There's no denying that South Korea is an expensive country. Indeed, the capital Seoul frequently ranks as one of the world's most expensive cities to live in. In 2022, Seoul ranked 14th out of 227 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey.

That said, South Korea boasts competitive salaries and a world-class quality of life. Employment contracts also frequently cover costs such as accommodation and schooling, which saves expats a lot of money. Thanks to this, the cost of living for many expats in South Korea can be reasonably affordable.

There are many ways to keep expenses down. The cost of public transport is low and eating Korean food is a lot cheaper than buying Western food, for instance. Shopping at markets and smaller shops is more cost effective than shopping in tourist hotspots or at major department stores.

It is also worth bearing in mind that prices between cities and smaller towns will differ. The cost of living in Seoul is higher than in other cities in South Korea.


Cost of accommodation in South Korea

Accommodation in large cities such as Seoul or Busan will be more expensive. Generally, accommodation in South Korea is organised and paid for by an expat's employer. If a foreigner chooses to organise their own accommodation, they will be expected to pay 'key money', which is in effect a large deposit that the landlord earns interest from. This will make accommodation more expensive.

Basic utilities including gas, electricity and uncapped WiFi tend to be affordable.


Healthcare in South Korea

Healthcare in South Korea is much more affordable than in Western countries such as the US. The National Health Insurance programme is compulsory for all expats. Many companies will pay half the monthly fee, leaving the other half for expats to pay themselves.

Owing to the affordability of healthcare, South Korea has become a medical tourist destination. This is especially true for cosmetic procedures and LASIK eye surgery, which many expats take advantage of.


Cost of electrical and household goods in South Korea

Electrical goods such as televisions, DVD players, digital cameras, cell phones (particularly Samsung), computers and high-tech gadgets are all relatively affordable in South Korea.

On the other hand, foreign manufactured goods from toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste containing fluoride) and English-language books through to Nikon cameras and Apple products are more expensive than items made locally.


Cost of food in South Korea

Foodstuffs that are mostly taken for granted in Western countries, such as fresh produce and cheese, will generally cost more in South Korea than an expat would have paid back home. Most Korean stores also sell products in bulk, making groceries for a single person quite expensive.

Overall, dining out is inexpensive when sticking to Korean food. This often makes eating out a better option over buying groceries, especially for single expats. Naturally, dining out at Western restaurants comes with a higher price tag.


Cost of entertainment and eating out in South Korea

Eating out in South Korea can range from being moderately priced to expensive, depending on the type of restaurant and the location. The quality of food is generally high, with a focus on fresh ingredients and traditional dishes. Compared to many Western countries, dining out in South Korea can be cheaper or similarly priced, but it depends on the specific city and the individual's personal spending habits.

Entertainment in South Korea can be similarly priced or even cheaper to that in expats' home countries, but it depends on the specific activity and location. Some popular forms of entertainment, such as visiting cultural sites, watching traditional performances, and going to local festivals, can be relatively cheap or free. Other activities, such as going to clubs, seeing a movie, or visiting amusement parks, can be more expensive. Expats can expect a wide range of entertainment options in South Korea, including both traditional cultural experiences and modern leisure activities. Some popular forms of entertainment include visiting historical sites, attending traditional performances such as Korean classical music and dance, going to theme parks and shopping centres, and exploring the bustling nightlife scene.


Cost of education in South Korea

The cost of education in South Korea can be expensive, particularly in international or private schools. Public schools are generally less expensive, but may not offer education in expats' native language. Many expats choose international schools as they offer education in a familiar language and provide a more international curriculum. However, these schools can be significantly more expensive than other options. Public schools in South Korea generally offer education in Korean, which may not be ideal for expats, but they are less expensive and can provide a unique cultural experience for children. Private schools are also an option, offering a mix of Korean and international education, but may be more expensive than public schools.


Cost of living in South Korea chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Seoul for February 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

KRW 3,500,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

KRW 2,200,000

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

KRW 980,000

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

KRW 760,000

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

KRW 6,900

Milk (1 litre)

KRW 2,700

Rice (1kg)

KRW 4,900

Loaf of white bread

KRW 4,100

Chicken breasts (1kg)

KRW 5,800

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

KRW 4,500

Eating out

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

KRW 65,000

Big Mac meal

KRW 6,700

Coca-Cola (330ml)

KRW 1,970

Cappuccino

KRW 5,200

Bottle of beer (local)

KRW 2,900

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

KRW 143

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

KRW 27,000

Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)

KRW 250,000

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

KRW 1,200

City-centre public transport fare

KRW 1,300

Gasoline (per litre)

KRW 1,890