Packing up your bags and moving to Korea is a daunting and exciting prospect for all soon to be expats. The thoughts of navigating around a country with a new language, new cuisine, and new culture can be as thrilling as it is frightening. For female expats, however, everyday life in a new country can have added complications.
I’ve put this guide together in the hope that it can help both current and potential female expats in Korea find the information that they need. Girls, if there’s anything else you want to see included in this guide, leave me a comment and let me know. If you want to keep it confidential, don’t hesitate to get in touch via private message on Facebook or twitter.
I have a lot of information to share with you so I’ve split this guide into the following categories. Just click on the links to jump to the appropriate place!
I really hope that this information can help lots of young women find the information that they really need. Please share this post with your gal pals and help create a community of empowered and informed females expats in Korea!
Hair, Beauty & Skincare
Korean hairdressers are a common source of stress for most female (and some male!) expats in Korea. Since most of the hairdressers here are only accustomed to working with Asian hair, they don’t always know the best techniques for styling the hair of other ethnicities. Speak to fellow expats and find out if there is a hairdresser around town that they would recommend. If you are extra precious about your hair, you might consider paying one of the more upmarket western hairdressers in the big cities a visit.
Colouring you Hair
Finding a hairdresser who can colour your hair the way you like it can be particularly tricky. Blondes seem to have the worst luck here. Yes, it is possible to find someone who can give you those gorgeous honey tones, but it will most likely cost you a pretty penny.
Before I came to Korea I was fully blonde, but got an ombre before leaving. Ombre and balyage styles are perfect for anyone who wants to stay blonde without worrying about the regrowth.
Probably the easiest thing to do is to stick to your natural colour, or at least somewhere close to it. It’s possible to pick up reasonably priced Western box dyes, particularly Loreal, at Olive Young, Watsons, E-Mart, Homeplus and LotteMart.
Magic straight, a type of chemical straightening, is one of the most popular salon treatments for women in Korea. The treatment takes around 5 hours, depending on the thickness of your hair and can cost anywhere from 50,000 KRW 150,000 KRW, depending on where you go. Read about Natasha’s experience getting magic straight here.
Don’t care for straight hair? You can also get magic volume- straight with a slight curl at the ends, and glam perm- a natural wavy perm. This treatment was a godsend for me in the long humid monsoon months!
In terms of shampoos and conditioners, Korea has a lot of really great products. Western brands such as Tre Semme and Loreal are available at Western supermarkets and cosmetic stores, but the prices are much higher than at home. There is a really popular brand of shampoo called Ryoe that can be found at almost all grocery stores. It’s without a doubt one of the best shampoos that I have ever used, despite the strong ginseng smell!
Sadly, dry shampoo is really expensive here at 15,000 KRW per bottle. Brit girls with a batiste addiction should stock up at home!
With The Face Shop and Aritaum on almost every street corner, you don’t have to look far for reasonably priced, good quality make up in Korea. These shops are the perfect place to pick up nail polishes, lip colours, eyeliners and eye shadows, along with a whole range of skincare products (which I’ll speak more about later.)
There is one area that these shops are lacking, and that’s on base colours. South Korea is extremely famous around the world for its innovative BB creams and CC creams. But, to most foreigners dismay, these can only be purchased in about 3 shades- pale, really pale and really really pale. This is a nightmare for fake tanning girls like me, but there are a few solutions!
High End Make Up
High end department stores such as Shinseage and Lotte Department Store stock most of the brands that you would expect to find there. I find that Mac and Bobby Brown have the widest range of shades. Perfect if the porcelain doll look isn’t for you! This obviously isn’t cheap, and isn’t particularly ideal if you are trying to save money.
Luckily, there are more and more brands popping up in stores like Olive Young and Watsons that have a wider range of foundation colours. I recently found a brand called Caprice that even sells bronzer- both literal and metaphorical gold dust! Very good news for all my fellow tanaholics!
Korea is infamous for its 10 step cleansing routine. Women here invest a lot of time and money into keeping their skin perfect, and there is a huge variety of products available. However, the vast amount of choices can be rather overwhelming.
