How to Retire in South Korea 2023

(This article was last updated on Jan. 25, 2023.)

How to Retire in South Korea 2023

South Korea does not offer retirement visas, but there are other options if you want to retire in South Korea. This article will explain more.

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Introduction

You must pick where you will retire as a senior citizen. Many Western retirees regard South Korea as an interesting and modern alternative. South Korea is an ideal vacation for everyone interested in technology, culture, and new experiences, whether they are British, American, or Australian.

Despite the fact that it is not a cheap nation, you can get by with your pension and a little ingenuity. Here’s what you need to know about planning to retire in South Korea.

What does a typical life in South Korea look like?

South Korea’s cities, where the majority of the population lives, have some of the world’s greatest population densities. Seoul, the capital city, has a population of about 10 million people in 2023.

During the summer, the climate is humid, with temperature shifting from 21.9°C (71.4°F) to 28.6°C (83.5°F) on average in the month of June and/or July. Meanwhile, it is chilly and dry during the winter.

If you retire in South Korea, you won’t miss the seasons because the weather and temperatures vary according to the season. Many tourists like to visit in the spring or fall, when the weather is mild and pleasant.

South Korea is ideally suited to retirees with a sense of adventure. Blood sausage, hog skin, chicken feet, and raw sea worm are some of the foods available that you would not ordinarily find in other regions of the world. If you don’t want to be experimental with your cuisine, there’s plenty of wonderful bibimbap, bulgogi, kimchi, and foreign fare to be found in any global metropolis.

Cities like Seoul and Incheon have a significant expat community. So, if you’re looking for cultural trips, historical trips to museums and sites, or shopping excursions with friends, South Korea is the place to be. Outside of the cities, there are regions of outstanding natural beauty. Both Koreans and expats like going to hot springs and learning about ancient eastern therapeutic procedures.

What is the money of South Korea?

The Korean won is the official currency of South Korea.  The code KRW, or the symbol ₩, represents it. The symbol, which is written in Korean, may be found at South Korean stores and marketplaces. 100 jeon equals one won. The following are the won’s approximate exchange rates (as of the time of update):

  • 1 EUR is approximately 1,343.49 KRW
  • 1 USD is approximately 1,232.62 KRW
  • 1 AUD is approximately 875.83 KRW
  • 1 GBP is approximately 1,518.97 KRW
retire in south korea currency
South Korean won bills. Image from Bloomberg

How much money is needed to comfortably retire in South Korea?

The living cost in South Korea, on the whole, is not prohibitive. It is pricier than residing in some Asian countries such as China or Laos, but it is less pricey than residing in Japan or Singapore.

Overall, the cost of living in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, will be the highest it will be anywhere else in the nation.  Expats can look forward to making a decent salary and saving a fair chunk from it without having to spend as little as possible under a strict budget outside of Seoul.

Many expats will tell you that you should be able to survive in South Korea regardless of your budget. However, if you want to live simply, you must be very careful about how you budget.

If you spend less than 2,000 USD/2,464,810 KRW each month, you should avoid eating out, traveling, and conserving money. You won’t be able to purchase a car and will have to rely on public transit.

You may comfortably retire in South Korea if your budget is between 2,000 USD and 3,000 USD, or 2,464,810 KRW to 3,697,605 KRW. Even though this is a modest amount of budget, you can afford to eat out, travel, and even buy a second-hand car.

You should be able to live a comfortable retirement and save if you budget between 3,000 USD and 4,000 USD each month, or 3,697,605 KRW and 4,930,260 KRW. You may live lavishly and easily maintain a family if your income exceeds this amount.

How much on average does a house cost in South Korea?

Expect to pay around 19.1 million KRW and 11.1 million KRW per square meter on average if you want to purchase an apartment in South Korea’s city center and outside the area, respectively. If you opt to rent, prepare to shell out 453,582 KRW to 618,201 KRW per month for a place with one bedroom, depending on the location.

The cost of your housing will make up the majority of your monthly living expenses in South Korea, which is pretty standard in most countries. 

House prices in South Korea has surged and to put such scenario in check, the terms of mortgage loans have been subject to increasingly strict restrictions from the government since 2020, according to ING.

The rapid appreciation of home values seen over the past few years is not something that is exclusive to the South Korean market. The United States, Europe, and Australia are just some of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries that have also reported seeing this phenomenon.

What about healthcare costs?

The general public in South Korea has access to a first-rate medical care system. Everyone is required to make monthly contributions to the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS). The total amount that you will be responsible for paying every month will be proportional to the gross salary that you make.

