One of the challenges we all face when moving to Korea for a year (or potentially longer) is figuring out what we need to bring with us. A year is both a really long time to be away from home, and at the same time, a short time to relocate your life. Making the decisions about what to bring and what to leave can be almost as frustrating as collecting the necessary paperwork (and official stamps) for the work visa.
Here is some advice gathered from the Facebook group on what to bring, what to leave, and what to order online once you’re here.
Clothes: Obviously, you’ll need to bring some clothes to start with, as most societies frown upon people walking around in their nudey-pants, particularly if they’re teaching children. To be more specific, however, it can be difficult for people larger than the average Korean (or even just differently shaped) to buy clothes from the general shops here. If you are tall, muscular, heavy, busty, or have large feet, bring plenty of clothing with you, even underwear. Bras over a b-cup can be difficult to find, as are shoes over 250 (UK 6, US 8) for women, or 270 (UK 9, US 11) for men. Even if you’re at the upper range of the available sizes, like a men’s size 10, selection will be limited. The average Korean man is about 170cm (5’8.5″) tall, and the average woman is about 160cm (5’3.5″) according to Wikipedia, and clothes tend to top out around size 8-10 US (10-12UK) for women, waist size 32-34 for men. While it’s not impossible to find some stuff, particularly with the recent introduction of H&M to the town, clothes shopping can be frustrating for anyone considered largey-size.
Personal Products: Over the years, more and more products have become available on the Korean market, so a lot of the old advice (bring a year’s worth of deodorant) isn’t as necessary. You can buy deodorant here, both in shops (Nivea) and online, so check out iherb.com to see if they have your brand before you waste valuable baggage space. Men may want to bring “manly” scented ones, though. Likewise, you can get most hair products, unless you have curly hair, and some tampons brands are available in bigger supermarkets and some pharmacies.
Toothpaste, however, is a different story. Most foreigners I know are not keen on the Korean toothpaste brands, so bring your Colgate or Sensodyne from home, or check iherb to see what’s available to order. Women may also want to stock up on their preferred foundation, skin bronzers, and even eye shadow, blush and lipstick. The affordable makeup brands here, such as Faceshop or Skin Food, tend to suit Asians, and don’t always work well on other skin tones. While the makeup counters in the the department stores generally stock the same colour ranges in lipstick or eyeshadow as back home, the prices can be double or triple what you’d pay.
While most brands of medication here are similar to home, you may want to bring a good supply of birth control pills if you are very particular in your brand. Cold meds here never seem to do the trick, so you may also want to bring Lem sips/Neocitron, cold and flu pills, cough syrup, extra-strength pain killers like Excederin, Vick’s vapo rub, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Alka Seltzer and melotonin – all of these were specifically mentioned by our Facebook members. Female friends have also complained that the yeast infection meds here aren’t very strong, so if you’re prone, you may want to bring a packet or two of Canesten or similar from home.
Talcum powder can help you deal with the humidity induced sweat of summer. And if you have a baby, you may want to bring teething gel, as well as bigger toys, as they can be rather pricey.
Food and Kitchen Supplies: Again, things have changed a lot recently, with the addition of a Costco to Ulsan, Homeplus bringing in more Tesco products, the Foreign Mart, and a general opening up of the Korean market to foreign products. A lot of the spices, cooking mixes and other items that were impossible to find even a year or two ago are now on the shelves of several stores. But some things are still hard to find. Oxo cubes and vegetable soup stock were both mentioned, as the Korean versions often have MSG in them, and the vegetable ones may not be vegetarian. North Americans may want to bring packets of dry Ranch dressing to add to sour cream, Brits may need Marmite, and Aussies will want to pack Vegemite. The popcorn shaker flavourings work well to turn plain chips to Salt and Vinegar or Ketchup, as those two flavours aren’t available in Korean shops. Mexican seasoning packets are also hard to come by here, as are Mac and Cheese packets (stock up on the sachets, but ditch the pasta to save space in your bags), and gravy mix.
It can be hard to find sturdy potato mashers and large sized apple slicers, though Daiso and the supermarkets do often carry them. You can also try the more upscale Home Decorating stores, which often have premium products (at premium prices).
Home: Most people coming to Korea to work are here for at least one year, so you want to make your apartment comfortable and homey for that time. While there are some bedsheets available here now, the selection is limited and they can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to bring some sheets and pillow cases from home. Also, doing small things like printing out photos from home, or bringing a few special knick knacks to put up can help you feel more settled in.
To do before you leave:
Set up a Skype account with auto-recharge, to prevent any problems with topping up your account from abroad. You can also set up a home-country Skype number, and set it to call-forward to your mobile phone. That way people can just call a local number and it rings through to your cell here. Viber and Kakao-talk are great for keeping in touch with friends with smartphones, as they offer both free messaging and calls.
It’s easy enough these days to get a Korean phone plan, so it’s an option to get a phone here, but if you’re bringing one from home, make sure it’s unlocked before you get here, so you can just switch SIM cards.
Another good idea is to pick up an International Driver’s License before you leave home, regardless of whether or not you think you’ll be driving when you get here. While many people just stick to the buses and taxis, which are cheap and plentiful, cars, motorcycles and scooters can add an element of freedom to your experience, allowing you to explore the countryside more fully. You’ll also need an International License to rent a car or scooter while traveling, either within or outside of Korea. If you stay in Korea for more than a year, you can also trade in your home license for a Korean one – this advice is for Canadians, but it’s similar for many other nationalities, though some countries do need to do some testing.