So you’ve decided to come to Korea. Congratulations – you have just made an excellent decision! In preparation, you’ve probably asked yourself this one question over and over: “What to pack for Korea?”
Packing for Korea like this can seem like a daunting task, because if you forget to pack a crucial item you could be run into trouble while you’re away from home. However, with a bit of foresight and preparation, it will be a breeze! You’ll be thanking yourself for tackling this question beforehand.
You may be worried that you might forget to pack a one critical item for your trip, and you wouldn’t be alone in that concern amongst other travelers. After all, you may not be able to just run down to your local Wal-Mart or Target in Korea and pick up something you forgot, and if it’s an item you truly need, that could pose a serious issue. However, it’s unlikely that anything will be that hard to get. Most of the necessities are easily available for purchase, so even if you forget a charger or a wardrobe staple you should be able to replenish your supply quickly.
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Let’s go over what to pack for Korea to make your time abroad much more enjoyable. Enjoy your trip, and please let us know in the comments below if there are any items you think we’re missing from this list!
The shirt sizes in Korea go up to about a size “Large”. If you wear anything past that, you’ll probably want to pack some clothes from home – the average Korean citizen is typically smaller than the average citizen of many other countries, so clothing sizes don’t always match up. Korean and Asian sizes in general are a bit smaller to tailor to their general audiences.
This is especially true when it comes to shoes, because the average shoe size of residents in Asian countries are significantly smaller than the rest of the world. You can usually find men’s shoes up to 285mm (10.5 US) and women’s shoes up to 270 mm (10 US), but if your shoe size is larger than that, you should plan ahead. Shoes are very important in Korea since you will be walking A LOT, and you want to be comfortable so you don’t have to stop your day early.
Walking everywhere will wear out your shoes much faster than you are currently used to, so unless your walking shoes are very comfortable and are made for walking, you’ll be noticing the difference by the end of the trip. Pack comfortable shoes with thick soles so you don’t have to worry about this problem – your feet will thank you!
If you don’t pack enough clothing or shoes, fear not! You can always take a trip to one of the main shopping areas such as Myeong-dong. These shopping areas have many western branded clothing stores, and who doesn’t love a good shopping spree on vacation? This could possibly be one of the best places you can reliably find clothing that is stylish and fits properly, so be sure to check it out if you need to augment your wardrobe while you’re abroad. There’s a number of great places to shop in Seoul so you’re not out of luck if you forgot your favorite top.
If you’re a plus size in undergarments, make sure to pack those in your suitcase as well, for the same reasons listed above – Korean citizens on average are physically smaller than citizens of most other countries, so not all sizes can be found. Plan ahead to make sure you’re well-stocked and comfortable.
Something that became very obvious shortly after I arrived in Korea is that it truly has all four seasons – a true winter, spring, summer, and fall. If you’re from an area of the world where t-shirts all year round are the norm because the temperature never drops below “Comfortably warm”, then you might quickly realize that you need to do some clothes shopping to introduce some sweaters into your wardrobe.
If you wear a size that would be hard to find in Korea, consider packing some thermals or warmer layers to keep you cozy in the Korean winters so you’re not spending your days in Korea sad that you can’t spend more time outside without freezing
As far as toiletries go, Korea is very reliable when it comes to accessibility of toiletries – if you need it, they’ll have it. Unless you have an affinity for particular brands, most things you can get here very easily if you simply need to pick up a new bottle of shampoo or a new tube of toothpaste.
However, I would highly recommend bringing deodorant. It’s not as widely used as it is in other areas of the world, so you’ll usually have to buy it at international stores where it can be pricey. If purchasing a stick of deodorant for a price 2-3x more than you’re used to isn’t on your vacation agenda, then be sure to pack it in your bag!
If you frequently use bobby pins and hair ties in your day-to-day hairstyles, bring these items with you. They’re not difficult to find in Korea but the cost can add up if you don’t come equipped with everything you need to feel comfortable.
