Moving to Korea > Housing

General Information About Housing

General Information About ...

Seoul has, in recent years, become one of the most expensive cities in the world to live. One of the major contributing factors to this distinction is the cost of housing. Housing speculators have had a field day in certain areas of the city that are especially attractive to the middle and upper classes and as a result, housing prices soared at extraordinary rates. The government has begun trying to rein in the escalating costs and profits, but it’s too early yet to say how successful those efforts may be.

COST: As for foreign housing, rental payments are extremely high, one might even say, excessively high, for western-style amenities either in houses or apartments, especially given their quality and size. Foreign residents can expect to pay significantly more than a Korean would regardless of the type of housing. That said, an expat whose accommodations are not paid for by a corporation can find affordable and attractive, albeit usually small, accommodations in various areas of the city.

TERMS: Leases are generally for a minimum of one year, but most often for two years. In fact, the tenant has the right to renew for a second year even if the lease is for one year. It is possible to have a clause put in the lease that allows the tenant to terminate the lease after one year with notice (usually 60-90 days). Should the tenant have to leave before the end of the first year of a two-year contract with a one-year termination provision, the property owner may return only one year of the rent if it was prepaid. (see more in Lease Options in this section).

OWNERSHIP: Many new apartment complexes and buildings have been (and are still being built) in recent years. Many of them incorporated the Korean version of western-style design as well as innovative uniquely Korean ones. Most of these are condo-style, in that they are purchased by an individual and then rented out. Buildings will be a combination of owner residents and tenants. In this way, rents and conditions in a given building can vary from unit to unit depending on the owner. 

PROPERTY VISA: While foreign nationals have been allowed to purchase residential property for a little more than a decade, very few do so. Through a recent  'real estate investment immigration system' foreign nationals who purchase property  in specific areas of Jeju Island and as of February 2011, Gangwon province, will be granted a permanent resident visa. The threshold on Jeju has been 500,000 USD with Gangwon around 1 million USD. Investors first receive an F2 visa and then, if they keep the property for five years, an F5 (permanent residency).

Because of the nature of the real estate market in Korea in general, and in Seoul in particular, it doesn’t hurt to get feedback from other expats living here. 

 Voltage in Korea is  220 volts. However, some housing for foreigners also have 110v outlets, as do some businesses. Even if you don't have the 110v option, transformers, which are easy to find, will allow you to use your 110v applicances.
You may hear about electric rates behind lower at night. That is true, but only for commercial use. These savings do not apply to private residences or small apartment buildings.

Gas stoves are more commonly used than electric – the cost of electricity being quite high.

Tap water is OK to drink here although most people (Koreans and expats alike) prefer to use filtered or bottled water. An increasing number of appartments/houses (especially newer ones) have a water filter already installed under the sink, with some having a separate faucet for drinking water.

Clothes dryers are not commonly used in Korea, again due to the cost of electricity. People who do use them usually opt for a combination washer/dryer, for reasons of space. 

Floors are generally wood, linoleum or marble with no carpeting.

Heating is provided from a floor system called 'ondol' that operates by passing steam through pipes imbedded in the floor.

Cooling is provided by standing aircondionners and/or smaller wall-mounted units that are connected to either one (split) or individual external compressors. Central air is not the norm in Korea.

Storage space is limited.  Built-in closets are not the norm in Korean apartments or houses and most people use wardrobes to store their clothing. However, that is changing, especially in housing units built relatively recently and destined for foreign residents.  Storage space can be limited, especially in multi-dwelling units.

Utilities, electricity, water, gas, and heat, are usually the responsibility of the tenant. In some small apartments, the landlord receives a bill for the building and divides the costs between the tenants. It is usually best to choose a building in which each unit has its own gas, electricity and water meter. 
If you are in a building where tenants each pay a share of  the electricity bill, make sure when you sign the lease that you will see the whole bill and get an explanation on how the payment is divided each time. For more details on how electricity is charge and bills are calculated, see the K4E Utilities page.

  1. Electricity: Korea Electric Power Corporation -KEPCO (((한국전력공사: Hanguk Jeollyeok Gongsa) - serves the country, government a major stakeholder.
  2. Water: K-Water (Korean Water)
  3. Gas:  Seoul City Gas  (serves Seoul andGyeonggi-do), Busan City Gas (serves the Busan area), Daegu City Gas (serves Daegu and vicinity), Chungnam Urban Gas (1544-0009 - Daejeon)
  4. Payment: You can pay utility bills in many locations, including banks and post offices. Bill payments can also be automatically deducted from your Korean bank account every month – you’ll receive a statement before the due date. If you’re paying monthly at the bank, most have bill paying ‘machines’. The guard will usually show you how to use it.

Housing Terms or (lost in translation):

  • "Pyong" refers to the traditional Korean measurement of housing size. One pyong equals approximately 3.3 square meters/ 35 square feet. Korea law now requires that measurements be given in square meters, it's still quite common for housing to be quoted only in terms of pyong. However, do feel free to ask for a translation into meters. When measuring the unit – be it in pyong or square meters/feet – owners include balconies, utility rooms, landings, etc.
    Note: Realtors and owners are now required, by law, to use the metric system, not the traditional Korean one, which means you should be receiving the dimension in sqare meters.
  • Furnished, in the teacher, factory worker, etc. price range) may mean only that the unit has a single-burner stove and maybe a small refrigerators. In the case of serviced apartments, everything you need may be provided, from furniture, to tableware, etc. Ask specific questions.
  • Western-style can mean a whole range of things including having a shower stall and/or bathtub. Again, ask specific questions.

    K4E Editor: tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at

Last Updated on 2020-09-01

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