Housing for Teachers in Korea
The majority of teaching contracts include a rent free furnished apartment. This will usually consist of your own single studio apartment with one bedroom, or a 2-3 bedroom apartment or villa shared with other foreign teachers from your school. Some apartments are in high-rise tower blocks and some may even be in office buildings. The quality of teacher's housing varies, but usually it's very acceptable. A number of teachers have even mentioned to us that compared to their old house or flat from university days it could even be classified as luxurious!
Your housing should be located within walking distance of your place of employment.
Be prepared for a house/apartment that is structured for seasonal changes. For instance, under floor heating systems (ondol) for winter and air conditioning or fans for summer. Many houses actually have 3 levels of windows that can act as double-glazing. You may even find you get a number of metal bars on your windows like a prison cell. Once again this is totally common in Korea and is seen as security. The fact that you cannot escape from this barred window in an emergency does not seem to have entered the builder's minds! We have started recommending that it is a good idea to take with you a battery fire alarm (common in NZ homes) and install it in your kitchen/lounge area in Korea. We certainly do not know of any 'near miss' stories and do not want to scare anyone BUT the concept of having a smoke alarm in a house is not yet known of in Korea.
If you do have security bars on some of your windows, it may be a good idea to think about a possible emergency exit when you move in. You can be assured that every other house around you will have similar construction, and in our experience most directors do go to a lot of trouble to select a nice place for you to live.
Unfortunately little things that 'bite and annoy' are part of living in Korea. So, your first experience of finding a real cockroach in your apartment does not mean you have to start sending emails home talking about your 'infested house'! These little creatures, along with ants and mosquitoes are part of the daily life of Korean living, especially in the hot summer months. Your own hygiene systems will give you a guide to how many new little visitors may want to take up residence in your apartment. Be sensible about sprays and traps and keeping the mosquito net windows closed. Don?t be like the 2 Canadian men who lived in such filth that the other teachers at the school bought them cockroach traps to eliminate the problem before they would enter the apartment. A 'kill' chart was actually monitored on the wall, and I can assure you there was a very high 'kill rate' for some time.
The general furnishing provided will always include a washing machine, TV, table and chairs, telephone, bed, wardrobe, fridge, and basic general kitchenware such as cooking utensils etc. You may also be provided with a VCR, air-conditioning, desks, sofa and personal bedding.
It may be very difficult to take a non-working spouse or partner to stay with you unless you have been provided a single studio. With most shared accommodation only one bedroom is provided per employee and the other foreign teachers may not approve of getting an 'extra' flatmate, especially when the kitchen and bathroom areas are all shared.
If your contract requires you to rent a separate apartment with a 'key money lease' you will be told this at the time of employment.
In some situation the employer may pay key money or lease money. At the present time some companies which specializing in adult teaching in down town Seoul only organize this type of housing.
A key money lease, is when a deposit of approximately $4, 000 - $7, 000 US is made by your employer to lease an apartment that you have selected, for the term of your 12 month contract. After this deposit has been made you will still be required to pay a monthly rent, but you will be receiving some form of allowance for this in your pay. This allowance will range from between 150, 000 won to 450, 000 won a month. Sometimes this allowance does not fully cover the rent that has to be paid by the occupant. The average cost per bedroom in Seoul is approximately 300, 000 - 400, 000 won a month.
In this situation you are responsible for the monthly utilities, such as gas and heating, which are not expensive (usually between US$50 and $120 per 2 bedroom apartment a month). If you share an apartment, the costs of the utilities would be divided. Also, if the apartment is not within walking distance to your school, it will only be a short bus or subway ride away.
Your contract may require you to pay a utility bond of up to 600,000 won over 3-6 months. This is then held in trust by the school in case you leave huge bills or do other damages. We now recommend that if you have a land phone installed arrange to get a toll bar put on it, especially in the last 2 months of your tenancy. This will give you peace of mind if you have other flat mates phoning home frequently who may just leave you to foot the bill. It will also guarantee that you get no surprise large toll bills to be deducted from this housing bond.
