The Real Deal on What You Should Bring to Korea

I know many of you reading this blog may be getting ready to embark on your journey to Korea in August for the summer/fall EPIK/GEPIK intake and probably freaking out like I was almost 4 months ago over what to pack. There’s no shortage of blogs with packing lists, but during my search I found that many were outdated. Now that I’m here, I can tell you honestly what you need to bring, and what you can leave at home and buy here cheaply (or…maybe not so cheap). Keep in mind this list is from the perspective of a 5’0ft tall, curly haired, 6.5 size shoe, large ass/thick thighs, average sized woman, but I will try to cover all of the bases.

1. UNDERWEAR.
Ladies and Gentlemen, bring underwear. LOTS of it. If you are a woman with above size B boobs, bring a million bras. If you wear a size B or lower, still…bring bras. The underwear here is just…weird. Don’t ask me why. It just is. Most of the stuff I’ve seen is really grandma looking. No cute thongs or boyshorts or cheeky bottom undies. It’s all high waisted and lacy and just bizarre. I really thought people were weird when they say to bring as much underwear as possible, and they weren’t lying. Pack it into every empty crevice, inside your shoes, wherever you can fit it. SPARE NO EXPENSE! I really wish I had brought more with me.

2. Deodorant

Now, some people may argue with me on this. “BUT SHERYLL! THERE IS DEODORANT EVERYWHERE!”. And yes, there actually is, especially now that it’s summer. But, if you use a specific brand (I use Dove), bring it. The only deodorant brand I have seen here is at Etude House and other cosmetic stores, and Nivea. Now, I actually love Nivea deodorant and I used it in Europe when I was there. It works really well and smells great. But, if you love your Degree, Secret, Dove, etc. Bring it. They don’t have it here (at least no where I’ve seen). Plus, deodorant is outrageously priced here. I’m talking like $7 for one stick. So bring it.

3. Bath Towels and Sheets

Invest in a really nice pair of sheets and some nice towels. And by invest I mean take your ass to Marshall’s/TJ Maxx, Kohl’s, whatever discount store and find some nice, yet inexpensive sheets and towels. I am beyond happy I brought my own sheets and towels with me. Koreans typically do not use full sized bath towels like we do in the States. The only ones I’ve seen have been extremely expensive, and still not the nice quality that I like. This applies to sheets as well. Some people may not find it that important, but I did. I’m super happy I sacrificed the luggage space.

4. Makeup/Skincare/Hair Care Products

Now, you all know that I am in love with Korean cosmetics. We’ve gone over it a million times. But, there are some things that you will need to bring if you are picky and/or any shade darker than…fair.

If you are a darker skinned woman, and by that I mean anything ranging from a tan to very dark complexion, bring your own foundation/blush/powder/etc. In the department stores, there are many American brands such as MAC, Bobbi Brown, Benefit, etc., that will most likely have your color (unless you have dark skin, the darkest I have seen at the MAC counter here is NC45), but you will be paying a million dollars. For example, the NC45 makeup I was eying was a cool $50 bucks for the foundation. The same foundation that costs maybe $30ish in the States. It’s just worth it to stock up on all of that before you leave home.

If you have a very specific face wash, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner that you use, bring it. I use Trader Joe’s Nourish Spa conditioner and I knew there would be 0.000000% chance they’d have it here. I brought 6 bottles with me. I also brought all of my hair products with me because I knew they wouldn’t have anything similar here.

Some American/Western brands I have seen in Korea: Burt’s Bees, Aveeno, Kiehl’s, Rosebud Salve, Cetaphil, Dr. Bronner’s, Pantene Pro V, Head and Shoulders, Neutrogena, Vaseline, Maybelline, L’Oreal, Clean and Clear, Dove body wash, Johnson and Johnson, Organix, Lip Smackers, etc. etc. But to be honest, even though there are many, many familiar brands here, but they are OUTRAGEOUSLY priced. I’m talking $17 for a small bottle of Aveeno lotion. But, it *is* available.

Toothpaste usually doesn’t have flouride in it, so I’d bring some of your favorite from home too. Arm and Hammer toothpaste is available here, and that’s what I used after my one tube from home ran out.

Tampons are readily available here (and I live in the sticks). It is more expensive than back at home, but they exist. I have only seen playtex (pearl and regular plastic) brand here, so if you prefer something else, stock up!

