When moving to Korea to teach English, it can be hard to know what exactly you need to bring. Although Korea is modernizing quite a bit, not that much has changed since many of the posts already online were written. Still, I wanted to write my updated list for 2014 of things you should consider packing if you move abroad to teach English.
- Eat Your Kimchi: This is an old video, but useful.
- When in New Places
- Adventure Teaching
- Open Roads are Calling
- This list is based on my experience living and teaching in Busan, the second-largest city in Korea and home to Shinsegae, the largest department store in the world.
- In Seoul, these are still the less common products, but I can say that they are easier to find in Seoul than elsewhere in Korea, because it is a more diverse city with lots of international grocery stores and big brand chains.
- Just like in any country, these kinds of imported products become scarcer as you get into more rural towns.
- For food and beauty products, iHerb is your best friend. You can use my coupon code LWW752 to get 10% off.
I have friends that went their entire year in Korea without using a fitted sheet, instead opting to place a duvet on top of their bed or use a flat sheet, but for me having a fitted sheet has made all the difference. Be aware that the beds here are of slightly different proportions so the sheet may not fit exactly, but in my opinion it’s infinitely better to have a sheet you can tuck in easily and not have to adjust every morning.
Full-sized bath towel:
I brought one from home, and I have never seen a large one, though I’ve read they’re sold at Costco. The typical towels sold in Korea tend to be just slightly larger than a hand towel size.
Your favourite toiletries:
The majority of products sold here are, of course, Korean. I have had good experience with many of the local brands and have adopted many of them to use in my beauty routines. You can find imported brands like Clean and Clear, Nivea, Tresemme, Crest, and Neutrogena, but these tend to be more expensive and they may not have the exact product you use back home. They definitely do carry higher-end products, for example Estée Lauder and even Clinique at the big department stores, but again these will be much more expensive. So if there’s anything you feel you (or your skin) couldn’t live without, make sure to bring a year’s supply.
It’s not hard to find, but it’s very expensive here.
I would recommend bringing enough tubes of your favourite toothpaste to last you for the year. I haven’t used Korean toothpaste, but I’ve heard that it tends to be a bit weaker than we’re used to in North America and has a funny taste. I personally can’t brush with anything other than Sensodyne otherwise I get bad tooth pain and I haven’t been able to find that brand here.
Don’t ask me why, but deodorant is not a common product here. I can find tiny, expensive imported deodorants (usually Nivea liquid roll-on) at a local store but stick deodorants aren’t common. I’m told that the cosmetics section at places like Costco and EMart have it, but since I make my own deodorant (yes, even in Korea) this hasn’t been too much of a problem for me.
If you have feet larger than a size 8 1/2, as I do, I would recommend bringing shoes for every season to Korea with you. My feet are just slightly too large for most of the Korean sizes, which usually go up to about 250mm in women’s sizes, which means I can only usually wear unisex shoes like off-brand Toms or Converse styles that they sell for men’s and women’s sizes. You can often find larger sizes at stores like H&M, but they are much harder to find than regular shoes. If your feet are smaller than mine you shouldn’t really have a problem as long as you live in a city center or will visit one during your time in Korea.
It’s not impossible to find jeans in your size if you live near major shopping center, which has stores like H&M, the Gap or Uniqlo. However you should know that jeans here are expensive. If you can bring enough pairs to last you for the year, you’ll save some money.
Same as for jeans. I’m sure you can find them some places but most stores don’t carry my size.
Books or a Kindle:
English books aren’t common here, even at larger bookstores. But you can use the awesome website What The Book which stocks a lot of books and offers free shipping throughout Korea.
I’d recommend bringing enough to charge every device you have. I only brought two, and I need to invest in a couple more so I can charge things from home. Don’t bring a hairdryer or straightener from home: they’ll be the wrong voltage and they’re inexpensive here. By the way, most electronics you bring from home won’t need a voltage converter, read here for more details.
Favourite food products:
I was sure when I first came that I wouldn’t be able to get things like peanut butter, ranch dressing, or Earl Grey tea. But Korea has come a long way since Simon and Martina made that initial video. I can now find Caesar salad dressing, tortillas, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and Alfredo sauce in almost every grocery store. While these products do tend to be a bit more expensive than you’ll be used to paying back home, they’re not impossible to find. Still, if there’s a particular brand of hot sauce or tea you love, bring it with you.
For everything else, don’t worry too much. Korea is becoming more developed all the time, especially if you’re in a city, and increasingly you can get almost anything you need. If I was packing for Korea now I would pack: a few more bras, a few more pairs of shoes and comfortable pants, more of my clothes, and a few more of my favourite cosmetics. But in general I have been able to find just about everything I want (even avocados!). Except for maybe cheese – there’s still not much cheese here.
Just bring yourself, a good attitude, and enough clothes to last you for the year. You’ll do great. Also, congratulations on making this huge decision! For me it’s been such a rewarding experience in so many different ways and I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming adventure.
If you’ve ever moved to a foreign country, what was on your packing list for your big move? Fellow expats in Korea, what would you add to this list?