5 Tips for Making it to Your First Paycheck

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Your First Month’s Finances

pig on hand

You read all about the great money you can making teaching in Korea. But you arrive only to find yourself scraping the bottom of your savings account (and countless bowls of ramen) during your first month. But why this ironic dilemma? South Korean employers pay only once per month–usually on the 10th. To make matters worse, they usually won’t give you a partial paycheck if you start work before the 10th; rather, they’ll roll it into your next month’s pay. Add to this the time it takes to register for an Alien Registration Card and bank account, and you’re looking at about a month and a half from when you arrive in Korea to when you first get paid!

This is why most people recommend bringing at least $1,000 to get you through to that first sweet direct deposit. But if you’re anything like us, you’ll arrive in South Korea after months of unemployment with monthly bills to pay. As The Streets said, “A grand don’t come for free.” Here are a few of the ways we made it to payday our first year, as well as a couple of tips we wish we had known.

5 Tips for Saving Money in Korea

  1. Buy Used
  2. When you first move in to your empty, faceless apartment, fight the urge to furnish it with new, shiny stuff. Instead turn to the people who were in your position just a year or two ago and who now have to leave Korea in a hurry. What ever will they do with all of their year-old, barely-used stuff? Sell it to you, of course! Watch these websites like a hawk:
  3. Go “Curb Diving”
  4. “A Korean’s trash is expat’s treasure.” Korean’s have a cultural bias against used goods. So when they get a new tv or love seat, the old one goes out on the curb, no matter how gently used. Each city and district has a certain day they pick up oversized garbage, so keep an eye out for which day stuff starts to appear on the street and go treasure hunting. You will be amazed at the stuff you will find for free.
  5. Stay Away from Western-style Food
  6. As I mentioned in my post on saving money in Korea, the only way to really blow your budget on food is to eat like a Westerner. That may be difficult because, y’know, you probably are a Westerner and it will be your first month in a new country, but try to stay away from foreign restaurants and groceries like cheese, cereal, pasta sauce, etc. In other words, let you’re finances give you a little nudge into diving into Korean cuisine.
  7. Party at “Club FamilyMart”
  8. One of our favorite “only in Korea” phenomena is the culture of partying outside of convenience stories. When the weather permits, convenience stores such as the ubiquitous FamilyMart put out plastic tables to encourage people to buy alcohol and drink it there. It’s like a bar, but with grocery store prices!
  9. Do Free Things
  10. Most Korean cities offer an endless tableau of free events and attractions, especially for foreigners. Your first month is a great time to check out things like parks, cultural displays, and festivals that don’t carry a ticket price.


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