korean city

The first month of living in another country is the strangest combination of wonder, confusion, excitement, frustration, discovery, and learning experiences. You’re living in a whole new freaking country!!! Life is crazy!!! My first month was equal parts good and bad, but I feel like it was because no one really told me what to expect in my first month living in South Korea, especially during a global panini. So, I’m here to be your fairy godmother and tell you exactly what you need to do, no matter how trivial it may be. Buckle up, get out a notepad, and don’t freak out. It’s a lot, but YOUR capabilities are so much more. Take a deep breath, you can do this. 

So without further ado, here’s the ultimate guide for surviving your first month as an English teacher in South Korea

Schedule your appointment at the immigration office for your ARC

FIRST THINGS FIRST. The most important thing you need to do in your first month as an English teacher in South Korea – even before you arrive into the country -is to schedule your appointment at your local immigration office so that you can get your Alien Registration card immediately. THIS is the website you can use. I waited to schedule mine until I was here and in quarantine, and I’m not 100% positive if it was because of COVID or if it’s always like this, but they were, to my absolute and utter chagrin, booked out for two months. This is definitely less than ideal, as you need your alien registration number for just about everything: ordering groceries, getting a phone plan, opening a bank account, food delivery apps, the WORKS. I was over here struggling for quite a while, and this all could have been avoided my simply scheduling my appointment farther in advance. The manager of your school will get you all set up with all the documents you need to make the appointment run as smoothly as possible. Mine cost 34,000 won, which is about 30 USD. Make sure you don’t schedule it for the week you arrive, however, as you need to go to a local hospital for a health check.

Health check

Speaking of, the next thing you need to have on your radar is the health check for the Alien Registration Card. You’ll go to a local hospital (ask the director of your school which one is best! The one closest to me charged 160,000 won, while the one a little farther away was 80,000 won (67 dollars instead of like 130). They’ll check your eyesight, hearing, take a chest x-ray (wear a sports bra, otherwise you’ll have to change – also they made my friend take her nipple piercings out just so you know what to expect), have you pee in a cup, and take a blood sample. This has to be done at least 8 days before your appointment at the immigration office, so plan accordingly! They are also very particular about health check results that are a few weeks old, so try to schedule them as close together as you can without cutting it too close with receiving your results.  I just walked in to the hospital, and it took about an hour. You’ll have to bring 3 passport pictures as well as some sort of I.D. (I brought my passport), and you’ll have to go back on the specified day to pick up your results! Bring these results to your appointment at the immigration office.

korean bbq
korean temple grounds

Go to a GS 25, CU, or 7/11 with cash to get a metro card

Public transportation in Korea is really just the greatest. Busses, taxis, metros, you name it – South Korea has it. You can get a public transport card at any convenience store, and you can refill it at any time. One thing to note, however, is that you can only load it up with cash, which is a little bit inconvenient, but it is what it is! You can use this card on the metro as well as the bus system. To navigate, I recommend the Kakao Metro app, Kakao Maps, Naver Maps, and Google Maps. If I can’t find an address on the Korean apps, I head over to google maps, get an idea of where it’s located, and then simply drop a pin on Kakao Maps. Google maps doesn’t have public transportation info and sometimes it’s really hard to find things with the Korean apps, so I always use a combo no matter where I’m going. It’s a hassle, but you’ll get used to it.

Acclimate to your teaching schedule

Getting adjusted to your new schedule as an English teacher can be really tricky! I was given a physical schedule, but it was really confusing and the labels didn’t tell me anything about my schedule. I ended up completely making my own throughout the course of the next few weeks, and now I know exactly where I’m supposed to be and when. It’s a learning curve, and thats okay! You’ll get it in time. Lots of people say that they don’t even like their job until after month 3 – so if you don’t know how you’re going to survive being an English teacher in South Korea – just keep pushing through.

Go to Daiso first, and then Homeplus or Emart

As far as your apartment goes, I made the mistake of starting off by going to Emart. I didn’t have a whole lot of furniture, and was given nothing from the teacher who came before me, so I was starting completely from scratch. I had to buy dishes, pots and pans, bedding, decorations, EVERYTHING besides a bed and a small table, so I thought Emart was the way to go. Turns out, it’s way more expensive than somewhere like Daiso. Daiso is like the dollar store of South Korea, but way better. Whenever I go to Daiso, I’m just like a kid in a candy store. It has everything you could possibly need, including the cutest decor, better quality dish-ware, and practical things like laundry baskets – just way cuter. 

As far as online ordering, you can’t get a Coupang account (which is like the Amazon of Korea) until you get your ARC. Until then, you can order off of G-market. Korean addresses are a little tricky, so it took us a few tries to figure out. Just keep at it! One thing that you’ll probably want to order if you’re starting from scratch is a mattress topper. Something about Asian mattresses is just so wrong. They’re always hard as a rock and super low to the ground, so a mattress topper will ensure you get a good nights rest after those long days of dealing with crazy kids. 

I bought a coffee pot and a tea kettle off of G-market as well that I use every day, and made a trip to the local IKEA for some curtains, bedding, and decorations.

korean islands
korean temple roof

Buy a prepaid sim card to tide you over

So obviously you can’t get a permanent phone plan without your ARC, but you CAN get a prepaid sim card! I made the mistake of trying to use a 7 day E-sim card, where the company would send me a QR code for 7 days of data, but honestly it was SUCH a hassle and 100% not worth it. I also bought a sim card from a convenience store, but it ended up asking me for my foreign registration regardless. I was at my wit’s end, but then I ended up ordering THIS sim card that has 30 days of data on it, and it was a physical sim card that got mailed and delivered right to my apartment door. It was only 25 ish dollars and has been the greatest find of my entire life here tbh. Phone plans really are a hard time until you get your ARC, but save yourself the hassle and just get one of these right off the bat – or even better, buy a SIM card and have it shipped to your house before you even leave!

