Apartment living in Korea is the norm and is seen as moving up in the world, as opposed to living in a free standing house (as seemingly the consensus is that living in a house is unsafe), which is generally contrary to the way we think in the West.
However, to the foreigner living in an apartment, can either be a blessing or a curse. It depends on a few criteria: 1) Age of the apartment, 2) Your neighbours, and 3) Your apartment complex caretaker.
As we were married at the time of moving to Korea, we had a choice of two apartments where we could live (If you are unmarried, you will not be able to reside together). The reason for this was due to the fact that both our schools had prepared apartments prior to our arrival.
The first apartment we saw was in downtown Buyeo, situated in quite an old complex called Dongnam. The apartment, although neat and clean looked very tired. In fact we turned on a light, which sputtered and died, not engendering much positvity from the two of us towards the apartment. Other foreigners who lived in this complex often experienced frozen water pipes during winter and no hot running water on the odd occasion.
The second choice of apartment was on the outskirts of town which meant a short bus ride if ever we wanted to head into town, but within walking distance of one of the schools we would be teaching in. This apartment was the total opposite to the Dongnam apartment. It was in a complex that was new in comparison, but looked more welcoming, homely and updated. It was not a hard decision to make.
Your neighbours in any corner of the globe you currently reside can make or break the peace and tranquility of any home. In Korea you are surrounded by people in clustered apartment living 24/7. It is not uncommon to be woken in the middle of the night by shouting, or knocking on your door or banging sounds above and below you.
Finally, your apartment caretaker can either be extremely helpful, or a bit of a hindrance. We experienced both in the four years of living in our apartment. We had a few caretakers in our time. Generally very pleasant and helpful men. If needed, they would fix things that required fixing etc. It was only in our last year with the new caretaker that things were a little unpleasant.
The word privacy seems to have a different meaning in Korea, to the way we understand it to be. In our final year, we would get home and find that our caretaker had been in our Apt without us knowing about it. Gas pipes were installed and everything left in a tip, an unexpected show house of our apartment to new prospective tenants to name a few irritations.
It is also not uncommon to expect gas line inspections or internet personnel to arrive after 7 pm in the evening for random inspections.
Lastly if you are not used to a wet room, you may be in for a surprise. In most apartments, the shower will be in close proximity to the toilet. You will not find a shower screen or curtain installed let alone a cubicle, so unfortunately everything gets soaked. Toilet paper is also encouraged to be disposed of in a bin, rather than flushed.
Please don’t let this put you off though. In general, for the most part, our apartment experience was wonderful. It is just good to be aware of what may occur.