So, you’ve received your acceptance letter in the mail notifying you that you’re going to be studying in Seoul for a semester or two. Or perhaps you’ve been employed by that international company and you have 2 months to pack up and move.
Congratulations! You’re in for an awesome adventure.
I remember how bright-eyed and excited I was when I first came to Seoul to study abroad, which was about…*thinks*…11 years ago…(eyes glaze over and looks off into the distance).
Since then, I’ve been back and forth between Seoul from studying, to teaching, and to business. As a result, I’ve experienced almost every housing scenario in Seoul, and I can now say with full conviction, that the quality of your housing can GREATLY impact your experience here.
Fortunately, I’ve lived here long enough to find what housing situation works best for me at the right price, but for those who are traveling here without any experience of living in Korea, allow me to save you years and potentially some major mistakes.
Here’s a breakdown of your housing options at their different price points:
1. Dorm or Gisuksa (기숙사)
Cheap shared rooms within proximity to a university campus. I would place a dorm and gisuksa in the same category. You’re likely sharing a room and bathroom. You’re definitely sharing a kitchen.
I started with this option because I believe it’s the cheapest option on this list, and I assume most reading this article will be students looking for the cheapest housing option.
For those who are okay with not having a lot of their own space and are looking for the budget option for just sleeping, this may be the option for you.
However, many dorms have a curfew, have only male or only female floors, and isn’t really an environment that caters so well to socializing.
I personally haven’t lived in a dorm in Korea, having only visited friends on campus and done free laundry when I was a student. The friends who lived in the dorms with curfew were miserable. They often slept at our place after a night of going out, because they usually came back home after the building was already locked. I suppose that speaks to the security of the building?
Now that we run a housing company, we periodically receive messages from European and American students who want to move out of their dorm/gisuksa into one of our apartments where they have their own room and space.
All to say, the cheapest option may not be the best option for those who want a comfortable place to live.
On the opposite side of the rental spectrum is the officetel. Officetels are often organized in tall apartment buildings, and designed as lofts. This option certainly gives you your own space, since you’ll likely be renting for yourself.
It provides all of the basic amenities: kitchen, bathroom with shower, and washing machine. The typical loft design implies a set of stairs that lead to a low-ceiling space with a mattress. You can also keep your mattress in the open living area is where the kitchen and washing machine are.
The advantage to living in an officetel is that you get your privacy, and they’re usually clean and tidy places.
Some of the drawbacks are the price, security deposit, and required length of stay. Renting from an officetel can cost you over $1,000 per month, and the security deposit can range from $5,000-$10,000. A typical contract duration is 1 year.
Some of the more “foreigner-friendly” real estate agencies may reduce the security deposit, but these are deals you will have to find or negotiate.
Communicating with real estate agencies can be a daunting task in itself. In a future post, we’ll break-down how to communicate with real estate agencies and how to not get scammed, but for now I’ll just say that if you do go this route, find an online real estate agency with positive reviews from foreigners.
Airbnb is known for being an accessible option for foreigners who just want to find a place to book online. You go to the site, type in your dates, set your general budget, and view your options.
When flying back and forth between Korea and the US/Asia for a consulting project, Airbnb was my primary method of finding a place.
I didn’t want to work with a real estate agency, I couldn’t commit to year-long contracts, and I didn’t want to purchase my own furniture. I just wanted a place to stay that I would feel comfortable in.
This was often a nice short-term option, but it became far too expensive when looking to stay for a month or longer. Furthermore, my experience was hit or miss with Airbnb rentals, given that you’re essentially at the mercy of the quality of the Airbnb host.
Secondly, choosing the location to stay in can be somewhat of a daunting task. I’ve lived in 5 different neighborhoods and have felt the difference in atmosphere and overall enjoyability. The atmosphere of two neighborhoods just 10 minutes apart from each other can vary significantly and cater to different kinds of interests.
For example, I would feel suffocated living in the center of Itaewon, but I love living in my neighborhood, which is just walking distance away.
The distance between these two locations can seem irrelevant when viewing them on an Airbnb map, but the experience of living in these two locations can be vastly different.
4. Shared House / Guesthouse
I almost wanted to include this in the same category as the dorms, given the similarity of the two. The major difference between a dorm and a shared house is perhaps the design of the space, and the proximity to campus.
Those who stay at a shared house or guesthouse will still likely be living with a large group of people, may not be able to have guests over, and will likely need to abide by curfew rules.
The design of the shared houses is quite lovely, and we’ve often been asked how Simple Spaces apartments differs from a proper shared house or guesthouse, given that our apartments look similar in photos.
5. Simple Spaces Apartment
This article, of course, cannot be complete without mentioning Simple Spaces apartments. The disadvantages of the housing options listed above are the very reason why Simple Spaces exists, after all!
Simple Spaces apartments are 3 or 4 bedroom apartments that aim to offer a balance between the “shared living” feel of having 2 or 3 roommates, while having your own space to live in and call your own.
Our community consists mostly of foreign students, interns, and employees, and everyone lives in their own room (unless two people want to share a room). Many within our community live with us between 4-12 months, and we offer flexible options to accommodate for different lengths of stay.
All of our apartments are currently located in the center of Seoul, in the Noksapyeong (walking distance from Itaewon) region. This is where the members on our team currently live as well, including myself. I’ve lived here now for 2 years, and I currently don’t have a desire to live elsewhere. I believe our community of students, interns, and employees feel the same.
We hold casual video interviews with any interested tenant, to make sure we are the best option for each other. Interested in chatting with us to learn if a Simple Spaces apartment is a good fit for you? Feel free to contact us here to schedule an appointment.