If you’re in the midst of packing and you haven’t lived somewhere else you’ve got a lot to think about. How long are you going to be gone? Months, a year, a couple years? Do you want this to be a permanent thing? Do you need to put your stuff in storage or donate most of it? Can it stay where it is?
I left at a somewhat awkward time. My parents were wanting to move but hadn’t so I left things as they were. While I’ve been in Korea my parents moved. It’s also left me a bit un-moored. What’s my permanent address now? Where should the bank try to reach me? I’m still getting use to it.
But when you move to Korea you only get 2 included bags for the international flight, plus a carry on. I didn’t have any big suitcases for long international travel before I left. So I spent hours scouring websites to find a place to order some. I ended up on ebags and I ordered two Rome 29 inch hardcase spinner suitcases. I wanted something that could survive the flight and then some. (I had three flights and essentially bounced my way across the USA till I caught my flight out in California) I wanted something hard on the outside in case so that it wouldn’t cave and my things wouldn’t get crushed or opened. I wanted something with wheels that were “spinner” style so I could push/pull it in any direction and so it wouldn’t be difficult to navigate. They’re actually big enough for an adult to curl up inside of, which left all my friends and some family joking about stowing away.
I then packed some carry-ons, a big back-packers back pack (A Rick Steves backpack that it looks like they’ve redesigned/don’t make anymore). All of these were filled to the brim, to the max weight allowance before I’d have to pay extra and when my aunt and uncle saw me off at the airport it was a struggle to remain in control of everything.
I packed a lot of clothes. I’d saved up gift cards to this point and went shopping for business and business casual clothing. I had this dream that I’d move to South Korea and I would dress fashionably. I would wear the fashion I wanted to without fear or those awkward “OMG I’ve never seen you wearing _______” that inevitably happened any time I did dress up in college. I spent a ton of time at used clothing stores and thrift shops looking for things that fit and that said “I’m an adult doing an adult job” Because it was my first “adult job”, all my previous jobs were college jobs where I worked on campus and got away with (most of the time) dressing how I wanted. I packed only things that I thought was fashionable. I packed blazers, button up tops, shoes I could wear to work, dresses, stockings, cardigans and my comfortable clothes were regaled to a few t-shirts and pajamas. I also packed a couple jackets, jeans, scarves and a pair of beaten up tennis shoes.
I spent time with friends who wore make up having them give me tutorials and practicing and buying make up that would fit my skin tone/complexion/season. (Have barely used them at all. I like my sleep. Plus Korean beauty products are everywhere. Kinda wish I’d saved the room. But depending on skin tone you may want to pack some if you wear make up often)
A sample collection of spices and vanilla beans.
bedding (blankets, sheets, towels that are full size Korea lives off of hand towels even for when you get out of the shower)
a couple childhood stuffed animals ( had to leave many behind)
3DS and games
computer with international chargers (filled with a bunch of movies and TV shows I hadn’t seen yet, mostly free pilots)
international travel adapters
A hand me down unlocked smart phone (my tracphone had recently kicked the bucket)
a couple notebooks and pens
enough Korean won to get me through at least a month (I made a request at my bank and they loved it because the currency is colorful, but it took a couple of weeks)
enough toiletries to get me through a month
medicine (allergy, ibuprofen, tums) and first aid kit (lots of neosporin and bandaids)
Pants— In Korea I can usually easily find dress tops when I go shopping even in the underground markets. (Where you can’t try things on usually) The current one size fit all style is a bit over-sized which fits me, but bottoms….are a little bit more difficult. Be it dress pants or jeans they’re not as easy for me to go shopping for.
Comfy clothes. Due to my first location in Korea being very rural there wasn’t a lot to do. So I spent a ton of time at home. While some people can lounge around in their house looking fashionable, I’d much rather be in something more comfortable. I didn’t pack my favorite robe from college or any sweatpants/yoga pants, t-shirts or sweatshirts. Which meant I was pretty uncomfortable for quite awhile.
Bras. I packed undergarments. But with my rural location I’d have happily swapped out the space of all the dresses I’d packed (99% of which I never wore before I realized I’d lost weight and they didn’t fit me properly and had to donate) for more bras. I might be able to find my size somewhere in Seoul, but it can be difficult enough shopping for bras in your home country that…usually when I go home that’s what I do is buy underwear and bras so I don’t have to do it in Korea. (Note you can have Victoria Secret ship to South Korea)
*If you are plus size or tall shopping in Korea is difficult. There are however online realtors that ship to Korea. One of my friends loves Shein.
