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How to go broke in Korea

6 days ago (the 2nd of September) marked a month that I've been living in South Korea. It also marked 2 weeks from the day I went broke.

When you move to a new country for work there is understandably some delay in getting your first bit of cash from your employers. There is paperwork to be filled in, immigration registration to be sorted out, and bank accounts to be set up. To combat this, it is recommended that you bring approximately 1000 USD with you to survive first month in South Korea. It took me 19 and a half days to need more.

How? well lets break it down:

Getting to Korea requires a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong. Write off about $200 on a shower, bag lockers, a sim card and data, train rides, some food, this hat, and a bunch of other touristy shit. Plus some coffee while waiting for your next flight.

So now you're in Korea, you wait far too long for your lift from Incheon airport and eventually get whisked away to your orientation 4 hours away. you spend a week in Orientation making new friends, going out for a few nights on the town ($$$) and getting a refresher on everything to do with Korean schooling, culture and history. You're having a great time and should be fine for the rest of the month.

Then you realize the ATMs in Korea wont let you withdraw money with a South African card.

It is worth noting here that along with the recommendation that you bring 1000 USD, it is also recommended that you only draw half of that in cash, keeping the other $500 in your bank account so that you won't be up shit creek if your cash gets stolen/lost.

It's ironic that this very recommendation had now sent me on a nice and slow ascent up said creek, minus the $500 paddle.

Pictured: My financial situation

2 Weeks later

Fast forward to 2 weeks in, joining a friend and I en route to a foreigner welcome dinner in Suncheon, a large-ish city an hour or so bus ride from my new home in Boseong county. These dinners are organised by foreigners who have been in country for awhile and act as a way for english speakers to connect with each other and get to know the towns around where they stay, with teachers coming from all over the province to attend. It's a great way to make friends and avoid homesickness.

In my wallet that morning I had exactly 30 000 Korean Won


26 US Dollars


350 South African Rand.

It was all I had left in cash. My extra $500 safely locked away in an account I had yet to gain access to. So if I was so strapped for cash, why was I travelling to another city for a dinner?

My saving grace; a photo-shoot. Another foreigner saw me taking photos during our orientation and asked me to sort her out with some photos for her blog that she plans on starting. She also offered to pay me.

So I had to make my 30 000 won last the day and night until Saturday morning, when i would get to earn some cash with the slightly-underused journalism degree I spent 4 years getting.

​​​​By the skin of my teeth

The bus ride to Suncheon

22 000left

A taxi ride from the bus terminal to the friend we're staying with's apartment.

20 000left.

Another taxi from the apartment to the dinner meetup, minus our bulky bags.

18 000₩ left.

We missed the dinner. We rally a group of latecomers and head off in the search of fried chicken and beer. We find it.

15 000left.

We rendezvous with the main group, which has left the dinner spot and headed to a bar. It's swarming with foreigners. we get a beer or two and begin to make friends.

10 000₩ left.

Landon offers to buy me a drink bust passes out on a table before he pays.

7 000left.

The night picks up and as the crowd starts filtering out of the bar somebody makes the decision that visiting a Noraebang is the right play. They didn't have Where is the Love on the song list. 5 000left

We head to a final place for a quiet(er) beer as the night wraps up. we have drinks and end up performing a flawless rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire's September on the sidewalk.

2 000 left.

We share a taxi back to the apartment and fall asleep in various corners of a crowded apartment. Sanchez snores.


Ultimately I got up the next day and did the photo shoot, joining my friends later with some fresh paper. It cash fed me for the next week, at the end of which my alien registration arrived and my settlement allowance was paid into my new bank account.

I was broke for all of 8 hours. Unlike back home though, there was no way to ask for help and get a bailout.

I had to make my own plan, which is ultimately what this whole move to a new country is all about for me.


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