If you have a certain skin concern, for example, oily skin (referred to as sebum in Korea), sensitive skin or fine lines and wrinkles, you’ll find that each shop will carry a line dedicated to that. Choose a brand you like, and stay loyal to it. Not only will they give you a load of freebies when you go there, but switching brands a lot can be stressful for your skin.
If you suffer from acne, you’ll find that most acne products in Korea contain salycilic acid as their key ingredient. Benozyl peroxide is also available, but you need to get it prescribed by a dermatologist. A consultation with a dermatologist should cost you around 10,000 KRW.
If you have any long-term skin issues, Korea is a good place to get them sorted. Dermatology here is much cheaper than in most Western countries, and the doctors here are all extremely experienced in their fields. I had Fraxel Laser Skin Resurfacing done last year to remove my acne scars, and was extremely happy with the results.
Shopping & Fashion
Korea is a very fashion forward country, and you might find yourself feeling a bit underdressed in comparison to your co-workers, and maybe even your students. There’s a lot of fun, reasonably priced clothing available so it’s a great place to experiment with some new styles.
-Where to Shop
Underground Shopping Malls
You’ll find underground shopping malls in most cities and they’re a great place to pick up some bargains! One downside to shopping in underground malls is that most of the clothes are “free-size” and you’re rarely allowed to try things on. A lot of the shop assistants can be blunt and tell you that you’re too big. Take it with a pinch of salt, and move on.
There’s a lot of times that free size just isn’t going to cut it- I certainly don’t want to wear “free size” jeans, for example! In my opinion, these are some of the best stores to pick up clothing in a wide range of sizes:
- 8 Seconds (Korean)
- Top Ten (Korean)
- Uniqlo (Japanese)
- Forever 21 (U.S.A)
- H&M (Swedish)
- Zara (Spanish)
Do note, that H&M and Zara are significantly more expensive than you might be used to at home.
All of these stores can be found in most big cities around Korea- with the exception of Forever 21. Forever 21 has multiple outlets around Seoul, but none in the rest of the country. Share the love guys!
It might be a social faux pas to admit to shopping for clothes in supermarkets, but for basic work items in a wide range of sizes, there are definitely some gems to be found. Florence and Fred in Homeplus, which most brits will be familiar will, is probably the best of the bunch.
Online shopping is really popular here. G-Market is a great place to pick up the styles you’ll see in underground shopping malls- usually at a fraction of the price and in a wider range of sizes. An absolute godsend for me has been ASOS. If you’re unfamiliar with it, ASOS is a British online clothing retailer that offers free worldwide delivery. This is my go to shop for winter boots, jeans and swimwear. Shipping usually takes around 2 weeks.
-How to Dress
What’s suitable to wear in Korea, and what’s suitable to wear in your own country are, most likely, pretty different. I was really shocked to see how skimpy the appropriate skirt length is, despite the fact that showing your shoulders in public is frowned upon. The absolute opposite of what I’m used to!
While you will see some Korean girls wearing strappy dresses in the big cities, it’s still not considered appropriate for work. It’s a good idea to switch out tank tops for t-shirts and invest in some lightweight long sleeved blouses for work in the summer. Uniqlo is a great place to pick things like this up.
Tattoos are still a huge taboo among the older generations in Korea, but the times are a changin! You’ll see more and more young people sporting tattoos in public. However, as far as work goes, it’s best to keep them covered. If you’re working in a public school, this is compulsory and is stated in your contract.
As if having a period wasn’t already annoying enough, you now have to work out what to do with it in a whole new language! Eeeekk. Like most of Asia, the approach to feminine hygiene is a bit different to the West. You might need to change your routine up a bit.
By far the most common method of period protection, sanitary towels can be found everywhere from local marts to 7/11s. Prices are higher than you would probably expect to pay so look out for 1+1 offers.
Unfortunately, tampons seem to be a bit of a taboo here. I’ve had Korean friends tell me that they would NEVER wear a tampon. Each to their own, but for those of us who still like to live our lives, go swimming etc while we’re on our monthlies, they’re pretty handy. Tampons are available (at a cost) at Olive Young, Watsons and Western supermarkets but don’t expect the same variety as you would get at home.
