In Korea, many people live in large high rise apartments. These building are huge often around 20 stories high and usually in complexes taking up entire city blocks or even several blocks. It really is something to see. The same thing can be seen all over Asia. Korea tends to have so many big apartment buildings because so much of the land is mountainous around 70% of the country. All the mountains are great for outdoor activities like hiking, but not so great for building houses.
Most ESL teachers in Korea live in studio or one bedroom apartments. These apartments tend to be smaller than typical Western-style apartments, but are spacious enough for one person to live comfortably. The entire apartment in one room with a bathroom, but we do not really count the bathroom as a second room. The apartment is around 23 to 33 square meters (250 to 350 sq.ft.). These are not the largest apartments in the world, but typically enough for one person. It can take an adjustment if you are used to sharing a two bedroom houses with a roommate or used to living alone in a larger western apartments. Fortunately, these apartments are in good condition and are very clean. Most of these apartments have modern, western-style bathroom facilities with a toilet, sink and shower. Bathtubs however are generally rare in single housing accommodation in Korea. Here's what an apartment might look like:
The bathrooms many times do not have a bath. Instead, there is a shower nozzles attached to the wall as you can see in the picture on the right. People take showers in the entire bathroom, thus, the pink plastic slippers. Even if you do not use the slippers while taking a shower they are a good investment; you can use them to go in and out of the bathroom after taking a shower to keep or socks from getting all wet. And you do not necessarily have to buy the pink ones, all the slippers work well regardless of the color.
While there are lots of tall apartment buildings around the country, many teachers find housing in a "villa" or an "office-tel." Villas typically come unfurnished, while office-tells come either with furnishings or without. Of course, furnished apartments tend to be more expensive. Rent for villas and office-tels range in price from approximately $500 per month up to $1200 per month on average. Keep in mind that the lower end of the range is for unfurnished villas, while the higher end of the range is for 2 or 3 bedroom apartments or furnished office-tels in downtown, Seoul.
Villas are typically four to five-story buildings. These buildings are located in the residential areas of the city and are more affordable due to the low maintenance costs. The owner usually lives in the building on the top floor and often plays the role of superintendent. This can be a good thing because they are always right there to help in case you have any troubles. Owners are not always close-by if you rent an office-tel or apartment. We have even given private English classes to our landlord's children so you might even make some of your rent money back teaching an hour or two a week upstairs.
Tall buildings that offer unit accommodation (alongside business or commercial space) are called "Office-tells." Office-tells are fairly new, which means they all come with modern features. Most of the suites in Office-tells have keyless entry and other neat conveniences, depending on the location. The costs however may be higher than those of a villa due to the building maintenance costs (approximately $50~$150 per month). One of the advantages of living in an Officetel is the close proximity to shops and services, which may sometimes be situated in the building itself. Office-tels often have lofts as well, which can be very cool because it gives you more living space. You can put your bed up on the loft and use the downstairs for a living area. In the villas you may be watching tv from your bed or desk.
Deposits are the huge cost of Korea apartment rentals. In our experience, deposits are between $5,000 and $10,000--a lot more money than we were accustom to. This is not always the case; sometimes you can find a place that will not require such a large deposit, but most do. This is another reason most schools provide housing in Korea; many ESL teachers do not have the $10,000 just sitting around. That said, many do save this much or more in their first year of teaching in Korea.
Korea like many parts of East Asia use rental agencies to find apartments. This means some more fees for finding an apartment. Sometimes you can negotiate to have the landlord pay some of these fees, but you had better be a really good negotiator or have a Korean-friend help you if you plan to be successful with negotiation.