In the past few decades, South Korea has shot onto the global stage with world-leading industries in tech, fashion, beauty, and more. The world now listens to K-Pop, relies on Korean gadgets, eats kimchi, and swears by Korean skincare. It’s no wonder, then, that so many students are turning their thoughts towards the skyscrapers of Seoul and Busan.
But South Korea is much more than its neon-lit cities and its trendsetting influence. It’s a country with a long, rich history, seen in its shrines, temples, and local markets. It’s a place of breathtaking natural beauty, with soaring mountain ranges hovering just outside of every city. It’s also home to a fun-loving population that truly enjoys what their country has to offer.
Even better, South Korea welcomes international students with open arms. Universities offer reasonable tuition fees and plenty of scholarships, which has created vibrant and diverse student communities in all of the country’s major cities.
Most people have only ever heard of Seoul, but there are plenty of other exciting and beautiful cities to consider when studying abroad in South Korea.
Seoul is the beating heart of South Korea. It is home to about half of the country’s population, and easily one of the coolest cities in Asia. Expect dizzying modernity at a non-stop pace, but keep an eye out for quiet glimpses of the city’s rich history. It is also an incredibly student-friendly city, ranked within the top 10 student cities in the world according to QS rankings.
Unlike constantly changing Seoul, Daegu still has very strong links to its traditions, as seen in the city's love of oriental medicine and traditional markets. A large student population keeps the place feeling youthful and modern, with a lovely low-key vibe. It is especially popular with exchange students and expats, making it a very easy place to settle into for foreigners.
Korea’s second-largest city is a colorful port town and a thriving cultural hub. You’ll find great city beaches, cool boutiques, countless bars and restaurants, and the best fish markets in the country. Busan is nestled in the mountains, which also makes it a paradise for hiking enthusiasts. It is home to several universities and lively student hubs.
If you want to study a scientific subject in South Korea, this is the place to go. Daejeon is home to what is commonly called the “MIT of South Korea” as well as several other prestigious scientific institutions. It is a forward-thinking, innovation-driven city, and it’s also a suburb of Seoul, so the buzz of the big city is never too far away.
South Korea is a popular study abroad destination, so the infrastructure for you to settle in is already in place. If you need help, you can count on support from your university as well as from the large foreign student populations in the big cities.
How to Choose a Study Abroad Program in South Korea
One way to choose is to simply ask yourself what you look for in a city. If you want non-stop energy (or you’re really, really into K-Pop), Seoul is the obvious choice for you. If you want to enjoy South Korea’s more traditional side, pick student-friendly Daegu. Nature lovers will be satisfied with just about any major city in South Korea -- a mountain is never too far away.
You could also choose the best university for your chosen area of study. For instance, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon is the best place for science students, while Seoul has the best business schools.
Many universities in South Korea have on-campus dorms, and international students often get priority. If you can’t get a room in one of these, other options include:
- Dorm-style buildings with shared facilities and private rooms (Goshiwon) - $175-$400 a month, utilities included
- Studio apartment - from $250 a month, plus utilities ($100 minimum)
- “Officetel” apartment (modern city building) - from $500, plus utilities ($100 minimum)
- Shared housing in an apartment or house - $200 - $400 a month, utilities are sometimes included
42Share is a great website for finding house shares (as well as some studio apartments) in Seoul.
International students require a D-2 visa to study in South Korea. This can be arranged at your closest Korean Embassy or Consulate, once you have received your admission letter from the university. If you need any support during the process, your university should be able to help.
Social Life & Student Culture
South Korea has a fun and lively student culture, with plenty of drinking and eating out. Universities have many student associations, which are very much focused on getting their members to socialize.
Korean culture is very hierarchical: elders are always to be respected. At university, this manifests itself in the relationship between sunbaes (upperclassmen) and hubaes (underclassmen). Subaes treat their hubaes to meals and nights out, taking on a mentorship role of sorts, and you are expected to pass this on to your hubaes later on.
There are a lot of rigid customs surrounding table manners and other parts of everyday life, but as a foreigner, you will be given the benefit of the doubt as you settle in. Stay respectful and observant, and you will eventually get the hang of things.
Health & Safety
South Korea is an incredibly safe country, so only the usual precautions apply. In particular, watch out for pickpockets in central areas of big cities.
Healthcare is generally very good. The only thing to bear in mind is that English-speaking doctors can be difficult to find outside of International Clinics, where the consultation alone costs $35-70. Make sure you know what kind of care your insurance covers, and that it allows for upfront payment.
Studying in South Korea is quite affordable, especially if you’re coming from the U.S or Europe. Tuition fees and housing costs are reasonable, as are daily expenses like food.
Typical Program Cost
Tuition fees average $4,350 per semester for public universities, $5,800 for private ones, and $6,500 for Seoul’s top universities. The cost is the same for domestic students, which is an unusually fair arrangement designed to attract international students.
South Korea is keen to attract international students, so there are actually quite a few scholarships available (see below).
Many students work part-time to supplement their income. You can work up to 20 hours a week on your student visa, although you may struggle to find jobs that don’t require speaking Korean.
The Korean government has an excellent scholarship for international students called Global Korea. This includes your airfare, full tuition fee, resettlement and living allowances, medical insurance, and language courses for one year.
Individual universities also have a range of scholarships, so have a look at your preferred institution’s website to see what’s available. Alternatively, you can explore scholarship options here.