While you won’t be able to pick up a period cup in Korea, you’ll be able to get one delivered from I-Herb. I personally love my Diva Cup! It will last forever, help me to save money and help the environment. Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly clean and comfortable. Read more about its benefits here.
If you’re in Korea and want to buy your Diva Cup from IHerb, use my code to take 10% off your first order: SGL687
Girls elsewhere, pick yours up on Amazon for a fraction of the RRP! Get it here.
Feminine Cleansing Products
Korea has a wide range of feminine cleansing products on the market. The popular US brand Eve is available in most Western supermarkets and cosmetic stores. Korean brands are available almost everywhere.
Almost all of the contraception methods that are available at home can be found in Korea. It’s just a matter of how and where.
The Contraceptive Pill
The most common contraceptive pill here is Mercilon. Mercilon is a low hormone combined pill. It can be picked up at almost any pharmacy and will cost roughly 8,000 KRW.
The Korean word for the contraceptive pill is “pim” or “pim-yak.” (피임약)
If you are using the pill to treat acne or PCOS then I would recommend trying to get “Yaz.” This is available on prescription from either a doctor or dermatologist. Female teachers in Korea will probably be quite annoyed to learn that contraception isn’t covered as part of your health insurance but thankfully, it is fairly inexpensive.
Alternative Methods of Contraception
If you’re looking for a more long-term method of birth control then there are plenty of options in Korea. The go-to place for these procedures would be a women’s hospital or gynecologist.
These are the average costs of some of the most popular procedures:
- Copper IUD: 150,000 KRW (Hormone Free)
- Mirena IUD: 200,000 KRW
- The Implant: 300,000 KRW
As a Brit who has been spoiled by The NHS, I find these prices insane. However, I’ve heard from friends from the states that it’s a pretty good deal. Ouch! So US gals, maybe best to get these procedures done in Korea. Girls from countries with decent health care, get yourself covered before you fly out.
Visiting a Women’s Hospital
This is a daunting thing to do in any country, so here’s the lowdown. First, to find one close to you, search 여성 병원 or 부인과 의사 on Daum maps. Generally speaking, all medical professionals in Korea can speak a passable level of English. However, reception staff generally can’t. To make an appointment without the help of a Korean friend, it would be best to go in person with a translation (google translate is a godsend!) of what you’re looking for. You’ll most likely be seen the same day.
Smear Tests/ Pap Tests
This can be performed at any women’s hospital or gynecologist. It’s standard for Korean doctors to also do an ultrasound as part of this procedure- you can ask your doctor to omit this part if you feel uncomfortable with it. It’s also routine for an STD test to be included. You should ask for 자궁경부암검사. The test can cost anything from around 50,000 KRW to 100,000 KRW.
Sexual Health/ STI Testing
This can be carried out at any women’s hospital or gynecologist. I was recently told about a free sexual health testing service for foreigners called KHAP. You can read more about this service here.
The Morning After Pill/ Plan B
This can be bought at most pharmacies in Korea. However, as a foreign, unmarried women, you might get a frosty reception asking for it- I’ve even heard of women being downright refused it. You should ask for 사후 피임약, and it should cost you around 20,000 KRW. If you have no luck finding it over the counter then a visit to the women’s hospital should help.
No matter how many precautions you take, accidents can still happen. You’ll be glad to hear that, despite the fact that it’s technically illegal, abortions are still available in Korea up to 24 weeks pregnancy. You should visit a women’s hospital for the treatment. Expect to pay around 500,000 KRW. The korean word for abortion is 낙태.
Thank you For Reading this Bumper Post!
I’ve tried my best to address most of the issues facing female expats in Korea. Like I mentioned, if there’s anything at all that you think I’ve missed, get in touch and I’ll do my best to include it! Please, please, please share this post with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or whatever! Would love to go viral with this and help all the amazing ladies in Korea conquer their every day obstacles.