Last week I signed a new contract at Young Hoon Elementary School (along with 3 other coworkers)and we decided to find our own apartment in Seoul instead of taking school housing. The school will provide us each with ₩600,000 ($600) a month for rent and we get to pick our location instead of being 4 stops further out of the city from our school.
Before we even meet with a realtor we decide on a few things, if you are in the same position I recommend doing the same.
1) Type of rental
Apartments, Officetels , studios and all the other lingo have different meanings here in Korea than back home. An apartment usually refers to a mutli-room shindig that is better suited for a family and usually has a front desk/security guard included. They are expensive and definitely out of our reach. An Officetel would be nice since we’d have easy access to plenty of stores in our own building but we know they are pricey and decide to stick with the studio/1bedroom option.
Since our school provides us with ₩600,000 ($600) we all agree that is our goal for rent. We tell our first realtor ₩500,000 ($500) and know that we will be willing to go as high as ₩700,000 ($700). Within each type of rental there are further subdivisions based on how you pay for them with everything from zero rent each month but an exuberantly high Key Money (similar to security deposit). These can be anywhere from ₩40 million to ₩100 million ($40,000-$100,000). Remember this option provides you with ZERO rent and in Korea Key Money is always returned at the end of your contract (I hope).
Most rentals fall under a second category which we decide on. Key money is much lower at about ₩10,000,000 ($10,000) and there is a nominal rent fee of about ₩500,000 ($500) for a small room. This option usually allows room for negotiating a higher rent for lower key money or vice versa.
I have heard of other situations where you can use the traditional western standard but they are quite limited to specific international areas like Itaewon where we don’t want to live. For those on an even tighter budget I’ve read about tiny rooms that are more like a converted closet where you can pay as little as ₩200,000 ($200) a month with little or no key money.
This one is obvious. Where do you want to live? How far from the subway/bus do you want to be? We want to be a 10 minute walk or less to the subway and ideally in the Hyewha area. We’ve heard good things about it as a fun area to go out in with a college and international hospital nearby. It also happens to be 4 subway stops away from our new job at Miasamgeori and a quick ride to a number of other attractions like Hongdae and for me Ichon, where I fence.
3) Which Korean will you bring with you?
I read all over the internet to steer clear of any realtors advertising in English and to foreigners. They all try to scam you and rip you off. We enlisted Vicky (coworker Brian’s girlfriend) and Haley (former coworker who lives at Miasamgeori) to join us. They were both eager to help and prove to be our most valuable asset in this hunt. I reiterate, If you are looking for an apartment in Seoul you MUST bring a fluent Korean speaker with you, preferably a native speaker!