As Korean culture sweeps the world more and more, ever increasing amounts of students are looking at moving to South Korea. As the country develops more, however, the cost of living in Korea is steadily rising. With the eighth most expensive real estate in the world, Seoul especially is not a cheap place to live. But as a student who plans ahead and who has some income, it is definitely not impossible to live here and enjoy life as a student.
When considering the cost of living in Seoul and what it’s like to be a student living in Seoul, I think it is important to think about the more important (and more costly) aspects first. As such, this list is in descending order of what I have found to be the most expensive aspects of life here in Seoul. Your costs may differ, but after living here for two years this is my experience.
This chart shows my standard monthly costs in Seoul
Tuition is the most important cost to consider as a student living in Seoul and is also (often) the largest. These fees will either be very cheap or very expensive depending on what you are used to. For national universities, the costs will usually range from about $2000USD a semester to $4500USD. This is highly dependent on your major and university, with some courses (such as medicine) being near $4500, and others (like humanities) just being $2000.
Private universities on the other hand range from about $3000 to $7000USD. There are many private and national universities and there are a lot of options open. Further, many universities readily offer scholarships, as does the Korean Government. Student living in Seoul is costly when considering the tuition fees, but relative to many other counties the cost is minimal.
Even if you feel like you can’t afford these costs, it is still worth applying. As I mentioned above, there is a multitude of scholarships available to supplement your costs. If you simply apply you can often be offered these scholarships.
Student Housing in Seoul is affordable and there is a large variety of choice. For more information check out this post.
Rent in South Korea is very affordable, with many different housing options available. Costs can range from $275 a month in a dormitory or goshiwon (an off-campus dormitory) to $1000 in an expensive one room. Really, there is something for everyone’s needs. Rent in South Korea is generally very affordable for students with many one-room apartments starting at $300 in student areas. Some places will also include utility costs and can be found for around $300 inclusive of these. That’s a total of only $75 for rent every week. For far more information on housing please check out this post from a few days ago.
Utilities are another part of student living in Seoul that is very affordable. Monthly utility costs include electricity, water, and gas, all of which are cheap. Depending on the month, gas can be as low as $0 and as high as $100 in winter. Korean apartments usually have ondols, which is underfloor heating. Considering that it is around $100 for constant heating throughout the winter months, that’s not a bad price at all. Electricity is the same. In winter it is usually a minimal cost of under $20, but in summer (with AC and fans) it can go up to $100-$200 easily. However, if you are conservative with your use of AC then summer doesn’t have to cost much either.
Something to keep in mind with Korean electricity costs is that they are exponentially increasing. This means that while using X amount of power might cost $5, using double that amount of power may cost $25, and double that might be $150. This is usually great for students as it means the costs are very low. But in summer you should always be wary.
The final cost of utilities if you are a student living in Seoul is water. I’ve found that even when using a large amount of water that your costs will barely be $15 per month. Overall, utilities in Korea are very affordable as long as you manage them well. This can possibly be the biggest costs for a student living in Seoul, but if managed well it can easily be minimized.
Korea has some of the best cuisine in the world! Image from here.
Food is another major factor in the cost of living in Seoul and will usually be either the second or third biggest expense. When eating at home then you can expect to spend around $30-$70 a week. Depending on if you plan to buy wholesale goods then you also have options such as Costco which is very cheap for large amounts of food.
If you plan to eat out then expect to be paying anywhere from $3 to $20 per meal. If you prefer to eat cheaply but want to eat out then it is more than possible to find meals less than $5. Also be prepared to possibly factor in bottled water. Depending on your house, tap water may or may not be safe to drink, and a filter may be necessary. Bottled water can also be purchased at around $3 for six 2 liter bottles. (check out the links for more detailed information on food costs).
As a student living in Korea (and probably travelling a bit), public transport will be your next biggest cost. Train rides and bus rides are around $1 each way, and this means that you can expect to spend around $2 for every trip. My usual monthly costs for transport are about $80.
Internet and Phone
The three main phone companies in Korea are KT, SKT and LGU+. Image from here.
Internet and phone plan prices in South Korea vary greatly depending on what you are expecting. The Internet can be as had as low as $30 a month (100mbps) and as high as $50 (1gbps). Phone plans, however, have much more variation and it highly depends upon what you want. Plans start at around $20 and unlimited data plans can cost anywhere from $60-$120 depending on your carrier and exact specifications. More info can be found on the carriers sites, KT, SKT and LGU+.
The prices in South Korea for medical insurance are very reasonable and far lower than most other countries. Foreigners are eligible for the National Health Insurance after being in Korea for three months. The insurance costs $50 per month, however, there is a catch. If you live in Korea for one year and then sign up for the plan, you will be charged for nine months (since that is when you became eligible). To avoid this charge you can leave the country and re-enter (for example by going to Japan for a day). Just keep this in mind if you plan to join the National Health Insurance.
Activities are another aspect that can’t really be discussed without knowing specifics. They could either be the lowest, or the highest cost! But on average, a night of drinking will cost about $30-$100. Cafes are usually about $3-$10 (they will be more if they are themed). Many other activities exist, but they are far too many to include here! Here are two links that provide far more detail on activity costs in Seoul. Here and here.
The cost of living in Seoul is comparatively low to most western countries. However, depending on where you are from it may also be very costly. As a student living in Seoul for two years now I have found that costs can often be high, but usually they are affordable. The rent in South Korea is low for a city such as Seoul, and in general the prices in South Korea are cheaper than many alternative countries.