What to Pack for Korea: An Expat’s Guide

What to Pack for Korea: An Expat’s Guide

Are you unsure about what to pack for Korea? I’m here to help! Before I moved to Korea to teach English abroad, I was totally stumped as far as what to bring with me. The online packing lists I perused suggested dozens of items, some of which I assumed would be easy to come by in this country, others which I found completely bizarre.

If moving to Korea is something you’re interested in, I have compiled a comprehensive and realistic list of items you’ll probably need should you find yourself wondering what to pack for Korea. If you’re a man reading this, I do apologize as some of the suggestions are aimed mostly at women!

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1. Medicine

Korea obviously has medicine. There are pharmacies literally everywhere with apothecaries more than willing to help, but sometimes the stuff here just doesn’t cut it. I would recommend bringing Ibuprofen, Benadryl, Melatonin and cold medication from home. Not only will this save you a trip to the hospital (Koreans go to the hospital for literally everything) but it can save any confusion as far as what you’re putting into your body once you’re here.

Some people may recommend bringing lots of multi-vitamins, but honestly if you forget them at home, you can find anything you need on iHerb.com for western prices.

2. Clothing

Deciding what to pack for Korea when it comes to clothing is relatively subjective. While shoe shopping hasn’t been an issue for me as I have pretty small feet, many of my girlfriends have struggled finding shoes above a US size 8. If you’re someone who loves shoes I suggest you bring your favorite pairs if your tootsies are on the larger side.

Speaking of larger sides, if you’re like me and have a big butt (think Kim Kardashian without the implants) I suggest you bring pants. Now, I literally refuse to wear jeans because I think they’re awful, so this isn’t something I struggle with as much. I only wear stretchy pants with patterns on them* because my theory is that if I am forced to suffocate my legs, the contraptions have to be loud and exciting.

What to Pack for Korea: An Expat's Guide

But seriously I love patterned pants.

In the same vein, I do know from my experiences trying on jeans here that it can be… upsetting. The sizes seem to run a bit smaller here so before you catch yourself on the verge of a breakdown and cursing the sky while irrationally claiming to be overweight, chill out and realize that Korean women’s bodies (generally speaking) tend to be smaller framed.

So all my fat bottomed girls, avoid any potential meltdowns by bringing your own pants. Also, take note that Korea has four distinct seasons, so pack accordingly!

*With the exception of a few black pairs of yoga pants.

3. Snacks

I absolutely love snacks. You know what my favorite type of snacks are? Salty snacks. You know what you can’t really get in Korea? Salty snacks.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time here, it’s that Koreans absolutely love putting sugar on everything. Buying garlic bread at the store? There’s a 99.9% chance it’s covered in sugar. Purchasing a bag of chips that is labeled “EXTRA SPICY?” I hate to break it to you, but you’re about to buy potato chips covered in powdered sugar. Fancy yourself some cheddar flavored crisps? They’re going to be sweet.

I’ll never forget my first night in my first apartment. I picked up something I thought to be Wheat Thins. Much to my dismay, I opened the package only to find large granules of sugar coating each cracker. Nope.

What to Pack for Korea: An Expat's Guide

You’ve been warned.

If you’re a fan of things like salt and vinegar chips, anything spicy (without a touch of sweet) or Cheez-Its and you’re wondering what to pack for Korea, I advise you bring some with you. Don’t get me wrong, Korean snacks are great, but this American gal’s palette needs an unhealthy amount of salt from time to time.

Pro-tip: There’s a guy who sells Lay’s Salt and Vinegar chips for 5,500 (~$4.50 USD) in Express Bus Terminal if you’re super keen to pay that much. There are also kettle cooked S&V chips on iHerb.com. Essentially, nothing is impossible and the internet is magical.

