There is some good and bad news for those thinking how to rent an apartment in South Korea. The good news is that the rental market is very fast and, once you land, you can find a place here in a matter of a week or two. South Korean rental prices are also not terribly expensive, especially when compared to some European and North American countries, but expats moving to Seoul should expect to pay the most. The bad news is that most of the apartments are quite small compared to what most expats might be used to.
Renting in South Korea as a Foreigner
The common problem that most foreigners come across when trying to find a place in Korea is that everything, including the most popular apps and websites for rentals, are in Korean. If you do not know the language you might struggle to find anything good and if you do, you will have trouble contacting or negotiating with your potential landlord.
Another problem that is very common in South Korea is misleading ads. It is not unusual for the apartment to look completely different than in the advertisement. Furthermore, the ads might be completely fake, designed to lure in a potential tenant. That is why it is highly advisable to hire a real estate agent that can communicate for you and get exactly what you are looking for. Contact local InterNations GO! specialists to help you navigate the Korean rental market.
Things to Know When Looking for an Apartment
If you do decide to look around, there are a few things you have to keep in mind. For example, all expats that are looking for accommodation in South Korea will come across pyeong (평, 坪). It is a measuring unit used to measure the size of the apartment. One pyeong equals 3.31 square meters or 35.58 square feet. Balconies as well as public areas, such as hallways and stairwells, are included in the measurements when the property’s size is evaluated. Also, note that a deposit here is called “key money” and is very important when drawing up your lease. You can find more information about it further on in the guide.
Types of Accommodation in Korea
- Apartments – these are more luxurious in Korea. Apartments here are high-rise complexes comprised of 8–16 buildings. The height and the number of the buildings might differ in smaller cities, but in general they are owned by a company that has its own brand (e.g.: Hyundai or Lotte). The apartments themselves are often bigger, with more than one room, about 30 pyeong. This is one of the pricier options available.
- Officetels – as the name suggests, these are a combination of an office and a hotel. These types of spaces are small and popular among people that live on their own and allow for the tenants to register their business at the address. They are studio-type rentals that have all the essentials in one room. These are an affordable option, especially for those living in big cities.
- Villas – while it might sound like a big fancy house, villas are actually apartment buildings as well. These are usually situated further away from the center and have fewer than six floors. Typically, villas are individually owned, so your landlord might be living next door to you. The accommodation in these buildings is more spacious, with no elevator, and fewer residents. Compared to other options, villas are usually cheaper both in terms of rent and utilities.
- Houses – single story homes are very rare and expensive in South Korea. However, they are available further away from the big cities. If you want to rent a house while still enjoying the commodities offered by local metropolises, you will need to pay a substantial amount for both, your deposit and the monthly rent.
What is Korean Accommodation Like?
Note that most accommodation in South Korea is pretty small. It is not unusual for a person to live in a 300 square feet apartment (9 pyeong). If you are used to bigger spaces and you are looking for one in Korea, be prepared to pay a lot of money for it.
Should you expect a furnished or unfurnished apartment? If you are lucky, you might find accommodation that offers more than just the white goods. However, unfurnished places are way more common.
Rental Process and Rules
The real estate market in South Korea likes to keep you on your toes. When going to apartment viewings, you need to be quick and decisive. Your real estate agent might give you only a few minutes to decide whether the place you are visiting is suitable for you. The upside of this is that the rental process here is very fast. You should have the documents signed and ready within a week or two of choosing the place. For that same reason, you shouldn’t start looking for a place too early in advance––one month prior to when you want to move is usually more than enough.
Rental Contract and Deposit
There are three types of rental contracts in South Korea:
- wolse (월세)
- jeonse (전세)
- banjeonse (반전세)
Wolse is a western type of lease that most expats sign when they find a place in Korea. It involves putting down a deposit (called “key money”) and paying rent every month. The rent is usually set, yet you can negotiate, by asking to increase the key money and lower the rent. As the key money is kept in an account with interest rates, this type of negotiation is beneficial for both the landlord and the tenant. At the end of your stay, if no damage is done to the apartment, you receive your key money back.
A Jeonse contract requires the tenant to put down key money that pretty much equals the price of the property and no actual rent is paid. Usually, this means your key money will be around 200 million KRW (170,800 USD). No rent payments are necessary as your landlord collects the interest rate for the deposit for the length of the contract (usually two years) and at the end you get all of your deposit back.
People who do not have a couple hundred million won in their pocket can take out a bank loan for a jeonse type of contract and pay monthly installments to the bank. These types of payments are usually lower than average rent, so both the tenant and the landlord are profiting from this type of arrangement. A Jeonse contract is very popular among Koreans, but is rarely seen among expats, as they cannot take out bank loans this size for lease purposes.
