International Students and Housing in Korea

Moving to South Korea to study? Let’s talk about the reality of housing and the expenses you may need to prepare for as an international student. Remember universities don’t usually cover student’s living expenses so international students need to budget for setting up their new lives.

Barriers to Student Housing

International students in South Korea often struggle with finding housing. Understanding the many issues associated with finding student housing can help international students mentally prepare for how hard moving to a new country for school may feel.

Language and Culture

International students often arrive in South Korea with limited Korean language ability and cultural knowledge. This means it takes them longer to find housing than Korean students who quickly rent out the available rooms while international students struggle to simply find options.

The struggle to find housing quickly while starting classes in a foreign country may have a negative impact on international students’ mental health. Such students may feel betrayed by their university which they assumed would help them find housing. This struggle may impact their relationship with their school and create long-term negative feelings about the choice to study in South Korea.

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Availability

Universities have limited on-campus housing (dormitories) and communities offer limited off-campus housing near universities. This means students may not have the option of staying on campus and they may not find affordable, convenient, and desirable housing off campus.

Large Rental Deposit

Apartments in South Korea often require large down payments that equal between 6-12 months in rent. This means that renting a small one-room (studio apartment) may require between 3 – 6 million won. Such high deposit amounts can make off-campus housing feel out of reach for many students.

Monthly Rent

International students often struggle with the cost of monthly rent which may range from 300,000 – 800,000 a month depending on things such as housing type and location. Some students fail to consider this aspect of living in a new country without family support. They may assume universities will supply the housing but universities do not offer free housing for international students.

Lack of Social Support

Universities generally do not provide help for students looking for housing. Students will need to navigate this hurdle themselves with limited knowledge. Additionally, the school may have rules that limit how far students live away from campus. This can cause conflict for students who need to find housing that fits their budget within the geographic radius dictated by the university.

Speed

Housing options near universities rent too fast. Students often don’t have the choice to shop around. Housing goes on and off the market in a matter of hours or even minutes. If a student waits to see all the options, they may end up with no options. When the real estate agent says, “We need a decision now.” They really mean it. This is not a fun feeling and causes a lot of stress.

Undesirable Accommodations

Additionally, international students may not feel satisfied with the size of their accommodations or the general vibe. Much like all countries, affordable student housing usually isn’t very attractive and often has maintenance issues.

Discrimination

The harsh reality is that some landlords may choose to rent to Korean students instead of international students. This may mean that international students struggle to compete for the best housing options near their university.

Types of Housing for International Students

Although different housing options may exist in different parts of South Korea, the following four housing options commonly exist near many universities that accept international students. Keep in mind, the more rural the university the fewer housing may options exist.

On Campus Housing

On-campus housing such as dormitories exists on many campuses across South Korea. However, there often aren’t enough rooms available for students. This may mean that on-campus housing may not be available.

Studio Apartments

Apartment Hunting Apps/Websites: 직방 and 다방

Studio apartments are called one-rooms in South Korea. It’s important to know this room with shopping for a place to live. The cost of a one-room apartment varies based on such factors as the city, neighborhood, and age of the building. This is the best option for mature students who need their sanity, privacy, and stability while studying abroad.

One-rooms are one of the most expensive options for student housing. Costs for a one-room apartment often range between 300,000 – 800,000 a month with a deposit that equals 6-12 months of rent. Keep in mind, exceptions to these rules do exist. Always be on the lookout for deals.

Additionally, you will need to know the difference between monthly rent called wolsae (월세) and the unique Korean system of jeonsae (전세) which is a giant one-time deposit system.

Goshiwon

A Goshiwon is a type of small, affordable housing unit in South Korea, typically rented by people needing a low-cost living option such as students or temporary workers. The space, often only enough for a single bed and a desk, comes furnished and usually includes shared amenities such as bathrooms, laundry facilities, and a common kitchen area.

A unique aspect of Goshiwons is their inclusivity of utilities, such as electricity, water, gas, and sometimes even internet and meals, in the rental price. Originating from the need for quiet, affordable spaces for intensive study, the word ‘Goshiwon’ itself translates to ‘study room’. However, with increasing urban density and housing prices, they’ve evolved into an economical housing choice for various segments of the population.

In terms of cost, goshiwon may offer an affordable housing option for international students due to the fact goshiwon often offer weekly and monthly rates without large deposits. However, the rooms are often small and uncomfortable for those used to spacious living. Additionally, the may be loud or poorly kept. It’s important to do your research before moving into a goshiwon.

Goshiwons aren’t available in every city or neighborhood in South Korea. Additionally, space is limited so sometimes they have no rooms. This means international students moving to South Korea can’t count on them as an option 100% of the time.

Sharehouse

Basically, a sharehouse is a roommate situation. A form of co-living arrangement where individuals rent individual rooms within a larger apartment or house, while common spaces such as the kitchen, living room, and bathroom are shared among all residents. These arrangements are popular among university students, young professionals, and foreigners due to their affordability and opportunities for social interaction.

Many sharehouses in Korea are fully furnished and include utilities in the rental price, making them a convenient choice for those who seek flexible living arrangements. Moreover, they often host social events and activities, fostering a sense of community among residents. This housing style encourages cultural exchange and language practice, especially in international sharehouses, where residents from different countries live together. Thus, a sharehouse in Korea provides not just a budget-friendly accommodation option but also a vibrant, communal living experience.

Other Housing Expenses

Some students who move to South Korea find such living costs a surprise. They do not realize they will be responsible for managing their own living expenses. Depending on your choice of housing, you will need to consider the following expenses:

  • Furnishings
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Groceries
  • Monthly utilities: gas, electric, water, building maintenance fees, etc

As a general rule, international students should consider having about 400,000 – 800,000 for setting up their homes. It’s possible to spend more or less than this depending on budgeting skills and lifestyle expectations.

Support for Students Looking for Housing

As always, no blog post is complete without offering a few options for finding support. Here are three social tools international students may leverage during their housing search:

BBB Free Language Support

Students who need help with calling leasing agents and housing opportunities can use BBB Korea which offers 3-way translation services. This can be a huge help when calling different locations. Learn more about the free BBB support services in the following video:

Student Associations

Some universities have student associations for in international students. Sometimes connecting with these associations can help you find housing options. For example, maybe a student will graduate soon and needs someone to take over their lease.

Bilingual Concierge Services

If international students don’t mind throwing money at the problem, they can hire a bilingual concierge service such as Wonderful to find housing. This can be a great solution for those that can afford it. The cost will vary depending on the service.

Additional Information About Student Housing

Don’t take our word for it! Make sure to watch many videos and read many articles. Be warned, most information is about Seoul. If your university is not in Seoul you may have a very different house-hunting experience: