Prior to international standardization of the metric system, every country had to determine their own measurement systems. For our purposes, this section will only focus on one of the traditional Korean units of measurement; pyeong (평, 坪). Korea has used the metric system for decades, but it is still common to see housing measurements in both square meters and pyeong. One pyeong is equivalent to approximately 3.31 square metres or 35.58 square feet.
|Pyeong||Square metres||Square feet|
When a residence is measured, the public hallway/stairwell and all enclosed balconies are included in the measurement. Enclosed balconies, called verandas in Korean (베란다, beranda) were the norm for decades and seen positively as they create an extra temperature barrier from the outside elements and provide storage space. Public sediment has changed resulting in newer built apartments have the option to “upgrade” their units, which means no verandas. The space that would be used for storage is now used to make the rooms larger and double sets of windows provide the insulation that verandas provided.
Listed below are the most common types of residences in Korea. Population density means almost every place available for rent will be a multistory building. Single story homes and dwellings exist, but are not as common and rare to find available to rent. Regardless of the type of residence you get, chances are you will live above someone else. Being a good neighbor means keeping noise levels down in the evenings, including TV volume, laundry machine usage, barking pets, and running children.
Roof access depends on the height of the building as the higher the roof the bigger the injury if someone falls. Apartments and dormitories usually block access to their roofs. If you have access, you’ll notice the roof is flat and is green colored due to the waterproofing chemicals. Viewed from a distance, this waterproofing can appear like grass. Roofs can be used to dry clothes, grow vegetables in pots, and host a dinner party under the stars. Please ask your landlord if there are any restrictions with using the roof.
Apartments are the most popular housing option among Koreans. The term in Korean is a shortened version of apartment (아파트, apateu) and frequently written as APT. In Korea, an apartment is actually defined as an apartment complex consisting anywhere from eight to sixteen buildings, each of which over 15 stories tall. In less populated areas and with older complexes, the average height will be smaller and can be as few as 4 buildings. City, location in city, view, transportation availability, south facing for sunlight, building age, and brand name of apartment all highly influence the price.
Drawbacks to living in apartments include limited parking in older or cheaper units. Apartments built in the 1980’s and 1990’s did not construct as many parking spaces as would be made today as car ownership was lower. The culture has adapted by being very lenient on illegally or double parked cars as there sometimes is no space to park. Double parked cars are supposed to be left in neutral, allowing people to push them out of the way of cars they are blocking. Also almost all car and truck has a cell/mobile number written and placed on the dashboard. If the vehicle is blocking traffic, anyone can call that number and tell the offender to move their vehicle. Apartments and sometimes universities will enforce parking with attaching a large A4-sized sticker on a window of the car. Bright yellow in color, this is both a shaming strategy aimed at attracting negative attention to the offender and a significant annoyance as the adhesive used is surprisingly strong.
Officetels (오피스텔, opiseutel), are a combination of office and hotel. Intended to be used as a very small office space/living space for an individually owned company, they come furnished with the bare essentials and provide minimal residential facilities. As more Koreans are living away from family before getting married, officetels have become popular for renting to singles who don’t need a lot of space and who don’t want to buy large housing items, like a bed or washing machine. They are located above storefronts, have elevator access and usually share long hallways. Intended for business usage, their utility bills are smaller than official residential areas.
Smaller single apartment buildings are referred to as villas in Korea (빌라, billa). As these are individually owned, there is no brand name and each building will have its own design. Chances are your landlord live in or near the building, so getting face to face time could be as easy as going up or down some stairs. Usually under five floors, they don’t have elevators, and there are only one or two residences per floor. It is for these reasons villas are less desirable than proper apartment complexes. The rent is usually lower and the size is usually bigger than apartment complexes.
Studio apartments are called one-room (원룸, wollum) in Korean as they consist of one room. Cheaper than officetels, many are located near universities, organizations, or institutes. Larger versions are called 투룸 (turum) or 쓰리룸 (sseurirum) as they have two or three rooms, respectively. These are usually types of villas, but not necessarily. They can come as furnished or unfurnished.
At the north side of the HQ campus in Daejeon are two adjacent dormitories, the IBS Dormitory (www.ibsguesthouse.com) and the UST Dormitory. Please see their respective sites for information. To apply for one of these, contact your immediate supervisor and they will contact the dormitories on your behalf. If you Center is located within a university, you might be able to live in one of their dormitories (기숙사, 寄宿舍, gisuksa). As there are a large number of Centers located in university campuses, inquire your Center’s staff to see if you can have access.
There isn’t really a standardized name in English, but 옥탑방 (屋塔房, oktapbang) are small single rooms built on top of a villa, usually after the primary construction was completed. The size is very small, they are very cheap, and the walls do not insulate very well which makes the occupant(s) very hot in summer and very cold in winter. The price is attractive to college students, but can be found away from university areas as well. A maximum of one will exist per roof so residents have no neighbors next to them and sometimes have great city views. The rest of the roof is sometimes claimed by the rooftop room tenant, rightfully or not, giving them additional space outside of their four walls.
The content on this page has been taken from the 2019 edition of Living in Korea. The book was created in support of our international researchers and has been completely rewritten. The book is available as a 6 MB download here and in paperback form in IBS Centers.