Housing Neighborhoods for Foreigners in Seoul and Gyeonggi-Do
As a foreigner in Korea, you aren’t relegated to any particular housing neighborhood. You can live wherever you want. The location of house therefore is important because you will want to choose a neighborhood that suits your lifestyle. A neighborhood with many foreign residents does have advantages in that it’s easy to find goods and services in English (or other languages) and products from countries around the world are readily available. With that said, recognize that immersing in a foreign environment can isolate you from a Korean environment. Aim to strike a balance between the needs you require as an expat living abroad and experiencing your new Korean surroundings. Consider the following locations which are all popular neighborhoods for foreigners.
Seoul City /서울시
Seoul city is divided into 25 districts, called gu /구 in Korean. These districts lie above and below the Han River (한강), which runs through the center of the city. Within these gus are neighborhoods referred to as dongs /동. Some neighborhoods are distinctly more residential than others and others still are particularly more foreign.
North of the River
The gus above the river are older dating back to the days when they made up the capital city, Hanyang, of the Joseon Empire beginning in 1394. The housing buildings are also older. They tend to be more crowded and have distinct character to them –many have giwa/기와 (traditional Korean style roof tiles) roofs, garden courtyards, and iron gates. The gus are a bit less organized and less well-planned compared to gus in the south which follow a grid design.
Yongsan means ‘Dragon Hill’ and there are 20 dongs within Yongsan-gu. Yongsan-gu is marked by the main US military base, Yongsan Garrison. The presence of the US force has brought foreigners to these areas and as a result, the main foreigner district developed in Yongsan-gu called Itaewon. It is easy to find housing of many varieties in Yongsan-gu, and you shouldn’t have trouble negotiating a contract in English as many of the realtors offer English and Japanese services.
Itaewon is the main foreigner area in the very center of Seoul. It had a bad reputation for being grimy and rough, but nowadays it has become a colorful neighborhood with restaurants, bars, and shops from around the world. Today Itaewon is considered the upcoming hotspot for new businesses and the area is changing considerably. Seoul Central Mosque is located in Itaewon and the Muslim community has built restaurants and stores nearby.
Living in Itaewon: Itaewon has two dongs and both have a good selection of housing options. Most housing buildings are villas, dasyedae jutaek /다세대주택 or individual houses. You won’t find any high rise apartments here. Large two or four bedroom flats are more common than small one-rooms or studios. The prices are some of the cheapest in Seoul. The main part of Itaewon close to Itaewon station (on the beige subway line 6), is busy, crowded and noisy late into the night. Check out Gyeonidan, Itaewon 2-Dong, near the Hyatt Hotel or Haebangchon, also Itaewon 2-Dong, just up from Noksapyeong Station, (beige line 6) for quiet yet equally as convenient accommodations.
Hannam-dong is just South of Itaewon closer to the Han River. It is much more residential than Itaewon, yet it is within walking distance to the hustle and bustle of Itaewon.
Living in Hannam-dong: Hannam-dong is home to the UN Village. There are over 800 luxury residences in the guarded area. Most of them are diplomat residences. There is also a large residential area beside this gated community. Hannam-dong is safe, clean and recommended for family living. Hannam-dong has apartment buildings, villas and individual houses with gated courtyards. The international schools all have bus services to the neighborhood and the German Foreign School is located in Hannam-dong. Transportation is slightly less convenient than in Itaewon because the residents (mainly CEOs and ambassadors) all own vehicles. It is near to Oksu station, (orange line 2) and Hannam Station (ice blue Jungang line).
The Ichon dongs /이촌동
The Ichon areas are made of two dongs, Dongbu (west) Ichon 1-dong and Seobu (east) Ichon 2-dong. Dongbu Inchon 1-dong was controlled by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation at the turn of the 20th Century. It has since morphed into the Japanese community and is home to the largest Japanese population is Korea. You can find excellent Japanese restaurants and you will notice the widespread use of Japanese language in the area.
