A little life update from me- the end of my second teaching contract has come around and I’m faced with the horrendous task of consolidating the vast amounts of stuff that I own. Honestly, the thoughts that keep going through my head are, how the hell do I own so much stuff? How did all that stuff get here? I don’t want to own so much stuff!
When I first came to Korea 2 years, I took advantage of every single kilo in my 40kg luggage allowance. 40kg of stuff that I thought was essential but essentially was just stuff. Fast forward 2 and a half years and here I am, surrounded by this stuff wondering what on earth I’m going to do with all of this. If you’re preparing to move to Korea then please take one piece of advise from this- you don’t need to bring your whole life with you. I’m going to talk you through all the common packing myths and a few things I wish I had left behind- as well as the things that I’m glad I brought.
But, before we jump into that. And before you start putting a single thing in that suitcase, let’s talk about the basics.
A Few Things to Consider…
You might be surprised to hear this, but I’ve met a lot of people out here who thought that Korea was a tropical country and were shocked when the temperature was sub zero in December! Korea has four seasons, and four very vastly different ones at that, too. Coming from Scotland where the yearly forecast is grey and driech with a constant chance of rain, this has taken quite a lot of getting used to for me. The best advice I could give you is to bring pieces that can easily transitioned from season to season.
Suitable Work Attire
Think about what you’re here to do- are you a teacher? A student? Are you coming to model for Samsung? Join an idol group? Whatever it is you’re here to do, you should think about how you want to present yourself while you’re doing it. Students- I’m pretty sure that suitable uni attire here is the same as any country- move on to the next point. Everyone else, read one!
If you’re coming to teach I’d suggest bringing smart- casual office attire. Dress the way you would for a graduate job in your own country. I totally understand that a lot of people come out here more for the “gap year” experience than the working experience but, still, you’re going to be working in a professional environment and should dress the part.
A lot of foreigners have a reputation for dressing scruffily and it doesn’t help our overall reputation out here! I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this but jeans, yoga pants, hoodies etc aren’t really appropirate work attire. I usually wear a dress and blazer combo or a pencil shirt and blouse. Girls should also know that showing cleavage and shoulders is frowned upon so leave those short sleeved low cut blouses and dresses at home!
If you have just graduated uni and this is your first professional job, I wouldn’t worry about rushing out and buying loads of new stuff. Uniqlo has some lovely things for really cheap. Wait until you’re here and stock up.
Another thing you might not know is that you’re probably going to have to wear slippers at work. This involves a lot of taking shoes on and off. If you’re going to bring work shoes, bring a ballet flat (nice and light) or loafers (good for wearing multiple seasons.) Basically, something that you can easily slip on and off. Don’t bring lace up brogues like I did.
In Korea, tattoos are still illegal and considered a mark of gang culture. These days you will see a lot of inked up younger Koreans, particularly in the big cities- don’t be afraid to show yours off around town too. In the workplace, however, they really should be covered up. I have 2 tattoos- one on the back of my neck and one on my wrist. To avoid students and colleagues seeing them I either wear my hair down or in a low pony and I wear long sleeves to work.
If you work in public school it will be in your contract that tattoos most be covered up so pack accordingly. Hagwons are less strict (they didn’t bother about mine last year) but it can differ from place to place.
If your work don’t provide it, don’t forget Travel Medical Insurance
Korea Packing Myths Debunked
When I was packing for Korea almost every travel blog online said the same thing about packing. Bring a million tampons. Bring bed sheets. Bring full size towels. Bring your mum’s kitchen sink. And while I’m sure all these things (well, most of the things) were essential to have a few years back, truth be told, Korea is changing. I’ve even noticed a huge change in the 2 and a half years that I’ve been here, and this is only going to get bigger.
More and more Western goods and luxuries from home are easily available here. Worry more about bringing yourself to Korea than bringing your whole life to Korea.
Here are some of the most common “packing myths.”
Fitted Sheets & Bedding
While bedding here is slightly more expensive than you might be used to, it’s still available and not extortionate. I have managed to get fitted sheets (which are apparently like gold dust?) 2 years in a row for around 20,000 won from Homeplus, one of the most popular supermarkets.
Duvets and duvet covers are a bit more difficult to find, plus they’re expensive.