My sleeping bag jacket. In Chicago I had a winter jacket that went all the way down to my ankles. I nicknamed it my “sleeping bag jacket” Korea is pretty cold and the jackets I did pack were not warm enough. When packing for Korea pretend you’re going on an artic expedition, especially if you live in a warmer climate. This means you want something with down in it. I didn’t pack my warmest jacket and it’s been a huge regret. Last year I finally caved and bought a warmer jacket because I was freezing but I miss my long jacket, which is actually in style in Korea as a “long padding” jacket.
Seasoning packs. Things like taco seasoning aren’t in Korea. While some seasonings are available depending on location or you can order them online certain seasonings are just so much cheaper at home.
Pack for seasons. It may not get “have to dig myself out of my house” levels of snow as some places back home got. But still it snows. And it gets cold. As well as hot and awfully humid. So humid that the air is heavy and sticky.
Pack a heavy duty winter coat, go for one with a hood and down material on the inside to stay warm. It may take up some more space in your suitcase but you can always use vacuum seal bags to give yourself more room.
Find out your schools dress code. Pack things you will wear to teach (or if you’re going to Korea for school, what you’ll wear to classes). Korea’s clothing trend is somewhat the opposite of Americas. Tops tends to be more modest while bottoms tend to be short. However as a teacher short shorts are not highly suggested, but outside of school you should be fine. I go for a comfortable business casual. I wear blazers over a nice button up (or just a nice shirt in general) and suit pants, some times jeans.
Pack warm clothing to wear around your apartment. Most likely you’ll have to pay for utilities, to keep costs down many people dress to stay warmer or cooler depending on the season within their own home. Sweaters you can dress up will keep you warm since many hallway in Korea are not heated, and some schools don’t run the heating as often as you may like.
Korean shoe sizes tend to go by millimeter, they also don’t get very big. If you have smaller feet you’ll probably be fine, but the larger your feet (including wider) can be difficult to find. When I needed new tennis shoes I ended up having to order them on ASOS, but for some styles of shoes I can find things at International chain clothing stores like H&M. I’ve also heard that Costco sells larger sized shoes, but I don’t live near enough to one to justify buying a membership. Also the sidewalks in Korea can be slippery in winter so make sure you have shoes with some sort of traction on the bottom.
Pack at least one formal wear outfit that you will wear. Part of Korean culture is that if any of your coworkers get married you’ll be invited to attend. Some people also like to dress up for school graduations. While I regret packing like 12 dresses I have needed a nice dress on more than one occasion.
Pack some light linen and cotton clothing for summer. Make sure to include things you’re comfortable wearing and isn’t too revealing as a top. Depending on location and your job collarbones and shoulders can be a bit scandalous.
Take a look at your closet and what you normally wear. When shopping keep in mind the differences in climate. There’s a rainy season that lasts about two weeks in summer where roads (depending on area) tend to flood. You may want to pack a rain coat and waterproof shoes.
It’s suggested by many to bring things you commonly use to get you through at least your first pay check. As a white girl with fine wavy hair I can usually do okay with whatever shampoo I can find at my local store. Some brands can also be found online or at places that sell more international beauty supplies like Olive Young. However if you have curly hair it may take you a little while to find the products that protect your hair. I know you can find stuff online, especially places like iherb and there are a couple shops in Itaewon that I know especially sell the correct hair products, but pack enough to get you through until you can figure that out.
If you have sensitive skin I highly suggest bringing what you use at home since it may be awhile before you can find a dupe for it in Korea. The water can be a bit harsh on your skin and your hair here, so if you’re extra sensitive buy a shower head that filters once you get here and swap them out.
The same goes for make up. I can usually find things to match my skin tone or close enough. But I also don’t wear make up very often. I just usually pop into shops with friends and test things out of curiosity. Foundations, highlights and concealers don’t go beyond a light tan usually in Korea. So bring your favorites if you think you might have difficulty finding something, or if you have sensitive skin.
