This is my first time going to Korea. What should I bring?
by Ian Leighton, from ‘a university in Korea’
This question, which I have answered many times, sparked the creation of this page. There are several things that you should consider bringing with you, and some things you should not. If you forget, and you probably will, you can find almost anything on the local black market (generally just outside a U.S. military base) once you get here. However, you will end up paying 3X, 4X, or even more, and you may not be able to find your favorite brands.
WHAT TO BRING:
1. Deodorant: Koreans are not big into this. There are a few local brands, but they are difficult to find and expensive. Bring what you like from home. At some of the major hotels you can buy deodorant, but it is going to be expensive ($10 U.S. and up per stick) and may not be your favorite type. You can also find it on the black market but again it will be expensive. Most other toiletries, soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, etc. are readily available.
2. Condoms: The only ones here are locally-made or Japanese-made. Many Westerners say they do not fit. This is not the place to get into that, but in terms of advice, bring something that you are comfortable with, should the situation arise (pardon the pun).
3. Multivitamins: If you take them, bring a year's supply. They are very expensive here. The same goes with any kind of exercise supplement – if you can even find what you need here it’ll be expensive.
4. Prescription Medicine Records: Most medicines are available here in Korea, and are much, much cheaper than the U.S., but you will still need a prescription (to show to a doctor here, who will then write you a local prescription). Records, or at least the medicine containers, can help expedite that process.
5. Clothes and Shoes/Boots: If you are larger (height or weight) than the average person, you will have a difficult time finding clothes that fit and/or are your style. The same goes with shoes. The weather in Korea is cold and snowy in the winter, and New Orleans-like hot and humid in the summer, so bring clothing for all seasons.
Women: Bras & Underwear. Most Korean women are of a different size than Western women and underwear of the proper size can be difficult to find.
6. Tampons: My female coworkers say that there is only one brand here and they are super expensive. Bring what you are comfortable with from home.
7. Money: You will probably not get paid at your new job for a while (it could be up to six weeks) so try to bring enough to get set up and still be able to go out and have some fun during the dry spell. If your job is giving you a furnished apartment, you may still need to buy cooking supplies, utensils, coffee maker, food, toiletries, a fan, etc. That plus meals and hanging out with the people you meet can add up quickly so bring cash or credit cards to tide you over (depending on how much you spend $700-1000 is a safe minimum).
8. Towel: The furnished apartment that your job is promising you probably does not have a towel. After a 10-hour-plus flight to Korea one of the first things you'll probably want to do is get a shower – not hunt for a towel store. Bring one with you and your first couple of days will go much smoother.
9. Membership Cards: Korea has an increasing number of membership clubs/stores from other countries (i.e. COSTCO). Your card from home is almost always accepted at the branches in Korea so by all means bring’em if you’ve got’em.
10. Credit Cards: Credit cards are VERY common in Korea. As a foreigner with a foreign credit card you may encounter some problems using your card (especially on a Korean website) but for the most part they will be accepted. They are especially useful as back-up during the first few weeks when cash is scarce, or when you decide to travel outside Korea.
11. Diploma(s) and Transcripts: If you have a job and visa then you’ve probably already dealt with this, but if you come in looking for a job, or there’s a possibility you may change companies while here, you will need certified copies of your diploma(s) and transcripts. This isn’t so much for the company/school hiring you as it is for the visa paperwork filed with Immigration. Different places may say different things but trust me, bringing certified copies of your diploma(s) and transcripts is a smart move. Coordinating a frantic, last-minute, university to Fed Ex to you document shipment is rarely pleasant or cheap.
12. Passport-sized Photos: You need these for visas, your residency card, probably your school, etc. They are easy to get here but having 10 or so ready when you arrive will save you some time those first couple of hectic weeks.
13. Open Mind: Things are different here. While you may not see the logic in how something is done Korean society has been around for thousands of years (as will be pointed out ad infinitum) and usually does have a pretty good reason for doing something its own way. Take the time to learn why something is done before you criticize how something is done. Keeping an open mind and learning to accept things that are out of your control will make your life here much less stressful.
WHAT NOT TO BRING:
1. Drugs and Drug Paraphernalia: This goes without saying. Korea has a very low tolerance for drugs. They are getting wise to smuggling techniques and getting much better at busting people. It is amazing at how quickly your ‘friend’ will roll over on you when it comes to the promise of deportation versus years rotting in a Korean jail. Saying "it isn't mine" if caught doesn't work, as the police will simply take a blood sample and if you test positive, you will be spending years in a Korean prison. I don't want to get preachy, but there are too many foreigners rotting in jails over here and each of them thought they had a foolproof plan. Just leave it alone. By the way, if you are caught, the U.S. Embassy will do absolutely nothing for you. I can only assume that other embassies behave the same way.
2. Batteries: Batteries are plentiful here. All shapes, sizes, voltages, etc.
3. Electronics: Stereos, hair dryers, etc. Korea is famous for its electronics. You can purchase many of the latest gadgets here, and a lot of them even have a 110/220 volt converter switch so you can take them home. The main problem with bringing electronics from home is that the voltage here is 220 (in North America it is 110). Plus the plugs are different. If you do bring something from home you can buy a 220-110 transformer for about US$18, as Korea used to use the American-style 110. If you are going to bring your laptop and/or digital camera, make sure the chargers can handle the different voltage and that you’ll be able to buy a plug adapter.
DVDs – DVD players and most legitimately-manufactured DVDs have a regional coding that prevents them from working with items from other regions. If you bring DVDs from home you’ll either need to bring a DVD player from home, or buy a ‘region-free’ DVD player. The same with DVDs purchased/rented here – they won’t work on a player brought from another region (i.e. North America, Europe, or Australia). Of course the illegal DVDs purchased from vendors on the street usually lack this regional coding . . .
4. Cell Phones (Mobiles): Most won't work here without replacing the SIM chip/card inside. Even then, unless you want to pay roaming charges the whole time you’re here, you’ll need to find a local provider. Korea is a world leader in cell phones and finding one here, from super-cheap to top-of-the-line, is as easy as walking down the street. The problem then becomes buying service (cheaper), instead of using pre-paid cards (more expensive). Most places take one look at a foreigner and refuse service (too many pricks skipping out with unpaid bills have succeeded in screwing the rest of us) so getting signed up for a monthly plan can be a hassle; see E-Korea: Hype versus Reality for more info.
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