Let’s talk money. One of the biggest things holding people back when they think about studying abroad is the cost. Studying abroad can be a lot more cost effective than you think, however, especially if you’re able to proactively plan and manage your costs. Here’s what you should budget for when studying abroad in Seoul.
LIVING COSTS WHILE ABROAD
Will you have a local phone number in South Korea or will you use your home network’s coverage abroad? I went with my home coverage and, while it was not ideal, it was enough to get me by while I bounced from WiFi hotspot to hotspot. Alternatively, you can open a local phone plan once in Korea for around $40 and TEAN provides a free SIM card if you have an unlocked phone.
Korea University’s dorms have laundry machines which use cards that you reload with money. Each load of laundry is around $1 and then $1 for the dryer. To purchase the laundry card is another $1. It doesn’t sound like much but can add up over time, so make sure to do your laundry efficiently!
Food is extremely inexpensive but very delicious and fresh. A meal can range from a $1 kimbap (Korean sushi) from the convenience store, to a hearty $6 bowl of soft tofu stew from Korea University’s cafeteria, to a $12 basket of fried chicken that can be shared with friends. While there are a range of price options, food will still take up a majority of your money, but if you can go out with a group of friends, splitting the tab can definitely ease the cost.
In Korea University’s dorms, you have to provide nearly all of your own toiletries and will have to figure out with your dormmates how you’re buying and sharing toilet paper. Shampoo and conditioner are relatively cheap at stores like Homeplus or Lotte Mart and can last you your entire stay.
Transportation is another big cost when abroad. Luckily, Seoul is beautiful in the fact that the public transportation system is insanely efficient and relatively cheap. A subway ride through the T-Money system starts at around $1.25 and goes up depending on how far you go and how many transfers you make. Use the subway map to plan your trips accordingly and find the fastest routes to your desired destinations.
BUDGETING WHILE ABROAD
Set a budget
Set a budget for yourself that is realistic and easy to manage. Going abroad will make you think that you want to buy everything as mementos of your trip, but setting a daily budget, as well as a gift budget, and any other budget like travel, will help you limit spending. My general daily budget was $30 for food, everyday items, subway rides, etc. I also had a budget set aside for clothes that I wanted to buy while I was in Seoul. While it didn’t really have a limit, I told myself that I would only buy things if they were below a certain threshold. (You can find a bunch of clothes for very cheap in the subway stations or in the smaller road shop brands!)
Record what you spend
I used a debit card that had no foreign transaction fees for most of my purchases. Every few days or so, I would log onto my account and write down what I had spent. I could calculate if I was going over my budget or if I was under and had some money to spare. By doing this, I was able to keep track of how much money I was spending and make sure I was never overspending.
Watch out for fees
Before you go abroad, consider finding a debit or credit card that allows you to earn rewards while you are abroad, such as through miles or cash back, and that has no foreign transaction fees.
Make a bucket list
Make lists of things that you want to see, do or get and set aside time and money to make them happen. A trip to Everland, a weekend in Busan and a cute pair of boots from Aland are all reasonable things that can be accounted for if you plan accordingly.
Seoul is relatively cheap and incredibly accessible. With the right planning and saving, you can take advantage of all that Seoul has to offer and have an incredible stay while you’re at it!
Jenny Lo (University of Central Florida) studied abroad in South Korea with TEAN.