If you use any menstruation products bring a lot of those. Beyond pads South Korea usually doesn’t carry a lot of other options. Figuring out what’s going to work for you is already difficult in a new country, but many E-marts have available samples next to the pad section for you to figure out what you want. But things like tampons and cups aren’t easily found, so pack what you use and enough of them. Also be careful when packing any birth control, there have been several cases when traveling of those disappearing from stowed luggage. Pack those in your carry on. Birth control is available in Korea and you should be able to get it at the pharmacy, but always be careful since different types affect everyone differently. Do the same with any others of your medication.
Pack a ton of deodorant. Deodorant isn’t easily found in Korea and when it is the price tends to be jacked up. Whatever you use that you know works, buy it in bulk and bring a lot of it.
Korean outlets are type C/F which are common. This is not the same though for people coming from North America/Australia or New Zealand. Many computers have the option to swap out the cord depending on the country, see if you can get one for Korea before leaving. You can also easily get USB wall sockets for your phone or tablets. Travel adapters can be very useful but also a bit bulky and unwieldy depending on what you’re trying to charge, so if you can just swap out the cord you’ll be much happier.
I love to read so when I first moved to Korea I brought my Nook, filled with books and prepped with some gift cards to purchase new ones. But while I was in Korea after awhile I noticed my books wouldn’t download and I’d get an error message. Due to international copy right laws some e-book readers can’t download new books or sell digital copies of books when you’re out of the country. This meant when I did manage to get home I’d have to use that time to try and fill my Nook with all the books I wanted to read until the next time I went home. You can buy English books in Korea, there are several bookstores with English options and a couple English specific stores. However the selection might not always include things you want to read. The only brand of e-reader/ company that has worked for me while using a gift card to download books has been Amazon’s Kindle. So I highly suggest downloading enough books to get you through for awhile at least while you’re still home or prepare to read all the free classics.
Korea is also a Windows/PC country. While you can find Apple products, getting them repaired is not an easy feat. I brought with me the Macbook I had through college only for it to need some repairs due to the track pad not working. I took it to a repair shop known for repair apple products to have it repaired and they did fix it but it was more like a band aid. It fixed the problem temporarily and now my Macbook no longer holds any charge and must stay plugged in and the trackpad is rising out of the frame so I have to use an external mouse to get it to run. The death to the battery life of Macs has also happened to several friends who’ve taken their various Apple computers in to be fixed here. So be wary.
Should I buy a new phone or bring my old one? This depends on your phone and how long you plan being in Korea. Before I moved to Korea I hadn’t moved on like a lot of the population towards smart phones, so my Aunt gave me her unlocked hand me down iPhone which I took to Korea. I got a sim card and used it until I couldn’t figure out how to reload my minutes, so I decided to take the plunge and go to the Olleh store in Gwanghwamun and buy my first smart phone. It wasn’t difficult since they had an English speaking staff, but their contracts for English teachers are a minimum of 2 years. So if you’re not wanting to be locked down into that I suggest sticking to your current phone, making sure it’s unlocked and grabbing a sim card instead.
Comforts of Home
Even if you’re the most adventure seeking soul getting homesick can still happen. It might happen when you first move, or months later. If you’ve never been to Korea it can happen pretty quickly when combo’d with culture shock. This is why bringing some of your favorite things from home to at least start out with can help, be it your favorite shampoos, lotions, blankets, stuffed animals, pictures and foods.
I highly suggest bringing things you enjoy. What are your hobbies? Are there any tools to that trade that you can bring with you? Do you like to draw? Pack that sketch book and your supplies. Do you play tennis, pack the racket and some balls. Do you like to knit? Pack some yarn and the needles. Play guitar? Pack your guitar (if you have space.) Do you have foods that you eat when you’re feeling low that can survive a long flight without spoiling and won’t anger the TSA agents? Pack it. Some things you can get in Korea, but sometimes it’s just better having your favorite stuffed animal and blanket to make it feel like home. I love cooking so like I said I packed several spices, and when I go home I stock up on cheap seasoning packets because they’re more expensive in Korea if I try to order them online. Pack your favorite board games, video games, candles and more. Maybe leave the bath supplies out though since the chance of you having a bathtub in Korea is pretty slim, but otherwise go for it. Once you’ve packed the necessities pack the things that you love and that make you happy.