4. Toothpaste

I still am taken aback by the fact that many, if not all of my five-year-old students have several cavity fillings. While I’m sure this has something (err, everything?) to do with Koreans’ over-the-top drama when it comes to anything medical related, there’s also something to be said about the toothpaste here. Take this as a warning: some of the toothpaste sold in this country contains sugar, so beware! I prefer to use Arm and Hammer toothpaste, which can be bought here for a little more than what I’m used to paying, so if that’s your style, you’re golden.

If not, bring a few tubes from home that will last you at least one year.

5. Comforts from home

I think this this can be debated, but I personally think it’s a good idea. I brought a large, “Ohm” tapestry from home as well as a necklace holder to hang on the wall. Korean apartments are notorious for being incredibly bland, which is not an environment I am able to thrive in. Some people might think something like this is totally unnecessary, but both items really helped make both of my apartments feel cozy and reminiscent of my colorfully unique space back in the states.

What to Pack for Korea: An Expat's Guide

A lot of items sold in Korea tend to have cartoon animals on them, which isn’t my style.

 

What to Pack for Korea: An Expat's Guide

My apartment is extremely tiny, but I don’t mind as it’s free and centrally located!

With that said, I’m lucky enough to be able to travel home before I head off on my next adventure so I will bring the tapestry and necklace holder in my suitcase. I won’t be bringing either item with me to New Zealand, though!

6. Large bath towels

The days of plush, abnormally large bath towels were over the moment I stepped foot into Incheon International Airport. Since I did a fair amount of research before I came here, I brought two towels with me from home – a decision I’m happy with every day. While Koreans aren’t necessarily the smallest people, for some reason they prefer to use the tiniest towels of all time. What I would normally consider a “hand towel” is what people here use to dry their bodies. Whatever works, I guess! Please note that if you’re like me and want to feel snuggly after your showers – bring your own towel!

7. Toiletries

Of course Korea has toiletries! However, as any imported item sale goes, consumers will have to pay a hefty fee for some of the most basic products. Some items that I think are extremely necessary to buy in your home country are:

  • Razors: In my opinion, the razors in Korea are atrocious. The reasonably priced ones come with two blades and generally won’t last a second time. Not only is this wasting plastic, but it’s just a waste of money. There are more familiar brands here such as Bic, Venus and Gillette, but they can be super pricey. Since razors are lightweight and compact, I recommend buying a few packages of razors beforehand.
  • Deodorant: One of my friends paid about $12 USD for deodorant here. The most popular type I’ve seen here are men’s spray deodorant, which is generally reasonably priced. However, if you’re looking for a more feminine, roll-on style deodorant it can be hard to come by here. I brought a ton with me and it lasted me about a year. My mom sends some on occasion, which has been really helpful.
  • Tampons: Without going into too much detail, it isn’t as common for Korean women to use tampons as they generally prefer pads. Since moving here in 2013, I’ve noticed it is easier to buy tampons at convenience stores, but they’re still a bit more expensive than they are at home and don’t always come in large boxes. I literally have a gigantic zip lock bag with me and have never run out since I’ve moved here.

8. Makeup

Despite the fact that Korea is known for its incredibly innovative face care, many of the products sold here contain “whitening” elements, which are essentially skin bleach. Since I have olive-toned skin and have no desire to smear bleach on my face, I brought a bunch of my favorite BB cream with me.

If your skin is a lighter tone or you are striving to achieve perfectly porcelain skin like many Korean locals, it shouldn’t be an issue. There are plenty of wonderful skincare products available here that far surpass anything you’d find in the states. For me personally, I just avoid anything that says “brightening” or “whitening” as it could damage the pigmentation in my skin!

What to Pack for Korea: An Expat's Guide

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Have you ever moved to a different country? What type of items did you bring?

