By:  Alicia Trawick

Most expats spend their first year in Korea, living in an apartment, officetel or villa style housing that is provided by their school. Often times, public schools provide their teachers with apartments or officetels. An officetel is usually a studio-like apartment that is typically more modern and convenient but often very small. Most of the time they are found in high-rise buildings and generally appliances (microwave/washing machine/small fridge) are typically all built directly into the unit, similar to this:

When a teacher is provided housing by their school, the school usually only requires that the teacher pay for all utilities and these bills (gas/electricity) can range anywhere between 50,000-100,000 won depending on your lifestyle and the size of your home.

For those of you going the route of university or another program where the school will provide you with a housing allowance, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, the school will typically cover anywhere between 300,000-500,000 won of your monthly rent expenses and most of the time they will not provide key money, although there have been a few instances where I have noticed that the school provides key money in place of a housing allowance. So, what is “key money”?Key money is a refundable security deposit that is given to the landlord the day you move into your flat. The money is used at the end of your contract to cover any damage that you may have incurred throughout your stay. If no damage has occurred then you should receive the key money back in full at the end of your lease. The issue with key money is that it’s usually either 3,000,000 to 10,000,000 won (about $3,000-$10,000 USD) so it is quite a chunk of money that is due at the beginning of your lease and at times it can prevent you from getting the apartment that you want, if you do not have all of the money saved by the time you move in. (Note: if your school is providing you with housing this means that they have made the key money deposit and they will pay the monthly rent; you should only be responsible for utility bills.)

As I mentioned earlier there are typically three styles of housing in Korea (particularly in Seoul):

Officetel (this particular officetel is very modern)

Apartment (if the institution is providing the housing, then often times, they will furnish it as well)


As you can see villa style apartments are typically a bit older than officetels; however, villas are larger than officetels, so the decision is often between new versus old and cozy versus spacious. Each option has several pros and cons. A villa is often older so there’s a chance that electricity and gas will be less efficient, meaning you could be faced with paying more in utility bills. Villas are more spacious and often times have a balcony or veranda. Also they are only 1-4 stories high, so if you have a dog it’s definitely more convenient. Officetels are usually in high-rise buildings and they usually have an elevator because the buildings can tower as high as 30-35 stories. If you’re lucky enough to get a unit above the 10-15th story, you may have a nice view of the city.