Living in Korea Life Hacks

It occurred to me as I was attempting to reset VLC media player to play Korean subtitles, that there are likely a huge amount of life hacks for living in Korea that most Waygook have not figured out, or are too busy to try. Here are a few in no particular order.

Make an appointment at immigration

While this seems to be an absolute necessity if you happen to live in the countryside (and I sure hope your employer helps out with this) You don't need to do this if you live in Seoul. However, if you don't like to either wake up stupid early to get there or wait for ages in a queue, you can reserve an appointment to expedite the proceedings.

If you tried to make an appointment with my previous point on immigration, you may have found some difficulties if you tried to do it without Internet Explorer and ActiveX installed. Indeed Korean commerce seems to be enslaved to this, making it very difficult if not impossible for Waygook to do commerce online (Don't worry the appointment reservation system should work for you). Even if you do use these things, download the correct security certificates for your bank, you're bound to either be required to use a citizen ID number (where your Alien ID number won't work) or you'll inevitably have to attempt doing some of this in Korean (as the required partnered websites won't have an English option even when your bank does). So you might want to either employ a Korean liaison, or forget shopping at sites like,, or even All this about commerce however brings me to my next point.

Don't but clothes in Gangnam or Apgujang

Indeed, these areas are places where the latest fashions and the best brands can be found. Granted this also means paying prices that are far more inflated than many other countries, and potentially getting fakes, or shoddy quality items at those same prices. You can... Scratch that, WILL get seriously ripped off at these places. Consider any shop in COEX, Apgujung's Galleria, Apgujung-rodeo, Gangnam-daero, or Taeran-ro
 to sell at absurd markups. Come to think of it, anything in Sinsa should be equally suspect.

Instead, do what the old folks do: go to dongdaemun, or outlet stores. Insa-dong is ok, despite being a tourist hub. Good quality can be hard to come by in Korea, but low prices are not if you look in the right places. Don't be afraid if you find something that doesn't fit properly either! A lot of clothes in Korea will not be sized for western body types, regardless of how fit you are. If you find something you like, just buy it in a larger size if available, and then take it to the local drycleaners(컴퓨터 세탁). These can be found everywhere, especially in residential areas. They will be happy to tailor any clothes you have for a very small amount of money. And while we're trying to keep it local:

Go food shopping at the open-air markets

Not everyone will have the luxury of living near an open air market(시장). However, I do suggest locating the closest one to you as it is truly the secret to living cheaply in Korea. The benefits of shopping here will depend on how native your diet has become. If you can't stand to abstain from fine cheeses or western spices than these markets may be of little use to you. On the other hand if you eat Kimchi often and don't mind the smell of Soondae then this is certainly a place to save some money. Mind you that all foodstuffs will need to be thoroughly washed before being consumed (you might guess this as some of it is basically sitting in a thin basket on the pavement). Not just foodstuffs, but stores in these markets will also have household items, shoes, and clothing as well; usually at great prices.

A word of caution however if you shop an any slightly larger-sized stores: Often the items on "sale" or bundled together are either the same as the original prices, or sometimes even more (as can be the case with packaged bundles of items). Not only is this a sneaky dishonest trick, but it is insulting to customers (as if they are too lazy to do some mental math with the prices). The point is: buyer beware as always; even some larger big name stores practice this kind of deception.

Use Craigslist

Even now after quite a few years I am still somewhat annoyed that all of Korea is lumped into the "Seoul" category on Craigs. Still this is a very useful resource, especially if you are looking for good household items at cheap prices. Waygook are always coming and going and as such, prices on Craigs are often below what you would normally pay. People who have a departure date from Korea and must rid themselves of all not-easily transportable items tend to offer them at a steal, but not always.

Buy an arsenal against mosquitoes

It perplexes me how I have had mosquitoes in all four of the apartments I have lived in in Korea. Especially when I consider how I was at no point close to any body of water, and yet I never had this problem living in a swamp in the US. It adds insult to injury when you have to pay extra to your landlord to have the wallpaper replaced because it is stained red with your blood that was momentarily in the mosquito you just swatted after leaving your veins. Save your security deposit and instead buy a few mosquito repellent items for home use. My personal favorites are the plug-in mozzy repellents, and the electric-fence-gone-tennis-racket item that zaps the buggers out of the air.

Adopt a pet 

You may be tempted by the huge amount of pet shops around these days to pick up a cute puppy or kitten. There are many of these around Chungmuro Station, and a similar set-up can be found in any major shopping center. The thing is, you would do to steer clear of these places. Not only do they charge absurd prices for the animals there, but these places are essentially puppy mills. There is a reason that all of the animals they have are freshly bred. Many of the animals are euthanized once the shop owner determines they're too old to be sold. So check out Animal Rescue Korea to find a local shelter and support good treatment of animals.

Personally, I adopted a street kitten that I found. I got this kitten when it would fit comfortably in the palm of my hand. It was abandoned by its mother and had to drink formula for a month. She hadn't been socialized yet, and while she certainly has a wild side (it might be too much for some people) she is a lovely pet. Mind you that I don't actually recommend doing what I did.  This won't work with an adult street cat. They are feral and may be dangerous or have diseases. Even with all the effort I've made, this cat is somewhat unruly and attempts to tear up most things in my house.

Find the fastest/cheapest way to work

I remember meeting someone last year who took two buses and a train ride everyday to work. A commute that she could have accomplished by bicycle in about 20 minutes, turned into an hour-long journey. Humans are creatures of habit, and as such can sometimes be unawares of simple methods that make work easier. This is especially true in an unfamiliar city or country. With all the options for transport in Korea it can be daunting to find the best methods of commuting, but it is totally worth it in the long run. The time that you save quickly adds up.

Check all local buses first. These are more plentiful than subway stations, and there are handy apps for both of them that will help you figure out what is available and how long it will take. After you've checked this out, consider cycling or even riding a motorbike. Both sides of the Han River(한강) have cycling paths on them. This will of course depend on your location, but doing some research and getting a bit more engaged with what is out there will help you find the best way.

Don't take your vehicle to the local shop 

In a past life I was a mechanic, and as such I'm partial about quality when it comes to this. Despite that my criticism here should ring especially true as I never even went to school for training: Mechanics in Korea are woefully incompetent. Now while the cost for service is occasionally cheaper here than in other places, you certainly get what you pay for. Local shops in particular will take some liberties with how well they treat your ride while it is in their possession. So if you don't want your wheels coming back to you with broken things fixed and fixed things broken than I would recommend you visit a dealership branded shop. The bigger the better as these tend to have technicians that actually went to school to learn their trade.

PC Bang's are awesome

Printers are expensive. So if you need to print some documents head to your local PC방. Sign in with one of the cards at the front desk and have at it. Print services(인쇠) may require some dialogue with the clerk and not all PC방 have them, but even if not these places are indispensable if your smartphone is down while traveling, or if you just want a reasonable comfortable place to hang out with some ramyeon and a couple games (as long as you don't mind the cigarette smoke or the din of highschoolers furiously gaming). 

Keep your food trash in the freezer

This is a common one that I've heard some Koreans doing. Why? because food trash smells and this way you can keep if from rotting before throwing it out to reduce the amount of pre-paid trash bags you use. Personally, I find this particular one disgusting. It indicates to me that many Koreans either don't eat frozen foods or ice cream and have no other use for their freezer, or do it this way because freezers were common before frozen foods were common in Korea and this habit just kinda stayed. Either way I file this kind of thing away with not drinking the tap water despite it being perfectly free of contaminants. Or being unwilling to sleep with a fan on in the room...

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