10 Things to Know Upon Arrival in Korea

From getting lost just steps from the front door to signs in another language being of no use for navigation, moving to a new country can be daunting. If you’ve just moved to Korea, here are some tips and tricks to help you get started.

1. T Money Card

T Money CardsThe easiest way to travel. The T-money card is good for use on public transportation and in taxis. If you don’t want to be fumbling for loose change and chuns (W1,000), head to the nearest convenience store and ask for a T-Money card. You can get a card or a keychain. Put some money on it, W10,000 is enough to start, and off you go.

2. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!

There are white, yellow, pink or green trash bags for non-recyclable materials that you can purchase at your nearest convenience store or market. The bags are different depending on which district you live in and they are labeled with the name of the hood as well so you can’t use old trash bags if you move into a new district. While you’re picking up your non-recyclable material trash bags don’t forget to stock up on food trash bags as well, which are separate from your trash trash bags. Now that you have stocked up, take them home and fill the trash bags up with things that can’t be recycled, fill the food trash bag up with the leftover food scraps and then take a leftover bag and fill it up with the recyclables. Take the recyclables outside and if you live in an apartment complex, look for an area to sort your goods out. If you don’t live in an area with a sorting station, you should sort on your own and then line them up neatly on the street. Oh, but be careful, trash trucks only come on certain days and you can’t just be putting trash out at any old time or you may get yelled at by your friendly next door neighbor.

3. TP; Never leave home without it!

Photo from toiletpaperworld.com

Photo from toiletpaperworld.com

This is an important one, right up there with knowing where the nearest “acceptable” restroom is which is getting easier and easier these days. Walking into a restroom to find that there is no paper to speak of is common place and even when there is TP, be aware that there will likely be a trash can next to the toilet with a sign asking that you put all used toilet paper there rather than in the toilet. It can be a scary sight at first, but you get used to it. Newbies may be shocked to find that a common topic of conversation is restrooms in the vicinity. From dirty to clean, TP or not and squatters to western bowls, there is a lot of information to gather.

4. You still use Internet Explorer, right?

Internet Explorer LogoFrom banking to government websites to everything else in between, if you deleted Internet Explorer from your computer long ago, it’s time to download it once again. The country may have Wifi everywhere from buses and street corners to parks and convenience stores, but if you want to get any work done on any Korean website, you’ll need to have access to Internet Explorer. There’s no use griping about it.

5. Sirens don’t always equal invasion.

Once a month, the sirens around the city will go off in the early afternoon to declare an invasion drill. It will be the same every month. Do not freak out. The cars on the road will be stopped and no traffic will move. If you are on the street, you will be directed to enter a nearby shop or subway station. A few minutes later, the drill will be over and you can continue on your way. If you’re inside, you probably won’t even notice.

6. How old are you?

This question is not seen as rude as it is in the west. Koreans would like to know how old you are in order to show the proper respect. But, get ready to be told that you’re a year or two older than you think you are. Koreans have their own aging system. You are considered 1 at birth and upon the Lunar New Year, everyone ages one year. Instead of talking age, talk years. When asked how old you are, which will happen often from taxi rides to meeting new people, say what year you were born to move past any confusion that much faster.

7. Phone Numbers to Memorize

Everyone gets lost now and again and translators can be really useful in sticky situations at banks or post offices. Luckily, there are some hotlines that you can call and they will happily assist you as you endeavor to live abroad in Korea. Call them with every question from where is the nearest bowling alley to how to open up a bank account and they can give you the info.

Korea Tourism Organization Information Center: 1330

Information & Translation: 120

Emergency Medical Information Center: 02-1339

8. Where am I going?

Seoul Subway MapFind a subway map or get the bus information as soon as you can. Though taxis are pretty easy to use and drivers these days, though not fluent in English, have some English skills to speak of, it’s much cheaper and faster to use public transportation. Download these apps to get you started:

Seoul Bus: Great for the Seoul bus routes, you can also hit a button to show you what the nearest stop is and what buses access it. Not good if you don’t know which bus you want though.