Koreans commonly use blankets and comforters. These are cheap and easy to find. They’re comfy too so you’ll get used to them quickly.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend bringing bedding to Korea. Chances are you won’t know what sort of bed you’ll have until you arrive. I had a king size bed last year and I have a single this year. It would have sucked bringing all that bedding in my suitcase to find out that it didn’t fit! Save the space, and buy it when you get here. I read recently that H&M Home also has a great range of bedding.
Full Size Towels
I brought 3 full sized towels with me in my first year. Like most of the things in my suitcase, it was pretty uncalled for. Homeplus (the holy grail of Korean supermarkets) stocks perfectly fine full sized towels. They’re not ridiculously expensive either so wait until you get here rather than lugging a suitcase full of towels across continents like I did!
Yup, the times they are a changing and these days it’s much easier to find tampons here than it was before. However, the variety of brands isn’t great and applicator varieties can be difficult to find. (Disclaimer- I know that in big cities in Seoul this isn’t the case but, in a lot of smaller cities they can be hard to find!)
These days I use the Diva Cup which has been an amazing investment. It takes up hardly any space in my suitcase, is great for the environment and saves me money, too!
Oh, and girls, don’t miss my Guide for Female Expats in Korea !
This is one that I’m on the fence with. Last year I brought so many tubes of Colgate from home and would be traumatised if I ever had to use Korean toothpaste at a hotel. This year, I’m not quite as precious as that!
Korean toothpaste is totally fine, and really cheap too. I had heard that it had no flouride but apparently that’s just a myth. I’d say, if you have sensitive teeth (sensodyne is hard to find here) or a particular brand you like, bring it. If not, Korean toothpaste isn’t completely awful so don’t waste too much energy worrying about toothpaste.
Deodorant is becoming easier and easier to find but it’s still extremely expensive. This is one item I would recommend bringing from home. I recently switched to using natural deodorant which I order from IHerb, an American health food site that delivers to Korea for a fixed rate of $3. If you also use natural deodorant (or if you would like to start using it in the future) this is a great option!
Use my IHerb Code for 10% off your first order! SGL687
Spices are fairly easy to find in Korea. You might not find turmeric or dill at your local neighbourhood mart but, most cities will have an Asia Mart where you can pick up all your spicy desires. The main Western supermarkets, Lotte Mart, EMart and Homeplus all have fairly decent spice selections, too. For everything else there is IHerb!
Women’s shoes here usually go up to a size 250. That’s a UK Size 6/ US Size 8. It is possible to find larger shoes, but it might be a challenge to find styles that you actually like. I recommend bringing the following for the year:
- Smart slip on work shoes
- Weekend Flats
- Winter boots
- Flip Flops
I purposely didn’t include heels because most foreigners I know haven’t really gotten much use out of theirs. Of course, this all depends on you. If you really love dressing up, wearing heels and can see yourself going to a lot of clubs here then you should totally bring them! If not, I would just leave them. The occasion has never come up for me but maybe you’ll be luckier!
Large Sized Clothing
Shopping here has been much easier than I expected it would be. Chains like Uniqlo, 8 Seconds, H&M, Forever 21 and Top Ten all stock a wide range of sizes, the largest usually being the equivalent of a UK 16 (US 12.)
If you think you might struggle to fit into the clothes here then make sure to pack as much as you think you’ll need. If you do find yourself unable to find things in your size, ASOS offers free worldwide delivery which has been a godsend to me on a few occasions.
One piece of clothing I would recommend bringing from home, regardless of your size, is jeans. Shopping for jeans is a nightmare anywhere in the world, particularly if you are tall and curvy. In Korea it can be pretty stressful since there are a lot less options.
Not the easiest thing to find. I brought a lot of tights, pants and bras from home, and I’m glad I did! It can be difficult to find bras bigger than an A cup and I don’t think anyone in Korea has as big a bum as me, so pants are out the window too! Uniqlo (every foreigner’s saving grace- they are not paying me to write any of this btw) actually stock some bras in a range of sizes. I’ve tried them out and, actually, really liked them!
What I Wish I’d Left
Now that we’ve debunked some of the common packing myths that are floating about the internet, these are some of the things that I really wish I hadn’t brought.
