Working in Korea – FAQ

Many of you have arrived at this sight because you are thinking about coming to Korea to work and live. I know this as many of you have decided to e-mail me asking various questions about coming here, and while I don’t mind answering your e-mails, it would be a lot more valuable to you if you came here first. Of course if you have other questions please feel free to e-mail and I’ll happily answer then for you.

Contributors to this site are:

Hammy (and his wife Miky) from Frugal Bastard
Stafford from Chosun Bimbo
Paul from Kimchi for Breakfast
Simon from Aussie in Seoul

What are 10 important things to bring to Korea?
What places/cities do you recommend working in?
What important details do you keep an eye open for in a new contract?
Public school/hagwon/university, which one is the best? Pros and cons?
What are Korean people like?
Any other bits of information I should know before coming to Korea?

What are 10 important things to bring to Korea?

David from Staypuff;

  1. Deodorant. The Korean stuff doesn’t cut it and the imported brands cost a small fortune ($8US!)
  2. Any food products you know you’ll miss like Vegemite.
  3. Warm clothes for winter. If you come in winter its vital you have these. Thermals are a must.
  4. Photo’s from home. You’ll miss friends and family.
  5. All contract papers. Resume papers. Your university degree and a few copies of your academic transcript (in a sealed university envelope).
  6. Hair product like fudge. I find the stuff here just isn’t the same back home.
  7. Bedding. Clean sheets and pillowcases.
  8. Sense of adventure. People come here and never see the country. I urge you to.
  9. Lonely Planet’s ‘Korea’ book. Not the best for everything, but overall its the most comprehensive.
  10. Women should bring toiletries. Any prescription medication ( a generous supply). Vitamins (expensive here).

Stafford from Chosun Bimbo;

    1. Towels, Korean ones are the size of postage stamps
    2. Deodorant – it’s not impossible to find here, but it takes a bit of looking
    3. Marmite. None of this Vegemite crap
    4.- 7. A healthy pinch of salt – new culture blah blah blah – just get on with it and have fun
    8-10. A spare liver, yes yes Koreans like to boast as to how much they can drink (nothing compared to those of us with antipodean blood running through our         veins) but fore-warned is fore-told.

Hammy from Frugal Bastard;

  1. Sense of adventure.
  2. Willingness to accept a different culture
  3. Ability to learn another alphabet and a sense of history.
  4. Open mind.
  5. A few Aussie toys to distribute and Aussie paraphernalia, link to bookmarks of your favourite Websites back home in case you get homesick.
  6. A plan for what you want to achieve in Korea.

Miky (Hammy’s better half);

  1. Underarm deodorant
  2. Obese person or > size 16 – bring own clothes
  3. Vegemite

Paul from Kimchi for Breakfast;

  1. The single most important thing to bring is an open mind.  Beyond that I would say some deodorant, some packet sauces.  Beyond that, if there’s something someone thinks they really need, they should email a blogger and ask if it’s available.  Pretty much everything is at a price (as you found out at Hannam Super the other day)

Simon from Aussie in Seoul;

  1. As many personal belongings that have always helped you live your life. 
  2. If you can bring your winter clothes if you own already.
  3. If you are big, like in clothes size, or more so shoe size, make sure you bring enough to last for a while.
  4.  Bring your international drivers license as will help if you want to buy a car, motorbike, or convert to Korean license. 

What places/cities do you recommend working in?

David from Staypuff;

Its a horses for courses thing. If you come from a big city or enjoy an active lifestyle then a large city like Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. They’re filled with exciting things to do and there will always be someone around wanting to have a drink or just hang out with you. Of course a bigger city generally means all these distractions can eat away at any saving you’re trying to establish while your here.

I live in a small town, which suits me fine. I have a small, close knit group of friends, and on weekends I look for my own sources of entertainment. Things are less rush-rush, but it can get a tad boring a times. Also, if you don’t get along with the foreign community, then it’ll be a long 12 months either trying to understand Korean or on the internet with friends back home.

Do some research first.

Stafford from Chosun Bimbo;

City , Countryside, I guess it’s up to your own tastes. having worked in Seoul for a couple of months now and having spent almost 3 years (2yrs, 10 months) in the countryside I can’t see the difference. Korea is so small you can get from one end to the other in half a day by train. 

Hammy from Frugal Bastard;

Busan is probably ok. Haven’t lived or taught over there.

Miky (Hammy’s better half);

Seoul is best for Westerners, Busan is ok. If you are a quiet person then head to a small city.

Paul from Kimchi for Breakfast;

I’m pro-Seoul.  I also like Daegu, Kyeongsan, Koje. 

Simon from Aussie in Seoul;

I work in Gangnam area around Samseong  Dong / Daechi  Dong. Very expensive for rental, but if company paying then good area to live as lots of places to shop, eat, and play. 

If you live in Seoul and want to be near expat crowd then around Iteawon.

What important details do you keep an eye open for in a new contract?

David from Staypuff;

At first the contract seems pretty straight forward. Read it hard and if there’s any questions or ambiguity then either ask your recruiter or talk directly with the place you are planning on working at. Better still, talk to a foreigner who’s already working there, you’re more likely to get a better picture of what the details are in the contract.

Make sure you have sick leave (at least 3 days), medical insurance (you’d be surprised how many people think they have it), a healthy overtime rate (at least time and a fifth), holidays, what expenses are expected from you, and what your living conditions will be like.

