Cost of Living in Seoul: The 12 Month Practical Experiment

Seoul is perhaps one of the most livable cities in world, especially if you are into your mid-twenties and have your youth to back you up. There's so much to experience, so much to see, so much to eat and having lived here for more than six years now, I still have my explorers hat firmly glued to my head. The city, for sure, has this way of cozy-ing up around you; the transportation lifelines are impeccably timed and reliable, the internet speedy, the night scene vibrant, the eat-out culture firmly dominant, the home delivery services excellent, girls pretty and now, even has one of Asia's perhaps most interesting craft beer scene [HERE] as documented on my insta [HERE].

There could not have been a better time to live in Seoul. (except the job market is complete shit)

One question that I frequently get pitched about the city though, is the usual cost of living question. Not what you can do here but rather how much it costs to live on your own. Sure, I can give a day to day, month to month guess and have a number shed out in a blink of an eye. However, I am more interested in using data to provide a basis to back me up. For that, about a year ago, I set up this experiment where I would use only one debit card from Woori Bank to clear out all my expenses. That would include my lodging, fooding, goofing, eating, drinking, eating, travelling, purchasing.

And more eating. 

Why do this? well, Woori Bank's internet banking provides me a comprehensive data on all of my expenses year round. I can look, review and download all my information if I have used my card. That way, I am passively tracking how much I am spend during the entire year. With help of little maths, I can then average out the amount of money I need on a daily basis for the lifestyle I lead. 

So before I head into the analysis, I will have to clear out what exactly my lifestyle constitutes of.

Experiment Parameter: Lifestyle

Since cost of living directly correlates to the lifestyle you lead, let me clear out what sort of lifestyle I have in order to give you a sense of whether the numbers I provide leans towards your minima or maxima. 

I live in a one room apartment that has a kitchen and personal bathroom. It's not big enough to place my drums, but I might be able to squeeze it in somehow later. If you are curious on the size, it is about 16m2 in SI. My rental fees include water, electricity and gas so all I need to do is pay for my rent and that's about it. No hastle. The place is about 3 minutes away from a subway station that is 15 minutes subway ride away from the business district of Gangnam, where I work. Very nice indeed. 

Besides working, I am also active in Seoul's music scene, hyper active on Seoul's craft beer scene, brew my beer once in a while, travel domestically and internationally (data includes travel ticket costs to Japan and Nepal), eat out a lot, buy one or two books a month and don't budget that much. Which often leads me to scraping for a few days before payday.

I have a phone that has 4G connectivity (paid monthly), had health insurance (half of the data year, add $50 more every month) and use the subway's "monthly" subscription for transport (KRW 55,000 for 60 rides)

And yes, no gym memberships.

That should give you a good basis for comparison while implementing the numbers I provide in your daily life. 

Experiment Parameter: Data Type

As I mentioned before, I have included expenses of everything for a year and averaged them out. Because people just don't eat and sleep and do nothing, the numbers should provide a reasonable estimate for them who lead a normal, active life who go out, meet people, purchase stuff and like to travel. 

One important thing to note is that, unlike other places, Seoul's housing market has this ridiculous thing called a key-money (deposit). You need to lock-in a certain deposit to your landowner that is about 10-20-30 times your monthly rent to be able to get a place. Makes no sense to me but that's the way it is here. I have also included the amount on the data. 

Data Analysis
Month wise expenses for Seoul. The trendline shows an increase and allows me to predict and prepare
The peak is when I paid my deposit and the trough is when I was travelling overseas

TOTAL: KRW 20,039,750
MONTHLY: KRW 1,669,979
DAILY: KRW 54,903 
My data shows that I spent KRW 20,039,750 ($20,000) in total from 1st February 2016 to 1st February 2017. Monthly expenditure was seen to be under KRW 1,700,000 ($1700) and daily expenses about KRW 55,000 ($55). The expense is skewed by the deposit money and if not included, would have come down to about KRW 41,300 ($41) per day. 

For me, since I was in Nepal twice and Japan once during this time, I would say my daily expenditure lies between KRW 41,300 and KRW 55,000. I feel the amount is quite reasonable given that, with experience that I have, I can get paid anywhere from $40 to $50 per hour for teaching physics/maths/english besides my usual work. These kind of side jobs are very seasonal and very erratic, so basing my livelihood on them is plain stupid. This being said though, they have got me out through tough times.

My equation here is simple; my "daily" income should surpass KRW 55,000 and I should be fine leading the lifestyle I chose to lead. If not, I will have to find a way to supplement my base income in order to exploit what Seoul has to offer. 

Hope this helps making some life decisions in the future. 


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