Preparing for a Year Abroad in Korea

Can’t believe it has been almost a month since I last posted! I’m back and hopefully in time for anyone planning on going on a Year Abroad in South Korea.

You need a Visa to study in Korea for any period of time.

Research

I cannot stress research enough. Whether you have been planning this trip since you were 15 or only decided to go a few months before applying, research is key.

If time is an issue, I am not suggesting you go and learn the entire history of the country (but if you want to then go ahead) but good starting points are the following:

  • 20th Century Overview
  • Greeting and Eating Culture
  • Availability of Western Products (more on this further on)
  • Social hierarchy in Korea – So important in Korea

Even if you have books on these on your kindle or watch a few YouTube videos before you go it will really help adjusting to the country. Other points of interest:

  • Weather
  • Geography (you don’t want to book a hotel in the most expensive area of Seoul when there is a cheaper place over the river!)
  • Food and restaurants

*The Lonely Planet do a great book on Seoul with a map and guides to everything you need to know if you are spending a period of time in Seoul.

Supplies

As I mentioned before, it is a good idea to research the availability of Western Products or even products from your own country. Koreans have their own products and their own consumer needs so some things won’t be available when you travel there or you will have to try Korean products – which is always fun!

However, Koreans don’t smell when they sweat so deodorant is not a thing for them. Up until a few years ago it was almost impossible to get deodorant anywhere in the country but convenience stores are beginning to stock them. Having said that, they are super expensive for small bottles. If you can make it to Itaewon (foreigner district) some foreign markets may have them but there is no guarantee. With this in mind, I did bring a year’s supply of deodorant (3 roll-ons for me) and they worked really well for me.

I used all Korean toiletries (except toothpaste which I bought with me) and they work really well. Korea tends to sell bigger bottles of shower gel and shampoo which cost a bit more but last an age. The ones I bought in August ran out in March so it is good value for money.

*Female products are a bit more expensive in Korea, sanitary towels are in my opinion extortionate but it is impossible to bring a year’s supply of them in a suitcase so I got used to it. I’ve never used tampons but from the research I have done and what I have seen, they aren’t as common and again cost a bit more than back home.

Flights

There are 2 options when flying to Korea (from the UK at least); a direct flight from your country to Korea’s International Airport at Incheon or a flight with a layover in another country (often Turkey, Finland or Dubai).

The first one is obviously going to be more expensive (and I was lucky enough to have my flights bought for me) … but it is the quickest option as there is no layover time.

Never done a lay-over to Korea but I have heard from friends that the waiting time in between flights wasn’t ideal (8 hours stranded in Dubai airport waiting for a 3am if memory serves). This is the cheapest option though and if you plan your layover carefully it can work out really well … I think.

Rule with any flight is research the airline (I flew with Korean Air and I love them), book in advance, shop around for the best price.

*Booked mine with STA Travel and they are used to dealing with students. They also did a package with movable return flights for a price which is good if you don’t know when you might be coming back.

Travel Insurance

Korean Universities (last time I checked) will not allow you to register without a copy of your travel insurance so you DO need it.

My university has its own travel insurance for students so it is worth checking with your uni if they do the same. If not, or you are not at uni, then it is worth shopping around and getting a few quotes.

*Doctors and hospitals are all private in Korea so look into terms and conditions with regards to claims and applications.

Accommodation

I learnt this lesson the hard way ….

I booked a goshiwon (hostel type place) and got a good price and the woman responded in English, reserved a year and payed a £60 deposit. From the photos it was really good … got there and the woman wanted me to sign a contract on the night, the room was tiny and she refused to speak any English. Luckily I hadn’t signed the contract and left the next morning.

Lesson: Don’t commit to anything you haven’t seen beforehand. Don’t sign a contract until you are 100% certain about the place.

So what do you do? A lot of my friends booked rooms in hostels, hotels etc for a few days and then went to one o the million real estate agents (부동산) and got a one room for a good price.

As with anything, do your research and shop around before making a decision.

Money

I can’t remember the place I got my money from … well done Ruth … but I did get a month’s rent and half of that as start up money. Obviously with the mix up over accommodation it didn’t work out quite like that but it was definitely doable.

There are so many options for money in Korea and it is a matter of finding out what works for you. Some Global ATMS take some cards but not others, the 365 ATMs in stations worked with my card and my Dad’s (2 different banks), and I used them for my rent and my weekly budget. Sometimes it cost more or I got less for my money (stupid Brexit) but that’s something you can’t foresee.

Another option is opening a Korean bank account (you will need an Alien Registration Card) and doing a wire transfer from your home country.

Make sure you know of a few methods before you go so if one fails you still have access to money.

Key Contacts

Going into a new country on your own can be daunting and there is a possibility something may happen whilst you are out there, here are a few contacts it is worth having in case of an emergency:

  • Emergency services in Korea
  • Your Embassy in Korea
  • Your country’s foreign office website
  • Degree tutor or uni contact back home (if applicable)
  • Korean immigration

Medication

If you are on any medication for an extended period of time contact your GP or doctor as soon as possible. Some medications they can give you a year’s supply of, others you may need letters or prescriptions for. Get a plan in place as soon as possible.

If you do have to get medication whilst out in Korea it will cost you, the International Clinic in Itaewon is reasonably priced and has all English speaking staff. You will need to check if your insurance covers this type of visit and how to claim back any money you spend.

Plan

I’ve said this before on my Mental Health on a Year Abroad Post and really it can be applied here to. Have a plan for the first few days when you arrive in Korea. Figure out what you need to do, when you will do it and what you need to do those things.

I had a planned subway route from airport to where I was staying, a map of the route to where I was staying and an idea of the things I needed to do such as Alien Registration Card (ARC) applications.

As you are a student you need to also keep in mind when registration is and what documents you need, failure to turn up will most likely end in deportation …

Language

My favourite bit!!!!

Even if your lectures and uni life will all be in English, learn how to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and some basic phrases. There is an excellent Youtuber called SweetandTastyTV and she does all of the above plus loads of cultural stuff and places to go in Korea.

Whilst a lot of people speak English it is a big sign of respect to greet in Korean and it is good practice to learn to read so you don’t end up buying wrong products in convenience stores ^^

I think that’s it, as always if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment, you can also drop me a message on instagram @theenglishhobbit and I will do my best to help. 

Have a nice day, Ruthie ~

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