Living in South Korea – A Guide for PhD Students
Written by Mark Bennett
Located at the heart of East Asia, South Korea has played an important role in the region’s continuing technological and economic rise. As a PhD student in South Korea you’ll have the opportunity to live and study in hi-tech megacities like Seoul, while also visiting beautiful world heritage sites like the volcanic island of Jeju.
This page is a guide to the essentials of student life in South Korea, from living costs and transport links to employment during your PhD.
Renowned for its hi-tech industries and the international success of companies such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia and LG, South Korea is also rich in history and possesses a range of striking geographical features.
Culture and tourism
As a resident PhD student you’ll probably find yourself living in one of South Korea’s major cities. These include:
- Seoul, the capital, located in the north-west of the country
- Daejeon, located centrally and featuring a large science park with a 90ft high IMAX cinema!
- Pohang, a vibrant seaport on the eastern coast
- Busan, situated on the southern coast and famous as a hub of traditional Korean culture
Wherever you choose to study, South Korea’s excellent advanced transport system will provide easy access to tourist hotspots including ancient temple sites, beautiful beaches and mountain ski resorts.
Sport and leisure
Martial arts such as taekwondo originated in ancient Korea and continue to be popular today. Western sports are also well established, with the South Korean football team enjoying international and Olympic success.
Artists drawing upon and adapting western popular music have become especially popular in South Korea and the resulting sub-genre of ‘K-Pop’ has enjoyed substantial international success.
Food and drink
South Korean food is particularly varied, with some dishes that you may recognise from other Asian cuisines and many that you won’t. Classic South Korean cooking emphasises a philosophical harmony between varied and balanced ingredients, with rice (or ‘bap’) playing a central role. Dishes are traditionally served and sampled simultaneously rather than in courses.
South Korea also has its own tradition of ‘Yasik’: convenient take-away food, perfect for late nights in the library or lab. This originated in the sale of food by street vendors, but is now operated mainly through restaurants with a wide variety of menus available.
Doctoral students in South Korea have several options it comes to accommodation, from the basic to the luxurious.
Accommodation in a university dormitory will usually be the most affordable option available to you as a PhD student in South Korea. The price will depend on the number of people sharing a dormitory and the provision of other services such as catering.
Private accommodation designed for students will be available in most university regions. The cost for this is substantially higher than most university accommodation, however, with substantial personal deposits required by some landlords.
One alternative form of private accommodation is the Hasuk Jip, a kind of boarding house that usually includes two meals in the rent.
Your university should be able to offer you some information and advice on the arrangements for its own accommodation as well as the cost and quality of nearby Hasuk Jips and other private options.
The cost of your accommodation in South Korea will vary greatly depending on the location and size of your room, but if you’re organised you should be able to find somewhere that is relatively affordable. These are some typical prices, as estimated by the Korean government:
- University dormitory – ₩1,000,000 to ₩1,500,000 per semester (USD $845 - $1,270)
- Private boarding house – ₩200,000 to 1,000,000 per month (USD $170 - $845)
The majority of South Korea is relatively inexpensive to live in, though prices in Seoul can be substantially higher than in other regions.
Most universities will offer affordable catering on their campuses and a meal from these facilities can cost as little as ₩2,500 ($2.10). In general, South Korea’s native cuisine will cost less than food from Western restaurant franchises, but either should be wallet-friendly. The monthly cost of food is roughly ₩300,000 ($250) per month for students using university catering.
Access to South Korea’s world-leading high-speed internet services will usually cost around ₩26,000 ($22) per month.
Student Cost of Living in South Korea - 2022
|Monthly Travel Pass
||₩55,000 (USD $46.46)
||₩176,219 (USD $148.85)
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
Once you’re enrolled on your PhD, you can apply for a part-time job permit at your local immigration office. You should bring:
- Your passport
- Your Alien Registration Card
- An application form
- A letter of recommendation for part-time work
For postgraduate students, this permit allows you to work up to 30 hours per week.
You’ll be restricted to typical part-time student jobs such as:
- Language tutoring
- Restaurant work
- Shop assistant
- Tour guide
You should contact your institution for advice on local employment opportunities and supporting documents.
The South Korean currency is the won (₩ or KRW).
Personal banking in South Korea is available to students and is usually free. In order to open an account you will need to present your passport, together with your residency documents.
Larger businesses normally accept major international credit and debit cards, as will some ATM machines.
Thanks to its relatively small size and excellent transport links, South Korea is convenient to get around. Public transport in South Korea is very affordable so, wherever you choose to study, you’ll be able to take full advantage of all the country has to offer.
Transport within the country benefits from a world-leading high-speed rail service, as well as a range of bus, subway and ferry routes. The high speed train between Seoul and the southern city of Busan takes just two and a half hours.
Korail is the national railway operator in Korea.
South Korea has several international and domestic airports. The largest is Incheon International Airport, not far from Seoul.
Inner city travel
Seoul boasts one of the most extensive and efficient metro systems in the world. Fares are cheap and it’s the quickest way of getting around the city. Four other cities in South Korea also have rapid transit networks: Busan, Daegu, Gwangju and Daejon.
Find a PhD in South Korea
Want to find out more about studying a PhD in South Korea? Read our full guide to Korean PhDs, covering everything from fees and funding to applications and assessments.