What To Bring to Korea
Bring along some your favourites of everything you can’t do without or know you will miss. Even if they are available here, you might not find them right away and this way you know you’ll have a supply, at least for a while. Following are some hard-to-find or particularly expensive items:
APPLIANCES & ELECTRONICS: If yours are not compatible with 220 volt wiring, you will need transformers. These are readily available and not expensive. Some housing for expats include both 110 and 220-volt wiring. Most small appliances and electronics cam be purchased here, including imported ones (instructions are almost always in Korean only, although you can usually get them in English via the Internet).
APPLIANCES re AIR QUALITY: you will need humidifiers in winter and de-humidifiers in summers. Many people use air purifiers. If yours is not a domestic brand, be sure to bring an adequate supply of filters.
BABY/CHILDREN's EQUIPMENT: car-seats, push-chairs/strollers, cribs, etc. while available in Korea may be more expensive than in some other countries and the range of choices may not be as wide. It is possible to order online at lower prices than in the stores. That said, these items are becoming increasingly available at lower prices.
BAKING SUPPLIES can be found in some areas but choices are limited and the price can be high. You may want to bring a supply of cake mixes, gelatine (sometimes available), bi-carb of soda, marzipan, fondant icing, royal icing, icing sugar pens, food colouring, good quality chocolate chips, yeast, etc.
BOOKS: You can find books (new and used) in Seoul and they can be ordered over the Internet. However, the costs may be higher than you’re used to, especially if you’re from the U.S. Children’s books in English can be found in most bookshops in Seoul specially the big ones. Children’s games in English can be difficult to find, so bring along plenty of those.
CLOTHING FOR CHILDREN: Children’s clothes are easy to find but be aware of that the quality might not be what you are used to. For some reason, buying clothes for the spring and summer is easier than finding really good and warm winter clothes. Good and “healthy” leather shoes/sandals and warm leather winter boots are really difficult to find. Since the winters in Korea can be cold with lots of snow make sure to bring good warm winter clothes/boots.
CLOTHING FOR MEN: Men, unless very tall, will have less trouble finding something that fits (or having something tailor made) than women. Korean men are now taller and bigger than they were a few years ago. However, stores may not carry the same range of sizes as can be found in many countries, especially outside Asia.
CLOTHING FOR WOMEN: If you don’t have an Asian physique, best to bring what you’ll need, especially lingerie. If you wear ‘women/queen and/or tall sizes, you may find some clothing pants, some jeans, tops, especially in Itaewon, but the style, fabric and size choices are perhaps not what you´re used to. Bring an adequate supply of pantyhose in your size and colours. If you sew, bring your sewing machine but no need to worry about fabrics, etc. You will surely find what you need at the local fabric markets. While tailors often specialize in men’s clothing and very few sew for women, there are seamstresses/sewers who will come to your home (to measure/fit and/or to do the sewing).
FOODS: if you have any special dietary needs, bring your own supply. In Seoul and other areas around the countries there are a number of supermarkets/shops that target the foreign community. They may carry products such as: specialty rice, gravy and custard powder, artificial sweeteners, vegetarian food mixes and broth, diet/low carbohydrate products. Instant baby cereals and milk-powder are available in some of the foreign stores and an increasing number of the big supermarkets have baby-food-brands you’ll know from your home-country. With the European Free-Trade agreement in effect, we are now seeing more European products, but the cost is generally still pretty steep.
SPECIALTY products from your home country, unless you’re from the United States, should be brought with you. (Check with your moving company for more details re rules/regulations involving bringing these into Korea). Some American products that are available on the U.S. military installations in Korea can also be found in ‘import’ (black market) stores while a growing number of legal imports can be found on store shelves. (This is partly a result of the increased demand from returning Koreans.Also, more and more European, Australian and some South American products can be found in the foreign supermarkets and in most of the big supermarkets in Seoul and other large cities. New products from all over the world are popping up on supermarket shelves all the time, so if you have a relocation company, ask if your favourites are available here now.
PRODUCE: Some familiar vegetables found here are carrots, lettuce, tomatoes (regular and cherry), courgette/zucchini, eggplant/aubergine, onion, potatoes, some varieties of squash. Available but more expensive that you are used to are broccoli, cauliflower, green beens, radishes, fennel. If you're going to have space you may want to bring seeds for some of your favourites that are not hard to grow. Same with fresh herbs. We can find some here, but not always very fresh, and only a limited number of kinds.
CHILDREN: Those favourite foods (cereals, etc) your child is likely to want may not be available in Korea or may be more expensive than you're used to, so best to bring a good supply with you - at least to get you through the first little while until your child/children discover new favourites.
MATTRESSES are available here, but sizes can vary a little depending on where you’re coming from. Twin mattresses are generally ‘twin long’ so make sure you’re sheets are the same. Korean mattresses are also constructed a little differently from American ones and are quite firm, not to say hard. If you prefer a soft mattress, best to bring your own.
