Coming to Korea: what to pack and what to buy (2012 edition)

The date in the title is intentional – these things age quickly.

Do a search for ‘Korean packing list’ and you’ll find thousands of results. There’s plenty of good intentions, of course, but reading a list from 2007 might lead you to pack a year’s worth of deodorant. Plenty of varieties are easily found these days, though the exact selection will vary based on where you are and your willingness to travel. There’s so little that’s not available on some level that you could get away with stocking up on almost anything once you arrive.

With that in mind, the ‘packing for Korea’ list, circa January 2012:

CLOTHING (from head to toe):

1-3 favorite hats (winter, classy, go wild here)

8-10 t-shirts – some safe for work, some better for the bar / club

7-10 bras (at least 10 if you wear a C-cup or larger)

2-4 ‘warm’ shirts – whether these are sweaters, turtlenecks, mock turtlenecks, or something else depends on your personal style

5-10 ‘nicer’ shirts – whether these are polo, button down, blouses, or something else depends on your personal style

1-2 windbreaker / spring jackets

1-2 winter jackets

1-2 suit / formal jackets

10-15 items of underwear (boxers, briefs, panties, whatever floats your proverbial boat)

2-4 belts

5-7 pairs of jeans

2-3 pairs of shorts

1-2 swimsuits

3-5 pairs of slacks, khakis, or other pants (Note that this balance will depend on your school’s dress code)

5-10 dresses, skirts, etc.

10-15 pairs of socks

1-2 pairs of casual, everyday shoes

1-2 pairs of working out / running shoes (if that’s your thing)

1-2 pairs of nicer shoes (Note that shoes are one of the easier things to find in Korea – if you have big feet, pack more)


Laptop computer (IF AND ONLY IF it’s recent and holds a good battery life – you may find it’s a wiser purchase to ditch the old laptop and pick a new one up just before leaving.)

External hard drive, if desired (great for backing up pictures, music, or movies – those that aren’t powered by the computer have a power converter. These just need a physical plug adapter to ensure the plug fits in the wall)

1 or more flash drives – these things come in quite handy for the most basic job of transferring documents from one computer to another. Note that online services like Dropbox do the same thing as well.

(Note that there no cell phone on this list – while some mobile phones from other countries might work, it has gotten quite easy to pick up a Korean phone with a minimum of inconvenience.)


Soap, shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, etc. for a week. Seriously, once you get settled in and find the nearest department store you can stock up – and it reduces the chance of getting shampoo over everything else in your bags.

1-3 full-size towels – they’re sold here as well, though they’re a bit more expensive.

1-3 hand towels

1-3 washcloths

The biggest bottle of aspirin / ibuprofen you can find

Some favorite cold / flu remedies – the Korean stuff has worked well for me, but of course your mileage may vary.


1-2 sets of flat and fitted sheets. Expect to have a college-sized extra-long twin bed, but try to confirm with your school if they’re providing your housing. If it were me all over again, I’d bring two sets of queen-sized sheets – the excess can get stuffed underneath just as easily!

2-4 pillowcases

(DO NOT PACK a comforter or any thick blankets! They’re easily found at department stores and bedding stores across Korea, and your luggage space is better used on other things)


Copies of bank cards, your passport, background check, drivers license, international drivers license

Originals – passport, debit / credit card, print-off of e-ticket, etc.

Money, baby! Don’t leave home without enough cash to last a month. $1,000 – $1,500 USD is a good cushion, though you could survive with $500 USD your first month..


Basic tools (e.g. screwdrivers, multi-function knife) – be sure they’re not in your carry-on!


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A few things are better bought in Korea, partially to save space and partially because the local version is essentially the same in terms of quality. This goes for most toiletry / bathroom items, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, soap, deodorant, floss, and so on.

Tech stuff – little things like plug adapters are found in most electronic stores and department stores. While these cheap plugs won’t convert the electricity, your laptop’s power adapter does that task for you. Buy your curling irons and hair dryers here as well – they’re easy to find and surprisingly cheap. If you have any electronics you brought from your home country, transformers are relatively easy to find.

Getting a cell phone typically requires an Alien Registration Card, which takes a couple months to obtain.

If your school provides your housing, expect to have quite a few things to your name already – typically stuff belonging to previous residents. Do an inventory of what’s around, then head to the nearest department store for what you need (or what needs replacing).


Readers, what’s missing? What else would you / did you bring from home that was worth the weight and space?