How to Find Student Housing in Seoul
Finding a place to live during your study abroad can be unnecessarily time consuming and stressful if you don’t have a general understanding of the student housing landscape in Seoul.
With this in mind, this article will provide a general explanation of the four main student housing options available in the city. With this general understanding of what’s out there, you’ll be able to decide which housing options are best for you and formulate a plan prior to arrival so that you don’t waste precious time and effort.
There are two main factors that rise above the rest when searching for a place to call home in a foreign country: how easy it is to find and move-in (effort) and how expensive it will be (cost). To simplify things, each option is rated a scale of one to five based on these two factors.
A traditional Korean boarding house
Effort: 3/5 Cost: 2/5
If you’re a momma’s boy (or girl), this option is for you. This homestay-esque living situation is usually an all-male or all-female building with single or shared rooms plus an ahjumma (아줌마) who lives on the property and cooks up a warm meal for breakfast and dinner. This could mean cost-savings in the long run, but food is usually only offered during a specific time which can be inconvenient. From what I’ve heard, hasukjibs can be strict about allowing the opposite gender in the building. Some people see this as a con, other see it as a pro; I guess it depends on the person. I gave it a three out of five for effort because finding one takes considerable effort. You either need to be recommended by a previous tenant, locate one in person by walking the streets near your university, or find a posting online.
In almost all cases, you will need to have a conversational command of Korean or have someone present that can guide you through the move-in process and communicate with the landlord on your behalf. On top of this, it may be difficult to find a hasukjib willing to take an exchange student for only a semester or two. Korean students competing with you for rooms can stay at a hasukjib for their entire time in college. Landlords prefer these tenants. I gave it a two out of five for cost, because hasukjibs can be very cheap compared to the other options. I assume the low cost is associated with the communal living and room size.
Small and economical living quarters
Effort: 2/5 Cost: 2/5
Think Harry Potter’s staircase room except with a desk, shelf, and closet. This option is for the frugal and simple. You may want to think twice about inviting friends over because they may feel claustrophobic. This setup serves one main purpose: a place to lay your head at night. Goshiwons usually have communal bathrooms on each floor to save on space. For people that just need a place to crash, this may be a great option. I gave it a two for effort, because it is a bit easier to find and move into compared to a hasukjib. Since goshiwons also cater to short-stay tenants, it’s easier to find listings and availability. I gave it a two for cost, on par with a hasukjib, because their starting prices are very comparable and are on the lower end of the spectrum.
Student dormitory (기숙사)
On-campus housing provided by an institution
Effort: 1/5 Cost: 3/5
For most students, this is the best option. Why? Because it’s usually a reasonable price, standard quality rooms, and guarantees a community of fellow exchange students. In addition, some universities will even pick you up from the airport and safely deliver you and your luggage to the front steps of the dorms.
Does it get any better?
That’s why this option gets a one out of five rating for effort. In terms of cost, it gets a three out of five. The dorms aren’t the cheapest option, but the rates are usually reasonable for what you’re getting. Keep in mind though, there are probably hidden costs-savings such as not having to take public transportation to and from school and cheap eateries near campus.
One room (원룸)
A furnished studio designed for independent living
Effort: 4/5 Cost: 4/5
If your budget isn’t too tight, and you can speak Korean well enough, getting a one room is something to seriously consider. The benefits of this option basically boil down to one thing: freedom. You don’t have a curfew, irritable roommates, guest restrictions, and all the other shortcomings of communal living. Sure, you may need to cook or arrange another way to feed yourself, but it may be a small price to pay for the ability to live on your own. I gave this option a four out of five for effort because finding one with a good price and location, putting down a deposit, signing a contract, and moving in requires time and perseverance. It will also require a strong command of Korean (read: advanced listening, speaking, and reading ability). If you have a Korean friend that would be willing to assist you in this process, I highly recommend reaching out to them.
There are many resources online and real estate agents (부동산) in each neighborhood that can provide you with a variety of options. A good ol’ walk through the neighborhood surrounding your university is worth the time as most buildings post contact information on their main door if they have openings. One rooms get a four out of five cost rating, which is understandable given the perks of solitude. However, some good deals could be comparable to dormitory prices if you put down a large deposit prior to moving in.
A general understanding of the available housing options is the first step in deciding the best housing option for your time abroad in Seoul. Other than the dormitory option, I highly recommend doing as much research as possible beforehand. Never agree to anything until you meet the landlord in person to confirm the terms of the contract and inspect at the room. Booking a hostel bed or AirBnb and arriving a week in advance to explore the area surrounding your university on foot and meet with landlords will ensure that you are making sensible decisions without feeling rushed. Like I said, if you don’t speak Korean well, find someone you trust that does and treat them to a meal in exchange for their help. At the bare minimum, have this friend meet the landlord with you, especially during the meeting to sign a contract and give a down payment.
If you have any further questions about how to find student housing in Seoul, please write them in the comments, and I’ll try my best to help you through this process!
Best of luck,
Keoni Williams is a program assistant at Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.