Seoul is home to no fewer than 25 million citizens and copes with this fact through an extensive and very efficient urban transport system, which also happens to be relatively cheap: there is no need for a car here, not even to move outside the city where you can make use of the KTX, a sort of bullet train connecting the capital with Daejeon, Daegu and Busan in the south.
Another useful convenience in such a big city is delivery service. As a general rule, you can order-in almost everything and find it delivered to your door in no time. You could easily survive in the city without grocery shopping (a somewhat bothersome experience when you have to rely on the likes of Google translator to understand what you’re actually buying). No language skills are required: you just have to know your address and what you want to have delivered.
The main problem an expat will inevitably face, especially when it comes to work, is the hierarchy system. Deeply rooted in Korean culture, it can often leave foreigners feeling marginalised, even more so as far as women are concerned: gender, age and – to a certain extent – physical appearance all tend to play a bigger role than do competence, experience and knowledge.
With the language being one of the biggest cultural barriers, you’ll no doubt want to find a house in one of the neighbourhoods favoured by fellow expats:
- Itaewon: very popular among tourists, given the amenities available including shops, clubs and restaurants.
- Hannam-dong: replete with western-style houses.
- Seodaemun-gu: the vast majority of foreign students and professors settle here because of the proximity to a number of universities (Ewha Women University, Hongik and Yonsai).
- The Greater Gangnam Area: a favourite with high-living standards for both wealthy Koreans and foreigners alike.
All in all, there aren’t so many expats who choose Seoul as their preferred abode, not least for the fact that it is very difficult to set up a family and have both spouses living a satisfactory working life. Women especially will find the city – and the whole of South Korea for that matter– challenging. On the plus side, locals will prove themselves more than welcoming and the cost of life is agreeably reasonable.