[Life in Korea] Working in Korea? Studying abroad in Korea? Packing list (mainly health supplies)

It's about that time of year when exchange students start coming to Korea.
So, I decided to write a list of some packing tips I have (combined with suggestions from my friends who also studied abroad in Korea).

The most important question these days is HOW DO I GET A PHONE?

I would recommend doing this if you want a phone RIGHT away when you touchdown in Korea. You don't need to have an Alien Registration Card or bank account set up to get these SIM cards for your phone.
You will need to have an unlocked phone, but if your phone from your home country is not unlocked, I gave you a third option - the portable WiFi egg.
Since it's the airport, you'll also likely be able to encounter an English speaker at the counter. This will definitely reduce your stress right when you arrive in your new country.

1. Unlimited SIM Card (5 to 60 days) + Prepaid TMoney Card
This SIM card is able to be picked up at the airport (Incheon or Gimpo or Busan Gimhae Airports), so you can have access right away when you arrive. It also comes with a prepaid T-Money card.
This is LG U+. From my probably outdated experience living in Korea, LG U+ works fine if you're in urban areas, but it is a little hit and miss in more rural areas.

2. Prepaid 4G/LTE Sim Card: Unlimited Data+Voice call+SMS (5/7/10/15/30 days)
This is available for pickup from Incheon Terminal 1 only. This comes with 100 minutes of voice calls and 100 text messages.

3. Korea Portable Wifi (T mifi) Rental (Pick up from Seoul & Busan)
It is a good option if you are going to be traveling around and may have multiple devices.
This may be important, too, if your apartment or dorm doesn't have internet or WiFi right away. I've been lucky that my apartments have all come with internet already set up, but I know that some other friends have had to set up their own internet and sign contracts, etc.
Pickup available in Incheon Airport, Gimpo Airport, Myeongdong, Gimhae Airport, Jeju Airport, and the Jeju ferry terminal.

School year information:

The school year is a little different in Korean universities than America. This post will be written from (mainly) an American perspective.
Students have a very long winter break.

Typical schedule:
Summer school: Late June through August
Fall semester: September through mid-December
Spring semester: March through late June

Just leave a comment if you have a question about if you should pack something or not. Or, if you don't want to post publicly, send me an email and I'll try my best to give you a well-informed opinion.

First time in Korea? Check out these links :) There is a prepaid SIM card option for you as you are waiting for your alien registration card (ARC) to come in the mail. You can also get an extended stay SIM card from the same website!

I studied at Yonsei University (in Seoul) and Kyunghee University (International campus in Suwon/Yongin) as an exchange student, so most of my (and my friends') experiences are rather Seoul-centric. If you're going to a less urban campus, you will probably need to pack more comfort items as it is more difficult to find certain items outside the major metropolitan area.

I'm also female, so I have added some male tips, but I don't have first-hand knowledge of what is needed, sorry! If you have any tips for male study abroad students, please comment below!

Also, I'm American, so a lot of these tips are rather American-centric. Sorry!

Apart from the normal stuff you bring on trips, I will give some tips about stuff I didn't think about my first trip.

Keep in mind that Korea does have all four seasons!
That being said, Korea is also a shopping paradise (see this link for my shopping guide) and I'm sure you won't be able to resist shopping.
However, many Korean clothes are "one size," so if your body proportions are bigger or smaller than the average Korean size, you will probably want to pack a little differently, since shopping may be a little difficult.

Pants are the bane of my existence. For me, I am usually able to find some okay pants in Korea, but that's because I have short legs.
If you have longer legs, it may be difficult to find pants here. However, there are H&M and Forever21 stores everywhere and plenty of American brands like Gap, Guess and Levis in many of the shopping malls and department stores, but they usually don't stock sizes larger than a 8 or 10. Also, the prices are a lot higher at these sorts of stores than you'll be used to back home. I still remember when I tried to replace my grandpa cardigan at the Gap and the price for the same exact sweater I was wearing was 150,000 KRW. But, you are able to find sales that will bring the prices down to about the typical American price.

