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How to Get set up in Korea as an H1 visa expat

Korea flag up in the sky - getting set up as an H1 expat

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Moving to a new country has always seemed exciting. Thrilling almost. It’s something many people say they’d love to do in their lifetime but many don’t actually get around to making that dream a reality.

Korea became my 5th country to live in on a working holiday (H1 visa) so I want to help break down the steps of getting set up as an expat here.

I’ll be honest, so far, Korea has seemed to make every step more complicated in comparison to other countries. They really don’t like to make it easy for foreigners to get set up here.

The H1 visa was a long process and more expensive than other destinations with the same visa type. And now that I’m in the country, I’m finding simple tasks to be much more long-winded than other places I’ve been to.

So that’s why I want to try and make this a smooth transition for you, based on my own experience (and that of others I’ve met along the way).

If you still need to apply for your Korean working holiday visa, check out this post for a step-by-step walkthrough.

Country:South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Currency:South Korean Won / KRW
Do you need a visa to visit as tourists?Check here

Don’t forget to get travel insurance to cover you if something bad happens. One company I have personal experience with is Safety Wing. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you and your trip plans.

Travelling to Korea – How Will You Get There?

Unless you’re already in a neighbouring country where you can get a ferry (Japan for example), it’s safe to assume you will need to fly into Korea to activate your visa.

Why not check out flights with WayAway below to find yourself the perfect flight itinerary to start your trip off right?

Once you land in the Korean Republic, you can either enter as a tourist and activate your visa within 90 days before tourist expiry, or you can enter and activate your H1 expat visa on arrival.

When first setting up as an expat in Korea, there seems to be a difficult cycle to break out of. You need accommodation in order to get your ARC (residence card). You need your ARC to get a bank account. You need a bank account to get a job. And it comes full circle because you often don’t know what your accommodation budget is without a job!

But the wait time for an ARC appointment when I applied was almost 8 weeks!

This means every other step relating to settling here in Korea was delayed until the first item on the list is ticked off.


Find Arrival Accommodation

This is actually something you should arrange before you arrive in South Korea. Unlike many of the other countries that provide the Working Holiday Visa for British people, you should opt for mid-term accommodation in the first instance as that will make it easier to apply for your ARC card (residence permit).

Before booking your accommodations, call or send a message to the host or owner to find out if they’re able (and willing) to let you use their property for your ARC application. Some people have been successful using temporary rental sites like Airbnb, while others have used a hostel or hotel.

I typically choose hostels as a first option since I’m travelling alone, but not every hostel accommodation will let you use their address for your forms.

Regardless of where you stay, always make sure you check with the staff first to make sure that they’re happy to sign your document for you.

If you need to book your expat accommodation to get set up in South Korea, check the following sites:

  • Hostelworld – good for low-cost hostels, usually shared accommodation
  • Booking.com – a variety of different property types

If you’re a little bit flexible on your accommodation and don’t mind exchanging some of your free time to work in exchange for a place to stay, then you could even check out volunteer placements through WorkAway and WorldPackers.


T-Money and CashBee cards are available at convenience stores

Get a Transportation Card

In order to easily navigate around the country as an expat in Korea, you will need to get a transport card. There are a few different types available but the most common finds are T-Money and CashBee.

Check out this post on getting your own transportation (T Money) card.

These cards are essentially cards that can be used on the subway, train and bus systems around the country – specifically Busan and Seoul.

You can buy a card for 2,500 won at most local convenience stores (think 7 11, GS25 etc). And it’s just as easy to top them up with cash. Simply tell the cashier how much you’d like to top up, give them the cash and they can do it for you.

After the initial top-up, you can either keep topping up in-store or just use the machines in the subway stations. All of the machines operate in multiple languages so you’ll have no problem if you can’t yet read Korean.

Please note: Once you eventually have a local Korean bank account, you will be able to use your debit card instead of a transport card if you want.

Planning on travelling around the country? Why not consider getting this discounted KTX pass?


Get a SIM Card

The easiest way to get a SIM card is to order one in advance to collect from the airport when you arrive in Korea. If you’d rather not wait, you can order an eSIM online to activate on arrival in Korea.

You can stay on this temporary SIM until after you have received your ARC card. Then, you will be able to join a long-term post-paid plan which will work out cheaper for you.

When ordering a Korean sim to collect at the airport, you will find that the prices are quite high. The good news, however, is that the SIM cards usually come with unlimited internet access for regular browsing and a limit for hotspots or tethering.

If you need a sim card on arrival, you can order the above plans to collect from Seoul or Busan international airports.


Apply for your ARC (Registration card)

As an expat in Korea, you will need a resident card. In order to start the application for an ARC, you will first need to book an appointment at your local immigration office. You can do that by visiting this website.

Please be aware that depending on the time of year you try to get an appointment, you may need to wait a few weeks for the first available timeslot.

Before you head into your pre-booked appointment at the immigration centre, you will need to make sure you have all of the appropriate paperwork. The documents you will require are as follows:

Documents neededExtra Information
Application FormDownload from the HiKorea website
Passport The physical passport, not a photocopy
VisaFor example, your Korean work visa
34,000 won (cash)It must be cash as cards are not accepted
Proof of ResidenceDownload the residence form from the HiKorea site
Proof of accommodation contractAn actual contract that shows how long you will live there.
One colour photo (headshot)Passport photo size

During your appointment with immigration, you will decide if you want the card mailed to you, or whether you would prefer to collect it in person. If you choose to get it mailed it will cost an extra 4,000 won.

You will eventually be given the date to expect your card to be delivered or ready for collection.

Usually, the ID number is ready within 2 weeks which is the main thing you need. Your physical ID card will be ready within 6 weeks of the application date.

