Teaching in South Korea is a fantastic way to save some money. Perhaps for a housing deposit, for a trip, or to pay off debt? I came to Korea motivated by a mixture of all three. I had a large amount of debt I had struggled to deal with in the UK, and well as a vague desire to buy a house in the distant future.
The standard salary is 2.3 million won with a free apartment. This translates to about £1400 a month after tax and insurance. It should be easy to save, right? And yes, it can be. However, saving money is never that straight forward. I managed to half my debt in the first year, but this fell short of what I was hoping to achieve.
The problem with moving to a new country to save is the increased temptations. Living so close to Japan, I couldn’t not visit! And then there was Taipei. And Beijing. Then there was all the amazing things to do and place to visit in South Korea!
So how do you save? Is it possible? Yes! This is my second year and I’ve been far more successful. This is partly due to the novelty of South Korea wearing off, but also strictly following a couple of rules. This post is based around Seoul, so I’m not sure how much this relates to life in other South Korean cities.
Explore Outdoor Seoul
Compared to other capital cities, Seoul is lacking in parks. When I lived in London, I would spend many summer afternoons lounging in the wide choice of beautiful parks. I love being outside. In Seoul, there is Seoul Forest, which is a little scrubby, and a couple of others. But that’s about your lot and this really depressed me when I arrived. However, there are a number of ways you can enjoy the (occasionally) fresh air.
The most popular is hiking. South Korea is made up of 70% mountains so you can see why! Even in Seoul, you are never far from a mountain. These hiking spots are usually kitted out with shops, restaurants, and well-groomed paths, meaning they are possible even for the most novice hiker. And the best bit? They’re completely free! Most mountains have a few different routes so you can change it up. It’s a great away to spend a Saturday without breaking the bank!
Use Korean Tour Groups
I’m always a bit sceptical of tour groups and prefer to organise my own trips. However, choosing a company to do the organising for you will save you a massive amount of money. They can charter coaches and book cheap accommodation. They are also solo traveller friendly so a great way to save money on hotel rooms. I’ve done a couple of these, including the JSA and Holi Hai in Busan. The most popular tour companies are:
Trazy (This is also a great discount ticket website)
Avoid Western Food
This is the one that I find most difficult. I haven’t developed a love of Korean food in the same way I have with other Asian cuisines. The flavours (kimchi, red pepper paste) are just not for me. I’m also a bit squeamish with my meat, following a mostly plant-based diet at home. I cook my own food the majority of the time but sometimes I’m just too lazy!
Despite this aversion, there’s no getting away from the fact that Korean food is just far cheaper than Western food. You can pick up a mandu (dumpling) soup for 4000won. In contrast, a burger or Mexican meal could be well over 10 000, often a lot more. So, it makes sense to try and keep it local as much as possible.
I have forced myself to try as much as I can, and now have a few things I can happily eat when I’m saving money. Gimbap is always a safe bet!
This is the most time-consuming way to save money, but one of the best. When I was at home, I knew where to shop if I was on a budget. Tesco and Asda! In Korea this is far more complicated. There are a few major supermarkets, but they aren’t always that convenient. I only have access to a large E Mart. This is a great place for cooking ingredients, but their fresh produce is expensive. Home Plus have a small branch near me but the selection is limited. I therefore find myself making multiple trips to various shops to complete what I could in one back home.
If you are being frugal, G Market is your best friend! Owned by Ebay, it is a bit like Amazon, but with only private sellers. I order almond milk, gluten free items, and household items from here. Daiso is a budget shop and will become your best friend.
Wire Money a Few Times
This took me a while to figure out. At first, I was transferring money back home monthly. I bank with Hana Bank, and they were charging 30 000 won. After talking to people, I realised this was a set charge. It was therefore better financially to send larger amounts home but less often. I am terrible at saving if it’s there, so have started taking it out as cash then to transfer it home in a large lump sum.
Put Travel Plans on Hold
This has been the most difficult for me. I LOVE to travel, and would go so far as to say it brings me the most joy. I was therefore shocked by the holiday and travel situation in Korea. Everyone has very similar holidays, and the flights during this time are astronomical. It was cheaper for me to fly from the UK to Bangkok than from Seoul to Bangkok. I therefore realised this was just going to have to be put on hold. I am therefore focusing on saving to travel after, which is slightly less obscene.
I haven’t mentioned the obvious things here that we all know. Obviously drinking and eating out less will save a sizeable amount of money. I find foregoing a social life difficult as I am a very social person. Living alone means I crave company on the weekends, something I do not feel happy about giving up. However, but doing all these other things I have found my savings goals have been met!
Do you have any South Korean saving tips? I’d love to know!