It’s been 6 months since I moved to Gwangju, Korea and now a fresh new batch of EPIK teachers will be making their way across the world this upcoming February. Before moving here I YouTubed every video, read every blog, reached out to every person I could 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 what I know for those that are heading over to South Korea for the first time.
Also keep in mind I live in Gwangju which is not touristy at all. If you are going to live in Seoul, there are going to be 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.
If your feet are bigger than a size 8.5, it’s hard to find shoes, but possible. I am a size 9.5 and I have bought shoes in Korea from Zara, H&M and Converse. 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. I don’t regret bringing heels as I wouldn’t have worn them here. I walk everywhere, so shoes get worn in quickly. 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 of tennis shoes.
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. Their winter style is oversized turtleneck 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. 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 way too many. Only bring your favorite 3. I brought like 12 oops haha again I overpacked 🙂
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, raincoat, 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 first couple weeks you will want to dress up a bit more to make a good impression. On days I have fewer classes I sometimes wear jeans but a nice blouse or other days I dress up and wear skirts. Overall it’s business casual and always air on the dressier side the first couple of weeks. I brought dress pants but rarely wear them since I wear skirts and dresses more often. 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, 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.
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 but skirts and pants are very small. Even if the skirt or dress fits it tends to be really short on me since I am 5’7.
If you have sensitive skin or have a product you absolutely can’t live without, 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 was able to find foundation that matched my skin from Nature Republic. Otherwise, they do have higher end brands like MAC, Dior, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, etc. at the department stores. They are a tad more expensive so bring your own favorite foundation if you have it. You should also keep in mind that Korean brands only have 2 or 3 shades to pick from that range from fair to very fair.
My friend brought her hair wand from home and uses it here. Sometimes I wish I would have brought my hair straightener but I didn’t have the room and didn’t want to ruin it just in case. I ended up buying a blow dryer, curling iron, and straightener all from Home Plus the first week I arrived. During orientation, I either borrowed other girls’ straighteners or wore my hair natural. You will survive without anything for 10 days I promise.
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. For bras, if you are bigger than a size B or even a C, pack your own because you won’t find any that fit you here. This goes for sports bras as well!
Bring a fluffy soft towel from home. It’s rare you will find a towel here that is full size. I also brought a microfiber hair towel which I use 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. You can buy sheets here at Home Plus or E-Mart but they are 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, there are plenty of lotions without whitening agents. You can easily find them at Home Plus or E-mart or local markets. It’s notworth 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) 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, which works well but is about $12.
This is totally your preference. I brought a few tubes but I recently ran out so now I use a Korean brand. I do miss Crest since it has a more fresh taste.
Don’t spend your time stocking up on a billion tampons. You can find them in Korea. I brought a good amount of tampons as I was worried they wouldn’t have them here. I found that Olive Young, Home Plus and a couple other places carry tampons. It’s about $5 for a pack of 16. You may need to hunt a little as there’s only one 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. It’s really cheap and I have used it twice for foods I’d been craving but can’t get in Korea.
I brought a converter for my laptop here pretty cheap. I have a MacBook Air and it has worked just fine. I also ended up buying a charger for my iPhone with a Korean plug and then bringing an extra cord that I use at work or 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 fine.
Remember, I underestimated the amount of items Korea has to offer. They have everything I need here and more.