5 Mistakes to Avoid When Moving to Korea

You’re counting down the days until your flight to Korea—and a new life abroad—but you aren’t sure you’ve done all you should have. Check this list to make sure you’re prepared!

Sarah Stricker - Profile picSarah is a Portland, Oregon native who crossed the Pacific for the opportunity to live and work in Seoul, South Korea. Through trial-and-error she has managed to overcome mistakes and misunderstandings, recreate all the comforts of home, and find countless things to love about her new home abroad.

Preparing to move abroad is a nerve-wracking, life-changing, and ultimately exciting time for many new expats. It’s tempting to just pack your bags and jet off on your new adventure without spending a second longer agonizing over the what-ifs and logistics. Before you officially pack your bags for that last time and head to Korea, make sure you’re prepared to avoid these five mistakes expats—and especially English teachers—coming to Korea have made!

Moving to Korea Mistake #1: Not bringing important documents with you and not being sure where to get them in a bind

Moving to KoreaDuring your visa process you had to gather myriad documents including transcripts, notarized copies of certificates and diplomas, and your letters of reference. But once you have a visa and a plane ticket, you can’t just forget about these papers! One day you might need to supply some personal information to your employer and the next you might need to refer to your personal medical history when you visit your new Korean doctor.

What To Do: Have every conceivable document you could need throughout your year (or more) on your person or easily accessible. You don’t want to frantically call home begging your mother or a friend to hunt down the paperwork you need. Buy a file folder of some kind—hard-sided is better—and keep everything organized and together. You’ll save yourself a world of stress when, inevitably, a document is unexpectedly required. You can’t go wrong with also keeping a digital backup of your documents so that, in a bind, you have proof they exist.

Moving to Korea Mistake #2: Not squaring away your financial situation before moving abroad, planning to just forget about it for a while

BankingMany people turn to a job in Korea because they can confidently pay down debt, travel Asia, and still save some money. The worst mistake you could make for your financial future would be to disregard your responsibilities back in your home country. By all means, come seeking new experiences, but don’t forget what’s back home: debt doesn’t magically disappear just because you did; your government probably still expects tax money even if you’ve been living abroad; interest and fees build up rapidly when neglected. Ignoring your financial obligations back home could have harsh consequences in the future, so don’t let it happen!

What To Do: Be an expert on your personal financial situation, including your credit, debt, savings, and recurring bills. Before leaving your home country, you should consult your bank(s) and find out about international transaction fees, international wire/money transfer information, and how you can access your accounts abroad. The first month to two months of your life in Korea will be a flurry of official business and opening accounts, so make sure you come knowing what you need.

Do you need to send money home regularly? Will you need a way to access banking online? Can you continue using your home country’s credit cards for online purchases? The answers to these questions can set you up for success in Korea as well as inform your banking choices at your new Korean bank. It’s easy to drain your savings account of money before even taking care of the essentials, so now more than ever is a good time for you to try your hand at a money management strategy!

Moving to Korea Mistake #3: Coming to Korea not knowing anything about your new home and spending weeks or months missing out on opportunities and experiences

At first, the excitement of the big move is enough to get you through your evenings and weekends in Korea, but soon you will find that you need things to do. This is where your research will come to rescue you from boredom and solitude. Being involved in your new home will help you make the most of your time abroad.

What To Do: Research your new home base. You want to find out about foods to eat, hot spots to visit, activities to try, things to learn, and places to meet people. Part of being successful abroad is creating a thriving and interesting life for yourself, and bringing a healthy dose of curiosity and a short list of goals will help motivate you early on. Join Facebook groups for your area, look into apps like Meetup, and don’t be afraid to connect with new people. It is not uncommon for teachers coming for a gap year to find out about amazing opportunities in Korea only after the window has passed. Don’t let it happen to you!

Research on Korea. It goes without saying that we think The Expat Lounge is a great place to start your research into life in Korea. For some good general information, check out this article on what to expect when moving to Korea and this one on cultural difference to prepare for.

Moving to Korea Mistake #4: Bringing your own smartphone from outside Korea without ensuring that it is compatible and unlocked

You may assume that, in order to save some money and keep a phone you are familiar with, you can tote your own phone across the border. In theory, this works, and many have done so successfully. But nothing seems worse in the moment than when an employee at an Olleh or SKT phone location tells you that your phone cannot be connected to their network and you will have to get a new one.

Make sure your phone is unlocked before moving to Korea

Most modern smartphones can be used in Korea, but only if they are unlocked. (Image courtesy of stateoftech.net)

SIM cards and unlocked phones. Check out this article to find out more about getting a SIM card for your unlocked phone in Korea.[/note] What To Do: Be unquestioningly sure that your phone is unlocked. Really, truly, definitely unlocked, especially if you are coming from the US. Employees at many retail locations in Korea have been told about US carriers’ country-locked or company-locked devices and are hesitant to even attempt to connect these phones, believing they won’t work in Korea. If you are completely sure your smartphone should work in Korea (a question you can ask your previous cell phone service provider or the manufacturer of your phone), insist that the retail employees in Korea try to use your device.

Moving to Korea Mistake #5: Not recognizing the responsibilities that living on your own for the first time entails

One large subgroup of the teachers moving to South Korea is recent college graduates who may have never lived alone before. Whether you were with your family, roommates, or a significant other, the experience of going it alone is unique. No one else is responsible for the cleaning, shopping, bill-paying, or time management anymore, and this may be a strange transition.

Before moving to Korea, prepare yourself for living alone.

This studio apartment is actually quite spacious, by Korean standards. I’m not kidding. Image courtesy of eslhitchhiker.com

What To Do: Come to Korea ready for adventure on all fronts, the home one included. Have a night where you try your hand at cooking if you’ve never done it before. Create a reward system for yourself to motivate regular house cleaning. Challenge yourself to save as much money as you can if budgeting is a new task for you. Moving abroad can be the perfect opportunity to take on personal growth—not just professionally, but privately, too.


Are you planning on moving to Korea and afraid of making mistakes like these? Moved to Korea and had a different experience? Let us know what you think in the comments below.