***Post was written after 6 months living in Korea however I updated a few things after 2 years of living in Gwangju!***
It’s been 6 months since I moved to Gwangju, Korea and now a fresh new batch of EPIK teachers will be making their away across the world this upcoming February. Before moving here I youtubed every video, read every blog, reached out to every person I could trying to figure out what to pack. I always received mixed messages but overall got some pretty good tips. I thought it would be helpful to list a few tips I have for those that are heading over to Korea for the first time. Also keep in mind I live in Gwangju which is not touristy at all. If you live in Seoul I know that there are way more international items available for you on a regular basis. I apologize in advance as many of the things on this list are focused on packing for girls. I hope it helps!! 🙂
It’s tough to pack your life into a couple bags but you can do it! Fighting!!! (If you are moving to Korea, you will soon learn the term Fighting!!! It pretty much means “You can do it!”) So Fighting! Let’s start 🙂
If you are bigger than a size 8.5 it’s hard to find shoes. I am a size 9.5 and I have bought shoes in Korea from Zara, H&M and converse store. It’s possible but definitely harder to find. I’m glad I packed the 11 pairs of shoes I did. For reference I packed 2 pairs of leather boots, 2 TOMS, 1 pair of sandals (wish I would have packed more) 1 pair of tennis shoes (wish I would have brought one more pair) 2 pairs of flats, and 2 pairs of ankle booties. I wear them ALL and I feel like even after 6 months they are pretty worn in. I didn’t pack any heels except for one pair of heeled booties. In Gwangju it’s very rare to see anyone wearing heels. It’s more common in Seoul but I did pack heeled booties that I wear out at night to the bars or clubs. I don’t regret bringing heels as I wouldn’t have worn them here. We walk everywhere here so your shoes get worn in quickly. It’s amazing how fast my one pair of tennis shoes has been worn in. I play volleyball for both schools I teach at, and I also work out at a gym and I go hiking all in the same shoes- I definitely wish I would have packed another pair. I also highly recommend loafers. I think they are stylish and comfortable for everyday walking but that’s just my style preference 🙂
I made the biggest mistake and packed way too many clothes. First off – I am in love with Korean style so I have bought soooo many clothes from here. I have bought at least 15 coats (in two years) and a billion other clothing items because I think their style is incredible and I don’t even want to wear half the clothes I brought so keep that in mind. Their winter style is oversized turtle neck sweaters, oversized coats and skinny jeans or cute miniskirts with tights. I recommend bringing lots of tights too! I actually regret not bringing every mini skirt I own from back home. Now I have bought like 7 more since they are so comfy to teach in and wear around town. You can dress them up or down. So do yourself a favor and if you know you will shop here…pack less. I wish someone would have told me “If you have only worn this blouse once in the past year…DON’T bring it. What makes you think that you will wear it more in Korea?”
Koreans dress very conservatively. Women do not show their shoulders, collar bones or chest. Meaning no tank tops or strapless items. I don’t even wear V-neck shirts here. Forget packing a ton of sleeveless options unless you wear a cardigan with them. And summers are VERY humid so bring breathable clothing like cotton items. I also brought too many scarves…I wear scarves a ton but brought wayyyyy too many. Only bring your favorite 3. I brought like 12 oops haha again I overpacked 🙂
If you have sensitive skin or have a product you absolutely can’t live without then don’t
question it and just bring it. I love make up and skincare and tend to be very picky with what I use and I absolutely LOVE Korean skincare. I actually was able to find foundation
that matched my skin from Nature Republic however they only have 2 or 3 shades. Their foundation is heavier than most. Their cushions are really great if you don’t want a single mark shown on your face haha you will notice quickly that their skin looks flawless 🙂 Otherwise they do have higher end brands like MAC, Dior, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, etc. at the department stores. I ended up buying Chanel foundation because it was closer to my skin color and lighter to wear in the summer. They are more expensive so bring your own favorite foundation if you have it. If you have darker skin then I definitely recommend bringing your own foundation as many Korean brands only have 2 or 3 shades to pick from that are for fair to very fair skin.