For ladies over about a US size 8, you probably want to bring more clothes than ladies around a size 2. I have noticed that a lot of stores don't really stock over a size 10, or if they do, they stock a very small amount of product.

Also, if you are a little more busty, you may want to make sure you bring plenty of bras. There are a few brands here that do stock for bigger chests (typically the Japanese brands like Aimer Feel), but if you are not in Seoul, sometimes they're hard to find.

One tip for ladies! It's strange in Korea, but you can have really really short shorts where basically everything is hanging out, but if you show any chest below your collar bone or wear spaghetti or tank tops in public, it's a no-go. You'll get crude comments and disapproving glares, especially from the older folks. It's just a part of the culture and, in my opinion, you should probably just roll your eyes internally and abide by the culture by not really wearing spaghetti straps in public since you're there to learn about the Korean culture.

I, personally, cannot buy shoes in the United States, so I don't really bring many shoes with me to Korea and try to buy them here. However, the Korean foot size is increasing somewhat rapidly and it's starting to become difficult to find my size here (American size=2.5~3; Korean size=220~225). 

On the other end of the spectrum, it's quite difficult to find shoes for girls if your American shoe size is about 8.5 or larger.

For men, I have heard it is quite difficult to find shoes that are bigger than a size 11 or so, especially if you are not located in Seoul! So, definitely pack your own shoes! Otherwise, sometimes the only options are some very unfashionable shoes you can find in the "big man" stores in Itaewon.

Health: (This advice is moot if you have a friend with/get a Costco Korea membership)

Toothpaste!! My dentist was so upset with me when I came back from living in Korea for a year and using Korean toothpaste! Korean toothpaste usually has no fluoride. It is changing slowly, but if you have weak enamel, definitely bring your own toothpaste. If you have a particular brand/flavor you like, bring it! I've heard from many of my Korean friends that they don't care for American toothpaste because it's "too spicy" or "too foamy" for them.

If you have a specific toothbrush bristle type or head size, make sure to pack enough! One of my friends is very partial to Oral B toothbrushes and didn't realize they didn't sell them here. You can sometimes find them at some of the stores.

Dental Floss:
One of my friends' mom swears by Johnson & Johnson dental floss, so I picked some up for her when I went to NYC since it's not available in Seoul.

Whitening Strips:
If you're into whitening strips or you don't want to pack your normal whitening toothpaste because it's too heavy, definitely consider packing a couple of whitening strips in your luggage. You can find some whitening strips in the Korean stores, but they're a Korean brand and I found them to be not as effective as Western brands.

Korea has just started stocking deodorant, but it's not totally reliably available (especially if you live outside of Seoul). The stores oddly stock "Teen Spirit" deodorant, my guess is because of the fruity scents. There are also some spray deodorants now.

Deodorant is also pretty expensive here since not many people use it and the brands are quite limited. None of the brands are the clinical strength deodorant, so if you use those, bring them.

Feminine Hygiene:
For ladies, if you use tampons, make sure you pack these! It's very difficult to find tampons in Seoul. When you do, they are usually teeny boxes of like 6 and are pretty expensive because Koreans typically only use tampons for swimming or something like that.

If you use pads, Korean brands are quite good. My friend swears by the natural cotton one. I'll have to check on the brand name and maybe upload a picture here for you to help you shop.

UPDATE 2018: There was a big issue with Korean brand pads in 2017. All of the Korean brands were recalled because of some toxic substances being used in the adhesives. So, definitely be careful and check ingredients.

Korea does have a ton of options for sunscreen,
I don't have sensitive skin, but even I have difficulties with most of the brands I have tried here. I break out in crazy rashes...it's terrible.
Many of my Korean friends even buy American sunscreen online and warn me to never buy Korean brands.