According to the NHIS, the percentage of an employee’s monthly wage that will be contributed will be 7.09 percent as of 2023.

The following services are included in the National Health Insurance program for both Korean citizens and non-citizens living in South Korea:

  • the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, or rehabilitation of diseases or injuries suffered by the insured or their dependents;
  • during labor and delivery, at funerals, and when advocating for healthy lifestyles

You also have the choice to obtain health insurance through a private provider. It’s true that the public health insurance is broadly used, but many still choose private health insurance as a top up to the expenses that the NHIS does not accommodate.

What about travel and transportation costs?

The cost of transportation in South Korea will vary depending on a number of factors. The first thing I want to know is whether or not you have a personal mode of transportation, like a car or a motorcycle, or if you are you going to have to rely on the public transportation system.

If you drive your own car, the cost of one liter of gas will be approximately 1,736 KRW or 1.41 USD. A one-way ticket on South Korean public transportation will set you back 1,300 KRW (1.05 USD), while a monthly pass will set you back 55,000 KRW (44.61 USD). Taxis have a starting fare of 3,500 KRW (2.84 USD), and each additional kilometer will cost 1,000 KRW (0.81 USD).

Am I allowed to drive when I retire in South Korea?

Those who plan on driving in South Korean cities should be prepared for a significant amount of gridlock, drivers of public transportation vehicles who are hostile to their passengers, and traffic lights that should be regarded as nothing more than suggestions for how you should behave while on the road.

It is important for pedestrians to exercise caution in this area because motorists frequently fail to yield to pedestrians who are crossing the street. Many people in this community have the misconception that people who drive cars have a higher social status than those who walk.

Additionally, drivers of bigger and costlier cars have the preconceived notion that they always have the right of way compared to drivers of other vehicles. Driving in South Korea, on the other hand, may be an enjoyable experience if you are able to avoid the congested roads of the cities and instead head for the more rural regions.

You are permitted to use your license in South Korea as long as you possess a valid international permit. This is regardless of where you obtained such license, whether it was in a country in Europe or Africa, the United States, or Australia. Nevertheless, you can only acquire it from your home country, which means that you must have it before you retire in South Korea. 

When you are behind the wheel, you need to make sure that you have both the permit and the original license with you. International permits are only good for one year and are not renewable once they have expired. So, if you plan to retire in South Korea, it is advisable to secure a Korean license.  

You must be at least 21 years old and in possession of a valid license from your home country plus an international permit or a valid license issued by South Korea in order to drive a rental car. Finding car rental agencies that are able to provide all of the necessary information in languages other than Korean may prove to be difficult.

Take note, as well, that some businesses are particularly cautious with regard to new drivers. If you have less than one year of driving experience, you may not be permitted to rent a vehicle or you may be required to pay higher rates.

What do I need to know about visas?

retire in south korea visa
Single-entry South Korean visa. Image by Mello Fabrique

Foreign citizens are not eligible for retirement visas in South Korea, so even if the country has drawn a large number of Western expats as a retirement destination, you must be willing to explore other options in order to stay in the country long term.

You’ll need a visa to reside in South Korea if your home country is not included in its list of visa-free country travelers, regardless of how long you want to stay. Applying for an alien registration card is the most efficient way to settle in South Korea.

You will have 90 days from the date of arrival to apply for this card. You will be allowed to apply for residence in South Korea if you obtain a long-term visa. You must have language competency, five years of documented residence, knowledge of Korean history, and pass an interview and written exam to be eligible for residency.

It is popular for many expats to obtain an F-2-7 visa in order to stay in the country for an extended period of time because this visa gives rights that are quite comparable to those of a permanent resident status. The F-2-7 visa is valid for a period of three years. If you don’t qualify for this type of visa, you can also opt to try securing an F-2-99 visa that is valid for a period of between one to three years.

How can I get an F-2-7 visa?