Hair Styling Products:
My friend brought her hair wand from home and uses it here. At times I really wish I would have brought my GHD hair straightener but I didn’t have the room and didn’t want to ruin it just in case. Also, don’t bother bringing your blow dryer. The voltage is different and I don’t think it’s worth bringing it as you can buy one here. I ended up buying a blow dryer, curling iron, and straightener all from Home Plus the first week I arrived in my city. During orientation I either borrowed other girl’s straighteners or wore my hair natural. You will survive without anything for 10 days I promise 🙂
Underwear and Bras:
I recommend packing a ton of these…my friend has already had her mom send her underwear from home. Thankfully I stocked up on every type before I come here. And Bras – if you are bigger than a B or even a C…pack your own bras because it’s rare you will find them. I have seen some D bras that you can find but if you are above a D I would bring your own. Sports bras as well! I also packed a ton of socks including wool socks and I am very glad I did! Although you can find socks here easily!
Dress code at school:
The first couple weeks you will want to dress up a bit more to make a good impression. On days I have less classes I wear black jeans but a nice blouse or other days I dress up and wear skirts. Personally, I don’t like wearing jeans but I know many people who do. Overall it’s business casual and always air on the dressier side the first couple of weeks. I brought dress pants but never wore them since I wear skirts and dresses more often (another thing I packed that I didn’t wear). In the winter I have never taken my coat off at school since it’s freezing in the schools and all the teachers keep their coats on all day while teaching. For example: Today is the end of January and my school is freezing. I am wearing black skinny pants with leggings underneath, wool socks (which I wish I would have worn two pairs because as I type I am sitting on my feet trying to warm them) a turtleneck, chunky sweater, and a coat and scarf. I have not taken off my jacket or scarf all day. So make sure to bring warm clothes. I am from Minnesota so I knew not to underestimate the winter here. I also know that each person has their own style. I know a lot of other teachers who dress very casual to work and it’s totally fine. I think everyone should have an idea of what “nice” looks like and start from there 🙂 Also a tip…you can buy heat tech gear at Uniqlo which is located downtown or in the Homeplus in Duamdong. It’s great to layer under clothes in the winter. You’ll find the winter feels chillier because their heating isn’t the same as ours in the states and you will take the bus everywhere.
H&M and Zara, which are both located in Gwangju and in many cities throughout Korea, have international sized clothes but if you are above a size 12 it may be hard for you to find clothes that fit you so I’d recommend bringing extra pants and skirts. Their sweaters run large here so I typically buy all my sweaters in M here but their skirts and pants in Korean stores are very petite and small. Even if the skirt or dress fits…it tends to be really short on me since I am 5’7.
Packing tip for clothes:
- Make 3 piles for clothes. 1 pile for Needs,1 pile for Wants, and 1 pile for it’d be nice to have but I don’t really need it. Bring the pile of needs clothes and bring half of the pile of want clothes and don’t bring the 3rd pile.
- Pack all of your clothes you will wear during orientation into your carry-on suitcase. This will make your life SO much easier at orientation and then you won’t have to touch the other bags you packed.
- Roll your clothes while packing. Use every space possible meaning you can even roll things up and stick them inside of the boots or shoes you are bringing to save space.
- Invest in a luggage weigher. This will be very helpful. You can buy them at Target, TJ Maxx or Amazon.
Coats and Jackets:
If you have a winter coat then bring it. You won’t regret it. Also if you have a rain jacket I suggest that as well. Basically any of your favorite jackets I would bring with if you have the space. I recommend a winter coat, rain coat, hiking coat. I left behind my stylish leather coats as they weighed a ton but I am glad I did because I wouldn’t have worn them here anyways. **The second year I lived in Korea I brought a long padded North Face down jacket and it was the best decision ever. Those desk-warming days where you sit all day and not teach…you’ll be so glad you have it! But again, you can buy a fluffy coat in Korea too if you want to save the space packing!
Bring a fluffy soft towel from home. It’s rare you will find a towel here that is full size. They use small sized towels in showers. I am sooo glad I brought mine. I also brought a microfiber hair towel which I am really glad I packed as well as it’s small and I can use it when I backpack places or go camping.
