Updated: Apr 20, 2022
There is no shortage of top 10 blogs that list all the things you need to know when making your move to Korea. It is no surprise as for many foreigners, traveling to Korea for the first time can be a bit of a shock, even after reading up on all the listicle blogs out there on the matter. Having assisted foreigners settling in Korea for the last 8 years, Wonderful has listed out the following 10 useful tips that might seem obvious at first but hit you hard when you move or start living in South Korea.
1. English is not commonly spoken in Korea
The first time I moved to Korea, I was hoping to be able to get around with basic English words, having understood that most Koreans at least studied English at school. I quickly realized that this was not realistic when I had trouble asking for a pencil at the convenience store. :( Years later I figured out that just using a Korean accent might have made the difference 😂, but lesson learnt.
It is a good idea to learn some basic Korean when travelling to or moving to South Korea. Website like Talk To Me in Korean can be useful but if you do not have time, you can try using apps like Papago or Google Translate for quick simple translations. They are not always accurate so it is always good to check with a friend if possible.
2. Finding large size clothes and shoes is hard in Korea, Stock Up!
Finding stores that have affordable large size clothes can be a mythic quest in Korea. While Korea has a large variety of cloth, shoes and modern fashion, they are mostly sold for the average Korean body type. Places like Itaewon in Seoul can offer some large size clothing items, but it gets harder to find options outside of Seoul. Therefore, having enough comfortable clothes before you come to Korea, would be advisable, at least while you look for local options. Wonderful can help research on nearby stores that have large shoes for wide feet, custom fit tailor and general large size clothes.
3. Sharing Food
One cultural difference I loved when moving here was the availability of banchan (반찬) or side dishes usually served with meals at Korean restaurants. Some restaurants offer more side dishes than others, and my favorite would be Jangjorim (장조림) or braised beef/pork in soy sauce. One thing that might surprise many foreigners is the fact that you usually share the banchan with those at your table.
Depending on where you are from, you might be used to getting your own portion on your plate when eating out or eating with friends. Even though Covid-19 has encouraged more people to eat alone, you will likely have to share food when eating with colleagues or friends.
Meals like Samgyeop-sal (Korean BBQ) typically have you eating grilled pork from the same pan, though you might be able to get individual rice portions.
4. No tipping culture
We get this question asked a lot; Should I tip? Well, it is not illegal, and some services do accept extra cash if it is from a foreigner, but it is definitely not expected. You do not have to tip, and some businesses might find it strange that you offer them extra cash too. The agreed upon price is usually what you need to pay. You should note that some Koreans might feel offended if you offer them a tip.
5. Expect to be bumped by someone
I have many friends who have been bumped hard when leaving the subway, or when walking down the street, only to turn back and see an ajumma (elderly Korean lady) walk away casually as though nothing happened. 😄 It can definitely seem rude, though it might not always be intentional. And as apologies do not always follow, it can be really frustrating. You don't necessarily have to invest in protective rugby gear 😄, but it helps to know that people walking by you in the street might not always move when you expect them to.
6. Asking Personal Questions
One cultural shock that might await you when socializing during your first trip to Korea, is the number of personal questions asked by strangers. Questions like "What is your age?", "Where are you going?", "Do you have a girlfriend?"... Don't get surprised if the last one comes from your taxi driver. 😄
Some questions like age can be used to try and fit you on the Korean social hierarchy, as Korean language depends a lot on whether you are speaking to an someone who is older or younger to you. Some questions like where you are going might just be polite gestures that do not require a detailed itinerary of your day. Reasons might vary, but it is helpful to know why. If you feel uncomfortable, it is easier to give a vague answer to imply that you do not want to give a full answer.
7. Making Payments on Korean apps/websites
While most offline stores that have a payment till can take your Visa and Mastercard, the same cannot be said for online orders. Making payments online for Korean businesses and services can be a nightmare, even with a Korean bank account and a Korean card. Due to outdated laws, you would likely have to install 3 programs before you get to the checkout page, that might or might not have support for global payment options. It helps making a Korean bank account and asking the bank attendant to show you how to do payments online, or on your phone, but in the mean time Wonderful is more than happy to help settle your payments for any products or services that you might need.
8. Making friends can be hard
One fact about Korea that hits many foreigners hard, especially if you are travelling alone, is the difficulty of making friends and socializing. Koreans generally do not socialize much with strangers, and being a foreigner with no knowledge of Korean makes it harder to do. Social restrictions caused by the pandemic have not made it easier too, especially as many foreigners find it easier to meet people at bars or clubs.
For students it might be easier to make friends in a university setting, through club activities, or sports activities etc. though it is advisable to put in some effort to try and keep in touch/hang out with your Korean colleagues to build those relationships. If you are not in a university setting, it is definitely harder. Apps like meetup.com or eventbrite.com make it easier to meet with people who have a similar interest.
It would help to know about some important emergency contact numbers in Korea. Some emergency support contacts offer English support if you follow the voice prompts, though many might not have it. Wonderful can help call some services for you but for some emergency services, you might need to do so yourself or with the help of a Korean speaking friend who is with you at the time.
10. Get help from Wonderful
Visiting a new place, a new country with a new culture can be difficult for any place. This is why Wonderful operates to help foreigners moving to, travelling to or living in Korea with various issues that they might have. With a simple time based pricing, you can get all your online shopping help, basic translations, troubleshooting, research issues sorted out with one service. Kind of like a swiss army knife of living in Korea. 😊
Regarding our pricing, we charge for the time taken working on your request at 800 KRW/min (There is a 15% discount for first time users), and you can get a refund on the remaining time within 3 months. There are NO processing fees when you pay us via bank wire transfer. (You will pay only the cost of the item(s)). When we charge your bank card, there is an 8.5% processing fee that goes to the payment processor for their services. We do NOT benefit from this fee. For more information regarding our pricing, please follow this link.
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