  • After working in South Korea for 12 months, those who have E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, E-6, and E-7 visas, as well as D-2, D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8, D-9, and D-10 visas, are eligible to submit an application for the F-2-7 visa. The most difficult aspect of obtaining this visa is satisfying all of the prerequisites. A point-based system is used to evaluate the applicants, and they must earn 80 points out of 120 to be deemed successful. Your performance will be judged based on the following:
  • Age: Between the ages of 30 and 35, you have the opportunity to accumulate the greatest points, i.e., 25 points. People aged 51 years old and older receive the lowest possible score, i.e., 15 points.
  • Income: If you make more than a hundred million won (80,950.74 USD) annually, you will receive 10 points for this category. Only one point is awarded for income below 20 million KRW (16,185.17 USD).
  • Education: The more years of schooling completed, the higher your score will be. You will receive 15 points for having a high school diploma, while a PhD will earn you between 33 and 35 points, based on the subject.
  • Knowledge of the Korean language: Proficiency in the Korean language is classified into six levels, which can be ascertained by taking the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK). A candidate earns a total of 20 points for reaching the highest level, while the lowest level is only worth 10 points.
  • The social integration program: The Korean Immigration and Integration Program (KIIP), which is often regarded to be one of the simpler ways to earn extra points, is a free education scheme that assists expats in learning the language and adjusting to the Korean way of life. The number of program levels that you have successfully completed determines how many points you receive. You can earn a maximum of 28 points for your effort.
  • You can gain an extra one to five points by completing volunteer work, studying in Korea, or working professionally outside of Korea. These activities can be combined to earn bonus points. And even though it might seem inconsequential, every point does count, as there have been instances where applications fell through for missing a point of the required minimum.

How can I get an F-2-99 visa?

Due to the absence of a point-based rating structure, the requirements for this visa are not nearly as stringent as those for the F-2-7. The length of time you have been present in South Korea is the primary requirement.

  • Individuals who hold visas classified as D-1, D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8, or D-9, E-6-1, E-6-3, F-1, or F-3 are required to maintain a continuous stay in the country for at least seven years.
  • Those who are granted an E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, or E-7 visa are required to remain continuously in the country for at least five years.

If you want your stay to be considered continuous, you can’t be out of South Korea for over a month at a time. Additional criteria that you need to fulfill include the following:

  • You need to have a good reputation, meaning law-abiding, no criminal record, with enough income, etc.
  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • The total value of your family’s savings, whether in cash or real estate, must be greater than 30 million KRW (24,259.68 USD).
  • Your income from the prior year needs to have been greater than the nation’s Gross National Income per capita.
  • You must have finished the KIIP level 2

The F-6 marriage visa is another common route that many people take in order to obtain permanent residence in South Korea.

In spite of this, the only way to be able to remain in South Korea for an indefinite period is to possess a permanent residence or F-5 visa.

Visa Requirements for Australian, British, and American Retirees

Without a visa, you can visit South Korea for up to 90 days. Then, as described above, you must apply for an alien registration card.

However, before you are allowed to enter the country, you are mandated by the South Korean government to obtain a K-ETA (Korea Electronic Travel Authorization). This rule has been effective from Sept. 1, 2021. If you are in possession of a valid visa, you are exempt from having to obtain a K-ETA.

What are the best places to retire to in South Korea?

Gyeongju

Gyeongju is a wonderful place to retire in South Korea, and it is home to some of the most stunning temples that can be found anywhere in the country. Since the city served as the capital at one point in Korean history, numerous artifacts dating back to that era can be found preserved and displayed in various locations throughout the city. If you are interested in the history of the area or the culture of the people who live there, you can also go to one of the city’s temples.

Gyeongju is not only a beautiful city to look at, but it also provides its residents with numerous amenities that make life more comfortable for those who wish to retire in South Korea. These amenities include easy access to public transit and grocery stores, as well as installed air conditioning units in apartments.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Gyeongju for about 1.7 million KRW per month and for roughly 673,289 KRW outside of that area.

Jeju City

Jeju City is widely recognized as one of the most desirable vacation spots across the entirety of Asia. The city has a population of roughly 360,000 as of 2023. It is an excellent location to retire in South Korea if you want to have access to both the bustling life of a large city and the natural beauty that surrounds you.

This island is not only recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO, but it also attracts tourists from all over the world. As soon as you step foot in its airport, it is nearly impossible not to be taken aback by the stunning natural scenery that surrounds you.

There are a lot of things that you can enjoy in Jeju City, such as hiking pathways surrounded with pines, surfing, snorkeling, as well as visiting volcanic peaks and historical locations, such as Haeinsa Temple and Gwacheon Castle.

You can rent a one-bedroom and three-bedroom apartment for 650,000 KRW and for 1 million KRW per month, respectively, within the central part of Jeju City.

Busan

retire in south korea busan
Fish market in Busan, South Korea. Image by Markus Winkler

Busan, located on the southern coast of Korea, is a very pretty city with a robust economy. Because it has so much to offer in terms of history and culture, it is very well visited by tourists. It is one of the oldest cities in all of Korea.

