Seoul is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and accommodation costs are at the root of this claim. Monthly rental fees are not excessive – they are comparable or less expensive than those of Toronto or New York, or any major city. Most expats in Seoul rent apartments or homes instead of purchasing (which is undesirable for many reasons – for more information, see the “Accommodation” section of this guide). While renting is more convenient, that does not necessarily mean it is less expensive. Expect to pay anywhere from $200,000.00 USD to $1,000,000.00 USD as a deposit, or Jeonse, when you first sign a lease for your apartment. After you pay this deposit, depending on the area of Seoul (Gangnam-gu is more expensive than Seodaemun-gu, for example) and the type of housing you choose (high rise apartment, house or condominium) your monthly rent can be anywhere from 1,000,000 won to 10,000,000+ won per month.
- A three bedroom apartment in Yongsan-gu (the geographical centre of Seoul and most popular living area for foreign expats) costs approximately $3000.00 USD per month.
Utilities & Other Bills
Utility bills are probably far more inexpensive than in your home country.
- The average electricity bill costs approximately 30-50,000 won per month in warm months and, when using electric heating in winter, will double or triple in price. For a three bedroom apartment, expect to pay about 150,000+ won in the winter.
- Gas is approximately 10,000-20,000 won per month.
- Your cell phone bill, if you pay up front for the phone and then “pay as you go” (as your phone runs out of credit, simply add 10,000 won or so to your account), can be 20,000 won per month or less, depending on how much you talk and make international phone calls, which are expensive. Pre-paid cell phone plans are generally 50-60,000 won per month.
- Usually, your cable and internet bill is combined and is approximately 40-50,000 won per month, depending on the company and the cable package you choose (all internet is high speed).
If you move to Seoul with your spouse, you can expect to spend 50-100,000 won per week on groceries and eat well in your home – usually, 50,000 won will buy you the basics (bread, milk, pasta, rice, vegetables, etc.) plus a few extra treats and you can eat well all week long. Comparatively, eating out at the cheap and tasty “kimbab restaurants” is very economical. You can buy a roll of kimbab (like a Korean-style sushi roll) and spend less than $2.00 USD on your meal, which includes many different side dishes. You can eat out every night at Korean style restaurants and spend the same amount, or less, than you would spend on groceries in one week. Many expats (and Koreans) eat out for every meal. If you go out for Korean BBQ, prepare to pay about 10,000 won per person. This is also the cost of meals in all other Korean restaurants, except for the very high end establishments. Korean pizza is very tasty and inexpensive – about 5,000 won per pizza depending on where you go.
On the other hand, you can spend over 100,000 won on one meal in an Outback’s Steakhouse if you go for three courses and drinks. High-end or Western restaurants are expensive in Korea.
When shopping for groceries you can expect to pay the following for these 15 basic items:
- Milk: About 3,000 won for two litres.
- Butter: About 4,500 won for two cups worth.
- Eggs per dozen: From 1,900 won to about 3, 000 won (depending on size and quality).
- Bread: About 1,900 won.
- Potatoes: Depending on origin and amount, from 2,500 won to 5,000 won.
- Rice: About 2, 500 won per kilo.
- Instant Coffee: Coffee “tubes” come in a box and cost about 2,500 won for a dozen. Pre-ground or coffee beans are much more expensive – 5,000 won per kilo or more.
- Fruit: Generally very expensive in Korea. Expect to pay 1,000 won for one apple or one orange. About 2,300 won per bunch of bananas.
- Vegetables: Much less expensive than fruit. Spinach, lettuce, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and more: expect to pay about 1, 000 won per kilo.
- Yoghurt: About 3-5,000 won per package of eight.
- Cheese: If it’s not processed, it’s very expensive. Expect to pay 4, 000 won for cheddar, 6,000 won for mozzerella, and 10,000+ won for specialty cheese.
- Toiletries: Less than 10,000 won for a 12 roll of toilet paper, 5, 000 won per shampoo bottle, 1,900-3,000 won for toothpaste.
- Household cleaning supplies: 1,900-3,000 won for dish detergent, 2,000-3,000 for spray cleaners.
- Meat: Chicken – less than 5,000 won for bone-in, skin-on; 10,000 won for boneless, skinless breasts. Beef: 5-20,000 won depending on cut. Pork- 5-12,000 won depending on cut.
- Fish: About 5-10,000 won depending on type.
If you take taxis a lot, you’ll spend quite a bit more than if you simply take the bus or subway. Many expats splurge when they arrive and invest in a bicycle, which is a good mode of transportation in traffic logged Seoul.
- Taxis are still much more reasonably priced than those in Western countries, with the average taxi ride costing around 5000 won.
- Taking the bus or subway usually means spending less than 2000 won for any location within and around Seoul. You can invest in a T-money card which lowers the cost of public transportation on buses and subways. These are available at almost any convenience store and at subway stations – when you run out of credit just ask the clerk at Family Mart to add more on. The average expat spends between 20,000 to 50,000 won on monthly public transport.
- If you own your own vehicle, you’ll probably be appalled by the high gas prices in Korea, with the average price per litre being 1000-2000 won (take note that a litre is smaller than a gallon).
- You can use the gym at community centres for just 30,000 won a month, or if you feel the need to splurge, there are upscale gyms/saunas all over Seoul with the average monthly membership cost being 100,000- 200,000 won.
- Movie tickets are only 8,000 won per person.
- A day at the jjimjilbang, which is a Korean style spa with lots of mineral baths, saunas and sleeping mats will cost under 10,000 won, including pajamas and full use of the facilities for 24 hours. Massage is extra.
- Theatre tickets are 8,000 won per person. Opera, live theatre and other special performances can cost anywhere from 10-150,000 won for a ticket, depending on your seat and the type of performance.
Services such as housekeeping, dry cleaning, manicures, pedicures and haircuts are all extremely affordable in Seoul.
- The average haircut/style of excellent quality is around 20,000 won.
- A manicure is roughly 16,000 won and a pedicure is about 35,000 won.
- A day of housekeeping is less than 20,000 won.
- Dry cleaning can be less than 5000 won depending on how much you want cleaned.
- Babysitters are uncommon in Korea and kids are usually taken care of by friends or family members if the parents are going out for a night. Nannies make anywhere from 600,000-1,000,000 won per month.
International schools in Seoul often get parents to pay a portion of their child’s tuition in Korean won and a portion in another currency – usually American dollars. The average international school in Seoul may ask for 8 million won plus $2, 500.00 USD in yearly tuition, as well as other school fees (transportation, uniform, etc.) that can cost up to 500,000 won. For more complete tuition information, please see the “International Schools” section of this guide.