Moving to Korea can seem like an expensive decision, especially for those who choose to live in the bigger cities like Seoul. Once you have bought your plane ticket, insurance and visa, it may feel like there is no money left to enjoy life in the city.
Resisting the temptation to turn every day into a shopping spree can be challenging when virtually every street is lined with clothing and beauty stores, restaurants and cafes. For those of us living on a budget in Seoul, it is easy to feel restricted, but these small habits will help you save money while enjoying city life.
Most cosmetic stores offer free samples when you make a purchase. Over time, these add up and will save you a lot of money as you can use them instead of repurchasing products. Generally, the more you spend, the more samples you are given, so ensure you buy everything you want from a store in one transaction.
In busier areas like Myeongdong, the store employees stand outside the shop offering free samples to customers who go inside. You can accept these free samples, browse the shop, and leave without buying anything. This allows you to sample products before you buy them, and will trick you into believing you have bought something without spending a penny.
Although food is relatively cheap, the cost of eating out on a daily basis can quickly take a toll on your budget. In order to fill your stomach and stay within a budget, don’t forget to make good use of the free side dishes, banchan, provided at most Korean restaurants.
These side dishes are refillable with no added cost so if you are still hungry, make sure you know how to ask for more. Usually, side dishes are vegetable-based, such as kimchi which most restaurants serve, and so will keep you healthy, as well as on track with your budget.
If you are shopping at a convenience or cosmetic store, look out for discounts such as the 1+1 or 2+1 offer. These deals typically change on a regular basis so if you are shopping for a particular product, it might be worth waiting for an offer or reduced price.
Additionally, a brand which has several different stores may not offer the same discount everywhere. Make sure you shop around first to save yourself some money.
Data plans can be pricey in Korea and run out quickly in a society where everyone is attached to their phones. Make the most of your data by using free Wi-Fi whenever possible. Seoul is renowned for its super-fast Wi-Fi so don’t miss out. Public Wi-Fi can be found in most subway stations, cafes, restaurants and department stores which will help to conserve your data.
There is no shortage of free activities for foreigners to enjoy in Seoul. Most temples and museums are free or charge a small entrance fee. You can enjoy a day packed full of activities without breaking the bank just by selecting free or cheaper things to do.
Outdoor activities such parks and gardens are also a great choice for those on a budget without missing the beauty of the city.
If you are able, walk as much as you can around the city. It is tempting to jump on the subway for a couple of stops, but walking will save you a lot of money on transport in the long run.
For longer journeys, always opt for buses instead of taxis as they are significantly cheaper and avoid the risk of being ripped off. Some buses even offer free travel for foreigners which should not be overlooked by those on a budget.
To keep fit on a budget, try out free outdoors forms of exercise such as hiking, rather than joining the gym. Hiking is extremely popular in Korea and is a great way to save some money while enjoying the beautiful views.
The Han River is a popular destination for runners and is an accessible, free alternative to the treadmill. In many parks, exercise equipment can be found which is open for public use and will help you cut back on your gym membership.
Although eating out is generally cheap in Seoul, the meatless meals are always the more economical option. Make a habit of choosing the vegetarian dish on the menu and you will find yourself making savings.
It is also a good idea to stick to eating at Korean restaurants rather than choosing western options which tend to be more expensive- save your favourite home comforts for special occasions.
If you are going to drink, Soju is your new best friend. The distilled rice-wine beverage can be found in every convenience store, in a variety of flavours, for a very reasonable price. This is by far the cheapest choice of alcohol and is an extremely important part of Korean culture.
For those of us on a budget, learning to love soju is an essential aspect of life in Korea- but newcomers should be careful as it has an extremely high alcohol content.
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