Subway Korea: For all of the subways in the country this is the app to have. It has all of the routes and you can log in where you want to go and it will tell you how long it takes to get there and which car to get into so that you don’t have to walk a mile inside the subway station to transfer. For use in Korean, English & Chinese.

Naver Map: This is one of the most reliable apps, but you’ll need to be able to read Korean and type Korean at a basic level. This app can tell you routes to get from one place to another using subway to bus, by walking or by car.

9. Food on the Cheap

Seoul, Korea: Mapo-gu Mangwon Traditional Market, fruit and veggiesThe cheapest places to buy groceries are your local farmers markets. There are farmers markets in every neighborhood, you just have to find them. Usually, the markets are named using the neighborhood or “dong (동)” name followed by sijang (시장). For example. I live near Mangwon-dong (망원동). Our local market is called Mangwon Sijang (망원 시장). If you’re looking for large western style grocery stores, HomePlus and Emart are your best bets, but you’ll be spending an arm and a leg more than you have to at those places.

10. Some Final Tips & Tricks

-When eating dokkboki, rice cakes in a spicy red pepper sauce, at a street vendor’s cart make sure you keep your feet a bit further back. If you glance down at a food stall near you, you will notice red dots all around on the ground and probably on the tops of other peoples’ shoes who didn’t heed the warning.

-Always carry your phone charger with you. If you’re out and about and your phone dies, you can plug it in in any cafe, bar or restaurant that you spot a plug. Even if you forget your charger, the staff will probably have a charger to help you. Ask away and don’t be shy.

-Learning to read Korean takes a week. Sit down, open a book and you can figure it out. That doesn’t mean you’ll understand what you’re reading, but it would behoove you to learn the basics. You might be surprised to walk down the street reading signs and realize that there are in fact many English words that have just been written in Korean. Common English words in Korean vernacular include: bakery, computer, salad, sandwich, meats from pastrami to ham and cheese to tuna and more.

The Soul of Seoul Tours

What else do you think a newbie to Korea should know? Any other helpful tips and tricks for living here and getting through the first month?

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14 Responses

  1. Marcy says:

    The buses were hard for me because there is no English, unlike the subway. I have an app for the subway that is in English, is the bus app in English?

    • Hallie says:

      Unfortunately, that app isn’t in English. Though I can read Korean, I often click into the map view so I can see the route that the bus takes. That is helpful in any language if you know where you want to go. The only English for buses on the signs even is the subway station stops. They still haven’t translated all of the stops on the signs, so yes, it is difficult to use the buses, but I have always liked riding them because you can see so much more and figure out how the roads are connected faster and easier than when you’re popping up from a subway all of the time.

  2. Costco is your new friend when it comes to cheaper and western goods. Find someone with a card or go and sign up with your ARC.

    The best place to find souvenirs is at the National Museum of Korea gift shop.

  3. Mi Ah says:

    I like your page and this article! 🙂
    I’m a hungarian girl and I also have a blog about South Korea. I just want to ask you if I can translate this to my blog or not. Of course I mark your page and you as original writer!
    Mi Ah 🙂

  4. suyoung says:

    i’m so impressed reading your article all about korea.
    in addition, this article has a really useful information for newbie in korea
    As i am korean, I wanna let you know more korea’s information, but i havn’t got enough english writing skill… so, i feel sorry. (English writing is so difficult to me.)

    • Hallie says:

      I think you wrote this really well in English. Keep practicing and I’m sure you’ll be able to say everything that you want to say. ^^

  5. cat says:

    I’m Korean and I’ve been abroad for a few years and got back to Korea now. this country is extremely convenient to live just if you speak Korean. Sometimes I’m so surprised how hard it is for foreigners to live in korea without speaking korean. it is not easy at all to live in korea when only speaking Eng especially out of Seoul. i think it will be super useful for foreigners to arrive just now. sometimes I wish there is an Eng version of map in seoul. whenever they are lookin for some store, all the shop and malls are in Kor. hard to translate it all…

    • Hallie says:

      Yea, learning at least to read Korean is extremely helpful and really not all that difficult. Learning what it means is a different story but if you can read then figuring out the maps is easier although an english map would help most newcomers for sure.

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