If you have love for makeup, then you’ll be thrilled to find out that Korea is one of the cosmetic capitals of the world – there’s always a new and exciting purchase to be made. Almost anything you desire in this department will be readily available, so if there’s a specific product that’s been hard to find in your hometown, check out the local Korean cosmetic markets and you very well may find it. It will help immensely if you learn the vocabulary of what you’re looking for and how to read it in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. If you can’t read Hangul it is possible to learn Hangul in just ninety minutes, so what are you waiting for?
As a bonus, there will likely be many products that you have never seen or heard of before, so you’ll return home with a bunch of novelties. It could be a fun adventure, and an excuse to buy a bunch of souvenirs for your nearest and dearest!
If you’re a fan of weekend trips and you can see yourself taking a couple of days to explore different parts of the country, be sure to pack a backpack. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to bring a full suitcase for an overnight stay that only requires you to bring a change of clothes and your toothbrush.
Look for a backpack that can be rolled up and stowed without taking up a ton of space in your suitcase for when you eventually pack to return home. Or, alternatively, you can use your backpack as a carry-on bag to bring souvenirs back to your friends and family!
If you’re big on books, you might want to consider picking up an e-reader before you head over to Korea. Even though many people still love looking at physical books, the space-saving feature and convenience of a digital device can make your stay a lot more comfortable. More likely than not, your flight will be a long one and you’ll be grateful that you have a variety of books to choose from without packing multiple physical books.
If you absolutely must have physical books, you’re in luck! Books in English are very easily attainable in Korea. One popular place to order books no matter where you are in Korea is What The Book. You’ll probably want to buy them while you’re here since packing books is not a good use of space in your two free checked airline bags.
Fear not – if you find a book you must have while you’re in Korea and you simply have no room in your checked baggage on the way back, you always have the option of mailing it to yourself back home to save space while you’re packing to return home.
Speaking of space, most living arrangements in Korea are quite small. Stacking up books in the corner is just not the best use of that space. With many long subway and train commutes in your near future having something to read is very important.
If you’re planning to use your mobile phone while you are in Korea, make sure it is unlocked. That way you can pop a new SIM card in and be able to use it while you’re here without going through the hassle of acquiring a new, SIM card friendly phone. If you have to have the latest and greatest phone, you might find cellphones to be cheaper in your home country than Korea. All of the major brands are available, but the prices are often higher and require a two-year contract.
Also, don’t forget to pack outlet adapters since Korea uses 220V outlets. Most modern electronics like laptops or cellphones will not require an electricity converter. Make sure you read the specs on your devices, but usually a simple prong adapter will do the trick. Be careful though, as many expats have been in for a surprise with their hair dryers and toaster ovens! Sparks and smoke can be a startling way to start off the morning, especially when you’re on vacation enjoying a new country.
While you’re in Korea, you’re going to be spending time in a beautiful country with photo opportunities everywhere you look. Whether you enjoy taking pictures of natural landscapes, interesting people, or cityscapes, Korea has something for you!
If you’re a photography enthusiast, carefully consider what you’d like to bring with you on your trip. A lot of camera equipment is bulky, heavy, and extremely expensive, so unless it’s insured and you really can’t live without it, think twice.
Point and shoot cameras are better to pack than large dSLR cameras, because they’re compact and can be safely stowed in a small fabric case rather than a large, over-the-shoulder camera bag. If you’re bringing a cell phone with you with a good camera, you can also take photos on your phone without having to bother bringing a separate camera.
Most importantly, don’t bring anything that is insanely expensive or that you’d hate to see damaged – traveling is tough on camera equipment and luggage can get lost, so set yourself up for success and pack accordingly. You’ll thank yourself later when you have beautiful photos to show off from your trip!
On that note, if you have a compact laptop that isn’t heavy and isn’t bulky, consider bringing it with you on your trip. Your laptop will allow you to upload photos as you go through your trip to keep your friends and family posted on social media, but it will also let you stay up to date on current events, paying bills while you’re gone, etc.
