Saving money living in Korea
1.) Don't Exchange Money at the Airport
A currency exchange desk will be in plain sight as soon as you grab your bags and hand in your custom card, but hold off at all costs of doing so. Conversion rates and conversion fees are generally higher at the airport. Instead of converting your money at the airport, convert it to a bank in the downtown district of your destination city. This is where you will get the best rates.
*For converting 1,000 USD to Korean Won, expect to save about 30,000 won doing so at a town bank branch rather than at the airport.
2.) Get a Seoul Commuter Pass
The Seoul subway is fast, clean, and relatively cheap but if you want to save even more money then get a Seoul Commuter Pass.
By buying a Seoul Commuter Pass you will get 60 subway rides (30 days a month, to and from) for a set of 55,000 won, instead of paying for each ride individually at a more expensive rate.
3.) Sign Up for Your Phone and Internet Together
When signing up for cell phone service and internet make sure you do get them together at the same time and at the same place. Majority of providers give you an extra discount each month when you bundle services.
By bundling just cell service and internet together, you can expect to save anywhere from 10-20% each month on your bill.
4.) Ditch the pubs, go to a bottle bar.
Drinking alcohol isn't frugal and if you have friends that want to go out, try inviting them to a bottle bar.
Bottle bars offer various kinds of different bottled beers in little refrigerators. Often times they’ll have cheaper domestic beers for around 2,500-3,000 won. Then once you and your friends have had your fill, you can separate your bottles into your own bucket, and pay for yours separately. No more confusion of splitting 4 ways or 5 ways or trying to tally up everyone’s drinks by memory.
Pubs in Korea require you to buy pub food in order to stay. So when a pub advertises cheap 2,000 won pints of beer on the sign outside, that’s because you have to buy at least the cheapest thing on the menu, which is probably going to run you at least 12,000 won. Bottle bars most of the time also offer free snacks to munch on while drinking.
5.) Get familiar with your last subway and bus times
Taxis are relatively cheap in Korea compared to other countries, but they still will cost you big if you use them as your primary method of getting around.
The most expensive taxi ride is the one you take when you’re trying to get back home from a night out with friends in Seoul. Not only are taxi fares more expensive at night, but they also charge extra for those crossing between Seoul and other provinces.
Taxis charge an extra 20% fee on a distance between the hours of 12 AM – 4 AM, and another 20% fee on distance if you cross-province lines.
Get familiar with your last subway route times, and stick to them. If you miss your subway, then take the bus home. Express buses are more expensive than town buses, but oftentimes they run till later than the subway does.
Subway from Gangnam to Bucheon: 1,550 KRW
Express Bus from Gangnam to Bucheon: 2,500 KRW
Taxi from Gangnam to Bucheon: 40,000 KRW
6.) Transfer from Buses to the Subway or vice versa within 30 mins
If you have to take an additional bus ride after getting off the subway to get home or to your workplace, don’t wander around. If you transfer from the subway to a bus within 30 mins, you don’t pay additionally for that bus trip. It’s free for up to 10km.
Subway + Bus Ride (within 30 minutes) = Approximately 1,500 KRW
Subway + Bus Ride (after 30 minutes) = Approximately 2,800 KRW
7.) Sign Up for a Rewards/Point Card Program
Koreans do it best when it comes to rewards and point cards. Every time you buy something, anywhere the store/place will ask if you have a certain point card. These point cards are usually free to sign up for, and often times they reward you with straight store credit.
Point cards often are a part of alliances, meaning certain stores may use the same point card.
8.) Fast-food lunchtime deals
Almost all fast-food restaurants in Korea offer discounts on select items or all of their menus at lunchtime. These deals usually are only available until 2 pm. So if you have a fast-food craving make sure to get lunch before then.
While it’s not 50% or anything, usually items are discounted by about 1,000 to 2,000 won or about 20%.
9.) Resist Buying a New Phone and Bring Your Own from Home
Phone prices aren’t subsidized in Korea. This means that when you sign up for a cell phone plan with a new phone, you’re either going to have to pay full MSRP for that phone (about 1,000,000 won or 1,000 USD for an iPhone 8).
Instead, bring your own phone from home and sign up for a basic data plan. Preferably unlimited 3G while it wasn’t as fast as LTE, you never had to worry about running out of data since Seoul added free wifi in 2017 to all subways lines, which means that soon when you’re in transit, you’ll be able to connect to wifi.
10.) Sending stuff home? Ship by Korea Post EMS Freight
By going to the Korea Post office, you can choose small or large sizes boxes and then get a flat rate for a certain maximum weight.
Getting the largest box and filling it with 20kg, will only cost you 60,000 KRW (to the US). This is relatively cheap, considering airlines will charge you 100,000 KRW for an additional bag of the same weight.
The downside is it takes a long time. About 1-2 months. This is because EMS freight packages are sent by a big boat.