Air mattresses can be found in Korea - usually near the beginning of summer but the supply is limited and they often sell out within days. If you're thinking you'll have guests, you may want to bring your own.
MEDICINES: If possible, bring a 6-month supply of prescriptions although most everything is available here. Non-prescription drugs and first aid supplies are also available, although your favourite brands may not be. Tampons are increasingly available but with limited options and a high price tag.
BIRTH CONTROL: available in Korea, but again may not be what you’re used to. Best to bring a supply of birth control pills, condoms, etc
MULTIVITAMINS: If you´re used to a specific brand, bring your own as well as herbal supplements and any homeopathic products. But again if you are ready to try some of the new excellent Korean brands, a limited range of western-style options are available. You might also want to look into Asian medicine products. In many pharmacies (especially in areas such as Itaewon/Hannam-dong area) there is sometimes English-speaking staff available to help you.
SHEETS: The fitted sheets in Korea may not fit your bed. Moreover, sheet sets (fitted and flat) are very expensive here. Best to bring enough of your own to last until your next visit home, especially if you want some with a high thread count.
SHOES: Koreans generally have small, narrow feet. Although you can have shoes made-to-measure for average Western-size feet, that may not be possible if your shoe-size is outside the norm. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you have a good supply of shoes and boots with you. Import brands are available, but in very limited sizes. Sports shoes, ski boots, etc. may be less expensive and fit better if purchased in your home country.
SPORTS EQUIPMENT: Skiers and snowboarders should bring their own boots. Golf equipment is very expensive, as are racquetball and tennis equipment. Bicycles are available, although somewhat costly. Best to bring replacement parts. Children’s bikes should come with your shipment.
TOILETRIES & COSMETICS: bring your favorites. Although there is an excellent selection of imported and local cosmetics brands, your preferred shades may not be available. If you have any allergies or sensitive skin, make sure you have an adequate supply of your special products. Some Western brands of toothpaste are available, as are some deodorants, etc., but usually the prices are at bit higher than in your home-country, so again, best to bring a supply of your favourites. The same applies for hair products. Some hair salons stock Western hair dye products, but if you prefer to do your own, it's best to stock up before leaving home. If you want toothpaste and mouthwash containing fluoride, you may want to bring your own. Some things that are available over the counter back home may require a prescription in Korea. But if you are ready to try some new cosmetics brands, toothpaste or hair dye products there is a wide range of good brands in Korea that are worth trying. Note: many Koreans products contains whitener.
TOWELS are available in all departments store and big markets in Korea, however, you’re likely to find them to be expensive.
TOYS-GAMES: Bring your children’s favorites toys and DVDs. A limited range of DVD options are available in English (also Chinese and Japanese), but not usually in other languages. Many games for Nintendo DS and PS 2 and 3 are available in English versions, but not all of them. Children´s games in English can be difficult to find, so bring along plenty of those. Books in English can now be found in most of the bookshops in Seoul.
Birthday presents: You may want to bring a supply of children's toys/birthday presents. This will likely save your money in the long term as choices in Korea are still somewhat limited and expensive.
-Shower curtains can be found in some stores, but can be expensive and colours/style choices are limited.
-Vegetable peelers, potato mashers and other culturally specific kitchen utensils can be difficult to find. While more and more cooking utensils from America and Europe are now available in the big department stores, you may find them to be quite expensive .
-Archival photo albums are impossible to find according to a K4E contributor
-Disposable contact lenses are available here, but may cost a little more than in your home-country.
-Clothes dryers are now more available than they were in the recent past. They are still somewhat expensive to buy and to run. It’s still more common to find dual function (washer/dryer) machines. These machines often take longer to dry and therefore use more energy. (This can be an issue in Korea since electricity rates increase as the amount used increases).
-Exercise equipment is available here but often very expensive although the prices have been coming down.
-COSTCO membership cards from other countries are accepted in local COSCO stores, so bring yours with you if you have one.
-Passport-sized photos will be needed for visas, your residency card (also family members), your company or school ID, club membership, etc. Such photos are easy to get here but having ten or so with you will save you some time and energy during the first hectic weeks.
It is increasingly possible to get almost everything you’ll need in Korea, albeit at a higher price than you may be used to. The brands may be unfamiliar and it may take you some time to find equivalent products. The Korea4Expats Forum can help you out before you come to Korea and while you’re here. The image above links to TheArrivalStore.com where you can order some of the basics you'll need when you first arrive.
K4E Editor: This list is intended as a guide only. Please feel free to visit our forum if you have any suggestions to make or items to add. We try to make the information on Korea4Expats.com as accurate and complete as possible, so should you note any errors or omissions in the information above, please contact us at email@example.com
Last Updated on 2012-06-18
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