Out of all the time I spent on preparing for my two month adventure in Seoul this past summer, I spent about 95% of it solely on housing. Like when I applied for a visa back in 2014, I felt like I was going to lose my mind – this time with the stress of securing safe, affordable, decent living conditions. On the bright side…I (re)learned quite a bit of housing-related vocabulary that I had been so sure I would never need back when I still took Korean classes.
There are several different housing options available for foreigners going to South Korea for study abroad:
- 원룸: a oneroom is the equivalent of a studio apartment
- 기숙사: program-provided dorm
- 고시텔/고시원: goshitel/goshiwon are low-cost and very small accommodations geared towards university students
- 하숙집: hasookjeeb are low-cost accommodations that usually provide a full breakfast most days of the week
- Homestay: become part of a local Korean family and follow their rules for living with them
- Sublet: find another foreigner or Korean friend who is traveling and rent directly from them
- Friend: stay with a friend and go in person to look at rooms (there are advertisements for housing everywhere). If you’re worried about your Korean skills, don’t want to spend days searching through Korean housing sites, and have a Korean friend you can trust, this option may be best for you
I looked for a 고시텔/고시원 mainly due to my desires for housing. Since I expected to eat out and did not need or desire communal living spaces, I forewent 하숙집 and focused on finding the essentials: my own bathroom and my own tiny sleeping space.
Korean websites often are unadulterated fodder for migraines, with their numerous flashing ads, pop-ups that will follow your mouse around the page, and general cramped style of putting far too much text or too many images per square inch. Sites that advertise housing are no exception.
But they’re a necessary evil. How did I find my Hongdae home of two months amidst this colorful chaos? Let’s break this down into my main suggestions.
- Make a list of needs and desires. Monthly cost limit. Personal bathroom. Cooking area. Rice and kimchi provided. Window. Yeah, that’s right. You could end up in a room without a window.
- Focus on a particular area, e.g. Hongdae/Hapjeong. I cross-referenced prices in Edae and Sinchon a couple times, but I narrowed my search to Hongdae/Hapjeong.
- Stick to one or two search sites. This is more simply to save your eyes and brain from overstimulation.
- Work your way through listings one by one. That’s what I did. Or you can input criteria into a search engine.
- Create a vocab list of unfamiliar words as you encounter them. Use for quick reference when they pop up again.
- Email owners to check potential availability. No one would guarantee me a room since I couldn’t visit in person before moving in. Once you pay the deposit, you can move in immediately – but you also immediately start paying rent, which meant that I had to wait to secure housing until I got to Korea. That being said, I did ask about the likelihood of a room being available after telling them precisely when I would arrive and when I wanted to move in, and they happily told me that it was highly likely they would have several rooms open.
Alright, so you’ve found the room of your dreams. And a backup or two. Now you’re going to have to put housing aside and take care of other things for your trip to Korea. What happens when you get to Korea?
- Bring someone with you when you see the room in person. I said ‘the room of your dreams.’ I didn’t specify if those dreams were good or bad. If you can, go with someone who is good at Korean, and preferably a Korean. It’s highly unlikely anyone will try to overcharge you or cause problems if there are two of you haughtily inspecting the premises and examining the contract, and if at least one of you can ask pointed questions in smooth Korean.
- Demonstrate your knowledge of Korean. They’ll like you a lot more if you at least make an effort, and if you’re halfway decent at Korean, you’ll earn immediate respect.
- Be prepared to pay the deposit and first month’s rent immediately. I paid in cash, and that seems to be the preference. You can always ask for a receipt – I needed receipts to justify my expenses for my fellowship.
- Ask about extra fees. If you didn’t do this when you emailed the owner, find out if there are extra fees for things like cleaning, using the AC, watching the TV, etc. I paid an extra 50,000 won for the month of June because I thought I would die waiting for them to turn the AC on in July.
That’s a lot of tips! Please let me know if I missed something and feel free to ask me questions in the comment section below.
Of course, you might be wondering about the exact details of where I lived and what I paid for it. Now that I no longer live there, I’m comfortable sharing the information! Woohoo! But…this post is already long enough, so here’s a separate post about my home in Hongdae!
In the meantime, check these out:
- The Arrival Store – rent your own apartment in Seoul
- Gosione – search site (found my housing through this)
- Kiss My Kimchi – finding an apartment in South Korea
- Living in Seoul
- Reddit – housing options for a month
- Seoulistic – how to get your own apartment in Seoul
- Stayes – search site
- Western Girl Eastern Boy – how to find affordable housing in Seoul
읽어 주셔서 감사합니다!
지금 재생 중:
The literal translation of this song’s title is “Wanna live with me?” Thought this was a better choice than telling you to not go home…