Between a slew of unfamiliar terms, contradictory advice on the web and the language barrier, finding housing in South Korea is no easy feat. But with a little bit of research – on how the housing system works, what types of residences are available and the process of signing a contract – you can equip yourself with the knowledge necessary to find an apartment that suits your needs and preferences.
Deciphering the Rental System
In many parts of the world, tenants wishing to rent an apartment pay a monthly rental fee and a one-time deposit that usually amounts to one or two months’ rent. In Korea, however, rental agreements are centered around either the jeonse or wolse system.
The jeonse system allows you to stay in your apartment without paying rent. The catch? Tenants must put down an enormous chunk of cash (also known as ‘key money’) before moving in. This deposit is typically 40 to 90 percent of the market value of the house. To put that into perspective, if you want to rent a studio with a 100-million Won market value, you can expect to pay a deposit of 40 to 90 million Won. The deposit is returned to the tenant at the end of the lease term – generally one to two years – if the agreed obligations are met.
To avoid putting up such a large sum of cash, most international residents opt for the wolse system, which requires a significantly smaller deposit, in addition to a monthly rent. With wolse, it’s possible to negotiate with the owner, and higher deposits often equate to lower monthly rent amounts. It is possible to find housing with deposits lower than 5 million Won, but these are few and far between, and normally require a higher monthly rental fee.
Know Your Options
It’s important to understand the different kinds of housing, so you can have a better idea of what to look for. Types of properties include: villas, officetels, apartments, short-term rentals and goshiwon. The first three use both the jeonse and wolse systems and are classified by style, size and value, while the latter two are better short-term, low-deposit options.
Villas, or low-rise apartment buildings, offer the greatest value, but also vary greatly in terms of quality, size and furnishings. Officetels, a combination of office and apartment complex, are slightly more expensive but usually feel more modern, and are furnished with newer appliances. Apartments are large residential complexes appropriate for families.
Short-term rentals are often fully furnished and are a good option for those who plan on staying in Korea for a short amount of time. Students and those on a tight budget should consider goshiwon – small rooms equipped with minimal furnishings, such as a bed, desk and closet.
When looking for housing, it is highly recommended that you use an English-speaking real estate agent who can explain the different types of housing in more detail.
Korean apartments sometimes come fully furnished, but this is not usually the case. Pre-owned appliances and furniture can be purchased in most neighborhoods and sold back to the same store at the end of the lease term.
Ordinarily, utility service costs for electricity, tap water and gas should be paid by the tenant one month after moving in. There is also sometimes a building fee, known as gwanlibi, that must be paid to the landlord in addition to the rent. This is a fee that covers general maintenance and cleaning of the building, security guards and sometimes even internet.
Sign on the dotted line
You should be prepared to sign your housing contract directly with the owner in person. The owner’s name can be confirmed by checking the certified copy of register.
In the contract, the rental period and the amount of deposit money must be specified. At the time of signing the contract, you should also be prepared to provide at least 20 percent of the total key money deposit; the remainder is paid on the move-in date.
You must also discuss with the owner about how to pay for monthly fees and maintenance costs. Your real estate agent can arrange this on your behalf. Also, be sure to negotiate the real estate agent’s fee before signing the contract, if it is greater than the minimum amount required by law. Deals are made quickly in Korea, so expect negotiations to be completed within a month of your move-in date.
Your housing contract must be renewed every two years and, at the time of renewal, the owner may request an increase in monthly rent. Notification of the intention to give up tenancy before the expiry date stated on the contract should be given to the property owner at least one to two months in advance, so they may have enough time to prepare the money that is to be returned to you.
In cases where no prior notification has been given, the tenant may be responsible for compensating the property owner for the remaining tenancy period on the contract.
Living in South Korea isn’t always easy, but if you don’t mind a small living space and doing things a little differently, you’re in for an amazing experience. Happy house hunting!
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.