That doesn’t mean you should spend your whole vacation on your laptop, of course – it’s just nice to have a way to get in touch and stay up to date if you need to. If you don’t have a laptop that you’d feel comfortable bringing with you, there are also computer cafes you can use to keep in touch with the rest of the world through news and social media.
Reminders of Home
As with any long-term trip you have to remember to pack things that will remind you of home. Having pictures of friends and family to decorate your apartment are very important. These will take up barely any room in your suitcase and you will be extremely happy you brought them.
To keep from getting homesick, consider picking up some fun postcards to send back to your friends and family back home. Depending on how long your trip to Korea is, it’s a fun way to keep in touch and keep your loved ones up to date on the exciting new things you’re experiencing abroad.
Something that might not come quickly to mind is spices or nonperishable foods. Spices and seasonings from your home country will likely not be readily available here in Korea, especially if they’re obscure. This is something that can add flavor to your home cooked meals when you are trying to save money and give you a little reminder of home while you eat.
If you have any must-have non-perishables or spices that you cook with on a regular basis, try to make room for them in your baggage. Thankfully, sites like iHerb are making it really easy to have a variety of spices and cooking items shipped internationally at reasonable prices.
Cheese lovers, don’t get your hopes up. Korea is not big on cheese variety, so most of what you’ll see is processed single-wrapped slices. Thankfully, Costco has come to the rescue with massive selections of cheeses from all over the world, so if you’re looking for some brie or some bleu cheese head over to Costco before you go anywhere else.
If you have any kind of prescription, bring as much of it as you can – better safe than sorry! Depending on what it is, it might not be available at all here in Korea, and you don’t want to have to spend your time abroad hunting down a prescription medication instead of exploring and sightseeing. However, the medical system in Korea is quite advanced, so it’s likely you will be able to get you a Korean equivalent of what you need if you did not pack enough, so fear not.
If you catch a cold while you are here, you’ll be able to get all of the common types of over the counter medicine that you’d be used to in your home country. Most pharmacists speak at least a little bit of English, so you should be able to get what you need.
There are pharmacies on every corner, so locating one will be easy. The packaging may look a little bit different than what you’re used to, but the relief you’ll feel from taking anti-cold medication will be very familiar if you’re not feeling well.
Most of what you need to familiarize yourself with Korea is available on the Internet and is only a few clicks of a mouse away. You may want to brush up on your Korean before you get here, or at least learn a few of the basic phrases to make conversation easier. The Korean alphabet can be learned in about one hour, so you’ll get it down in no time!
One of the major complaints that expats have about products in Korea is in relation to sheets and pillowcases. The bedding quality here is different than in many other countries, and it can take some getting used to. Buying nice sheets can be expensive at department stores in Korea. Towels also fall into this category, so if you’re looking for a fluffy towel be prepared to pay more than you would back home.
Thankfully, stores like the Arrival Store make it easy to get quality bath and bedding delivered to your apartment in Korea. It’s probably not the best use of your luggage space to bring a set of queen size sheets with you. However, figure out what your priorities are and make your decision from there – there’s nothing wrong with needing to be your own version of comfortable in order to fall asleep!
When you’re out shopping at supermarkets in Korea, almost every grocery store charges extra for a bag (it won’t break the bank but it will add up). Also, trash bags need to be purchased. The small ones will cost around 200 won ($0.20 cents), while the larger ones can cost over 1,000 won ($1.00) each. When possible, track down a reusable grocery bag to bring with you on shopping trips – it’s better for the environment, and you’ll be saving money as well!
As you can see packing for Korea may be a bit different than the trips you’re used to taking, but it’s very manageable with a little bit of foresight. Thanks to the increasing availability of international goods all over the world, it’s becoming easier and easier to make Korea feel like your home away from home during your stay.
What items do you recommend packing for Korea? Be sure to let us know in the comments below if we’re missing anything!
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