My First Korean Remote Working Experience

The remote working experience (i.e. telecommuting) has been trending the past couple years. With popular platforms such as Working Nomads, We Work Remotely, and Remote Working Company dominating the Google sphere when one types “remote working” in the search field, the once far-fetched concept of “not having to go to the office anymore” seems to be closer to us than we think.

As my current skill set and job (FYI: I’m a Growth Engineer) allows me to work virtually anywhere, I too, decided to jump on the remote work bandwagon. Of course, this is with the support of my team. With this, I decided to remote work in Korea for a month, from September 2015 to October 2015.

Evening sky_Seoul
Evening sky in Gangnam, Seoul

Sure, one month seems like a sufficient length of time to be away from the office; but I’d like to state that traveling for a month and working remotely for a month are two very different things. Personally, one month was way too short to carry out a remote working stint. I’d recommend working remotely for at least 2 months in order to get the full experience.

 

What’s the difference, now?

 

The differences between traveling and working remotely stem from one key aspect – the initial set-up.

Here’s what a remote worker needs to do once settling down:


  • Get comfy with chosen accommodation. Purchase daily necessities. That being said, look for the nearest convenience store or supermarket.
  • Get familiar with transportation options. Rent a car or purchase bus/train cards.
  • Purchase data SIM cards/calling cards.
  • Contact family members and loved ones — assure them that you have not been approached by mysterious handsome guys at the airport and kidnapped from your home.
  • Get familiar with the neighborhood (e.g. is there a place nearby to get a good cup of coffee? what is the noise level like in the day time/night time?).
  • Do some planning. Structure the week’s activities effectively for meetings, quiet time, and even personal events not to be missed (e.g. The International Fireworks Festival held in Seoul once a year).
  • Ensure adequate WiFi is set up at home. If not, set it up.
  • Set up your home work space.
  • Find other work spaces (e.g. cafes, co-working spaces, libraries).
  • Get to know the community/other remote workers.
  • Set up local bank accounts and settle financial matters (if necessary).
  • Purchase groceries, toiletries, bedding, etc, for long-term use.
  • Find exercise spots (remember, exercise is crucial for both brain and body to function well).

Doing all these will probably take up 3-5 days of your time. If you meet with some complications, it will take up to more than a week’s worth of time. That being said, you’re left with 3 good weeks to work AND explore the place a little.

On the other hand, the list of what a traveler needs to do is really just the first half of the one above:


  • Get comfy with chosen accommodation. Purchase daily necessities. That being said, look for the nearest convenience store or supermarket.
  • Get familiar with transportation options. Rent a car or purchase bus/train cards.
  • Purchase data SIM cards/calling cards.
  • Contact family members and loved ones — assure them that you have not been approached by mysterious handsome guys at the airport and kidnapped from your home.
  • Get familiar with the neighborhood (e.g. is there a place nearby to get a good cup of coffee? what is the noise level like in the day time/night time?).

 

How to optimise your time and money

(if you only have 1 month)

 

Plan, plan, plan.

That’s probably the best advice I can give.

Completing the list above is probably still going to be necessary, but if you plan ahead – it’ll shave hours of your time when you reach your destination.

For example, I realised that spending some time in advance to search for transportation options online helped to reduce my transport costs by about 50%. I found that it was not necessarily cheaper to purchase a bus/train pass (usually a fixed fee for unlimited traveling), but instead purchasing a mixture of single-day and individual tickets were cheaper as I didn’t need to get to many places in a day.

korean transport passes
Korean transport passes – the “T-money card”

In addition, I found coupons online to help me save on groceries (if I purchase them in larger quantities — which was completely fine since I was going to be living in Korea for a full month), as well as places of attractions such as amusement parks.

I wanted to experience Korea as much as I could, and yet I was constrained by a tight budget. Searching online for free events or free admission to certain places widened by exploration options without hurting my wallet.

It helped in my planning of activities too, since some places with free admission applied to only a specific date and time of the week.

With a “calendar of events” I created for myself, it made segregating my time for work and play much easier. I could also save on transport costs since I could cram all my activities in a day, and get a day pass.

cycling in Udo Island
Cycling in Udo Island

Seoul Fireworks Festival 2015
Seoul Fireworks Festival 2015

Samsung Museum Seoul
Samsung Museum, Seoul

 

Why I chose Korea as a remote working spot

 

Fast WiFi

 

South Korea has top-notch Internet connectivity, with the world’s fastest average connection speed at 20.5 mbps and average peak speed at 86.6 mbps.

 

Cheap food (and alcohol)

 

I wouldn’t say that the cost of living in Korea is low, but it definitely has low-cost options for food and alcohol. A gimbap (e.g. seaweed rice roll with ingredients such as eggs, cucumbers, sweet picked radishes, sausages, carrots, and spinach) can fill you up for lunch and costs only 2000 won (the equivalent of SGD$ 3 and USD$ 2).

gimbap in busan
Gimbap

Compared to Singapore, alcohol is very cheap. A bottle of soju or beer costs as little as SGD$ 1 at convenience stores. Standard groceries such as potatoes, pork, beef, mushrooms, and rice aren’t too pricey as well. What I usually try to do is to look around for supermarket offers/promotions around night-time (prices are lowered for fresh foods), and cook the ingredients the next day. I will also get some staples such as eggs, potatoes, rice, and sometimes pasta.

Oh, and Korean BBQs are so affordable too. If you’ve got a monster appetite like me, you’d appreciate their free rice and side dish refills.

Korean bbq
Korean BBQ with a very special side dish — silkworm larvae.

 

Plenty of working spaces with fast WiFi

 

I’m someone who doesn’t like to stick to a single work environment. With that, it’s necessary for me to search for multiple workspaces, including cafes and libraries. Korea has tonnes of cafes. Whether it’s in Seoul, Busan, or Jeju — there are cafes everywhere.

They are usually pretty huge so you never have to worry about finding a seat. Free WiFi is also presented to each customer through a receipt after a purchase is made.

Cafe in Busan
A cafe in Busan

 

Culture and activities

 

It’s important to embrace the local culture when you’re remote working. As I’ve watched several Korean dramas/shows, I realised that their culture is something I’d like to immerse myself in.

From competitive gaming to traditional Korean spas (“jjimjil-bang“), I was excited to see and experience these things in my free time. I also figured that exploring the other scenic destinations outside of Seoul (such as Busan and Jeju), were within reasonable budget. Museums, bars, outdoor concerts, movies, hiking… check, check, check.

Temple visit Seoul
Friendly “ahjumma” (aged woman) who accompanied us around the palace

hiking in Korea
Hiking – Mount Yongmasan

Busan Film Festival_Star Wars
At the Busan International Film Festival

This pretty much sums up my remote work stint in Korea. I’m looking forward to going back. Perhaps for a good 3-6 months this time. What other things do you consider when choosing a remote work location?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *