Seoul is a fantastic city to live. We lived there for 2 years and had lots of fun. However, when it comes to accommodation it wasn’t the easiest place to settle down and find something we liked. To help you in your research, we listed what we think are the best neighborhoods to live in Seoul for expats.
The city of Seoul is divided into 25 different Districts which are called “Gu” and which vary in size between 10 and 47 km2. It would be difficult to deal with all the districts in detail, therefore we will focus on the most dynamic and interesting neighborhoods which we recommend if you are an expat in Seoul.
You can also check our full guide for living in South Korea here. We listed many important things to know before you move to this amazing country.
In Seoul, the cost of living is relatively high and it is more interesting from a budgetary point of view to move to its suburbs, however, due to the size of the city you could waste a lot of time in transport , therefore we would advise you to really consider the distance from your work, the school for your kids etc. Don’t rely on the number of kilometers or miles, as the traffic can get really bad in Seoul especially during peak hours.
It is also difficult to say that one district stands out from the other in terms of security, since Seoul is an extremely safe city by day and by night. So this is something you shouldn’t be worry about.
So here is the list of best neighborhoods to live in Seoul for expats.
1. Hongdae for students and young expats
Hongdae located in the Mapo district is undoubtedly one of the best known area to foreigners, especially by students due to the presence of Hongik and Sogang University and its proximity to the universities of Yonsei and Ewha.
Dynamic, it is an ideal neighborhood for a student or young expatriate wishing to take advantage of the Korean nightlife and to meet people. Although festive, there are a lot of quiet streets also with low rise building, making it a pleasant place to live.
Hongdae is only a small part of the district of Mapo-Gu which, for the rest is residential but dynamic. Yeonnam-dong at the Gyeongui Line Forest Park, is a beautiful place to live and a trendy area. Young expatriate executives, alone or in couples, will also feel more at ease towards the Gongdeok metro station or near Hongik University giving easy access to the various trendy districts while living in a more family-friendly Korean atmosphere. For students it is also easy to find affordable studio or flat sharing near universities.
Hongdae is a pleasant area in Seoul, with many cafes, restaurants, shops, parks. With many universities all around, it also feels young and dynamic.
2. Seodaemun-gu for families
Right next to Hongdae and Mapo-Gu, Seodaemun-gu is home to two major universities in Seoul (Ewha and Yonsei University) and also has a dynamic student life while retaining more traditional aspects than its neighbor.
The standard of living will be similar to Mapo-Gu (middle-class to upper-class) but the setting will be less festive. You will enjoy more nature thanks to the numerous parks and the ramparts of the city that you can walk along. You can also hike the beautiful Ansan mountain, perfect for relaxing and taking a break from the busy city life. Furthermore, if you are looking for a house rather than an apartment, you can direct your research towards the Yeonhui-Dong district.
3. Itaewon the most westernized district
Located in the very center of Seoul and on the banks of the Han River, Itaewon is a privileged area for expatriates which has the most shops and restaurants offering services in English. Living in Itaewon and its surroundings, the HBC (Haebangchon) district in particular, will guarantee you a simpler approach to your procedures in Seoul and easier access to services such as hairdresser, manicure, telephone services etc.
It is in Itaewon and Haebangchon that foreigners find accommodation the most easily and that the owners are the most accommodating with people who are not Korean, in particular with regard to the rent deposit which can be lower or even nonexistent.
Seoul is a very safe city however, Itaewon due to its many bars and clubs can be put off due to the presence of people partying late at night. Some will prefer a quieter area (although once the main street is past, Itaewon is relatively quiet like any other district).
4. Hannam-Dong and UN Village
Hannam-dong is known for many expatriates with family and diplomats. The apartments are often spacious and you could find a detached house as well. UN Village is also very popular for expats with nice houses and international schools nearby. The location is central, which makes it a convenient place to live.
Seongbuk-dong, less known to tourists, is a hidden treasure of Seoul, with charming streets, great restaurants and cafes and surrounded by nature. There are also beautiful temples, interesting museums and great hikes along the city traditional ramparts.
If you want to live in house with a garden and beautiful view of the mountain and the city in the background, Seongbuk-dong is the ideal neighborhood. There are many ambassador houses as well, which makes it a really safe area.
Overall Seongbuk-dong is a gorgeous neighborhood. If you want a place to stay which is more quiet than in the city with more nature, then Seongbuk-dong is the perfect place. Also recommended if you have a big dog, as it will be easier to walk around with your furry pet.
