Six months from receiving orders from the army to move my brother-in-law traveled to Korea ahead of his family to find an apartment. The whole process took him about a month.
Every military post has a housing office available to help soldiers find suitable accommodations and assure their landlords treat them properly. His first step was to find a real estate agent that the army approves of. He found his agent through referral from a friend.
In Korea just about anything can be negotiated into the cost of rent. My brother-in-law requested to include internet, 4 transformers to plug in US electronics, and a water dispenser. Since electricity is expensive most of the apartment lacks air conditioning. After reaching an agreement with the landlord the real estate agent had to negotiate it with the housing authority for approval, only after that could the lease be signed off.
My sister’s family has to pay their rent in cash each month. The stack of bills needed to do this is taller than a paper back novel!
Aside from my sister and her husband, moving from the states for three years were their three kids aged from middle school to high school. The family had to put about 90% of their stuff in storage. To assure they didn’t bring too much and non-essentials stayed in the states my sister made a parental decision of what the kids could bring, naturally the kids snuck a few things past her.
Life in Korea is quite different from the suburban areas of the US, in which most of their army life has been spent. In an urban setting they have no need for a car. My sister goes to the commissary every day for groceries and household items. They buy their eggs from an egg store across the street. A carton of 30 eggs costs about 4,000 Won (approx. $4). Bread from the bakery is 2,500 Won and every 11th loaf is 50 Won. The merchants would rather give a discount than deal with coins, so paper money is used most of the time. Since food is only available seasonally the quality is high. Produce vendors come to the apartment complex once a week with fresh fruits and vegetables for sale.
One of the most pleasant surprises my sister has found in living in Korea is the shopping and custom-made clothes, because they are very affordable. For example we learned that one can design with the tailor a cashmere jacket lined with silk for $260. If the same jacket were custom made of the same fabric and quality by an Italian designer it could easily cost $5,000!
My sister has taken a liking to bringing a picture of a garment from a magazine and having a similar item made for her. She has a pair of Prada inspired shoes of high quality leather designed just for her foot that only cost $80! She can also visit the fabric market at Dongdaemun to find all kinds of material for her projects.
Wifi can be found virtually everywhere in Seoul, even in the subway. Subway riders look out for each other. They strictly enforce the Priority Seating among each other so those riders who need it the most always have a place to sit. Kids receive special attention from every one. Older women will often congregate around a baby to help the mother and share advice. My sister has no problem allowing her children to take the train home after an activity even later at night, She knows that no one will mess with them. There is nothing for parents to worry about.
All in all this seems to be a great experience for my sister and her family. They are learning to live an urban lifestyle, the kids are learning about a culture that is very different from the suburbs of the United States, one of them is learning the language, and another has even run into a few classmates who have also transferred to Korea, and they are all enjoying a familial experience unlike anything most of us have stateside.