The cost of living in Korea


When I left the UK to come to Korea I was horrified to discover that the £500 I had ordered for collection at the airport, which equated to around 900’000 Korean Won, had been given to me in denominations of ₩10’000, ₩5’000 and ₩1’000  notes. I was left holding a ridiculously large sized wedge of currency and baffled as to how they could operate with such measly denominations. The ₩50’000 (£27.52) Won note was released into circulation in 2009, but still remains to be relatively rare and only specially marked cashpoints dispense it. After a period of time in Korea I came to realise why. It is unnecessary to have anything much larger. Due to the low-cost of living you very rarely need a note bigger than the ₩10’000 which is worth around £5 . Inevitably as soon as you do acquire a ₩50’000 it is rapidly broken down into its various smaller quantities. That being said, I have thought that at times that a ₩20’000 note (about a tenner) would be more appropriate and useful.

Koreans are also very good with their money. When I inquired this week about what Korea was doing to help people caught up in the earthquake and Tsunami crisis in Japan, after giving me details of how to donate my money the Korean red cross relief effort, a teacher in my school also casually suggested that perhaps my money would be more wisely spent investing in the recently depleted Japanese stock market. That is not to say that she did not think I should donate it of course, merely an observation of a window of opportunity.

The amount of goods that are imported into the UK is quite incredible. You’d do well to be able to purchase a UK manufactured car nowadays, Rover being a recent example of defunct British manufacturing with its discontinuation in 2005. The exact opposite is the case here, and an imported car on the roads is a very rare sight with most people driving either a Kia, Daewoo, Hyundai or Samsung. An imported car is a symbol of stature, and the principal at my school is the only teacher I have seen with an import, proudly driving in his shiny new Ford Taurus (and I always thought Ford stood for ‘found on road dead’). The most amazing thing is the amount of production that happens in Korea. The two major companies LG and Samsung make so much stuff it is mind boggling, from TVs to computers, mobile phones, fridges, water filtering systems and cars.

Due to the fact that a lot of things are produced, grown or made in Korea, it helps to keep the cost of living low. A loaf of bread will cost you about 80p, a small carton of milk 16p, 1L milk 60p,  a 500ml glass of beer £1.38, dinner at a typical Korean restaurant £2.75, dinner at an expensive Korean restaurant £8.26, a tin of tuna 66p, a can of coke 50p, a 2.5 litre bottle of beer in the supermarket £1.65-£2.75, a bottle of Soju (national drink) 61p, a packet of cigarettes £1.37, a large pizza anywhere from £3.30, fried chicken £2.75, a burger set meal £2.48, a  cafe latte £1.38, a toasted sandwich £1.10, taxis start from £1.21 and go up at a steady rate of around 11p every now and then, and a hotel room is around £27.50. School lunch in the canteen is also a snip at £1.10  a day, although the food can sometimes be a gamble! Many things are so much cheaper than the kind of prices I am used to in the UK. Naturally, as with most things, premium goods increase in price, but overall the day to day cost of living is far lower. Anything that involves a labour charge is dirt cheap. A taxi costs peanuts in comparison to the UK, a 5 hour luxury bus ride £13.20 and a haircut is £5.50.

Naturally as with all countries, costs inevitably increase as you approach the major cities. Many things in Seoul are comparable in price to western nations, with a high premium for imported goods such as alcohol and food and wherever you are in Korea western food comes at a price. Petrol prices remain high, consistent with oil prices globally. Fruit and veg can also be expensive in the supermarkets (cheaper on the local markets) and fluctuate in price quite a lot. The are usually sold in bulk which can present a disproportionate price, but inevitably leaves you buying far more than you actually need, and can usually mean it is just cheaper to eat out than stay at home to cook. The subway however, as with all public transport in Korea remains relatively cheap in Seoul and a single journey will cost you around 49p.

When I return, adjusting back to the price of economy goods at premium prices in the UK worries me. Sometime in the future I can see myself walking into a newsagents and buying a can of coke, only to be horrified when the pleasant man at the counter informs me that it is £1.20, and shaking my head I’ll begrudgingly hand over the cash and walk off muttering about how I remember when a can of coke was only 50p! Back in my day…

The Korean Currency


5 Responses to “The cost of living in Korea”

  1. 1 Sian Henderson March 17, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    This is an informative and fascinating blog, thank you for bringing it into my life 🙂 xxxxx

  2. 2 Barni November 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    i am going to korea with the TaLK prgram to teach english, is 800 GBP a month a decent enough salary to live on…?

    • 3 Tim's travel blog December 6, 2011 at 5:56 am

      The Talk programme is a lower paid programme than EPIK. I think it commands a salary of around 1.5 million KRW a month. If you are earning anything above 1 million KRW a month then you have money to burn. You could easily get by on around 600’000 KRW without tightening the purse strings too much. I’d say you’ll be fine and have a load of cash left over. Although it is worth keeping in mind that the EPIK programme and most hagwons pay considerably more than Talk do, having said that you can do the Talk programme partway through your degree course, before you are a grad. So, swings and roundabouts…

  3. 4 Stefanie Lucas April 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    i love Korean prices, it’s like a constant 50% sale. never been so thankful for a strong pound!
    only trouble is your Korean wages don’t buy you much in the UK….
    ah well i’m gonna be a student there! i’m spending my pounds not earning them! *50% off party*

  4. 5 Read More Here June 10, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Incredibly informative look frontward to visiting again.

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