Where to live in Korea: 8 Reasons to Live Outside Seoul

In part two of her paean to “rural” Korean living, Amanda shares with us her top 8 reasons to live outside of the major hubs of Seoul, Busan, and Daegu.

The Arrival Store - Amanda Segal Amanda is a self-proclaimed city girl, born and raised in the densely populated suburbs of New Jersey, only a hop, skip, and a jump from New York City. After spending the last year and a half in the Korean “countryside,” she’s embraced the outdoors, gained a new sense of independence, and learned to love her city’s quirky treasures.

While it is technically possible to be located in real countryside, not well-connected to any urban center, the majority of cities outside Seoul, and the other major hubs, are well-developed and have sizable downtown areas. Of all my friends, I live in the smallest city, and it still has a population of 70,000 people! While not without its drawbacks, living in a smaller city has a lot of benefits as well. It may not be readily apparent from a city’s poorly-edited Wikipedia page, but every city in Korea has its barely-hidden gems. In no particular order, here are my eight top reasons for living in the Korean “countryside”:

  1. The space. Aside from those living near the Han River, people in Seoul and other major cities often complain about the lack of places to enjoy the fresh air and stretch one’s legs. I really enjoy running and biking, and so I don’t know how I would have made it through my Korean experience without having this park nearby. It follows part of the riverside bike path that extends all the way from Seoul to Busan, and is a great place to camp out on a lazy Sunday to enjoy pleasant company made better by barbecue.
    Living outside Seoul offers more opportunities for fresh air

    Enjoying some barbecue beside the bike path

  2. Extra living space. Now, this isn’t a guarantee – I have plenty of friends in town who live in typical shoebox-sized apartments – but living in a less densely-populated area, with cheaper real estate, might mean getting a bigger place! My situation is highly unusual, but I lucked out and landed a 3-bedroom apartment. This would certainly never happen in Seoul!
    Living outside Seoul might afford you a larger apartment

    Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: that is a full-sized Korean kitchen!

  3. Korea like you’ve never seen it. I never cease to be surprised by the treasures I come across in my city. Anyone who has lived in smaller Korean towns can tell you that such treasures are everywhere, and that living away from the big cities can be a great way to experience a more traditional Korean culture and lifestyle. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries just within walking distance of my apartment:
    Living outside Seoul allows you to find weird sculpture parks!

    I’m not even sure many Koreans know about this insane sculpture park!

    Living outside Seoul can be weird...

    This old amusement park – just 5 minutes from my apartment complex – is like a trip to another time.

    Cities outside Seoul all have their own peculiar flavor

    Yeoju is also known for its ceramics, and is home to many nationally, and even internationally-known ceramic artists

  4. Tight-knit expat community. Thanks to Facebook, you don’t have to worry too much anymore about finding friends. If you’re not into Facebook, there is also Meetup where you can find interest groups, or Couchsurfing for meeting other travelers. You can also take weekend trips with groups like WINK, Seoul Hiking Group, and Adventure Korea, which are great for meeting like-minded people, especially outside Seoul.
  5. Gaining an incredible sense of independence. Most people come to Korea seeking new experiences and that deeper perspective of the world that comes with living abroad. However, like many newcomers, I thought there was no way I could last in Korea without eventually moving to a bigger city, with better expat bars, more people, and more expat-oriented attractions. After a few months, though, I found that having to make my own way and my own fun were the more life-affirming challenges. I feel I’ve had to adapt and become more independent in a way many of my Seoul-based counterparts haven’t.
  6. Saving money Most people agree that the cost of living in Korea is manageable no matter where you live; but when there are fewer places to tempt you into spending your money you just end up saving more. It's easier to save money outside Seoul
  7. Still having access to convenient transport. Korean public transport is incredibly efficient and cheap. Even If you live outside of a major city you shouldn’t have to worry too much about getting around. I don’t live on a subway line, but buses between my city and Seoul run every half hour on the dot! 
  8. More public school jobs While getting harder and harder to come by in and around Seoul (due to increasing competition and government cutbacks), public school jobs are much more common further away from the major centers. In my city, the vast majority of teachers work at public schools.

So, what are the cons?

The drawbacks are probably what you’d expect from living in a smaller city in a foreign country: less going-on socially, less international cuisine, fewer English speakers, and fewer shiny new shopping centers and facilities. In general, it’s easier to feel isolated, both physically and socially. However, Korea is continuing to change rapidly. Every month I see new restaurants (including more international cuisine), updated shops, and new public facilities. They even built a large luxury hotel, complete with a water park, nearby, which is a big deal for Yeoju! Witnessing this transformation has been an interesting experience in-and-of itself.

In the end, your experience in a smaller city will be what you make of it. While you may have to look harder for them, there is no shortage of activities to do and things to try. My friends in Yeoju have done everything, from getting black belts in Taekwondo to taking pottery classes with renowned artists. It’s true that living in a smaller, less-connected city does require a higher degree of independence and willingness to be proactive. It also might require more willingness to venture beyond your comfort zone, as you will have less access to certain resources. But if you want a challenge, and to see a different side of life in Korea, then living in smaller city can be very rewarding. 

Like this "tiny" town in Korea, of only 80,000 people

Like this “tiny” town in Korea, of only 400,000 people

Are you moving, or thinking of moving, to a smaller city in Korea? Leave us a message or ask us a question in the comments below!