One of the main benefits of teaching in Korea is the free apartment that comes along with the job.
This accommodation for English teachers varies with each school and area within the country. Your Korean apartment is chosen by your employer and so it’s the luck of the draw in terms of what type of housing you will receive.
How you know you’re living in a Korean apartment
It’s quite an adjustments moving into an apartment in Korea. There were somethings I love, and some I don’t!
To see what else I found strange about Korea, and not just the apartments, check out this post – and yes, they are all true!
1) There are no apartment keys to your South Korea apartment
This definitely tops my list of reasons why I love Korean apartments. I never have to worry about where my keys are because the entry system into my apartment is a keypad with a 4 pin code.
2) No oven
Gone are the days of roasted chicken and veggies. No more home-made pizza or delicious cakes. Some modern apartments have ovens but unfortunately, as an English teacher, you’ll most likely get a Korea apartment that doesn’t include this luxury. On the bright side, this is a great excuse to eat out – and a Korean barbecue is always a great choice!
3) Korean apartment bathrooms (wetroom)
Korean bathrooms are generally small with no partition between the shower and toilet. Most things get wet when you shower but I guess that one of the perks of this is that your bathroom is always clean!
4) Sink and shower control
Both the sink and shower pipes are attached. You need to turn a knob on the sink if you want either the shower or sink spout to work. After a shower, we often forget to turn it off the shower setting. This has led to many occasions where we go to wash our hands, but shoot ourselves in the face instead! Not ideal getting covered in water when you’re running late for work.
5) Ondol heating system
One central system heats the water and flooring. This has to be switched on before every shower and turned back of again when you’re done. Surprisingly, it only takes the water a few seconds to heat up but you have to be careful not to leave it on all day, or else expect a hefty gas bill at the end of the month.
6) The mattress
Koreans love hard mattresses and so we weren’t surprised when our brand new mattress arrived and it was as hard as a rock! Gary and I tossed and turned every night. We woke up sore every morning as we just couldn’t get used to sleeping on such a hard surface. We eventually bought a memory foam topper which has been an absolute lifesaver. Traditionally, Koreans slept on the floor and they preferred this hard surface. This has slowly been phased out but it is still common for Korean households to have no beds, and if they do, the mattresses are extremely hard.
7) No shoes allowed in your apartment in Korea!
All Korean apartments have a dedicated space where shoes are removed and stored before you enter the apartment. It took some getting used to but now we’ve adopted the strict Korean rule: “no shoes in the house!”.
Korean apartments for English teachers: What to expect?
Korea has limited land space and as a result, buildings are built higher, and not wider. Cities are cramped with sky-high apartment buildings, with no individual houses in sight. This is quite a contrast to the big houses with luscious lawns I am used to back home in South Africa.
Most housing is located 5-15 minute walking distance from your school, yet another convenience. It is standard to receive an apartment furnished with a bed, washing machine, gas-stove top, fridge, aircon, and TV. Internet, cable, and utilities, including gas, water, electricity are to be paid by the tenant.
As a single occupant, it is common to receive a studio apartment in South Korea which is one smallish room that serves as a bedroom, living area, and kitchen, with a separate bathroom. This is actually called a 1-room in Korea so don’t think you hit the jackpot when this appears on your contract!
As a couple, you usually receive a slightly bigger apartment, with the living space being separate to the bedroom and bathroom. Otherwise known as a 2-room in Korea, this is what we were expecting to receive when we were on the hunt for jobs. Little did we know…
My apartment in Korea
Having done a vast amount of research on the various types of housing in Korea, we had an idea of what we would or would not accept. This is the place we would call home for the next 12 months. If we weren’t happy with what was provided, we would continue our search for a job that offered better housing. Teachers are in high demand in Korea and so we could afford to be picky.
Our job interview was conducted by the couple who were leaving and so we were lucky enough to chat with them about the housing. This played a big part in our decision to accept the offer.
Being a couple, we were expecting a 2-room apartment. However, the accommodation on offer was a studio apartment (1-room) with a small indoor balcony that served as a laundry room. I was immediately opposed to it as I knew we could get a bigger place elsewhere. After receiving images from the current occupants, I slowly warmed up to the apartment. It was a fully furnished apartment, which is not common. The view from the balcony overlooks a small river and not other buildings as most apartments in Korea do. After days of deliberation, and weighing up the pros and cons, we decided to accept the offer.
Inside our Korea apartment
Our apartment is on the third floor and is above a local Korean restaurant and other offices. We have a nice view of the park, which has a river running through it and an 800m tartan walking track surrounding it. Being only a seven-minute walk to work, and close to many restaurants, convenience stores, and bus stops, the location couldn’t be better.
If you’re planning on moving to Korea, check out this post on all the things I absolutely love about the country!
- Our kitchen is, well, “compact!”. This makes it easy when cooking as the fridge, sink, stove, and cupboards are only an arm’s length away.
- Thanks to our great balcony and big windows, the apartment get a lot of sun. When I first arrived I wondered why all Korean apartments had enclosed balconies. I soon realized that with the extreme weather in both Summer and Winter, these balconies would not be used if they were open.
- The living area is big enough for 2 people, but when you’re both living in your lounge, it’s important to keep things tidy as any mess is just taking up that much-needed space.
The nitty-gritty: How much does a Korean apartment cost
Our monthly utilities for our Korea apartment range from:
- Electricity: 40 000-65 000 won / $40-$65 (combined)
- Gas: 10 000-30 000 won / $10-$30 (combined)
- Internet: 16 000 won / $16 (combined)
- Maintenance: 30 000 won / $30 (combined) – This varies from contract to contract. We have an older apartment and there have been numerous times that we’ve had to get the landlords in to repair or replace things, which they happily do.
All of the above costs are split between Gary and I. If you live alone, your costs will most likely be similar to the above as internet and maintenance are generally fixed costs but your utilities could be slightly lower.
To see how much money you can save as an English teacher in Korea, check out this post!
Would I change anything?
I’ve heard many stories of people living in tiny apartments that have no light and no space. But on the flip side, I know of people who have 3-bedroom apartments all to themselves.
In the end, you need to weigh up the pros and cons of your possible new home. For us, the city and school were a big attraction. Considering we would not have to spend time and money furnishing our apartment, a smaller apartment was a sacrifice we were willing to make.
Looking for more Korea travel information? Check out my other posts!
- Getting Lasek/Lasik In Korea
- A Complete Guide To Teaching English In Korea
- Where To See Cherry Blossoms In Seoul
- Nami Island (And The Garden of Morning Calm)
- 24 Strange Things About Life in Korea