EDIT 2018: I have found some decent Korean sunscreens. Link here for past post about Nature Republic sunblock

Bug Spray:
If you're prone to mosquito bites, Korean summer may be hell for you. Pack some mosquito repellent if you have a specific brand you swear by. There are some Korean alternatives, but they haven't helped me as much as my trusty Off! I have been able to find Off! here, but it's pretty expensive for one bottle.

The Korean way is to plug in mosquito poison into the wall sockets. I, personally am not sure it's really that safe for humans. It is effective though. I always wake up to a mosquito graveyard on my floors overnight.

I am super allergic to mosquitoes, especially Korean ones. As in, it looks like I have gotten attacked by people with bats, my welts get huge and then turn purple. I was taken to the hospital one time because no one believed me that I was just having a reaction to the mosquito bites. I always spray myself before bed in the summer and also sweat my butt off because I wear long sleeves and long pants to sleep in the summer.

Semi-related to bug spray. I am SUPER allergic to Korean mosquitoes and it's terrible when I forget to bring my cortisone/anti-itch cream with me. I have tried to ask at the pharmacy for cortisone, but the pharmacists tell me they can't give it to me and, instead, give me either a cooling rollerball stick or else Tiger Balm. The cooling rollerball stick is nice for very temporary relief, but it doesn't really help with the long-term swelling and itchiness.

Vitamins are famously expensive in Korea. So much that usually my Korean American friends bring back vitamins for their families when they visit.
Since your diet will likely change a bit when you come, you might just want to bring some vitamins, just to make sure you're getting proper amount of vitamins and minerals.

EDIT 2018: Vitamins are becoming more readily available, even some of the foreign brands. If you have a particular brand you really rely on, you may want to for sure bring it with you.

Melatonin is actually not legal to sell in Korea. However, you can bring it into the country. So, if you are planning on traveling a lot, definitely pack some.

If you have issues with jetlag when you travel internationally, 100% pack enough for the first few nights if melatonin works for you. (It doesn't work for me, but I know some people swear by it.)

If you're lactose-intolerant/lactose-sensitive, you'll definitely want to pack enough of these pills! Even though many Koreans can't handle lactose, many pharmacies do not stock these pills/don't know what it is.
My friend and I went to about 20 pharmacies looking for them and every time we asked, we were handed probiotics.

This brings me to probiotics! They're kind of expensive everywhere, but in Korea they're crazy expensive. Maybe 100,000 KRW for like 10 capsules.
If you rely on probiotics, make sure you bring some with you.

Pain pills:
Korean pharmacies are very different from American ones.
If you are prone to muscle pain or headaches, make sure you pack your own ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc. You can get it here, but they'll come in packs of 10 or something and be expensive.

Allergy medicine:
I have crazy allergies, so Benedryl is definitely something I need to get through spring.
It's not really available here in cost effective forms, so I always make sure to pack it when I come.

Cold pills:
You an buy some typical cold medicine here, but some of it that is OTC in the US is available by prescription here.
I usually bring some Sudafed, Nyquil, etc. just in case because I react extremely poorly to Korean medicine (many of the ones I have been given at pharmacies have herbal ingredients in them that are no bueno for me).

It is relatively easy to get prescriptions in Korea, just make sure everything is current and talk to your health clinic at school.
Also, you don't need a prescription for birth control pills in Korea, but your brand may not be available, so talk with your regular physician before coming to figure out some viable alternatives. You can definitely talk to a GYN here and find an option, but if you have your particular brand you like, you should ask your doctor from home to recommend options that have the same hormones just in case the particular brand you use isn't available in Korea. In Korea, you can just walk to any pharmacy and ask for some birth control pills and they will give you one month's supply (you can ask for more than one package if you don't want to be bothered going back all the time). These are all out of pocket, so sometimes the prices will vary depending on the pharmacy and I was also able to negotiate the prices from time to time.