Telephone companies can take up to 2 months to get itemized accounts to you, and you don't want your director holding your bond any longer than he has to. If everything is in order this bond is returned to you within 3 months at the end of your contract. In 90% of cases the bond is returned within 2 weeks.
The average utility charges each month are between 70, 000 - 200, 000 won per apartment, depending on the season. There can be a big variation in costs in the peak of summer (June-August) and the peak of winter (Dec- Feb). This is because the high costs of air conditioning units (if you have one), underfloor heating and hot water.
Sometimes in Korea utility costs are worked out 'per building' and then divided by each apartment so if you are using very little hot water and a Korean family close by is doing excessive use then in effect you may be subsidizing.
Hot water is often on a gas heating system and you may need to know where to turn this on before you have a shower (unless you want a cold shower). Many teachers setting up in apartments have thought there was no hot water and suffered the consequences. Only to later find out there was a simple switch they could have turned, or that the building is on a time system and there is only hot water available at certain times.
Korean tend to get up early in the morning, so watch out for your hot water being 'drained' at peak times. Please just learn to adjust to the situation of your apartment, as your employer will have very little control over this because the property will be leased.
Always learn to ask for help from Korean staff so that you understand the intricacies of Korean heating and cooking systems etc. Your washing machine may be like a giant oversized monster with no instructions on it. Korean washing machines do tend to make very strange banging noises and will often be draining directly into a hole in your bathroom floor, or will be located on balconies. Floods can occur if you don?t watch the operation of these 'monster machines' that only have Korean instructions!!
There is no way you can alter any of the correctly charged standard costing in all large residential buildings so if you do receive a sudden large utility bill from your employer you should politely ask for a rational explanation of it and accept it rather than get angry and complain 'it is not fair.' You will totally frustrate your employer with complaints like this. You need to just keep accurate recording of the expenses so they can be challenged as one larger complaint rather than a lot of smaller annoying items. As mentioned earlier your employer will not own the apartment and must them complain on your behalf regarding strange or exorbitant costs.
If there are 2 flatmates any utilities are halved but if you are alone in your own studio apart then you meet all costs. Just like in any foreign country. If the aparement is leased then the school will be billed the utilities. Plus, there is often a building maintenance fee to cover a janitor cleaning corridors and stairwells, supervisor etc. Also, if the building happens to be designated an officetel there will be extra charges for neon lighting for businesses in the building.
One young lady had huge utility bills of 300, 000 won a month when her school put her in an officetel that was half residential and half offices. The charges were all genuine and she was powerless to change anything because the 12 month lease had been taken out for the only available apartment near the school. We doubt that any school will be personally ripping you off and making a profit on your tenancy. It is more likely to be excessive costs from the building that are being passed on to you.
You need to get the following answers from your employer:
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Unless you carefully discuss these things with your employer it is impossible for us to make any judgement as to what the situation is like, because there is so much variance in these types of situations.
- Who owns the accommodation?
- Who has the lease?
- Can you get a receipt or itemized docket for the payments made?
- How do your costs compare to the other housing that staff are in?
- Are the school taking an undeclared housing bond each month?
- What classification is the building?
- What percentage are the building maintenance costs (incidental costs not applicable to your heat and water etc, but they must be paid none the less)?
- Will the payments differ for different seasons?
- What will the payment be when you arrived?
It is to little advantage to start complaining to our company (as your recruitment agent) over any utility issues unless you have repeatedly tried to sort the problems with your landlord and employer. Our company will have no idea of the structure and general costs of the building you are in and how the costs are being applied to all tenants. We will not know who owns the building and what lease conditions are in place. It will be extremely difficult for us to assess these things and instead we would prefer you dealt directly with your employer and the landlord.
Design & development by Karere
Typical apartment blocks