Packing for travel has a tendency to be stressful. Packing for moving abroad can be even more so. I tried to prepare as much as I could before I moved by imagining what I would need the most. However, when moving abroad you never truly know what you should have packed until you get there and figure it out. There are some things you may not have known are readily available, and some things you’d never think would be difficult to find that are. It truly is trial and error.
But I have a few suggestions which may aid you in editing and rewriting your packing list. This blog post has been created to give you some ideas about what you may or may not want to bring with you when moving from the UK to South Korea.
This is my number one suggestion and has been a major expense for me since deciding to develop my cooking skill while working from home. If you like to cook with spices and seasonings, I highly recommend bringing your favourite ones with you, as they will be much cheaper and easier to acquire in your home country. There are some basic spices and seasonings in my local supermarket, such as black pepper, paprika and parsley but there are many other spices that may be difficult to find such as cajun spices, Chinese five-spice, turmeric, cumin, garam masala, garlic/ onion powder and coriander powder (these are all spices that I use in my cooking but this is not an exhaustive list). If you do find a spice in your local supermarket it’ll typically cost around 7,000 won, but if you can’t find the spice you want and resort to online shopping, it may be much more expensive. Some spices online may also need to be shipped from abroad and so can be expensive and take a long time to arrive. If you can’t live without certain spices in your cooking I highly recommend bringing these with you in your suitcase.
Deodorant is not extremely difficult to find here, contrary to popular belief. But it is less common and there is much less variety than back home. I also tend to find that Korean deodorants are just not as long lasting as my regular brand from the UK. Pack a large supply of your favourite – summers here are hot and you will need them. If it works for you, I recommend bringing natural mineral rock deodorant as this will last a lot longer than any other type (and it’s also better for your health which is a bonus).
I arrived in Korea with my favourite lace-up boots ready for winter as I didn’t want the stress of shopping for winter shoes during my first few months. This was a mistake. First of all, shoes are easy to purchase here in Korea once you convert your shoe size, and if you prefer a particular brand from back home, brands such as ASOS, H&M and New Look all ship to South Korea. Secondly, laces are just a no-go in Korea, particularly as a teacher. You have to remove your shoes and wear indoor shoes every day making lace up boots a hassle to take on and off. You also have to take off your shoes in some restaurants, traditional buildings and of course people’s homes. Switch to lace-free shoes or trainers you can easily slip on and off and just forget about lace-ups.
This may be a bit more specific to me but I thought I’d include it as it was something I didn’t think about before I arrived. My go-to moisturiser is a Lush brand moisturiser, and I did bring one pot with me, which ran out quickly. South Korea is well known for its beauty and skincare industry and there is no doubt that there’s a Korean moisturiser out there that is perfect for my skin. Unfortunately, I have yet to find it. Whilst trying out a variety of different Korean brands, I finally caved and bought my usual Lush moisturiser. It was three times the price as it’s an imported brand from the UK.
The moral of the story is, I guess, that if there’s a particular skincare, makeup or hygiene item from home that you just cannot live without, pack extras. Just in case.
UK Specific Snacks and Food
Now this one might be obvious, but pack your comfort food from home. As much of it as you can. For me, foods from home that I miss the most are salt and vinegar crisps, orange or mint flavoured chocolate (Cadbury’s of course) and, strangely, tomato soup. It may be hard to know exactly what you will miss, and some things can be found here easily (I was amazed to find baked beans, Milka chocolate and Malteasers) but just try to pack as many of the things you love as you can. The airport is a good place to pick up extra snacks and items from home if your bags are full. Gin and cider are hard to find here and while soju and makgeolli are very tasty, you might sometimes want that tipple that reminds you of home, so get some at the Duty Free. I know a lot of teachers from the UK bring a supply of English tea with them. My friend was lovely enough to send me some gravy granules and stuffing mix to help me make a proper English Christmas dinner – these items would have cost me a crazy amount of money online. Just think about very specific foods from home that you may want and bring as much as you can.
A Large Bath Towel
Most Koreans use a smaller towel after a bath or shower, which is around the size of a hand towel. I knew about this and so decided to pack a large bath towel as it is just more comfortable for me. However, it took up a lot of space in my suitcase and, as it turns out, it is actually pretty easy to buy a large bath towel in big supermarkets with a home section or dedicated home stores. They may be a bit on the pricier side but saving that space in your suitcase for some of the other items above is probably the best call. Make do with smaller towels until you can visit these stores or order a set online. I also had towels left over from the previous English Teacher that lived here before me so if you don’t mind hand me downs you may not even have to buy any.
If you can live without them for a week or two, leave your hairdryer, hair straighteners and any other electronic styling tool at home. They are easy enough to purchase here and you won’t have to worry about voltage differences or faulty plug converters. The previous tenant may have even left a hairdryer for you (they did for me). Leaving behind bulky electronics will free up a lot more space in your suitcase for more important things (like curry powder).
I get attached to my clothes easily and find it really difficult to give them up. There are quite a few clothes that I brought with me simply because they were expensive or I’d hardly worn them, despite knowing deep down they would be hard to wear in Korea. Of course you can wear whatever you want outside of school, but if you want to adhere to social etiquette (and avoid stares), as a woman you will want to avoid showing too much cleavage or your shoulders. There were quite a few items of clothing that I brought with me that I just never wear here in Korea. My fashion has also changed a little since I arrived here. What is fashionable back home may not be the fashion here and vice versa. After being here for a while with more expendable income than you may be used to, you’ll soon have a whole new wardrobe and won’t even look at your old clothes from home. Keep it simple and bring a few outfits for work and orientation, but don’t bring your entire wardrobe with you.
A Large Gift For Co-workers
A large portion of my suitcase was taken up by a big box of very fancy chocolates that I’d decided to gift to my co-workers during my first week, as is customary here. I bought the fancy chocolates to make a good impression, but soon realised there would not be enough to go around all the members of staff. In the end I brought in a smaller box of wrapped Celebration chocolates, which were much easier to pass around and were plentiful enough to share. Think practically rather than buying the fanciest gift for your school, if you buy anything at all. While I wanted to share something from my country, it’s becoming more common among English Teachers here to bring in bread and pastries from the local bakery, or coffees for everyone, and some people even wait until their first paycheck to give back to their colleagues. Bring something small and sharable, or if you really don’t have space in your suitcase, wait until you’re here in Korea to buy a gift for your school.
This is the main thing that I regretted packing. I bought 2 suitcases and one of them ended up being filled mainly with coats, jackets, shoes and jeans. Many of my coats, jackets and shoes were expensive when I bought them, and as I was used to living on a minimum wage budget it didn’t even cross my mind to leave them behind. I was also worried about finding jeans in my size here so I packed way too many pairs. And while I do wear all of these clothes, they would have been easily replaceable after the first few months pay checks and probably did not warrant a whole suitcase to themselves. Feel free to bring your absolute favourite bulky items if you can fit them but don’t bring everything. You can replace them here or reorder them online easily.
So these are just some things I brought with me and things I wish I’d brought. Was this list helpful for you or were these suggestions fairly obvious? Did you agree with my choices? What did you pack and wish you’d left at home? Is there anything you regret not bringing with you? Leave a comment below to help others who are going through the packing process right now!
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