After being in Korea for just over three years, Adam and I decided to look for our own place. Usually, with public school contracts, your school will sort out a flat for you, and provide you with a few basics (a fridge, TV, table, chair, wardrobe and microwave). I’ve been lucky enough to have been placed in spacious, lovely apartments that were easy to call home.
This year, however, we wanted to live together, so we opted to each take the housing allowance. This is provided by the school if you want to find your own flat. In Korea, the schools only provide joint housing to married couples.
Having never looked for an apartment before, even in SA, the thought of finding a flat in a foreign country was pretty daunting. Adam and I had to literally Google what a real-estate agent is in Hangeul — it’s safe to say we were clueless!
I’ve listed a few useful words that we learnt along the way, which would have made the apartment-hunt a lot easier and a lot less time consuming.
USEFUL APARTMENT-HUNTING TERMS
Real estate agency: 부동산
Monthly rent: 월세
Living room: 거실
Washing machine: 세탁기
Size measurement for accommodation in Korea: 평
Adam and I made the mistake of asking to see “two-room” places, thinking that these would be bigger apartments with two bedrooms. However, we soon discovered that two-room literally means two small rooms, virtually no kitchen, a small bathroom, and no other space whatsoever. This would be okay for a person living alone who has no interest in cooking (one place had a one-plate stove…what can you even do with that?!), but we love cooking, and we (okay, I) have a shitload of stuff that would have filled that little place to bursting. We may have had to sleep in the bathroom.
After realising our error, we came to find that we were actually looking for an apartment with two bedrooms, and that is very different from a one-room or two-room. Our flat now is a great size (24평). It has two bedrooms, a lounge, a decent-sized eating area and a great kitchen (we have yet to buy a stove — Adam’s camping stove has been a life-saver!)
I recommend seeing loads of places. Flats in rural/less popular areas are a lot cheaper than they would be in cities. We saw a puny two-room in a University area that would have cost us double what we are paying now. Old buildings, too, have a lower monthly rent, and I have found them cheaper to live in overall. The 관리비 (administrative fee) in my very first apartment building was next to nothing. Last year, I paid loads because I was in a new complex.
Once settling on a place, you will have to pay a security deposit. This can vary greatly, depending on the landlord. I would say have at least 5 million Won available. You will get this back at the end of the lease, assuming you have not completely wrecked the flat.
Lastly: furnishing the bad boy. The downside of finding your own apartment is that the responsibility of furnishing it falls to you. The school will not have to help at all, because you decided to take the housing allowance. Since Adam and I are only planning on staying in Korea for one more year, we thought buying brand new stuff was a waste of money. So, we raided second-hand shops. These are easily identifiable by the various fridges, washing machines and couches usually situated outside. Our furniture and appliances are fine, but a little run down. We have a shelf in the fridge that was taped together when we bought it and the washing machine beeps about an uneven load even when the load is fine. Yes, we could have avoided these small issues had we bought new things, but that would have cost us a few million, as opposed to a few hundred thousand.
Finding an apartment independently in Korea isn’t easy, but it was quite a lot of fun — except when we were walking around for ages in the snow looking at two-rooms. You get to make all the decisions and find something exactly right for you.
Have you rented an apartment in Korea? Comment below and let us know about your experiences!