So you’re moving to Korea… flight’s booked, and you’re ready for a new adventure. The question is, what the hell are you going to put in your bag? It’s bad enough that you’ve never been to where you’re going, but now you want to move your whole life there for an entire year?! I’ve never been away from home for more than a month and now I’m packing for 12. After doing some research and weighting what I can and can’t live without, this is my list of do’s and do nots when moving to Korea for a year.
What you should pack:
Cash and ID-First things first, your passport, driver’s licence cash in your own currency and cash in the currency of the country you’re going to.
Small gifts from your home country- This could be as tiny as a keychain or a pin, just so you have a small token of gratitude to offer to your co-teacher or friends who help you along your way.
Bed sheets- traditionally, Koreans sleep on small sleeping mats instead of beds with bed frames. For this reason, there is not much of as much of an emphasis on bedding such as quality sheets and blankets as there is in North America. It can be difficult to find good-quality, high thread-count sheets in Korea so if this is something that truly affects your sleep, you may want to bring sheets from home. (P.S. The typical bed side for a teacher here is a single bed.)
Travel adapter– you’ll need to make sure that your phone is charged at all times in case you need to translate something, contact someone, or look up an address. The first thing you’ll need for that is an adapter that will work in Korea. You can buy some funky adapters with usb converters and multiple plug ports for fairly cheap on amazon.
Photos of yourself- You will need about 4 pocket-sized photos for your Alien Registration Card (ARC) and medical examination as soon as you get to Korea, it is better to have them on-hand than to have to pay to get them done here.
Light jacket- this is always a must no matter where you go. Even if the temperature is typically warm in the day, the nights may cool down, or you could be cold on a bus or train or in a theatre.
A Roll of Toilet Paper- you never know what will be in your apartment until you get there, and if your apartment happens to be completely empty as mine was, you’ll be grateful to have some tissue, just in case nature calls.
Deodorant- Korean deodorants do not provide the same antiperspirant effects as you may be used to, for this reason it may be best to bring a brand your body is familiar with.
Body Lotion- tends to be very expensive here, ranging from about $14CAD to $28CAD on average. If you can manage to pack some with you, it may just save you some change. But make sure it’s wrapped tight!
Comfortable clothing- jeans, leggings, hoodies, nice tops, loose pants, loose dresses, sweaters and cardigans. People tend to layer up their clothes here and put a lot of emphasis on comfort.
Undergarments- pack lots of comfortable underwear and bras
PJs- pack some shorts and and some long pants for the winter, as well as both short-sleeved and long-sleeve pj’s.
Winter wardrobe– Don’t forget that it does get cold in South Korea so you will need hats, gloves, scarves, long underwear, thick socks.
Hair and skincare products- if you use anything specific on your skin or in your hair (especially if you’re a naturalista like ya girl), bring them with you. I tried my best to stick with my normal routine and products as much as possible when I first arrived because I knew my body would already have to adjust to so much in a new climate. As time goes on, you can try out new Korean products and figure out what works best for you.
Spices- nutmeg, cinnamon, onion powder, sweet paprika, garlic powder, vanilla, anything you would need to bring the flavours from home with you. Finding these spices can be difficult in your ordinary convenient stores or small grocery stores.
First Aid- band-aids, alcohol, Polysporin, after bite, mosquito repellent, and medications like Buckleys, Tums, Tylenol,
Small Umbrella- Though it doesn’t rain very heavily, it does lightly rain often and Koreans will use an umbrella for the slightest drizzle. It’s not a big deal however, if you want to buy this when you arrive instead of using the space in your luggage.
What not to pack:
Shoes- you should be good with two to three pairs. Definitely a pair of comfortable running shoes and a pair of winter boots. You can also pack a pair of light-weight sandals if you don’t feel like wearing your running shoes everywhere. You more than likely won’t find yourself needing to wear high heels here.
Fancy or revealing clothing/ tight dresses- The club scene here is very laid back and people are pretty reserved here when it comes to clothing. You won’t need anything that shows too much skin, especially shoulders or cleavage. And leave the tight clothes at home!
Towels- many online forums and videos may tell you that it is hard to find soft, full-body towels in Korea. I did not find this to be true, you can find the towels you may be looking for in Home Plus, Daiso, Miniso, or other home stores.
Make-up- You’ll be able to find almost all of your make-up needs here in Korea, besides your foundation shade. Pack your favourite foundation and you’ll be set. Truth be told, as a gal who wore make-up pretty much every day at home, I have only done my make-up about 4 times in the month that I’ve been here. If you’re coming to teach, it’s not necessary to wear make-up at school.
Purses and Jewellery- you won’t need it! As an EPIK teacher, you won’t need to carry very many books or heavy objects back and forth between home and school, one or two cute sturdy bags will do you justice. Most of the time, a light purse or fanny pack will do. Chunky jewellery, big watches, necklaces or earrings aren’t very common in Korea so you’ll be fine without them.
Random things you should probably buy once you get there:
Air purifier– Korea gets a lot of air pollution from China, which is why you see a lot of Koreans wearing doctor’s masks in public. If you like fresh air and tend to keep your windows open like I do, you’ll find yourself having to dust and sweep very often. Clean air is a must, especially in the house and when you go to sleep. This was a great investment for me.
Humidifier- Although Korea can get hot and sunny, it tends to be fairly dry. In the winter, you lose a lot of moisture in the air, which is why using the humidifier in combination with the air purifier, will give you the perfect climate in your home.
Water Softening Shower Head- When traveling to a new country, you are often warned not to drink the water and always buy bottled water. Although this creates an awareness for the water you are putting into your body, you must still be mindful of the water you use on your skin and in your hair. Having harsh minerals in your water can alter the texture and moisture in your skin and hair. Many of the friends I made here in my first week had warned me of hair loss due to the water composition and dirty pipes. The water softening shower head filters your water right before it touches you.
A plant- A plant also aids in the air quality of your home, especially if you choose one with those specific properties. It is can also serve as a decoration and bring life into your space.
House and bathroom slippers- Koreans are very meticulous about taking off your shoes at the door and wearing comfortable shoes inside, whether at home or school. In many cases, the shower is not closed off in the bathroom and you will bathe yourself in the middle of the bathroom. Because the water gets everywhere, it is useful to have shower shoes to avoid any slips or trips. You can find these in most small shops for fairly cheap.
Electronics- There are so many gadgets you can find here, things you probably never knew that you needed, and they’re usually relatively inexpensive. If you’re looking to buy a small camera, gadgets for your phone, chargers, a small tripod, lights, leave them all at home and buy them once you get here.