Banjeonse literally translates to half-jeonse. This type of contract is a sort of mixture of wolse and jeonse where the tenant needs to put down a sizable deposit and pay rent every month. However, both the key money and monthly payments are lower. In this case, the deposit is about 100 million KRW (85,500 USD).
In general, no matter the type, most contracts last at least two years. However, if you do want to sign a one-year lease, you might be able to negotiate that with your landlord. If no new contract is drawn up six months prior to the end of the lease, the tenant can continue to live in the property under the same rules. You are allowed to break your lease if you desire to leave earlier than the contract intends. However, how you go about it depends on the landlord you are dealing with.
It is advisable to sort out all the documentation with your real estate agent. They will take care nothing is missing from the paperwork and act as a witness to your deposit down payment. That way you can be more certain that you will get back your key money after the lease is over. Find a real estate agent in Korea that suits your needs by contacting InterNations GO!.
Pricing and Average Rent in South Korea
In South Korea, the ratio of the monthly rent and the key money (deposit) is very important. The more you can put down as your key money, the lower your monthly rent installments have to be.
When looking through the listings you will find that both the key money and the monthly rent is noted. The first number is the key money and the second one, after the slash, indicates the monthly payments (e.g.: 500/45).
Understanding Korean Numbers
When calculating what is affordable to you, remember to read the Korean numbers accurately. These are common numbers you will come across when looking for a place:
- 천 – thousand (if you see this symbol, add three 0’s to the number quoted on the ad)
- 만 – ten thousand (if you see this symbol, add four 0’s to the number quoted on the ad)
- 억 – 100 million (if you see this symbol, add eight 0’s to the number quoted on the ad)
Note that if there is no Korean symbol next to the number quoted on the ad, you should add four 0’s at the end of the number to know the actual price. For example, the listing can say “500/45” which means the key money is 5 million KRW (4,300 USD), while rent is 450,000 KRW (385 USD) per month.
The ratio of key money versus rent is important when trying to understand average house prices in Korea. The minimum key money you should expect to pay is at least 3–5 million KWR (2,500–4,300 USD), while the average is about 10 million KRW (8,500 USD) for a small studio in an officetel. Note that it is not uncommon to pay double, triple, or even ten times that if you are planning on renting a bigger place or looking for something in a popular area. When it comes to fancy apartments, it will usually be the key money that will skyrocket and not the monthly rent payments.
Minimum monthly house rent in South Korea is around 300,000 KRW (250 USD) for a small officetel studio (5–8 pyeong). On average, however, expect to pay about 500,000 KRW (425 USD) per month for this type of accommodation in big cities. Bigger apartments in Seoul average around 1 million KRW (850 USD) per month, yet it is not uncommon to see listings with 5–6 million KRW (4,300–5,100 USD) monthly price tags.
Utility Bills Payment
Gwanlibi (관리비), is a service fee that is usually not included in the price of your listing. These additional monthly payments might cover your building’s security, cleaning services, elevator maintenance, or even your cable or internet. Each building includes different types of services as gwanlibi, so make sure you know what your payments cover. Expect it to be around 100,000 KRW (85 USD).
It is rare for your rent or your gwanlibi to cover your energy and water bills. In most cases, you have to pay them on top of your rent. However, if your building does include all of your bills in gwanlibi, expect for it to be fairly high.
Requirements and Documents for Renting
The documents required for setting up a lease differ depending on what type of contract you are signing. For example, if you have the funds to opt for a jeonse contract, you will not need to prove your employment. However, if you are signing a wolse type of lease, your landlord will most probably ask for your work contract. In general, you will need your passport, visa, and Alien Registration Card.
As visiting the potential accommodation is important before signing the lease, it is highly advised to find a short-term place when you first move to South Korea. Your best options are serviced apartments and private listings, such as Airbnb, that are available for rent under short-term leases. Many expats tend to opt for them as they are reliable, and their websites are available in languages other than Korean.
The average price for temporary rentals is typically higher than what you would pay for a place with a long-term lease. You can expect to spend around 40–80 USD per night for a place in bigger cities such as Seoul or Busan. If you opt for more luxurious monthly furnished rentals, you might be charged 120–200 USD per night.
However, the important thing to know is that the accommodation hunt does not take too long here. You might be able to leave the short-term rental place about a week or two after you arrive.
What the documents do you need in order to rent? In general, the requirements are minimal. A form of ID is often sufficient enough to prove your legitimacy to your landlord.