ESL South Korea

Packing for Korea

Yeah, I’m going to Korea!  But what to pack?  Read on for some solid advice from someone who knows what you should bring, and what you can leave.

I am one of those incredibly blessed people who managed to marry the only woman in the world who is a world champion at packing.  My wife has the ability to squeeze a truckload of furniture into a backpack and still have enough room left for a water bottle and snacks for the road.  If you are not as lucky as I am and have to pack your own suitcases, it’s good to know what you should bring to Korea, so that you don’t end up lugging seven suitcases and a birdcage halfway across the world, only to get the most quizzical of looks from your airport pickup.

Like anyone else, before coming to Korea, I asked the same questions:  What do I need to pack?, What’s impossible to get in Korea?  The answers came in a confusing disarray of mingled facts, most of which I found to be untrue within my first week in Korea:  You really DO get cereal in Korea.  No most of the people are not midgets, their clothes WILL fit you.  Koreans also use shampoo so I didn’t need to bring 14 bottles with me!

But this is still Asia and there are differences to the products they use and the way they use them.  I’m still amazed at how many foreigners are shocked when they walk in Lotte-Mart or E-Mart (Korean superstores) and are shocked to find that it’s nothing like Wall-Mart!  So here are some things you should consider packing.  These are products or conveniences you’ll be hard pressed to find in Korea.  So if you’re addicted to anything below, bring enough to last you a year:

Deodorant.  ‘Koreans don’t use deodorant‘, that’s what most people will tell you and it is true to a large extent, but is also changing.  Some big shopping marts and certain beauty shops will stock certain brands but they’re expensive and if you’ve got a specific brand you prefer it’s best to stock up and bring it with.  Note that pressurized containers like deodorant bottles should not be stored in your hand luggage or it will be confiscated.  Airlines require products like these to be packed in your check-in luggage.

Sheets/Pillowcase.  These are difficult to find, and you will likely not be able to find them outside a large city.  Your furnished housing usually does not include sheets, so bring your own.

Large sized towels.  Most Koreans use hand towels for drying and regular sized versions are hard to find and expensive, so bring your own.

Certain Western Foods.  You’ll probably have to get use to Asian food.  And I’m talking about real Asian food (not the chow mein shop down the road from your house).  While variations of different kinds of Western food can be found in restaurants and shopping marts, it usually tastes quite different than what you’re used to.  Food is difficult to transport, usually heavy and sometimes illegal, so if you’ve got something specific you want to bring with, do some research first.  Certain foods like honey and maple syrup is very expensive in Korea For a more in depth discussion about food in Korea.

Clothing.  It’s not true that Asian clothing is incompatible with Western bodies, in fact most of it sits quite comfortably.  You may however struggle to find big sized clothing since, while Koreans are not the midgets many believe them to be, they still generally have a smaller body structure.  This is especially true for woman’s clothes.  Bring a thick warm jacket for the freezing Korean winters

Shoes.  Western men and woman both usually struggle to find shoes that’ll fit and even the big shopping marts don’t stock the gigantic UK 11’s I need for my two flippers.  Be sure to bring enough shoes to last you a year.  It is possible to buy bigger sized shoes from the Internet if your know how to do it (i.e. can read Korean and use Korean websites).

Hygienic Products.  Certain brands of feminine products you won’t find in Korea.  Bring your own.

Medicine.  You will get sick in Korea, and most foreigners end up with a cold or something similar during their first couple of weeks, so bring enough of your own medicine to last you a while.

International Driving License.  This is quite easy to get and usually consists of nothing more than taking your driving license to a local Automobile Association office and filling in a form.  International Driving licenses are usually valid for one year.