Housing Problems for Expats in Korea

Living in Korea is certainly a unique experience. Despite all of the comforts and conveniences of living a densely populated country with a homogeneous population, punctual mass transportation, advanced technology, and a zeal for fashion, there are some areas that cause confusion for incoming expats.

One area that expats frequently have challenges with in Korea is housing. Here, we’ll outline the top three housing-related challenges that expats face and break them down so you can learn to avoid and overcome them.

  1. Finding affordable, quality short-term housing in good locations

Affordable, quality short term housing in Korea is typically hidden from the public eye. When we refer to short-term housing, we mean a time period of one to six months.

Examples of individuals who come to Korea looking for short-term housing are students, travelers, consultants, entrepreneurs, web designers, models, and entertainers. If their employer or school does not provide them with housing, their perceived options are basically limited to Airbnb or Craigslist.

These may seem like great choices because of the familiarity factor, ease-of-use, and the similarity to how the rental systems work in other countries, but there are countless examples that clearly demonstrate why these aren’t optimal choices in Korea.

Craigslist listings cater to those who don’t speak Korean, which is helpful for expats, but the listings you generally see are for the apartments that Koreans refuse to rent. In addition, some of the contracts you may be asked to sign with the landlords are very loose and don’t protect the tenant in the case of a dispute.

You’ll also notice that a lot of the postings on Craigslist are actually real estate agents who post properties that have been vacant for a long time, and that’s why you’ll see repeat ads. It is possible to find quality housing at a good value through Craigslist, but it’s not the norm. Be sure to know the rental market and make an informed decision before signing a lease for an apartment off Craigslist.

Another option is a serviced apartment. Serviced apartments provide quality housing in great locations, but they’re not the best value and tend to cater to those seeking luxury…at a cost.

Goshiwons are small rooms for students that are typically rented monthly, but can sometimes be rented week-to-week. These are low-cost housing options but only offer the extreme basics: a small bed, a tiny rectangular room, and a desk. Bathrooms are generally shared, and there are no guests allowed. Extreme quiet is expected at all times.

But there is some good news.

Korea has an extensive network of affordable housing options that are available on the rental market, but most people don’t know about these alternatives because they are typically only marketed to Koreans.

This is slowly changing as more of these places become available in the major areas of Seoul, but finding affordable short-term housing still remains a common issue for expats in Korea. Talk to your real estate agent to see if they can help uncover some of these options for you in your desired move location. You can identify a real estate office in Korea by searching for a large sign that says 부동산 (bu-dong-san).

  1. The large key/housing deposits typically required for housing in Korea

“Did you say 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 won?” This is a typical response when expats first hear about the large key (security) deposits that are necessary to rent a place in Korea.

If you are using the wolse (deposit + monthly rent) system, you will normally need between 5 and 20 million won to rent an apartment in Korea, though in some heavily populated expat areas, smaller deposit rentals may sometimes be possible.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of expats don’t come to Korea ready with that amount of free income to hand over as a deposit.

This deposit system is unique to Korea and expats typically have concerns about forking over a large portion of money to someone in a foreign country where they’ll only be staying for a few months. To them, it can seem like a risky move, and not being able to communicate with the building owner only exacerbates their anxiety of losing their deposit.

The keys to ensuring that your deposit is safe are knowing the rental system and understanding the local laws. These are critical steps towards bridging the knowledge gap and guaranteeing a pleasant experience in this foreign land.

As a first step, feel free to download a copy of our free quick start guide packed with lots of valuable information about the Korean rental system to help you get started.

  1. Having an in-depth understanding of Korean housing contracts and rental system

As an expat, renting yourself in Korea is certainly an achievable task, but it requires that you have a solid understanding of the way the system works so you can use it to your advantage.

When people first come to Korea, the housing system seems very overwhelming. This discourages new residents from going out on their own and finding a house that matches their lifestyle.

The standard contract length of housing rentals in Korea is one or two years, but this is often negotiable.

Before tenants move into a house, due diligence must be done. This includes reviewing the contract details, making sure the property has no debt or delinquent payments, and checking to see that the landlord on the contract is the same person that is on the city registry.

Landlords in Korea may be from the older generation, so it’s important to make sure that you remain culturally sensitive, negotiate sensitively and ensure that no one is offended. Tact and manners are key.

If you attempt to negotiate but the landlord won’t budge on the monthly rent, one negotiation that often works out is offering to pay the rent with the building maintenance fee included.

The building maintenance fee is typically an additional charge and is sometimes not discussed until after you’ve already made your negotiating moves. Knowing the rules beforehand can help you navigate the negotiation more smoothly.

Negotiation can also be done by varying the deposit amount. A 5,000,000 won increase in a housing deposit usually equates to a 50,000 won per month discount in rent.

This is landlord-dependent, as some are not flexible with varying the deposit to offset the rent. On the flipside, some landlords demand a minimum deposit, such as 10,000,000 won for example. Having the option of being able to give a larger deposit is always advantageous in negotiation situations. On the other hand, having limited deposit funds available will sometimes cut you out from apartment options, and will leave you in weaker negotiating positions.

There are laws protecting the lessee entering and exiting the contract, so expats need to be aware of when notice has to be given and plan accordingly.

Furnishings and appliances are sometimes provided, but it depends on the landlord and the house. Some apartments are bare bones and don’t even have air conditioning. Others are fully equipped with appliances, furniture, and even kitchenware.

When entering into a housing agreement, there is a real estate fee that must be paid by both the tenant and the landlord. There is a minimum amount that must be paid by law, but any amount above this minimum is negotiable.

Realtors often have long-time relationships with the landlords and may have incentives to show you places that don’t fit what you’re looking for. If the agent seems to be ignoring your preferences, it might be time to get a new agent.

Your choices for apartments will vary based on price, quality, location, furnishing, and move dates. The more flexible you are in these categories, the greater the chance you have of striking the best deal. It all comes down to your priorities.

Finding a place to live in Korea can seem like a daunting task, but we encourage you to do your research and find a place that will complement your lifestyle. Ask questions, talk to knowledgeable and trustworthy people, view houses, protect yourself, and most importantly don’t give up.

So much of your time in Korea depends on your living situation, so it’s best to get it right from the start so you can enjoy your experience here to the fullest.

If you’re looking for assistance in getting settled, we offer an unbiased fee-based service to score the best deal on your ultimate apartment. Working with us as consultants, you will get the benefit of guidance from experienced professionals who can help provide you with objective comparisons.

We can support whether you are looking for a short-term residence or if you’re on a quest to find your ideal house for the best price. Each individual case is different, but we are usually able to match you up with housing that fits your needs. To get started, simply send us an email.

There’s a phrase that’s ingrained into Korean society called “bali-bali”, which means “quickly-quickly!.” Things move and change surprisingly fast in Korea, so we encourage you to get out there, find your ideal place, and get settled in the culture as “bali-bali” as you can, before your new apartment gets scooped up by someone else!

Finding housing in Shanghai is much easier with companies such as Shanghai Housing that provide a full service to finding and renting homes and apartments in Shanghai.




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