Having recently experienced the anxiety a move abroad can inspire, I thought it would be a good idea to pass on the wisdom I have gained in deciding what to pack for a successful 1+ year experience in Korea. Hindsight is 20/20, and I hope this knowledge keeps your move from becoming a pull-your-hair-out experience.
The existence of Costco in many of Korea’s major cities can be a game-changer in your living experience, depending on your ability to access said store. Click here to see a list of Costco locations in Korea. The list below, however, doesn’t take into account what can be found in Costco.
If you have anything to add, please comment below!
Rain Jacket || Up until a year ago, I had never owned light-weight, water-proof outerwear. Now, a week doesn’t go by where I don’t drag out my NorthFace Resolve Rain Jacket. It has rained a couple times every week this spring, and we aren’t even in Monsoon season yet.
Comfortable walking shoes || Let me just say this, girls: if you’re loosing sleep over which pair of heels to pack, or opting to forgo packing essentials so you can squeeze in those cute strappy wedges, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. No judgment here, I packed my favorite pair of heeled booties, refusing to give up on the hope that I would get chances to wear them. Now I regret not bringing the extra camping gear I left behind instead. Although you won’t be called to give up every sense of fashion in your new life, you must keep in mind that you will be walking everywhere. Like, EVERYWHERE. And in all types of weather. Also, keep in mind that you will be constantly pulling them off and on. Korean households, and most traditional Korean restaurants, require you to leave your shoes at the door, as do all temples. Here are three pairs of go-to shoes that have made life in Asia easy:
Chacos || I shouldn’t even have to tell you.
Columbia Omni-Heat Insulated Pull On Boot || Waterproof. Insulated. Great tread. Easy to pull off and on. Super warm and cozy.
Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit || Fit like a glove. Crazy light-weight. The only pair of shoes I own that don’t leave even the slightest tinge of ache at the end of a long day of site-seeing.
Slippers for work || I guess this could have gone with the list above, but I felt it was important enough to get its own bullet. EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL I know of requires both students and teachers to keep a pair of shoes reserved solely for wearing inside school grounds. Many schools have a closet full of “community” slippers, shared by the group of us fools who forget to bring our own to work. So don’t be that guy who’s wearing stinky old used slippers. Because I would like to maintain a look of professionalism and color coordination, I wear a pair of black Crocs ballet flats.
Jeans || Finding the perfect pair of jeans is hard enough in your home country. So obviously, it becomes close to impossible in a foreign country. Save yourself the grief and buy a pair or two extra to keep on hand.
Underwear || I’m not saying it’s impossible to find well-fitting bras, but the general consensus among expats is that this is not a battle worth fighting. For larger women, it’s almost impossible. And for anyone else, it’s a practice in frustration. Do yourself a favor and plan ahead.
Deodorant || You won’t be able to find any here. I brought 5 sticks with me, praying it will be enough!
Feminine Hygiene Products || Tampons are few and far between. When you do find them, they are crazy expensive, and come in tiny packs. Pads are easy to find.
Makeup || I think the only issue here would be finding liquid and powder foundations to match your skin tone. Bring a couple extra of your tried-and-true favorites with you!
Comfortable daypack || After teaching English to a herd of crazy students all week, you’re going to be aching for Friday afternoon when you can race to the train station and begin your weekend adventure. Just make sure to bring a day pack that won’t leave your shoulders aching. My North Face Big Shot is super spacious and comfortable, I wear it every day!
Power converters and adapters || Learn the difference between the two here. Laptops and iPhones usually have a built in converter, and just need an adapter to function. For almost every other Western-made gadget (electric razors, curling irons, hair dryers, etc.) a converter will be needed.
Sheets || This is one item that I failed to bring, and deeply regret. Sheets in Korea are usually not 100% cotton, and are incredibly expensive.
Full-sized bath towels || You won’t be able to find them anywhere in Korea. The biggest they come are a hand-towell size.
Hair dryer & Curling Iron || Don’t waste your packing space! Koreans dry their hair too, I found my hair dryer at my local grocery store for $13. If you bring one from home, you must use a converter (see above). The same can be said for curling irons, although they are a bit more expensive. I found some inexpensive ones on Korea’s equivalent to Amazon: GMarket.
Toothpaste || This is a subject up for debate. Almost everyone else will tell you to pack a year’s supply. Although Korea offers a wide variety of toothpaste flavors that will leave you with eyebrows raised, they DO have a classic mint flavor. It may not be as good as my beloved Crest 3D White Toothpaste, but it does the trick. You can also find a few basic American brands if you look hard.
Cooking Spices || I bought rosemary and a blend of Italian herbs at a major grocery store the other day. I couldn’t find basil, nutmeg, or liquid vanilla. Some avid cooks will tell you to not take chances and bring your own stock. I say chance it, your odds of finding what you need are pretty good, and what you don’t find will force you to become a more creative cook.