Living in Ichon: There are many Japanese residents in Ichon-dong as well as US military families and officials. The neighborhood is quiet and residential and offers high rise apartment living. The prices are more expensive than in Itaewon as the residences are drastically more luxurious. The neighborhood beside Ichon is called Seobinggo which is also a popular expat residential area. Again, it is affluent and prices are high. The region is serviced by the ice blue Jungang Line at Ichon Station and Seobingo Station.
Seodaemun-gu is located downtown on the opposite side of Namsan Tower to Yongsan-gu. Seodaemun means ‘West Gate’ because the district is at the west gate of what was once the capital city wall surrounding Hanyang. Seodaemun-gu is home to Ewha Womans University and Yonsei University as well as numerous public middle and high schools. Two international schools, Seoul Foreign School and Seoul Chinese School are located in Seodaemun-gu.
Yeonhui-dong is the most popular dong for foreigners living in Seodaemun-gu. It is close to the Yonsei Severance Hospital, Ewha University, Yonsei University and Hongik University.
Living in Yeonhui-dong: As a result of the schools, this area is home to students and professors from overseas- there are many one-room buildings, hasukjibs (boarding houses) and officetels available at reasonable prices. Numerous bus lines service this neighborhood and the closest subway stations are on the green line 2, either Shinchon Station or Ewha University Station. Yeonhui-dong is also a preferred neighborhood for English and Chinese families so that they can be in close proximity to Seoul Foreign School or Seoul Chinese School.
Jongno-gu is one of the oldest and most traditional districts in Seoul. It has a history of over 600 years as the heart of the downtown capital. It therefore is decidedly Korean and has a cultural feel. Jongno-gu means ‘Bell Street” and has 20 dongs within the gu. There are piles of palaces, museums, galleries, old shops, markets, temples and Korean restaurants in this region. If not to live, this place is great to visit!
Pyeongchang-dong is nestled among trees in the side of Mt. Bukhan (Bukhansan /북한산). At the bottom of the dong are galleries, cafes and bistro restaurants. Wealthy foreign expats and Korean government officials live here. It is nicknamed the “Beverly Hills of Korea”.
Living in Pyeongchan-dong: Although most people won’t be able to afford a house in Pyeongchang-dong, it is worth a mention. Here you can find large houses with full gardens and gated courtyards. Unfortunately you won’t find something for less than a few million USD. If you have the money, the community is beautiful, secluded, and heavily guarded. There are no subway stations within close distance. You will need a car if you choose to live in Pyeongchang-dong.
South of the River
Regions below the Han River have been urbanized rather recently—up until the early 1980’s, they were the least developed of all Seoul. In the late 1970’s, the government intensely pushed a policy to develop the area south of the river, and brought about rapid advancement and growth in the area. Thus three gus emerged: Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu and Songpa-Gu. Together they are referred to as Gangnam area.
Gangnam-gu /강남구 and Seocho-gu /서초구
Both Gangnam-gu and Seocho-gu are full of wealthy people, large businesses, excellent transportation, modern buildings and upscale restaurants and shops. It is home to car dealerships, fancy nightclubs and expensive brand names stores. The Gangnam region is convenient and comfortable but expensive.
Living in Gangnam-gu or Seocho-gu: There are lots of beautiful modern high rise apartment buildings and serviced apartments. There are also many one-room buildings, goshiwons (dormitory complexes) and officetels for business people living near their workplaces. Keep in mind that the Gangnam region has become a brand in itself so prices have skyrocketed. It has the most expensive housing in Korea. There is one secondary international school in Gangnam, Seoul Academy International School and a few international elementary and middle schools. There are also excellent Korean private and public schools. Many subway lines that service the Gangnam region include the green line 2, the orange line 3, the yellow Bundang line, the army green line 7, and the brown line 9. Hundreds of Seoul city buses pass through the district as well as most express busses to satellite cities.
Bangbae-dong, located in Seocho-gu is the traditional French neighborhood. Over 500 French nationals live here and there are great French restaurants, bistros and cafes.
à Living in Bangbae-dong: If you are from France or speak French you may want to consider this neighborhood. It is also a lovely place to live with high rise apartments, and a close proximity to the Han River. It is expensive as all housing prices are in Gangnam. It is located at Bangbae Station on the green line 2.
