I’ve lived in my fair share of countries, but the most vibrant and diverse experience I had was my year in Seoul, South Korea.
I jetted off for 12 months to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, something I had wanted to do for years. I had my heart set on South Korea, whose culture I had fallen in love with through the magic of K-Pop music and K-Dramas.
As excited as I was, I had to prepare thoroughly for the move – a very stressful event! As a single woman in particular, there were many things to keep in mind to make the most of this fantastic experience.
If you’re considering moving to Seoul as a single woman, I recommend you seek out a comprehensive moving abroad checklist as your first port of call. Then you can follow my tips for living in Seoul specifically!
Cover the basics
You need to organise some fundamentals before moving to Seoul, particularly if you’re going to be a self-reliant, single woman.
Sorting out employment, accommodation, and legal documents you’ll need are absolute musts.
Seoul is expensive, so moving there without a job lined up isn’t advised. Seeking employment might be tricky unless you’re going for a teaching position like I did, or if you work in a high-demand but specialised area like electronics or media.
Think about the kind of neighbourhood you’d like to live in. I was lucky to have accommodation lined up for myself through my job. If you don’t have help, research single-lady-friendly areas.
Do you want to live in the hustle and bustle of the city? Or would you prefer to commute from outside the city? Do you want to be nearer the natives or other expats?
It goes without saying that you can’t move to Seoul without a Visa. Research which one is appropriate for your circumstances. I had an E2 Visa for foreign language teachers.
Crack open the piggy bank
South Korea is one of the wealthiest world economies. Like any capital, the cost of living is high.
Before moving, you’ll need a healthy amount of savings.
I found drawing up a budget helpful for keeping me on track. Knowing how much disposable income I had every month helped me stay afloat whilst still enjoying an active social life.
Research the culture and customs
If you’re originally from a western country, life in Seoul could be a culture shock!
Seoul is an amalgamation of old and new. It’s an energetic economic hub yet it still holds centuries-old traditions and values in high esteem.
Whilst you’ll be exposed to high-tech, ornate shopping centres, you’ll also see wholesome, traditional market stalls. Ancient Buddhist temples co-exist with modern skyscrapers.
If you’re going to live in Seoul, you need to adapt to and respect the culture.
Here are some good pointers:
- South Korea is fashion-oriented but they are also conservative. They take pride in their appearance but retain their modesty, and expect foreigners to do so too.
- Don’t tip in restaurants! In western countries, it’s a sign of appreciation. In South Korea, it’s perceived as offensive.
- Don’t be startled by the pushing and shoving on public transport. It’s normal in Seoul so you’ll need to toughen up.
- Elders are very respected so always remember this.
Learn the language
Do not expect everyone to speak English. Many have a good grasp of the language but don’t make assumptions.
Learning Korean will help you to assimilate into the community, making you feel less like an outsider.
It’ll be a great help knowing Hangul, the Korean writing system, especially if you’re dining out or navigating the metro, where Hangul is often the only language displayed.
Consider your safety
Due to the deeply ingrained culture of respect in South Korea, the crime rate is surprisingly low, making it a rather safe place to live.
In fact, you will be surprised by the number of solo females wandering around the city.
Nevertheless, it’s always good to be prepared. Keep a note of your address and emergency numbers whenever you go out.
There’s a Korea Travel Helpline you can use for emergencies. Created with travellers and expats in mind, just dial 1330 and you’ll be put through to a multilingual team who can help you out.
Another fantastic modern feature of Seoul is their city-wide free WiFi network, IPTime. Keep connected to this so you can pull up maps or Google Translate in emergencies.
Connect with other expats
If, like me, you are venturing to Seoul as part of a English-teaching programme, you’ll already be set with a group of expats to befriend.
It’s nice to have a strong network of like minded individuals when you’re so far from home. They can act as a safety net when you’re feeling lonely or anxious.
Look for expat groups online to connect to or wander over to Itaewon, one of the most foreign-friendly areas in Seoul, filled with western eateries and shops.
Befriend the locals
It could be easy for you to make friends with local Seoul residents through your job.
If you’re struggling to find a group of Seoul friends, get active in the community and try new hobbies.
Something like a local cooking class is a lovely way to make new friends. Learn to make traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap or kimchi – invite your cookery coursemates over to grade your culinary efforts!
Seoul is a beauty hotspot. Streets are lined with spas and saunas, offering the ultimate form of relaxation. Gather a group of girls and spend the afternoon getting pampered before hitting the shops for adorable K-Fashion.
If you want to get away from the noise of the city, you can sign up to a local hiking group who will take regular trips out of the city to hike in stunning national parks.
Seize the Seoul Experience
Moving to Seoul as a single woman can feel like a daunting experience but it’s a chance to experience personal growth, asserting yourself as a liberated and confident individual.
With such a different culture to acclimatise to, you’ll have your eyes truly opened to a brand new world.
Make the most of it – do your research, prepare well, and get lost in the experience.
About the Author
Based in drizzly London town, Laura Fields is a recent escapee from the topsy-turvy world of magazine journalism. Now an online writer, she specialises in exploring the best of home, travel and lifestyle.