Also, I’d suggest bringing your favorite over the counter cold, allergy, stomach, pain medication and vitamins. I brought all of mine and I am SO glad I did. Not that they don’t have over the counter stuff here, but I like being able to read it in English, and Aleve is the only pain medication that seems to work really fast for me, so I brought a giant bottle from Costco. Vitamins are fucking insanely expensive here, so bring them from home.

5. Shoes/Clothes (especially if you are not a small/average sized person)

I have ever in my life seen so many places to shop (and I’m freaking from LA!), than I have in Korea. Seriously. There are opportunities to buy clothes EVERYWHERE. Now, I am speaking from living in very close proximity to Bundang and Seoul, I have no idea about anywhere else in Korea. As we all know, Korean women are tiny. A good 89.6% of them are very small. I am 5’0 and 139lbs. I am not what people would call skinny. I am average/above average. I think people just get so caught up in the whole  “Koreans are small and I’m not so that means I’ll never find anything that fits ever ever ever” And I am here to tell you I have not had a problem finding clothes that fit me here.

Sure, you’re ego will be fucked when you’re normally a size 5 to7ish (like me), and all of a sudden you are looking at the large section. But I frequently shop in the subways/street corners/wherever and they have stuff that fits. In Seoul, there is also a HUGE Forever 21 and a few H&Ms, GAP, Zara, etc.

If you are plus size, I do suggest bringing as much clothes as you can possibly fit. Plus sized clothes are available here in Itaewon and Dongdaemun, but I’m not sure how big they run or what size they go up to.

It’s suggested to try and bring a few items  of clothes for each season. Shorts and dresses are a must for summer. Winter…well, I’m from LA so I don’t own any real winter clothes, but I brought what few sweaters I have. Bring a few dressier items for work. Nice blouses, dress pants/skirts and cardigans should be good. My school lets me wear jeans to work, but some schools don’t. Also, strapless/spaghetti straps, shoulders exposed and/or low cut shirts are a no go here, especially at work. Wear that shit to the club, but in normal, everyday life, I wouldn’t do it. In Korea, it is perfectly okay to wear the shortest skirt or pair of shorts EVER (not at school), but it is NOT okay to have your boobs out.  A lot of my normal shirts I brought from home were to low cut to wear here. It’s a weird adjustment, but just be aware!

If you have a size 7.5/8 foot or larger, BRING SHOES. You will not find them here. I have only seen a few specialty stores in Itaewon and Dongdaemun that carry larger sizes. It’s best to bring them with you. I suggest a pair or 2 of flip flops, dressy shoes/heels, boots, and running shoes. If you have smaller feet, I’d suggest maybe bringing one or 2 pairs with you. Anything else you need can be found here, and most likely very cheap. I wish I had known that shoes would be so inexpensive and abundant here (for small feet), because I could’ve definitely saved some luggage space.

6. Specialty Food Items

Long gone are the days when people said you couldn’t find peanut butter or salsa in Korea. I can even find it in my little country ass town. What you probably will not find is Taco/burrito seasoning, oatmeal, super dark chocolate, tea (Earl Grey, Black, Green, Mint, etc.), really nice coffee, etc. I brought taco seasoning and my favorite tea with me. I recently ran out of my taco seasoning and lucked up on some at the Foreign Food Market in Itaewon, but it cost me a pretty penny. It’s probably better to have my mom send me a huge shipment from home, or maybe even order some from iherb.com. PS., for all of you health nuts out there, iherb.com will be your best friend in Korea. You can find anything: organic spices, coconut oil, larabars, protein powder, vitamins, stevia, vegan and gluten free products, etc. Between iherb and the random things I find in the international section of my local Emart, I rarely crave anything (except turkey breast…go to Costo!)

7. Other random things

I brought a cute little Anthropology ring holder, my journal, an external hard drive, travel adapter, as well as a great deal of my pictures from traveling and random other places. It’s nice to have little reminders of home, and the students really, really love to see pictures of you and your friends and family. If you love to read as much as I do, I honestly suggest investing in a Kindle. It’s just SO easy, and I don’t have to trek down to the What the Book English book store in Itaewon every time I want to read a new book.

The point of this long ass post is to tell you that honestly, a vast majority of the things you want to bring can be found easily in Korea. Yes, you will probably be paying ass tons more money for it, but if you are in a jam, it does exist here. When I was writing this post I really had to sit and think of things that I wish I had brought, and I honestly can’t think of anything because I’ve been able to find whatever I need here (with the exception of my hair products, I will have to get those shipped from the States). And if you can’t find it, you can order it online or have your family send you a care package.

Any other expats in Korea want to add to the list? Suggestions are welcome!

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