Practical Advice When Moving to Korea
I moved from Germany to Korea in 2021 and would recommend the following points to anyone moving here.
1. Get a worldwide liability insurance
2. Get a traveler’s insurance
3. Have an emergency credit card
4. Renew and backup your government documents
5. Have a backup plan in case you need to go back home
6. Make Korean friends that will help you
7. Move money internationally through crypto
8. Get a cheap SIM card from small stores
9. Prepare documents and reserve appointments if you visit the immigration office
The proper preparation starts before you leave your home country, regardless of where you go. First, you need a proper worldwide liability insurance in case you accidentally damage or break something or someone. When I lived in Germany my liability insurance had no worldwide coverage and was limited to only accept a German residency. If you completely move abroad or frequently change your residency, you want one that allows a flexible residency. I am using a German insurance giving me worldwide liability insurance regardless of residency that covers all costs over 150 Euro. https://helden.de/privathaftpflicht/ (use my code 98NJ5 to get 1 month for free) If you look online you should find many more such insurances, preferably in your native language.
The next insurance is a private traveler’s insurance. My German insurance only covered trips inside the EU, but not worldwide. Before I moved to Korea I bought a private insurance that would last at least the 6 months until I would automatically get enrolled into the Korean National Health Insurance. If you work or study in Korea, your company or university will be able to enroll you right away, but unless you are 100% informed about the process, I would recommend insuring yourself for a month or two regardless in case things don’t go smoothly. (The insurance I got: https://www.dr-walter.com/en/info-portals/travel-insurance.html)
VISA and Mastercard are accepted almost everywhere worldwide, so you want to make sure that you have a credit card with enough money for emergencies, plus it should be easy for you to move more money onto it if you need to. I’d also recommend to message your bank that you will be traveling and using the card abroad, so they don’t suddenly freeze it because they think it was stolen. Some cards have high currency conversion fees though, so look through the terms on the different cards first before getting one.
Next up, check your government documents and renew them if they expire soon. And by soon, I mean within the next 1 or 2 years. These days, if you need to verify yourself on and offline, many places require your documents to be valid for at least another 3 or 6 months. And if you move abroad, you might stay longer than you expect, so it is more comfortable renewing documents at home than having to do it last minute at an embassy abroad.
And once you renewed all those documents, scan and copy them, alongside other important contracts and documents. Keep the digital version as a backup on your phone and in your cloud storage and leave the physical copy at your families or friends place before you leave.
In Korea, you can download and print out most of your government documents by yourself or get them within a few minutes from the nearest government office, in Germany you rarely have that chance and it is extremely burdensome to get another original. So, hold onto your originals and always have copies and scans of them if you need to give them away in exchange for a visa.
Besides leaving those documents behind, I’d also recommend having a backup plan in case you unexpectedly have to leave Korea again. That you have a place to stay and some basic utensils in your home country.
Next, living in Korea and especially Seoul is extremely easy if you are fluent in English. It is very English friendly and for most casual interactions at the grocery store or café you won’t need more than a few phrases in Korean and your credit card. But for everything else you will need help; Family, friends, coworkers in Korea, the university office, or at least access to a community of expats who can help and give you advice. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is common for Korean government documents to use Chinese words, so even Koreans can get confused.
Another thing I’d recommend you to do before you leave your country is to open an account and verify yourself at a cryptocurrency exchange. Not to trade Bitcoin but to use some smaller cryptocurrency to move your money internationally. Korea is a very restrictive country regarding international money transfers, plus most transactions take days if not weeks and usually have high transfer fees. Buying XRP or EOS on Binance, sending and selling it on Upbit and withdrawing it to K-Bank takes less 15 minutes and all fees combined are less than 2 Euro. The only catch is, that you need a Korean for the receiving end because foreigners are not allowed to open accounts on Korean crypto exchanges. And depending on how much money you want to move, you have to trust that person. And make a test transaction with a small amount first to properly understand how it works and not lose your money in the process. But overall this saves you time and a lot of transfer fees if you regularly have to send money.
Once you are in Korea, you will notice that you don’t exist until you have a phone number tied to your identity. It makes life in Korea a lot easier for appointments, deliveries and of course contact tracing and vaccination certificates. But it can be tricky for foreigners to get one without being ripped off by the major phone providers. First of all, you need your Alien Registration Card to sign the contracts, which you can only get if your visa is valid for more than 6 months.
Once you have your ARC, remember than Korea is a technical wonderland. Busses and bus stations have free WIFI, as well as most cafes and restaurants. Do you really need unlimited data for 40+ Euro per month? Or are you connected to WIFI most of the day and 1.3 GB for 3 EUR per month is enough for you? If it is the ladder, look out for small phone store in central Seoul. Not official branches, but different providers than use the same network as SK, KT and U+. They give you way better deals with smaller data caps. But one important tip: If you end up with a small data contract, beware of using Kakaomap. Kakaomap uses a ton of data and does not store anything in your phone’s cache. Google Maps recently got a big update in Korea and now works almost as well as Kakaomap, while using only a fraction of the data.
This is the small store where I signed my contract:
대성모바일15, Sinchon-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul http://kko.to/MNpOxq8Ro
The last advice is regarding visiting the immigration office. At some point while you live here, you will renew or change your visa and therefore have to go to the immigration office of your region. If you do, go to hikorea.go.kr, download and print the required documents and reserve yourself an appointment. Instead of waiting several hours for an open slot during the day, your appointment will be on time. Just beware that most appointments are fully booked one or two months in advance.
The earliest appointment at my immigration office is in 7 weeks (13.04.22) from today (23.02.22). If you look several times a day you might catch a cancelled spot though.
The staff usually speaks basic English, but they handle your requests like robots. If you don’t have a certain document or your case is somewhat in the grey zone, they will refer to what is safe and not to what is most favorable to you. After all, you are only a visitor in the country, nothing more.