Begin life as a student abroad is not an easy task; constantly you will have to make decisions, and if you still do not manage the language very well, you may have to endure some headaches, but if it is your dream, there will never be a mountain high enough. South Korea has become an increasingly popular destination among foreign students due to its competent educational system, the promising future of its technology, and of course, the global reach of the “Korean Wave (Hallyu)”; however, this does not erase the fact that Seoul is one of the most expensive cities in the world, the cost of living is even higher than in other places like Tokyo or London. But don’t let this discourage you; in this blog, we will give you a small survival guide against perhaps the biggest challenge you will have to face if you decide to continue your studies in this fascinating country, finding accommodation. In Korea, there are a few main types of student housing such as dormitories, goshiwons, shared houses or guesthouses, one-rooms, and officetels. Stay with us and discover which of them would best suit your needs and budget.
- Dormitories (기숙사)
Many universities in Korea have beautiful campuses where you can participate in countless academic, cultural, and sports activities; some are characterized by emulating European architecture such as Yonsei, Ewha, and Korea University, while others are surrounded by nature such as Konkuk University or have several museums like Kyung Hee University. Most also run apartments, dorms, or other types of residences on campus, designed for one, two, or up to four people, for which is given priority to international students. Dorms can vary widely in quality and price, but the cost per semester is usually between 490,000~1,800,000 KRW, sometimes including meals. To stay in them, students have to follow the application procedures every four to six months, generally in February for the spring semester and in August for the fall semester; the requirements are usually different depending on the university, so you must check the process on the institution website. Staying in a dormitory would make it easier for you to get to class and save some money on transportation. However, they have rules that must be followed, so make sure to understand their policies before you decide to live there.
- Goshiwons (고시원)
Goshiwons, also known as goshitels (고시텔), are the cheapest housing available in Korea; they usually have very little space and are similar to dormitories but are located off-campus. They are small rooms of around three-square meters, in which students usually live for several months to concentrate on a test or exam. They are commonly equipped with air conditioning, a fridge, a desk, and a bed; they count with a shared washing machine, and some have attached restaurants. Furthermore, utilities such as internet, water, and electricity are usually covered in the rent. They are located near university areas, especially Sillim-dong (신림동) and Noryangjin-dong (노량진동) in Seoul. The cost ranges from 200,000~550,000 KRW per month, depending on the city where you are based. You can find the rental information on the bulletin boards or the websites of the universities; on the internet, there are also numerous search resources with which you can accommodate such as Goshipages or Goshitel, you can even search for the words 고시원 (goshiwon) or 고시텔 (goshitel) on Google Maps and explore a bit. Many goshiwons do not have good ventilation or natural lighting, and some can be a little dirty. Therefore, we recommend you inspect the room before signing any contract and consider whether the building has good safety and emergency procedures in case of incidents such as fires. Make a careful decision and consider aspects like that you will most likely have to share a bathroom with your neighbors; and that there may be rules that you are required to follow, such as no friends over and a curfew.
- One-room (원룸)
This is the favorite choice of many students because it has more space and allows them to have more freedom and privacy; despite its name, they usually have two small rooms, a bathroom, and the main room. One-rooms are studio apartments that can come in a variety of forms, from villas (빌라) to officetels (오피스텔), and utilize different payment methods. One-bedroom villas are often encountered in Seoul and are usually older and smaller buildings from 3-5 floors high. These are popular since they are cheaper than the officetels to be discussed later. Unlike goshiwons, in one-rooms, the cost of rent usually does not include utilities such as electricity or gas, but you will have to pay the bills on your own, so you should consider how your expenses will increase in seasons like winter or summer due to the use of heating and air conditioning, respectively. Maybe the greatest difficulty to living in a one-room is signing the rental agreement, especially if you do not speak Korean fluently, and if the lease arrangement consists of monthly payments plus an initial deposit that although is going to be returned once the contract ends, for a student can be an amount hard to get, fortunately, it is something that only has to be done once. Usually, the cost of rent is about 300,000 KRW or more per month, this is added to a deposit that usually starts at about 3,000,000 KRW. However, it is possible to find places cheaper than this, so do not be disheartened, it’s all about searching. At this point, the safest and prudent thing is to use real estate agents (부동산), but you can also get information in various newspapers or advertisements.
- Hasukjib (하숙집)
Hasukjibs, also known as pensions or boarding houses, are an older form of accommodation that is no longer as common today and often has little or no advertising on the internet, so they are a little hard to find. These can be an excellent option if you have just arrived in Korea and you feel homesick or lonely since there will always be people around you that you can talk to, but if what you value the most is your privacy, maybe you should reconsider another type of accommodation that is not of the communal type, since between four and eight people are going to live in these houses and share the facilities. They are almost always in charge of the ajumas (아줌마), that is, elderly ladies or married women, who are responsible for cooking breakfast and dinner every day. This can be very pleasing for students who do not want to worry about food. A Hasukjib is similar to an au pair because you live in the home of a South Korean family, and this can give you an idea of how the culture is. They are usually independent of universities, and their cost is very similar to a goshiwon, costing approximately 300,000~550,000 KRW per month. They have a disadvantage: some do not admit alien students. The best way to find them is to consult your university’s bulletin boards. Some institutions offer information about this kind of housing through their International Association Department, and you can also check the advertisements in the newspapers.
- Officetel (오피스텔)
Lastly, we have the officetels, which are apartments located in taller and more modern buildings. Unlike villas that are exclusively for residential use, these have the particularity of having commercial spaces below, such as cafés or restaurants. Officetels and villas are often fully or partially accompanied by furniture such as a fridge, desk, bed, washing machine, and often air conditioning. The fact that it shares its space with businesses can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on who you ask; on the one hand, you will have easy access to them, but on the other, during the day, the noise may disturb your academic activities. For being newer, their rental cost is a bit higher compared to the villas, but similarly, they require a deposit in addition to a monthly rent that usually starts around 600,000 KRW. The bigger the deposit, the lower the monthly rent.
As you could notice, each type of accommodation has its pros and cons, and there are always going to be numerous aspects to consider such as the additional costs of transportation, internet, and food. Keep in mind that if it does not always happen, sometimes prices are negotiable, do not be shy and ask, and if the language barrier is being a problem for you, ask a native friend for a favor or hire someone who can accompany you on this process. Also, beware of web pages; although they can be an excellent resource in this matter, there are always scams. For this reason, make sure that you are being careful and that you are talking to someone to trust. Finding a place where you feel comfortable and that suits your needs and budget is probably one of the biggest obstacles you will have to face on your journey as an international student, but dare to try new things, above all get informed, and do not be afraid to ask for help. And you, do you dare to embark on this adventure? We wish you the best of luck.
Written by: Laura Herrera
Reviewed by: Angie Salavarria