Gyeonggi-do (Province) /경기도
Gyeonggi-do is the province that surrounds Seoul City. It consists of multiple Seoul satellite cities and is rapidly expanding to take pressure off Seoul’s core. The province is becoming a hotspot for foreigners and Koreans to live because of lower housing prices and modern, organized living complexes.
As well it is still possible to live in Gyeonggi-do and work in Seoul. Jobs for ESL teachers are abundant and big electronic companies like Samsung and LG have their main company campuses in Gyeonggi-do. The following cities are an excellent option for living and although they are not in Seoul, they are all short commute away (about one hour).
Incheon Metropolitan City/인천
Incheon lies on the west coast of Korea and with nearly three million people. It is Korea’s third largest city. Incheon International Airport is the main feature of Incheon. There are immigrant workers who stay on economic free zones in the area. The official Chinatown near the sea is at Wolmido, Incheon. It is connected to central Seoul by the dark blue subway line 1 and red express buses. Incheon has its own subway line, the Incheon Line 1. It’s bright blue.
Living in Incheon: There is a small expat community mainly in Bupyeong-gu, the centre of Incheon. For the most part, there are one-room buildings, officetels and apartments. There are some foreign bars and restaurants here. Incheon offers modern accommodations. It is also much cheaper than any neighborhood in Seoul.
Ilsan consists of two gus, Ilsandong-gu and Ilsanseo-gu, in the northwest part of Gyeonggi-do. These gus are part of the Goyang region and they are new well-planned areas that were created with the explicit intent to take pressure off Seoul city’s increasing population. Families that are reasonably well-off have moved to this area because there are modern organized apartment complexes and excellent living conditions.
Living in Ilsan: Ilsan boasts excellent housing prices. The city is well set up for family life with lots of schools, community centers and transportation. It is easy to find studio officetels for singles and larger apartments for families. It is connected to Seoul by the orange subway line 3 and many express buses. The area also has a beautiful lake park in the centre. It’s perfect for exercising or relaxing.
Like Ilsan, Bundang is a new community too. It is located in Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do and it’s considered an extension of Gangnam. Many wealthy people have come to Bundang because housing is slightly cheaper and the city is exceptionally well-planned.
à Living: There are large apartment complexes with impressive parks including Bundang Central Park and the Tancheon River area. There are many community facilities. As well, buildings are not short on amenities and living comforts. It’s a great place to call home for a family or a single person. There are two international schools in Bundang, Korea International School and BIS Canada. As well, it’s close to Seoul connected by the subway on yellow Bundang line and express buses.
Suwon is an ancient walled city. Hwaseong Fortress, built during the Joseon Dynasty, is in the center of the city. It is also the site of Samsung corporation headquarters and therefore many foreign engineers live in Suwon. It has a large (20,000) foreigner population and a small US Military Base.
à Living in Suwon: The housing is cheap and consists of mainly high rise apartment complexes, officetels, one-rooms and the occasional villa. It is not as well planned as the newer cities in Gyeonggi-do, like Bundang and Ilsan. The benefit is that the prices are lower for everything. There are two areas in Suwon where foreigners like to conjugate, Paldal-gu /팔달구 and Yeongtong-gu /영통구. Foreign groceries, restaurants and bars can be found in those districts. Suwon is well connected to Seoul by the subway dark blue line 1, express buses and the express train from Suwon Station to Yongsan and Seoul Station.
Other Cities around Korea
Although the foreign population outside of Seoul diminishes abruptly if you go further outside of Gyeonggi-do, there are still small pockets of outsider communities in other cities. Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju and Ulsan are the largest cities and the most likely places non-natives would live outside of the capital region. Foreigners are needed all over the country to fill positions in a variety of fields. As well, there are economic free zones in Busan, Ilsan and Gwangju which bring in foreign nationals for labor. There are no specific foreigner housing areas or districts in the other cities, although there is a large Russian and Pilipino population in Busan. Your best bet is to research well ahead of time to determine which neighborhood will be a suitable match for you.
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Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.