8 Mistakes New Expats Make In South Korea (Part 1)

Back in August, precisely 17 days before my departure to become an EPIK teacher in South Korea. I was blinded by images of green tea fields, rice cakes and kimchi. I would read a new expat blog every day (or every hour, if I had the time!). I was ready; or so I thought…
confusedGetting to South Korea is a totally different experience than any expectation I could have had. These are a few mistakes I made as a newly transplanted foreign teacher in South Korea, and a few things you should avoid to make your first few months extra-enjoyable (with a little more change in your pockets).

Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon!

1. Buying Everything from HomePlus or E-Mart

When I first arrived in Korea I was lucky enough to have the sweetest coworkers, one of whom was asked to help me set up my life in my new city. He helped me create a bank account, made sure my phone plan was up to par, and took me shopping. I came out of HomePlus (the equivalent of a target or a very nice WalMart) $300USD poorer and with not that many items.

It was a great start, but in retrospect I spent way too much money on things like plates, cutlery and slippers. I later discovered this beautiful, magical, wonderful place called DAISO! They have them in all big cities including Seoul, Daejeon, Busan and Daegu. It’s the equivalent of a dollar store in the US or Canada, and you’ll be able to purchase most of your basic essentials for a much lower price. Of course, you might find better quality items at the larger department stores, so just scout your options before committing.

2. Bringing Too Much of 1 Thing

The best advice I was given about my packing list was to make sure I didn’t bring too many similar items. I wanted enough diversity that I could mix and match, and I didn’t want to use up space with two things that were almost identical (although, I couldn’t resist bringing my three favorite black tops… but who can go wrong with black!?).

There are plenty of packing lists for girls and guys alike, but the one thing you must remember is to pack 1 of each essential, and then lost of pants. Everything else you can find in Korea, even in your size!

3. Packing 2 carry-ons’

I paid $100 for an extra suitcase because I’m not very good at following my own advice (see above). However, I thought I’d seriously nailed my packing situation: I had two underweight suitcases, a purse and a roller suitcase. My Dad gave me a firm pat on the back, because he knows how much I love my shoes. I felt pretty good about it…

Until I arrived in Chicago for my layover; we had to switch airlines and as we were flying international, it was necessary to check in again with all my carry-ons. Then, reality struck: My face fell in defeat as the receptionist of Asiana Airlines informed me that I would either have to leave one bag behind, or pay an extra $100. Of course I paid the fee (reluctantly), but I also learned a very valuable lesson: read, and then re-read your airlines baggage policy. I definitely read the policy of the first airline I booked, but silly me didn’t realize it might be different than Asiana’s policy. This little mistake could cost you (or save you) $100!

4. Not Submitting Your Tax Form on Time

You’ve submitted all your paperwork, passed all of your interviews, told everyone you’re ‘hittin’ the road!’ Now all that’s left to do is fill your suitcase and hop that plane to the best year (or more) of your life.

Now hold on just a minute – are you sure there’s not something you’ve forgotten? Did you exchange currency at the bank? Check. Did you quit your job? Double check. What about your tax guy; did you talk to your tax guy? Maybe. Maybe not. Here’s the thing, though, and this is amazing – Native English Teachers (NET’s) are not required to pay any income tax for their first and second years teaching in Korea. This rule falls under the “Double Taxation Exemption Agreement,” but you need to have a statement from your home country called the “Residency Certificate.”

Unfortunately Canadian and Irish citizens are not eligible for this opportunity, but for the rest of you: do yourself a favor and apply for this even before you know you’re accepted into whatever program you’ve applied for. In the US (where I am from) it costs approximately $85 and takes about 45 days to process. Your school will most definitely ask you to present this as soon as possible, and it will save you so much hassle; I learned the hard way.

Liked this article? Be sure to check out Part 2 here!

Are you a soon-to-be expat in Korea? What are you having the most difficulty with as your departure approaches? Or, are you a current expat in Korea? What did you have the most trouble with as a newbie? Tell us in a comment below.

 

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