Once your number is ready (even if the physical card isn’t) you can get a certificate with your Foreign Resident Registration no. printed which is the official number you need to do anything in Korea.


Korean won

Open a bank account

Generally speaking, you will not be able to get a Korean bank account without first getting your ARC card.

There are a few main banks in Korea and some are easier to get an account with than others when it comes to being a foreigner. In all honesty, it’s even difficult for locals to get bank accounts in some cases so don’t feel disheartened if it’s difficult to get one to begin with.

Oftentimes you will need to show proof of employment before you will be allowed to open an account. By Korean logic, if you don’t have a job here, why do you need an account? But there are plenty of reasons why having a local account is more beneficial, even without a job.

For starters, you are limited to how much you can withdraw from ATMs at a time on a foreign bank card, and each time you will have to pay a foreign transaction fee. Over time, this adds up.

I think I added that my foreign fees and transaction fees amounted to around 220 GBP in the 3 months before I had my Korean bank account set up. So the earlier you can get this, the better.

The banks that have some of the best reviews for foreign accounts include:

  • Woori
  • Hana (KEB) (this is who I used)
  • Shinan Bank
  • KB Bank

It can take some time to get set up so it’s always worth having a financial safety net available to start with. It can often cost a lot in accommodation costs before you line a job up and know what your earnings will be.

Consider using Wise for all your international money transfers from your home country to your Korean bank.


Apply for jobs

The majority of employers in Korea would prefer you to have a bank account set up BEFORE you start working for them. However, in some instances, they will help you get a bank account.

It’s a little bit contradictory as many banks won’t let you set up an account unless you have a job lined up already. So it’s another two things to juggle before actually getting set up.

I have a detailed post about getting English-speaking jobs in Korea already, but I will summarise a bit more here.

There are lots of different ways to apply for jobs here including the following methods:

  • Applying in person
  • Craigslist Korea
  • Facebook posts
  • Recruitment fairs
  • Recruitment Agencies
  • KakaoTalk Groups

A typical studio apartment (one I went to view) in Busan

Renting an apartment in Korea as an H1 Expat

Getting a lease

One of the biggest differences between renting an apartment in Korea vs renting in the UK is the “key money” deposit. This average deposit is often between 1,000,000 won (620 GBP) and 5,000,000 won (3,000 GBP) and is paid upon signing the contract of your lease.

Most rental properties expect a 1-year lease, and if you need a shorter term, the monthly rental will be significantly higher. If you’re only on an H1 visa you’ll only be allowed to live as an expat for 1 year in Korea, this means if you don’t get a lease right at the start of your visa, you’ll struggle to find one for a short-term.

One popular website people use to find rentals is: Zigbang.com

Understanding listing numbers

You’ll find there are many different numbers used when renting properties including:

  • 100/52 – These numbers should be multiplied by 10,000 to find the deposit value/monthly fee value. So in the case of 100/52 the actual rental costs would be:
    • 100 x 10,000 = 1,000,000 won deposit (620 GBP)
    • 52 x 10,000 = 520,000 won for the monthly rental fee
  • 3000/320 would be:
    • 3,000 x 10,000 = 30,000,000 won deposit (18,300 GBP)
    • 32 x 10,000 = 320,000 won for the monthly rental fee

There is often a management fee included too depending on the type of property you are looking to rent. This can be anywhere from 20,000 won up to 200,000 won per month.

As you can see, some of these deposits are HIGH and it amazes me how the fee for a rental can be higher than an actual mortgage deposit in some cases.

Pro tip: Try to take a friend who can speak Korean with you when contacting realtors.

As I cannot speak Korean I only contacted English-speaking realtors to begin with. However, I found that for the area I was looking for, the only English-speaking realtors I found were only able to offer 1-year leases when I needed a short-term agreement.

I was able to find plenty of realtors in the area I wanted online who also offered short-term leases; However, they did not speak English which made it tricky to communicate. So I would certainly advise trying to take a friend with you who can translate for you!

Other short-term rental options

Struggling to find suitable short-term accommodation? Try these options:

  • AirBnB – This option can be quite expensive compared to regular rentals but they’re very well known for short-term lets.
  • Sublet – This isn’t really allowed but people do it. I was lucky enough to find a sublet for a great 3-bedroom place for the same cost as a dorm room! (You can find these in local online groups for your city).
  • Booking.com – You can only get a room for 30 days at a time and costs more but this is another option if you can’t get a lease.
  • Hostelworld – If you can tolerate shared facilities then hostels are still one of the most affordable options for individual travellers. Some hostels do offer private rooms though so they’re still worth checking out!

Building a Social Circle

This is something often overlooked when arriving at a new destination. When you consider how many people struggle as an expats due to homesickness, having a good social circle around you can certainly help you have the best experience while living on an H1 visa in Korea.

When trying to make friends in a new city in Korea you have a few options.

  • In hostels – Many solo travellers opt for hostels due to their social nature. A downside is many of these travellers are only here short term.
  • Other Accommodations – Let’s say you end up in a house share or apartment block, it’s quite easy to make friends with your housemates and neighbours!
  • Through work – No doubt you will have colleagues at the places you end up working. This can be a great way to make connections.
  • At Language Exchanges – Many of the first friends I made in Korea were at a language cafe where I helped locals practice their English.
  • Online apps – If trying to meet friends this can be hit or miss in Korea as it’s primarily foreigners that use Bumble Friends. Sometimes, I’ve even become friends with people from dating apps!

Summary of getting set up as an H1 Expat in Korea

Getting set up as an H1 expat in Korea can take some time and it won’t happen overnight. Make sure you are prepared financially and have done some of your own research before reaching Korea.

It will be an amazing experience living and working in this culturally rich destination. So when are you getting your visa?!

Need help planning your trip?

Check out how to plan a trip abroad & see my travel resources for more.

WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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