Pyeongchang is often considered the wealthiest area in Seoul and nicknamed “the Hollywood of Seoul”. It is located a few minutes walk from Bukhansan National Park, it has fresh air and real beauty. The area is bordered by beautiful and modern houses all sitting on a hill right with a majestic view of the Bukhansan.
The neighborhoods is also known for artists, at it has many galleries with painters, sculptors, famous movie stars and directors as well as known writer. Living in Pyeonchang-dong is quite different to the rest of Seoul. It is more quiet, less polluted, has a great community and artistic vibes.
For us who loves nature, hiking and the outdoor, Pyeongchang-dong is on the top of our list of best neighborhoods to live in Seoul for expats.
This famous and trendy district is one of the most modern, most popular and certainly most expensive in Seoul. However, the apartments are often small for a much higher budget than in the rest of the city. If you can afford it, you can also enjoy a sophisticated and dynamic atmosphere with more comfortable surfaces.
8. Seorae Village, the French District
Seorae Village is not the least expensive district but you will find a little bit of France and its family atmosphere. Soremaeul is an attractive district for families and expatriates.
In addition, for families wishing to send their children to French school, the French High School is located in Seorae Village.If many French live in this area, there are also many other nationalities.
We hope that you found our list of best neighborhoods to live in Seoul for expats, useful. Here are more information about the different types of housing and mode of payment.
Different types of Housing in Seoul
There are different types of apartment in Seoul, here is what you need to know so that you won’t get lost with all the terms during your research: :
The cheapest, most practical and easy to access but also the smallest are called Goshiwons. It is a kind of mini furnished studio from 3 to 8m² which contains the minimum living necessities, generally a bed, a desk, a chair, a TV and enough space to store your clothes. You share the kitchen and sometimes the bathroom. This is by far the most affordable option, however, extremely small.
In Korea, villas are residential buildings. Unlike the villas in Saint-Tropez, here the villas are actually rather old buildings of 2 to 3 floors without elevator. Within these villas, there are both studios which they call “one room” 원룸 or apartments with “two rooms” and so on. These units can sometimes be rented fully furnished.
This type of apartments are generally located in large modern buildings and as the name suggests, you will find within the building, offices as well as accommodation. These units are generally cleaner and newer than the villas, and are equipped with a fridge, washing machine and furnitures. You can also find within the building, restaurants, cafes and other shops.
The word “apartment” in Korea is also different from the word “apartment” used in France. In South Korea, an apartment (아파트) actually corresponds to a very large family apartment. In large residential buildings, there are usually very modern housing! Intended rather for families, these are large areas with several bedrooms.
Although not common, it is possible to live in detached house with a garden. In Pyeongchang-dong, Itaewon, Seongbuk-dong and UN Village you will find mostly houses. A detached house is obviously more expensive, but it comes with much more space, privacy and usually a nice garden.
All you need to know about the type of payments for renting a place in Seoul
To rent an apartment, there are two ways in Korea:
It is the option that requires the most money but paradoxically the most profitable. Indeed, it consists in putting a very large amount in the deposit in exchange of a completely free rent (only utility bills such as water, gas and electricity remain to be paid)!
This deposit will be used by the owner to be invested in the bank in order to earn interest. Obviously, the deposit must be returned to you at the end of the contract. The deposit can be almost the entire price of the place you intend to rent. Hence, you need to pay a pretty big chunk of money upfront…
This is the classic way of paying rent with a deposit for the landlord which will be refunded at the end of the contract. But unlike in most countries, the amount of the deposit is much higher sometimes up to 10 rents. However, the more the deposit, the easiest it is to negotiate you rent down.
Overall, if you do not speak Korea, it is highly recommended to use a real estate agent. You usually need to pay 2 to 4% commission of the total rent, but it will be much easier to find a decent place and negotiate with the owner. The real estate agent can also help you out whenever you have an issue with the place you are renting and will be contacting the owner on behalf of you. We used Lucky Realty, you can contact them .
PROS AND CONS OF LIVING IN SOUTH KOREA: here
FULL GUIDE FOR MOVING TO SOUTH KOREA: here
LIVING IN SOUTH KOREA AS A FOREIGNER: here
UNDERSTANDING THE KOREAN CULTURE: here
DISCOVER SEOUL, THE CAPITAL CITY: here
JEJU, THE HAWAII OF ASIA: here
25 BEST BEACHES IN SOUTH KOREA: here
ALL MUST-SEES IN SOUTH KOREA: here