If you have glasses or contacts, you should bring a current prescription.
Korean eyeglasses stores do have very nice style frames and great prices! Luckily, if you have a smaller or Asian face, the eyeglasses here will likely fit your face better.
If your glasses are your current prescription, don't fret. The store will just measure them and make your new glasses based off that prescription.
For contacts, Korean stores may not have your brand, especially if you wear monthly lenses. So, talk to your eye doctor about alternatives, too. Additionally, in Korea, contact lenses are really expensive! My particular brand I can buy online for usually 30 USD is at least 50-60 per box depending on the store (since they're not covered by insurance, the individual stores can set their own price).

You do not need to pack contact solution! Korean stores carry most of the big name lens solutions (ie. Renu, BioTrue, Opti Free, Boston, AO Sept, etc).

I'm a junk food addict, so this is what I pack a lot of, usually.

Microwave popcorn - Hard to find here

Coffee - I always pack a French press and ground coffee when I come (although Korea has tons of cafes, I like drinking coffee at home in the morning before work). You can buy some brands of coffee here, but if you have a specific brand you like, you might want to pack a little just for comfort food.

Many of my Scandinavian friends pack packages of hard bread, just as a comfort food. Many of my European friends also pack chocolates.

Some of my American friends always pack things like Hot Cheetos, Chester's hot fries (not sure what those are actually), Mac and Cheese (2018 update: sometimes available in stores), and other salty snacks.

Cheese - It's technically not allowed to bring into Korea, but I know many people who bring cheese with them from Europe and just risk it at customs.

Basically, just pack any comfort food!

First time in Korea? Check out these links :) 

There is a prepaid SIM card option for you as you are waiting for your alien registration card (ARC) to come in the mail. You can also get an extended stay SIM card from the same website!
  1. Buy your SIM card: Prepaid 4G/LTE Sim Card: Unlimited Data+Voice call+SMS (5/7/10/15/30 days)
  2. Get a great view of Seoul: Discount Seoul City Tour Bus Ticket
  3. Great Korean (traditional and modern) culture and cooking classes.
*FTC Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through the links provided and make a purchase.*


  1. Thank you for the post! I am planning to go to Kyunghee University by this March. Unfortunately I will study in Seoul Campus, I guess. But I would like to ask your experience in Global Campus as well regarding living there lol
    Now, the question! What are the things you wish you didn't bring from States?
    Where do you live in your stay in Kyunghee? Dormitory? Are students allowed to cook or do we need to eat out in dormitory? What kind of shoes did you pack and is there any particular shoes that you have not worn yet since your stay in South Korea?
    What are you majoring, by the way?

    1. Thank you for your comment!
      My Kyunghee experience was probably a little non-traditional. I received a scholarship from the US Government, so everything was kind of provided. We lived in the dorm and I believe there was a public kitchen in the basement, but my friends and I basically ate out all the time. You can't have a hot plate or anything in your room (as is the case in dormitories all around the world), but each floor has a water cooler, so you can make cup ramyun or the like. Additionally, student cafeterias are about 3-4,000 KRW per meal, so it's not a hardship.
      I overpacked clothes that time. It was my first time in Korea, so I didn't know how accessible the clothes would be (I'm Korean and of average Korean size).
      I have to buy my shoes here because I can't buy shoes in the US.
      My major is irrelevant at this point, I am kind of old...haha

      I used to work kind of near the Kyunghee Seoul Campus a few years ago while I was in grad school at Columbia. Let me just say that it's OUT THERE. Since I went to only Yonsei and SNU, which are far more central, I have only been to Kyunghee Seoul campus like one time. That being said, it's kind of nearby HUFS and Korea University, but yeah, Yonsei and SNU people don't really get over to that side of town because it's so far away.

      Have fun! Keep reading the blog! I have been updating a lot more recently with new content :)
      I also just created a Facebook page, so please like the page (www.facebook.com/eatstretchexplore) and follow the blog on instagram (www.instagram.com/eatstretchexplore)

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