It’s kind of unusual for me to be back and not living here, but I’ve noticed the experience is already pretty different. I have to budget, I don’t have time to let things happen later and living out of a suitcase isn’t quite as handy as having everything you need with you when you need it!
However, as an ex-Seoulite and self proclaimed pro-budgeter I know a thing or two about living well (but cheaply) in the capital of the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’, so here are some handy tips if you want to travel to and stay in Seoul on a limited budget.
1. Don’t stay at a hotel…
…stay at a goshiwon! You’ll get your own room, tv, internet connection and even a personal bathroom if you’re lucky. All for a fraction of the price of a hotel or hostel!
Total Price (My Trip): 14 nights – ₩200,000 (~$200/£115) SKY Goshitel Sinchon
2. Eat Korean Style
One of the most expensive things in Seoul is Western food. It’s widely available these days from McDonald’s to KFC to brunch bars in the more foreigner populated areas like Itaewon, but the convenience definitely comes at a price! (30-100+% price hikes…ouch!)
Those on a budget should, therefore, consider local restaurants and chains like Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국), street stands (포장마차), mini-marts like GS25/CU and bigger supermarkets like E-Mart and Homeplus for cheap food on the go and budget grocery shopping.
Basic Korean meal prices: ₩3-10,000 (~$3-10/£2-6)
Basic Western meal prices: ₩10-50,000 (~$10-50/£6-30)
3. Get a T-Money (Public Transit) Card
If you are planning to travel around Seoul quite regularly (i.e. any more than 5 round trips), I suggest you invest in a T-Money card. Available at most subway stations and many convenience stores, these cards give you at least 10% (usually ₩100) off your subway/bus fares and can be used to pay for your public transport fares, taxi rides and sometimes even as an alternative to cash in the local mini-marts! At only ₩3,000 a piece you’ll be saving in no time and you’ll even get discount vouchers to Seoul attractions like Lotte World, the Dragon Hill Spa and Seoul Tower in the card box you get it in. Trust me when I say your time in Seoul will be much better spent not queuing in line for a subway ticket every time you enter a station.
Basic price: ₩3,000 + top up value (~$3/£2)
4. Get an EG SIM card
Seoul is one of the most connected cities on the planet and if you’re going to want to get out and meet people a cell phone makes it ten times easier. When I first moved to Seoul in 2008, it was unthinkable for foreigners to be able to get a short term SIM card, but with the influx of people into Korea things are gradually changing and it’s now easier than ever to get connect… And not that expensive either! This SIM sure beats roaming charges…
Basic price: ₩25,500 (~$26/£15 Standard SIM size includes ₩20,000 credit)
Find the Evergreen Mobile website here.
5. Buy Your Alcohol…
…at a mini-mart! It’s a little bohemian, I know, but convenience stores are really the best place to get a cheap drink (or four) in Seoul. Bars will usually charge around ₩8-10,000 ($8-10/£5-6) per drink and when you consider that you could get an entire soju bottle for just under ₩2,000 at any GS25 this is definitely a huge money saver and still ensures a fun time with people as you can often sit on tables just outside and enjoy the wonders of what’s around you.
6. Find Entertainment at a Jjimjilbang
Looking for an authentically Korean entertainment experience on a tight budget? Go to the Korean sauna! It’s cheap, it’s fun and you can even sleep there if you want to save on hotel costs for the night. At usually less than ₩10,000 (~$10/£6) a night, that’s a bargain for sure!
Note: Bigger Sauna’s like the Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan have internet facilities, TVs, bars, restaurants, arcades, beauty parlours and even a swimming pool to entertain you, which means you can spend an awful lot of time in there without getting bored. However, it can be tempting to spend on all the extras, so do watch out!
Finally, if you’re looking to shop at street carts or in market areas like Dongdaemun, Namdaemun and Ehwa then you’re going to want to haggle. The unwritten rule here is that if there is no price shown then there is no fixed price. Even if you think something is cheap, the likelihood is that by Korean standards it’s not. Many a time I’ve had shop owners try to sell me a dress for a starting price of around ₩70,000 only to be haggled down to ₩40-45,000, which is the actual standard price for Koreans. Or shoes for ₩35,000 which I got down to ₩25,000. Have fun with it!
Do you find these tips helpful? Is there anything you’d like to add? Feel free to leave your comments below!