Bumble Bff, Facebook groups, everything you need to know about making friends

I was so paranoid about not being able to make friends when I got here. Honestly, the location of where I live is pretty disconnected from the rest of Busan, which I was initially really bummed about. Before I left the United States, I joined a few facebook groups and tried to introduce myself in them in an attempt to find like-minded, similarly-aged people that I could meet up with. I even messaged a few youtubers I knew who lived in the city and asked to hang out with them — they even said yes! 

As far as facebook groups go, I joined Every Expat in Korea, Women in Busan, Girls Gone International Busan, and Hiking in Korea. I’ve been able to meet up with a few people through those groups, as well as find the answer to just about any question I had, no matter how random it seemed. Some of the groups even held events pre-covid that helped expats meet other people who speak their languages and share their interests. 

Surprisingly, however, the biggest saving grace for me since coming to South Korea has been Bumble BFF. I know right?? Who woulda thought? not me, that’s for sure. I initially downloaded it with very low expectations, but it’s honestly let me meet my best friend here, and in turn meet all the rest of our friends, as we had much more confidence to go out and make new friends and experience new things together. Don’t knock it til you try it! My male co-worker gave the boys version a go and we are sorry to report that the mens Bumble BFF scene in Busan is not poppin’, but feel free to give it a go regardless! 

Don’t worry about making friends:)  They will come! It takes a little while, but they will come. Give it time! Foreigners are coming in and out of Korea perpetually, so maybe your new best friend just hasn’t made it in yet. Keep the faith!

friends hiking in korea wearing facemasks

Once you get your ARC

Once you get your ARC, there are so many things that you can now do. for example: Get a permanent Korean phone number, finally open a bank account, buy from Coupang, Etc.

Buy an actual phone plan

One of the main reasons you need to rush to get your ARC is because it’s actually really difficult to get a phone plan in Korea with a contract that’s less than two years, although you ~can~ find plans for 1 year. I got my bank account two months into being here, and I can’t find a monthly plan, but I also don’t want to pay for 12 months when I’ll only be for 10 more? It’s a dilemma I’m currently in, and will continue to update this section as I find information! 

The main phone carrier here it KT, and there are KT stores everywhere. Once again, if you go with your employer everything will go wayyyy smoother! It’s definitely an irrationally difficult thing to do, and I’m just considering sticking with my prepaid SIM card, even if it means I can’t register for any food delivery accounts or Coupang. I might just suck it up and save the money lmaoooo

Open a bank account

Even before you get a phone plan, you have to have a bank account to link your monthly payments to. Setting up a bank account in Korea is really tricky if you go by yourself, so make sure that your employer either goes with you or sends someone to help you. While there are some more foreigner-friendly banks, the in person branches typically don’t have many people who speak English. Make sure that while you are setting up your bank account, that you ask for internet banking to be an option for you; the only way you can get online banking is if you set it up along with the initial bank account set up. Additionally, make sure you clarify that you need to be able to send money home. If you don’t get a remittance account set up as soon as you set up your bank account, it becomes a little bit of a nightmare. 

I us KB, but I asked my employer for KEB – it definitely got lost in translation, they’re so similar! Oh well, so far it’s been okay. KEB is the typical foreigner bank because of the English hotline that they have, but sometimes you just need to take whatever your employer has so that they can easily get you your money.

Random useful tips to help you survive your first month teaching in South Korea

This isn’t anything revolutionary, but just a few tips that would’ve made me feel much more in the know than I was when I arrived! Maybe you already know this, maybe you’re clueless like me. Either way, heres 2 or 3 tips to help you out! 

If you can’t find any silverware or napkins at the table in your restaurant, make sure you look underneath the table for a drawer! A lot of restaurants keep everything in a small drawer attached to the underside of the table. 

Always give and receive with two hands! Especially when you’re buying something at a store and dealing with money, it’s a really culturally aware thing to do, and something that I thought wouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is. You don’t want to offend anyone! 

There are special seats in the subway reserved for the elderly, handicapped, and pregnant, and even if every other seat is filled and all of those are open, you DO NOT sit in them. You just don’t. You will get yelled at. Its typically a group of three at the front of the train car – it has a sign above it with pictures so just keep an eye out! 

Everything else is pretty similar to the west in terms of modern-ness, but although it is a very developed country with a huge emphasis on English in the school system, the language barrier is one of the most intense I’ve ever experienced, so get you a talk to me in Korean textbook and start learning some phrases! (bonus points because all my students absolutely LOVE me telling them what I learned in my Korean lesson that morning – they absolutely die over it).

I know it sounds like theres a thousand things to do to survive your first month as an English teacher in South Korea, but trust me: Once you get all the annoying adult-y things sorted out and all set up, it’s smooth sailing from there! Life in Korea is pretty tricky in the first few months, but please don’t get discouraged. 

Chances are you’re doing this straight out of college too, and even adulting in a familiar setting without a language barrier is hard! Give yourself grace to make mistakes, not figure everything out the first time, and to just adjust to this new chapter in your life! 

Think of all the funny stories that even the failures will give you to tell your kids

You’ve got this <3