Renting an Apartment in Seoul

Moving to a new place is always an adventure but can feel a little daunting with so many unknowns. If you’re thinking of finding a new apartment in your move to Seoul, Korea Trip Guide has a few tips for you. We’ll cover renting options, apartment types, and costs to keep in mind when searching and deciding on a new home in Seoul!

Joense (전세) versus Wolse (월세) Renting Style

The basics of renting an apartment are about the same wherever you are in the world. Typically, there’s an upfront deposit you need to forward in order to show you are serious about renting a place. Then, you sign a contractual “tentant’s agreement” or lease which will outline the terms of the lease, such as how long you’ll be renting for, the rent cost, and rules like no pets or who is responsible for damages to the property. Once you leave the property upon the lease ending, you will receive your deposit back from the landlord, on the grounds that your apartment is in the same state as it was when you moved in i.e., no drilled holes for shelves, no nail holes from paintings or pictures, no major damage etc. However, in Korea, there are 2 types of tenant’s agreement, Joense (전세) and Wolse (월세).

Jeonse (전세), is a system where the tenants don’t pay a monthly rent, they instead opt for a different route. Jeonse requires the tenant to pay an extraordinary amount of money upfront, which is somewhere between 40% or 90% of the value of the apartment. So, for an apartment worth 10 million Korean won, that’s between 4,000,000₩ and 9,000,000₩, this is often dubbed “Key Money” or “Key Fee”. Don’t fret however, this isn’t lost money. Similar to western styles of renting, as long as the apartment is still in good condition, you will receive all of this money back at the end of the lease agreement, which typically lasts 12 to 24 months.

The system most expatriates and other foreigners opt for however, is the Wolse system (월세) which is probably more akin to what you’re used to if you’re from a western country. When a tenant finds a vacant apartment and applies for it, they must pay a deposit if accepted and can move in and start paying rent in monthly increments. Some landlords will allow for reduced monthly rent if the deposit is higher or vice versa. This is not guaranteed and every landlord can make their own terms based on what you negotiate. At the end of a lease term, if the property is in good condition, the tenant will receive their deposit back. 

Types of Apartments in Korea

The types of apartments are very different too, and it’s important to know what each one is, before agreeing to going and viewing a list of apartments that don’t meet your needs. There are 5 types of apartments that you need to know about; Villas (Low rise apartment buildings that vary in size and quality), Officetels (오피스텔: apartments that are located inside office buildings, these are often much more modern in style and fitted with newer appliances), Apartments (아파트: these are usually in large complexes and much larger spaces, perfect for those looking at housing a family), Short-term rentals (these are often small, but fully furnished places for those planning on being in Korea for a short while) and Goshiwon (고시원: a rented room, often with only a bed, a desk and a wardrobe, these are favoured by students). It’s important that you get the right one for your needs.

Bills such as water, gas, electricity, are more often than not paid after one month of residency, but you should also be aware of Gwanlibi (관리비), which is also known as a building fee. This must be paid to the landlord on top of the rent. This covers overall building maintenance, hygiene and security guards. Sometimes in rare cases even internet.

Double check what your real estate agents fee is also, deals are made quickly in Korea and you could find a large bill headed your way that you weren’t expecting. There is a government mandated minimum, but if it is greater than you must know about it. This is something to keep in mind before looking into moving in Korea also.

Finally, if you’re not ready to commit to an apartment before you actually reach Korea, doing a short to mid-term stay at an Airbnb or guest house to get to know an area is also a great option. Since Seoul is such a foreigner-friendly city, it’s easy to find an affordable spot for a couple of weeks to a month if you want to get a feel for a neighborhood before settling in more permanently!