I was lucky enough to find out the size of my bed before coming so I packed my own bed sheets but don’t bring sheets if you don’t know the size of bed you will have. You can buy sheets here at Home Plus or E-Mart but they are just more expensive.
My recommendation is bring a small amount of shampoo, conditioner, lotion that will last you the first couple days. EPIK orientation had conditioner and shampoo in the bathrooms for us so I didn’t even use my travel size but it was nice to use for later on traveling or when I first arrived at my apartment in Gwangju.
Don’t pack lotion…they have lotion here and they have plenty of lotions without whitening agents. Actually most don’t even have whitening agents. You can find brands like Dove, Aveeno, etc. You can easily find it at Home Plus or E-mart or local markets. It’s not worth packing. Save the weight in your bag.
I do recommend packing your favorite face moisturizer for the first month or two. Your body will be adjusting to a lot when you first arrive…new climate, new foods, jet-lag, stress, etc. Pretty much everything so I think it’s best not to change face lotions for a while just to keep your skin settled. But I absolutely LOVE my new Korean moisturizer so I use that now and will probably forever.
Bring a few months’ supply of deodorant. You will only find about 3 types of deodorant including a spray kind so I am glad I brought a good amount. I actually buy the Dove spray brand now and it works really well but it’s about 12 dollars for one.
This is totally your preference. I brought a few tubes and I recently ran out of toothpaste so now I use a Korean brand but I do miss Crest since it has a more fresh taste but don’t be afraid to use Korean toothpaste. It does the job and they have mint flavors.
I brought a good amount of tampons as I was worried they wouldn’t have them in Korea but I did find that Olive Young, Home Plus and a couple other places carry tampons. It’s about $5 for a pack of 16. So don’t spend your time stocking up on a billion tampons. You can find them here. You may need to hunt a little as there’s only one type of brand next to a million pads.
I brought some of my favorite items for the first couple weeks living in Korea. Dried mangoes from Trader Joe’s, trail mix, and granola bars. It helps too if your body is getting used to all the kimchi and new foods you’ll be experiencing 🙂
Iherb.com is a great website to use if you want to order American organic brands or spices online and have it shipped to Korea. It’s really cheap and I have used it twice before for foods I’ve been craving but can’t get in Korea.
I brought a converter for plugs here in Korea for my laptop and ended up buying them in Korea since it was pretty cheap. I have a Macbook Air and it has worked just fine here. I also ended up buying a charger for my Iphone with a Korean plug and then bringing an extra cord that I plug in at work or into my laptop if I travel. If you can order a converter online I would do that.
I checked 2 large suitcases and brought 1 carry on suitcase, 1 backpack and a purse. It was a lot to carry and I know plenty of people who only checked 1 large suitcase and were just fine. Here is a picture of my suitcases at the airport to give you an idea of what I packed.
Remember…you can always have your family send you packages or order things online. I think I underestimated the amount of items Korea has to offer. They have everything I need here and more. Especially after living here for two years and realizing how much more they actually have.
I hope this packing list helps! Bring your favorite clothing items you wear a ton, bring your favorite products you can’t live without, and maybe an item from home you really love. My sister came to visit Korea and surprised me with my favorite fleece blanket and it was the best surprise. It’s a comfort that I now have from home. I also didn’t pack any items to decorate but I did print off photos and bring two photo books that are really nice to have. It’s fun to show friends pictures of family and to have photos around to make my apartment homey.
***Another important tip would be that I recommend waiting to buy a ton of household items until you can go to a Daiso which is similar to their dollar store. It has really cute things and so much less expensive than Homeplus! You can get cleaning supplies, dishes, glassware, everything at Daiso. Google maps is great to use on how to get there from your apartment.
***One more tip is find out how to use GMarket as soon as you can. There’s an English tab on the main website and most of it’s in English however checking out is still in Korean but it’s sooo helpful in ordering things online and having them shipped to your school. I ordered many things on Gmarket and they were always cheaper than in stores. You can ask a co-teacher for help as well if you have a specific item you want to order.
Best of luck packing and feel free to reach out to me with any questions!
Love sent from Korea,