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Digital nomad guide: South Korea

South Korean flags

Are you on the hunt for your next workcation destination? This year, South Korea has quickly become one of the most exciting new options. 

Whether you want to channel the famous Korean work ethic, live out your K-drama fantasies or learn more about the real country, here’s why Korea might be the place for you.

With the recent introduction of 2-year digital nomad visas, coming to work in South Korea just makes sense. Of course, it has lightning-fast internet, a thriving cafe culture, and 24/7 buzz. When you match the conveniences and safety of the country with the rich cultural heritage waiting to be explored, it feels like the perfect place to set up your working life abroad.  

Let’s go through the small print

The new trial visa guarantees you (and your family) two years’ stay, as long as you are employed by a foreign registered company. To be successful, applicants must be 18 or older, have worked in their current field for at least a year, and make an annual income of KRW 84.96 million won (about USD $62,751). 

You will also need to have personal medical insurance providing coverage of at least KRW 100 million won (about USD $73,860) for hospital treatment and repatriation during your stay. Many Korean local governments run workcation programs with subsidies, such as free shared spaces, accommodation, and travel vouchers. 

So, if you’re ready for a Korean workcation, keep reading to find the best places to get set up!

N Seoul Tower with cherry blossom or sakura flower with blue sky at Namsan Mountain in Seoul City, South Korea.

Image source:Contiki

Seoul

Seoul is an obvious choice if you want to enjoy the fast-paced, bustling life of a metropolitan city. Although Korea designated a new administrative capital, Sejong, the majority of businesses are still based in Seoul, along with over 20% of the population – that’s a lot of people to network with! 

Perhaps the best selling point for a digital nomad is the city’s convenience and facilities, combined with its nightlife. Whatever time zone you are working in, you will be able to find a place from which to eat, drink, and work. 

Seoul’s cafe culture provides a wide range of options with what feels like a cafe on every corner. There are often designated zones for study and work, which run for 24 hours with unlimited coffee top-ups. You can even enjoy specially-themed places to work: from a Harry Potter-themed cafe that takes you to the Ministry of Magic for your day of work to a surprising range of animal cafes. It’s not just cat cafes in Seoul, but ones with sheep, turtles and even racoons. The perfect rogue guests on your video calls. 

If that’s not enough and you need a pick-me-up, convenience stores are always open for your instant noodle fix. And there are plenty of places for downtime or work lunches. Head over to the Han River to enjoy Chimaek (Korean fried chicken + beer) or sit around a table in a Korean BBQ restaurant for those important business meetings.

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Jeju Island

Not about that city life?

The volcanic island Jeju, located off the southernmost part of the country, is famous for its warm climate and picturesque scenery. Surrounded by palm trees and rock structures, it has a very different atmosphere from anywhere else in the country, which is why it is a popular workcation spot for Koreans themselves. 

It’s the place to be if you enjoy outdoor activities, as you could easily fit in some hiking, cycling, swimming, and surfing after work. 26 ‘Olle trail’ courses take you around the perimeter of the island, including sandy beaches and volcanic hills. UNESCO-listed lava caves and naturally made sea cliffs provide magnificent views everywhere you go and are part of the reason it attracts ten million tourists every year.

Like everywhere in Korea, its food is important too. You can try excellent traditional markets and restaurants in every town for local black pork or freshly caught seafood. Henyeo, the famous free-hand divers, are often found on beaches selling their catch of the day too.

Although it does not have the convenience of Seoul, Jeju has designated workstations across the island offering ocean views, fast internet, and hot desks. Due to its popularity, accommodation is not as cheap as you might think. But if you’re after an authentic experience, you could try a traditional stone-walled house made of basalt, found in the island’s smaller towns.

Jeju Island, South Korea

Image source:ⓒ한국관광공사 사진갤러리-표길영 / Korean Tourism Organisation

Busan

If you like the sound of the two options so far, Busan might just be the best of both worlds.

Like in Seoul, you can enjoy all the conveniences, nightlife and a beautiful cityscape, which gave it the nickname the ‘Hong Kong of Korea’. The difference is that just minutes after work, you can be hitting the waves. You’ll be able to choose from a different beach every day: from Haeundae (popular with the younger generation) to Gwanganri (with the most bars and restaurants along the coast) and surf paradise, Songdo.

Serving as a refuge and temporary capital during the Korean War, the city became a melting pot of different cultures. Traditional markets are the best place to see this in action, with Kukje market, where American army rations were traded, Jagalchi Seafood Market and Kkangtong Night Market, all popular destinations for locals and tourists.

For cinema lovers, there is another reason to live in Busan. The biggest film festival in Asia (BIFF) is hosted by the city. Busan Cinema Centre is open to the public and offers complimentary film showings throughout the year. And if you time it right, you can go celeb spotting around the city in autumn. 

As for work, Busan is the second-largest city in the country with 7 million residents, the most high-rise buildings and the biggest trading port in Korea. As a result, it appeals to many businesses, especially financial institutions and IT companies. Most importantly, the city has a workcation programme supported by the local government that provides co-working space and accommodation for free. 

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Gyungju

Keen to get off the beaten path and explore the ‘real Korea’? Then head to Gyungju, which is one of the oldest and most historic cities in the country. 

Having been the capital of Shilla Kingdom for 1,000 years, the city has an abundant cultural heritage. Many of its attractions are UNESCO-listed, the highlights being Seokguram & Bulguksa Temple, the only man-made granite grotto in the world, and Cheomseongdae, the world’s oldest observatory in its original form.

In the centre, you can find royal palaces, tombs and Buddhist temples from the year 700, which you can explore during the day, or on an illuminated night walk. Meanwhile, across the Woljeong bridge, you can get a real taste of Korean history at the traditional Hanok village. 

In fact, there’s so much history in Gyungju that there are still many uncovered heritage sites around the city, limiting the building of new developments. Compared to Seoul and Busan, there are fewer conveniences and things to do as a result. However, cheaper accommodation and fewer crowds are unbeatable advantages of living here. Seoul is not too far away as well — just over 2 hours on an express train.

Gyeongju village, South Korea

Image source:ⓒ한국관광공사 사진갤러리-이항우  / Korean Tourism Organisation

Yangyang

Gangwondo province is the only Korean state divided between the North and the South – where you’ll find the city of Yangyang. Due to its unique features and proximity to the border, army bases, farms and resorts surround the area.

Located in the Taeback mountainous range, which slopes down to the East Sea, Yangyang has many holiday resorts that offer activities like golf, water sports, and skiing in winter. 

Within a 10-minute driving range, you can enjoy the sea, mountains and the city, and anywhere you go, breathtaking views will welcome you. The beach here is known as a mecca for Korean surfers due to its clean water and monster waves. Famous Buddhist temples have been built for a long period in the mountains too – the best spot for a digital detox and finding your zen.

Yangyang borders major cities in the region, such as Sokcho and Gangneung. In 20 minutes, you can get to Gangeung for a beautiful ocean view with the best quality coffee – with famous baristas and coffee roasting companies based along the shore.

What’s more, it’s easily reachable from Seoul. Thanks to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, a motorway was built to the Gangwon area reducing the drive to just two hours.

20 best things to do in South Korea on your first trip

20 best things to do in South Korea on your first trip

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by Charlie Fabre Jul 10, 2023

Want to explore a taste of South Korea before you make your own submission to become a digital nomad here? Jump on Contiki’s South Korean Soul trip.

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