- Download our Moving to South Korea Guide (PDF)
There's no denying that South Korea is an expensive country. Indeed, the capital, Seoul, frequently ranks as one of the world's most expensive cities in which to live. In 2023, Seoul ranked 16th out of 227 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey.
That said, South Korea boasts competitive salaries and a world-class quality of life. Employment contracts also frequently cover costs such as accommodation and schooling, which saves expats a lot of money. Thanks to this, the cost of living for many expats in South Korea can be reasonable.
There are many ways to keep expenses down. Public transport costs are low, and eating Korean food is cheaper than buying Western food, for instance. Shopping at markets and smaller shops is more cost-effective than shopping in tourist hotspots or major department stores.
It is also worth considering that prices between cities and smaller towns will differ. The cost of living in Seoul is higher than in other cities in South Korea.
Cost of accommodation in South Korea
Accommodation in large cities such as Seoul or Busan will be pricier. Generally, accommodation in South Korea is organised and paid for by an expat's employer. If a foreigner chooses to organise their accommodation, they will be expected to pay 'key money', which is a large deposit from which the landlord earns interest. This will make the upfront costs of housing in South Korea steeper. Basic utilities, including gas, electricity and uncapped WiFi, tend to be affordable.
Cost of transport in South Korea
South Korea boasts an advanced and extensive public transport system, making getting around the country a breeze. Major cities such as Seoul and Busan have integrated public transit systems, allowing passengers to save by purchasing rechargeable smart cards such as the T-money card that can be used on the subway, buses, and even in some taxis. Expats can buy this card to significantly reduce their travelling expenses.
It is highly unlikely that expats will need a car in South Korea, as they will have to contend with regular traffic jams, particularly in larger cities. Expats who opt to buy a car in the country should also be prepared to deal with maintenance, petrol and parking fees.
Cost of electrical and household goods in South Korea
Electrical goods such as televisions, DVD players, digital cameras, cell phones (notably Samsung), computers and high-tech gadgets are all relatively affordable in South Korea.
On the other hand, foreign manufactured goods, which include everything from toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste containing fluoride) and English-language books to Nikon cameras and Apple products, are more costly than locally made items.
Cost of food in South Korea
Foodstuffs that are mostly taken for granted in Western countries, such as fresh produce and cheese, will generally cost more in South Korea than an expat would have paid back home. Most Korean stores also sell products in bulk, making groceries for a single person quite heavy on the wallet.
Overall, dining out is inexpensive when sticking to Korean food. This often makes eating out a better option than buying groceries, especially for single expats. Naturally, dining out at Western restaurants comes with a higher price tag.
Cost of entertainment and eating out in South Korea
Eating out in South Korea can range from moderately priced to expensive, depending on the type of restaurant and the location. The quality of food is largely high, with a focus on fresh ingredients and traditional dishes. Compared to many Western countries, dining out in South Korea can be cheaper or similarly priced, depending on the specific city and the individual's personal spending habits.
Entertainment in South Korea can be similarly priced or even cheaper than in expats' home countries, but it depends on the specific activity and location. Some popular forms of entertainment, such as visiting cultural sites, watching traditional performances, and going to local festivals, can be relatively cheap or free.
Other activities, such as going to clubs, seeing a film or visiting amusement parks, can come at a premium. Expats can expect a wide range of entertainment options in South Korea, including both traditional cultural experiences and modern leisure activities.
Cost of education in South Korea
The cost of education in South Korea can be expensive, particularly in international or private schools. Public schools are generally less expensive but may not offer education in expats' native language. Many expats choose international schools as they offer education in a familiar language and provide a globally recognised curriculum.
Public schools in South Korea mainly offer instruction in Korean, which may not be ideal for expats, but they are more cost-effective and can provide a unique cultural experience for children. Private schools are also an option, offering a mix of Korean and international education, but they may be pricier than public schools.
Cost of healthcare in South Korea
Healthcare in South Korea is much more affordable than in Western countries such as the US. The National Health Insurance programme is compulsory for all expats. Many companies will pay half the monthly fee, leaving the other half for expats to pay themselves.
South Korea has become a medical tourist destination due to the affordability of healthcare. This is especially true for cosmetic procedures and LASIK eye surgery, which many expats take advantage of.
Cost of living in South Korea chart
Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Seoul for February 2024.
|Accommodation (monthly rent)
|Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre
|Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment in the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|Food and drink
|Milk (1 litre)
|Loaf of white bread
|Chicken breasts (1kg)
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant
|Big Mac Meal
|Bottle of beer (local)
|Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)
|Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)
|City-centre public transport fare
|Gasoline (per litre)
What do expats say about South Korea's cost of living?
"Compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, Seoul felt as expensive actually. Well, the rent is a bit lower, BUT, and it is a big 'but' here, the rental system in South Korea is unique and for expats quite inconvenient in South Korea. Instead of paying a monthly rental amount to the landlord, Koreans have something called jeonse. Here the tenant must pay a large lump sum, which is deposited for the duration of the contract. This deposit, also called 'key money', is usually between 50 and 70 percent of the property's value! Insane, right!? Well, this key money is returned to the tenant in full after leaving the property! So, if you have some savings, it is not that bad." Read more about Guillaume and Hammer, French and Hong Kong expats, and their experience living in South Korea.
►For more information on money matters, read Banking, Money and Taxes in South Korea
Are you an expat living in South Korea?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Korea. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global Health Insurance.
Medical insurance specifically designed for expats. With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider.
International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.