Two of my friends are getting ready to come to Korea. They asked me to write a blog on how to survive your first year here. It’s been a while since it was my first year so I took to Facebook to ask my friends. I was astonished at the replies I got back. There are so many things that nobody tells you before you come here. Hopefully we can sort some of that in this blog.
1. Language: Although English is widely taught and spoken by some people here, you should learn Hangeul. You simply won’t survive without it. And the best thing is that so many words are the same in English and Korean, you just need to be able to read out the Korean to understand. You can learn your letters and a few basic words before you arrive. Although it looks super complicated, you can learn your letters in a number of hours. Here are some useful websites;
2. Culture: Know what’s expected of you in the workplace, when you visit someone, greeting people etc. A simple Google search will provide plenty of articles to read on this issue.
3. Supermarkets: The good news is that there are small supermarkets everywhere but for the bigger things there are two big supermarkets Emart and Homeplus (in Korean). You can buy everything from clothes to household items in these two places.
A tip is to buy with your card. I don’t know the ins and outs with this but it’s preferred to avoid the taxman.
Other tips from my friends include;
“You need to get stickers on your fruit on veg bag before you go to the register” (talking about loose items)
“Know the seasonal fruit and vegtables”
3. Transport: The bus, subway and train system here are excellent.
Subway;To make it easier for you, it’s a good idea to download the jihachul app so you can navigate the subway. system. You can figure out running time and waiting times for subways on this app. And yes, it’s in English.
For those not living in Seoul, remember that the subway finishes well before midnight so if you live outside the city and you stay out, you should consider alternative transport home.
There is a jingle at transfer stations and end of line stations.
A Tmoney card is the name of the transport card in the Seoul and surrounding area. You can buy them for a few thousand won in most 7-11 and convenience stores. Then use the machines at the subway systems to load them with money or at a convenience store. The average cost of a journey can be calculated approximately using the jihachul app.
Buses: There are different colour buses depending on where their destination is. Here is a site that explains just about everything transport related, http://www.kias.re.kr/sub06/sub06_06.jsp
You can also download the Seoul Bus app. Unfortunately, it’s in Korean but if you know the bus number you can check where on the route the bus actually is.
You can use your T Money card on the buses also or pay in small cash or coins.
Taxis; Taxis are EVERYWHERE. The regular ones are silver or orange. The should have a meter and the drivers information visible.
The black ones are more expensive. Supposedly they are more luxurious.
In Seoul, you can use your T Money card or a bank card to pay for the fare. You can also get a receipt. Outside of Seoul depending on the place, you can’t use a T Money card. You should have some cash to pay for the journey.
Here’s a nice little article on the whole thing, http://www.visitseoul.net/en/article/article.do?_method=view&m=0004007002011&p=07&art_id=39543&lang=en
Everyone wants a bank account straight away because they come loaded with money. It’s always preferable to wait until you get an Alien Registration Card to do this. The main banks in Korea are;
Some schools make you open an account in a particular banl to avoid transfer fees etc.
Banks are opened from 9-4 Monday to Friday. The exception are the expat banks like KEB who have branches open on Sundays for certain hours. You should consider this if you have a 9-5 job.
At least 2 of these banks have excellent expat services (KEB and Shinan). You can set up internet banking and download an app on your phone to check your balance etc.
Most banks have someone that speaks English especially the ones with expat services so don’t fear going in alone to set it up.
KEB also have an account called an Easy One that will lodge money straight to your overseas account.
* I should note that other banks potentially offer the same service but I have my account with KEB. You should bring all the details of your home account for registration.
Bank Transfers; You can transfer money from your account to another Korean account by using either online banking or going to a bank machine. It’s very easy and the machine has English language so you can’t go wrong.
Insurance: Should you need car insurance, travel insurance, health insurance etc, you can contact the Samsung Insurance rep who can speak with you in English. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and his name is Byung. I have my car insurance with him and travel insurance and it’s always great value and he speaks perfect English.
5. Apartments; Apartments here are generally a one room or two room for single people. Unless you really luck out in which case you’ll have a few rooms.
You will have a washing machine and heating to navigate in Korean but fear not, I already have blogs done on how to use them.
6.Rubbish disposal; This is a tricky one. Every place and every housing complex has a different system. If you live in a huge housing complex, they have one day a week where everyone leaves out their rubbish. This rubbish is separated by recycling, food and other.
If you live in a random apartment this is how it usually works;
1. Go to the supermarket or local shop and buy the rubbish bags. The yellow ones are for food rubbish. The bigger ones (blue in my area) are for general waste. Then I also have recycling. I leave recycling out in a box or a paper bag.
2. Look on the street for other rubbish that is waiting to be picked up. Leave your rubbish here and it’ll get collected.
If you have a bigger item like a chair that you want to get rid of you can either 1) Leave it out and let someone else take it and use it or 2) Go to the supermarket and get a sticker for it. Put the sticker on it and leave it outside with your rubbish.
7. Post Office: The postal system here is extremely efficient and safe. If you wish to send something in country then just put the senders details on the top left corner and the receivers details in the middle. Then send it either the quick way or the regular way. It’s pretty cheap.
If you want to send something home, there are two options 1. Land 2. Air.
Land will take between 3-6 months to reach it’s destination. It’s cheaper than sending it by air and it’s good to send home clothes and other items that you don’t want but are in no great rush for.
Air takes only 7 or so days to get to the destination. It’s the fastest way to send things home.
The Korea Post website is in English so you can go ahead and check the rates and fees etc…..http://www.koreapost.go.kr/eng/sub/subpage.jsp?contId=e1010601
The post office is open from 9am-6pm .
8. Alien Registration Card
Your alien registration card is the card you get when you become officially registered with immigration. You will need this card for the following;
- Visit to the hospital
- Visit to the dentist
- If you’re stopped by the police
- Entering and leaving the country
- Opening a bank account
- Making a loyalty card
- Getting a phone contract
It’s so important. If you lose your ARC you must immediately report it missing with the police and then go to immigration and apply for another.
9. Expat websites and finding groups
There are some seriously useful websites out there for expats. I’ll list a few here;
For the teachers among us……
For the Irish;
Also USE FACEBOOK! So many areas have their own Facebook pages. In my area we have Geumchon Crew, Ilsan have their own page and so on. You get the drift. Google it or Facebook it and you’re bound to find some groups.
10. Random tips;
You have the option on taking over a phone contract from someone who is already here. Keep that in mind before going off and starting one of your own.
Olive Young sells lots of foreign brand cosmetics.
Don’t open your gas valve all the way. Open it just enough so the meter turns otherwise you’ll have a big bill.
Bring a huge towel with you.
Go to cineinkorea to find out what movies are showing in a theatre near you.
Just go with the flow if you have no idea what’s happening.
You can call the tourist information people on 021330 if you need some help.
In the deep winter, don’t leave your heating completely off if you leave for over a week. If your pipes freeze and burst, your entire floor will have to be taken up and replaced. No one wants that………..
Never trust the green light when crossing the street. Pedestrian crossings are out in the stupidest of places so always look left when crossing and don’t take the chance if it’s a bus approaching.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
*If you want to add something to this list, leave a comment below.