I brought a really nice (kind of expensive) hairdryer with me to Korea and I really wish I hadn’t. Hairdryers are cheap and easy to pick up here for around 15,000 won. Leave your good one at home and get a cheapo here. If you decide to go travelling after your trip you won’t want to lug that thing about with you!
This sounds a bit daft since I already warned you to pack for 4 seasons and Korea gets COLD in the winter but, I really wish I had left my jacket at home! Before you go thinking I’m mental let me point out that I would NEVER leave the house without a jacket from December through to March. So why do I regret bringing one? Much like the hairdryer scenario, I brought a really nice (and bloody huge) winter jacket with me. Now I’m left with this massive jacket like, what the hell am I going to do with this thing?!?!
Numerous Pairs of Pyjamas
Bring one or two lightweight pairs. I have a full suitcase full of pyjamas- more than I know what on Earth to do with! In Winter you will definitely want to buy a few of the cheap fleecy numbers that line the underground shopping malls! Just wait until you get here.
Heaps of Make-up
I was so excited to come to Korea and try all of the amazing beauty products. So why on earth did I feel the need to bring half of my make up from home? I’ve spent so much time here experimenting with all the different products available here that I’ve hardly even touched the stuff that I brought over from home. Such a waste!
Heaps of Clothes
Korean fashion is cute, fun and inexpensive. I have picked up so many things since I arrived and a lot of the stuff that I originally brought has barely been worn. If you suspect that you’ll also enjoy shopping here, try not to bring too much stuff. It’s a pain to try and shift it all at the end of your contract. (And BTW be honest with yourself! You might like to think you won’t go shopping a lot but, if you probably will, don’t bring loads of stuff!)
Shampoo & Conditioner
I brought massive bottles of shampoo and conditioner with me. It wasn’t the end of the world, but was a lot to lug about. Bring travel sizes and pick up some when you get here. Korea has great hair products!
What I’m Glad I Packed
Of course, I didn’t pack a full suitcase of things that weren’t useful. There were a lot of things that I’m glad I brought. Here they are,
Where are all my British, soap dodging, batiste loving girls?!?! You’ll be absolutely raging to learn that dry shampoo is $10 a bottle here. If the thought of that makes you cringe, stock up or get used to getting up 30 minutes earlier to wash your hair every morning. Noooo thank yooouuu!
Although I regret bringing a lot of make up I DO NOT regret bringing a nice foundation. In Korea, foundations usually only come in a few shades- pale, very pale and very, very pale. Darker shades are available in the department stores and you’ll find most of the high end brands like Mac, Estee Lauder, Benefit, Bobbi Brown etc. Though, of course, this is a fairly expensive option if you’re trying to save money.
Bronzer/ Fake Tan
I’m well aware that this doesn’t apply to most people but I’m sure I have a few tanaholic readers out there! This is for you ladies. You’re going to be hard pushed to find tanning products since most Korean girls don’t really care for the sunkissed look. If you hate being pasty in winter bring some from home.
Photos from Home
Before I left for Korea, my beloved pals made me up a cute photo album full of pics (awww, I love yoouusss!) When I got to Korea I wanted to make my place feel a bit homely so I took them all out the album (eh, sorry pals) and stuck them all over my walls. Photos are super light and the best way to make your apartment feel like your own!
Settling into life in a new country is a huge adjustment, and you’ll be glad of anything to help soothe the process! For me that would be Irn Bru, cadbury’s chocolate and tetley’s teabags. I’d suggest just bringing just a few things that you can savour over to avoid the temptation of staying in your apartment eating food from home rather than going out and trying all the amazing Korean food on your doorstep!
If you have made it to the end of this mammoth list, well done! Give yourself a pat on the back. Seriously. That was a long one!
Packing your bags and moving to Korea doesn’t need to be difficult. Long story short- don’t bring loads of stuff. Bring what you need and, if you forget something, chances are you’ll find it here. And of course, good luck with everything! If you need any help or advice, feel free to drop me a private mail on my facebook page or leave a comment down below!
If you are about to move to Korea, don’t miss my Ultimate Guide for Female Expats in Korea!
Join the conversation! What’s one thing that you wish you had left at home before you moved abroad? Or, even better, what’s one thing you’re glad you brought! I’d love to hear from you 🙂
Disclaimer: This post contains both sponsored and affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own.