Stafford from Chosun Bimbo;

All of it. If you signed it then your agreeing to it, Quit your whining!

Hammy from Frugal Bastard;

Tenure, role, conditions (hours/living), time off, expectations of your position.

Miky (Hammy’s better half);

Read the contract

Simon from Aussie in Seoul;

If you’re here in a corporate position or even Embassy position make sure the following is in your contract 

  • Annual Flights home for entire family
  • Full medical coverage
  • Accommodation (1br min 70sqm, 2br min 85sq m, 3br min 100sqm)
  • Utilities paid by company especially electricity.
  • Bonus plan
  • Transportation allowance
  • Schooling fees for children

Public school/hagwon/university, which one is the best? Pros and cons?

David from Staypuff;

Hagwon (private academy): Working times are from the afternoon to usually late at night (8-10pm). You can sleep in every day and party every night. The pay is usually higher then university jobs, but you’re working up to 120 hours a month, so you can’t really do many more private classes without taking away from you social time. They can be a bit dodgy when it comes to corrupt bosses, business practices, etc.

University: Seems a lot easier to teacher then hagwon’s. More holidays, more free time, but you work a normal day (9 to 6) on and off. You have plenty of time for privates and can use the holiday breaks to work at summer camps. The potential to earn good money is there. Normal pay is lower than hagwon.

School: Never worked there and don’t know too many that have. Seems reliable.

Stafford from Chosun Bimbo;

University/ public school = sweet holidays

Hagwon = sleeping in 7 days a week.

Miky (Hammy’s better half);

Uni is best, easy to teach, no pressure, best timing

Public is good, not much pressure

Hagwon is worst, lots of pressure, not much welfare, early morning/late evenings.

What are Korean people like?

David from Staypuff;

Generally speaking Korean people are very polite to foreigners and will often go out of their way to help you out. It seems like every Korean person you meet wants to be your friend. Due to the whole Confucianism structure of society, Korean people still highly regard age as a level of respect. For me this is most annoying. As a foreigner you really don’t fit anywhere into the structure, so you get mixed reactions from people.

A lot of Korean’s alway want to be your friend for only one reason, to learn and practice their English. That’s not a bad thing really, as long as you can appreciate that fact. Most foreigners here in Korea will tell you that same thing, most friendships in Korea are shallow. A lot of the time its up to you to maintain a friendship otherwise it fizzles out.

Overall, Korean’s are like most people from anywhere; A mixture of really nice people with a few dickheads thrown in.

Stafford from Chosun Bimbo;

Fun, interesting, gorgeous, smart, funny, ugly, sly, annoying dickheads etc . just like canadians, aussies, kiwis, yanks and just about every other type of person in the world.

Hammy from Frugal Bastard;

Gossipy, rude at times, male-dominated, sensitive about foreigners, unlikely to involve you if you aren’t permanently staying in Korea, very loyal to each other as long as they aren’t crossed, set in their ways, polite to foreigners except when feelings may be hurt, a little bit uncaring perhaps, strong work ethic, almost ultimate consumers.

Miky (Hammy’s better half);

Kind to Westerners, loud, straight talkers, don’t you get too offended by private questions as they have to know you age to know how to address you.

Paul from Kimchi for Breakfast;

Quite friendly, a little overawed about communicating with you in English, appreciate any effort you make with Korean, short-tempered, proud, not logical, don’t get sarcasm.

Simon from Aussie in Seoul;

As a society they are independent people, very close to family, small circles of friends. They like structure, long term career stability is important, very conflicted between past and present.

I believe Koreans have this mindset that if I do not know you, or we have no connection in anyway then I should only care for myself. This is how they drive, walk, and act in public. They drive for themselves, break most laws for their convenience, cut you off, run red lights, cut through lanes on a freeway with no care. They walk the same. BUT, once you bump into them and show you are upset, then they will apologize etc.. 

Once you meet a Korean then to make a connection is not so difficult and they can and will be for the most part very genuine, friendly, honest, and loyal. In my two years in Korea I have friendships that will last a lifetime.

Any other bits of information I should know before coming to Korea?

David from Staypuff;

Read up on Korea and it customs. Experience a bit of Korean food before you come here so you don’t get a culture shock in the culinary department. Ask lots of question to people who have worked there, are currently here, and/or your recruiter. There is no stupid question.

Miky (Hammy’s better half);

Etiquette, manners, read about Korea and how people live before you go to take their money.

Paul from Kimchi for Breakfast;

If you’re a bloke, you’ll probably end up gettnig married if you decide to stay more than one year.

Simon from Aussie in Seoul;

Check the voltage

It is not that expensive as everyone says

The Koreans on the surface are one thing, but very different underneath.

Generosity is a part of their culture and expect to share gifts

Expect to drink a lot. This is part of the social culture. As one of my Korean business partners I have who is also a friend said; we drink, we eat, we get drunk. We get drunk in business circles because it is the time we learn who is the real person we are doing business with. When anyone is drunk they can never hide their true feelings, and their real personality always shows!

 If you are coming with a family and school age children check out the different international schools online and make sure contract is covering these schools.

There are many great websites, blogs etc in Korea that have great information.

For ladies there are great associations to join like SIWA, ANZA ladies etc.

Men. get involved in your country chambers. Like Australia / New Zealand Chamber of Commerce.

If you have further questions please feel free to email me: dehere(at)iinet.net.au