hailing app. All taxis run on a metre and expats can pay their fair either with a credit card, local bank card, or in cash. It’s also sometimes possible to use a T-money card to pay for a trip if the passenger swipes it at the start and end of the journey.

Many drivers don’t speak English well so it’s always a good idea to have the address or destination written down in Korean to show the driver. Some taxis advertise a free call-in interpretation service which English-speaking passengers can use to explain where they want to go.


Cycling in Busan

Although not the most bike-friendly city, expats can get around Busan by bike. It is recommended that expats cycle on the shoulder of the road, however, to avoid pedestrians, mopeds and parked cars. Expats will also have to take into consideration the hilly nature of the city. If they are prepared to break out a sweat, cycling is a good and free option for getting around in Busan.