More than 3.5 million people call Busan their home in 2023, making it one of the most populous cities in South Korea.

Busan is home to a large number of beautiful beaches, making it one of the city’s many draws. In addition, it is the location of a number of historical sites, such as the Beomeosa Temple and the Dongnaeeupseong Fortress.You can enjoy local specialties such as raw fish and marinated beef if you choose Busan for when you retire in South Korea.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Busan for 556,370 KRW per month and for about 424,286 KRW outside of that area.

Daegu

Daegu can be a suitable place for when you retire in South Korea. The Daegu Arboretum is a stunning park and garden that can be found in the city of Daegu. In addition to that, it is home to a variety of museums such as the Daegu Art Museum, the Daegu National Museum, and The Arc.

The city of Daegu is located in the southern part of South Korea, and it is famous for the natural hot springs and lovely river that can be found there. If you are interested in sports, it also has a lot to offer you because it has a large number of golf courses and other types of sporting facilities.

Additionally, the city is well-known for its shopping and entertainment hubs. There is a large array of places to eat in Daegu as well, ranging from casual eateries to establishments that specialize in haute cuisine.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Daegu for 462,500 KRW per month and for 287,500 KRW outside of that area.

Jeonju

Jeonju is a city located in South Korea and serves as the capital of the province known as North Jeolla in the South-West region. The city has a population of more than 650,000 as of 2023.

The majority of Jeonju’s economy is based on agriculture, and the city is home to a large number of farmers who cultivate rice paddies. Aside from this, the city is home to some of the largest factories in all of Korea, including Hyundai Motor.

The city is well-known for its cuisine as well as its cultural heritage, which includes the traditional tea ceremony that is practiced in Korea.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Jeonju for 387,500 KRW per month and for 272,500 KRW outside of that area.

Andong

South Korea’s Gyeongsangbuk-do province is home to the city of Andong. It is well known for its traditional culture, in particular its cuisine and folk art. It is the location of a significant number of historical sites and monuments.

Andong is a beautiful city that offers a diverse range of attractions and experiences for its visitors and for those who wish to retire in South Korea, from trying local delicacies to taking part in the traditional dances of the region. Andong offers beautiful nature too.

The city is famous for being the place where soju was first created and is home to traditional Korean wooden masks. These masks are worn during certain types of performances.

You will have the opportunity to enjoy a slow-pace life during your retirement years with friends and family who live in close proximity to the city. 

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Andong for 350,000 KRW per month and for 300,000 KRW outside of that area.

Other places to consider as you retire in South Korea

Seoul

The city of Seoul serves as the capital of South Korea. You’ll find the highest number of people living abroad in this region of the country. Although there is a low rate of violent crime on the streets, there is a high concentration of tourists, so you should be on the lookout for pickpockets.

The city of Seoul is home to a dizzying number of museums, restaurants, and bars and clubs. Additionally, it is a major shopping center for people all over the world. If you want to retire in South Korea and consider yourself a shopaholic, this can be the perfect place for you.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Seoul for 996,673 KRW per month and for 759,132 KRW outside of that area.

Cheonan

In addition to being home to a number of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions, this city is also a major center for the tech sector.

It is possible to take the subway from Cheonan to Seoul. Cheonan is lively, and it provides each and every modern convenience. However, it also gives you the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of Seoul if you want somewhere quieter when you retire in South Korea.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Cheonan for 600,000 KRW per month and for 400,000 KRW outside of that area.

Incheon

The city of Incheon is located adjacent to Seoul. In spite of this, Incheon has its own distinct vibe. It features a golf course, a casino, and a sizable fish market that is open to the public and accommodates many tours. Incheon serves as a gateway to a number of islands and beaches in the surrounding area.

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment within the central part of Incheon for 550,000 KRW per month and for 350,000 KRW outside of that area.

Geoje Island

In the waters off the southern coast of South Korea is where you’ll find Geoje Island. Mountainous terrain, secluded coves, and coastal areas are all accessible via this island of Geoje City.

You’ll have a great time adventuring on the smaller islands that are close by as you retire in South Korea, and it will feel like you’ve somehow gotten away from everything. On the other hand, the bridges that connect the island to the mainland allow you to easily reach Busan by public transportation.

How to retire in South Korea: Bottom Line

South Korea is an interesting and vibrant country to call home, despite the fact that it is not the easiest country to retire in. You’ll meet other expats, make new friends, and have a lot of new adventures if you retire in South Korea.

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 583.2 million answers views on Quora.com and a widely sold book on Amazon and a contributor on Forbes.

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