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9 Comments

  1. January 28, 2016 / 12:20 pm

    This guide will be so nice for those about to come to Korea. It’s so funny, some of the things you have on here we actually get sent from home in our “care packages.” We get our favorite hot sauce shipped here as well as our favorite snacks, Excederin headache medicine, and Nyquil! Men’s deodorant sucks here, Scott has to go to the foreigner mart in Itaewon or wait for a birthday or holiday like Christmas to get some sent out. Costco now carries nice large bath towels!!! And, I haven’t had a problem buying tampons actually! (maybe bc I’m in Seoul, but I can find them even at 7/11) I also like brining my own shoes here….no offense Korea but your shoes are shit quality. (maybe I’m a shoe snob, but the quality is awful for the prices) What’s funny about the make up is that I was a Sephora snob before moving to Korea and slowly I became obsessed with only Korean cosmetics. I didn’t realize it but I had whitening bb cream that I’ve been using for over a year now…I don’t notice a difference so I don’t hesitate to buy a product if it says it has whitening anymore. I think its just a marketing scheme here… Anyways- this is a great list! I wish I had it before I moved out here!

  2. January 30, 2016 / 1:58 am

    My mom would always send me some candy or some Peeps (I freakin’ love Peeps) around the holidays… which kind of falls under comforts of home as well as snacks. Great info here for people moving to Korea!

    iHerb was a huge saver for me, though I didn’t discover it till the end of my first year. For someone who loves cooking and baking, it was a godsend.

  3. January 30, 2016 / 2:37 am

    No joke but if I were to draft up a what to pack for Korea guide, these seriously would be the 8 things I would advise myself! Amen to the salt and vinegar chips! I brought some back for my coworkers to try and they were absolutely revolted by the taste! I don’t think sour is a flavor in the Korean palette. And I always bring personal effects from home whenever I’m in a new place, it really helps me to settle in. Most people don’t think its important but I think its soooo necessary! I usually bring pillowcases from home to outfit the new bed 🙂 Love the design of your room btw!

  4. January 30, 2016 / 2:19 pm

    The towel part is funny! I grew up using large towels as well. They use small towels here because they use it once only and they put it in the laundry already. Also, they have no qualms especially in public lockers because of their culture. They don’t feel the need to be covered. I have never given toothpastes a thought. We have a steady supply courtesy of my husband’s company (shampoo, body wash, soap, toothbrush even) we have to give out some at the end of the year!

    By the way, your room is so cozy! Are those from your travels?

  5. January 31, 2016 / 6:03 am

    The medicine was quite a shocker. Until now I can’t get over how many my kids have to drink in one go, lol. For the make-up though if people don’t have any more left they can also just buy at the Duty Free since it’s tax-free. 🙂 Pinned your post since I’m quite sure it’ll be helpful for other folks, too!

  6. January 31, 2016 / 9:18 am

    You nailed all the ones that I would say as well, especially medicine, clothing (especially shoes that fit), toothpaste, and snacks from home. I’ve also never understood the use three small towels every shower and then they are dirty way of bathing. This will be a very helpful post for people coming to Korea, thanks for sharing!

  7. February 1, 2016 / 1:07 pm

    Many of these are so true! We didn’t bring any snacks, but we’ve convinced family to send us boxes…I repeat: boxes of snacks a few times a year. And while it’s true that many medicines can be hard to find in equivalent form, I’m glad you mentioned iHerb for multivitamins and supplements. We also made sure to bring fitted sheets because they can be difficult to find on arrival and aren’t terribly common in Korean houses. Nice list for the beginner, this will be a great resource!

  8. February 18, 2016 / 11:54 pm

    Some of the toothpaste here contains sugar? Oh my god. I honestly never knew that. Yikes! I’ve been using the Sensodyne brand so I hope that’s okay. Eek, now I’m freaked out haha.

    Love this list and totally agree with everything. I would also add extra knickers and bras under the clothes category – Especially for ladies who, like me, have big hips & bum, and boobs bigger than an A cup.

  9. February 18, 2016 / 11:56 pm

    Also, you just reminded me that I ran out of chocolate Hobnobs last night so all my snacks from home are now gone. The struggle is real.

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