Once you have settled into your apartment and are sick of ordering food from Yogiyo and eating processed food from the convenience store, it is time to figure out how to grocery shop in Korea.
First time grocery shopping in Korea can be quite overwhelming. Questions like where to go, how to pay, where are certain products, and how to carry all these bags, are all things that can stress you out before you even begin shopping.
Also, bear in mind, that you will not have a car nor the tools to communicate (especially when you first move to Korea), so every time you go grocery shopping the experience is a part of the adventure of traveling and living abroad. As a person who has lived in Korea for a few years now, I hope this blog will help making your grocery shopping experience a little easier when you begin teaching in Korea.
Where to Grocery Shop
As expats, we want to shop at a store that has the comforts from home. There are 3 stores in Korea that are common and placed in every major city nationwide, these are Lotte Mart, E-mart and HomePlus.
These stores will have most foreign groceries you wish to buy, including everything from Swiss cheese, to Greek Yogurt to Tortilla wraps. The great thing about these stores is that they are usually big shopping centers that consist of 3 or 4 levels. If you are looking for more than just food, you can also purchase items such as toiletries, house products and pet food at these stores as well. There is also a clothing section which has reasonable underwear and sleepwear options. Miscellaneous things like electronics, a food court and beauty products can be found here too.
To give you an idea of how much you can do at a store like HomePlus, on a previous trip I was able to print an ID photograph, buy a camera, get a coffee and and also purchase some books.
How to Grocery Shop
Grocery shopping can be quite a workout when you don’t have a car or live far away from a shopping center. Over the years, I have learned from trial and error how to effectively grocery shop and minimize the amount of stress that goes into making a big trip to the store.
To start, you need a big backpack that is comfortable and a re-usable grocery bag for carrying your groceries. Korea has paper bags and plastic bags, but when walking long distances or catching the train, your hands and arms will become numb from the weight. You will easily give up and waste all your money on taxi rides home.
Next, you need to break up your grocery shopping into weekly food and bi-weekly house products. When I have run out of beauty products or house products, I try to go buy that all in one trip. Also, you can utilize online shopping sites like G-market or I-herb to deliver majority of your cleaning products to your apartment.You can also buy beauty products at Olive Young and Watsons online.
How to Pay for Groceries
Most people in Korea do not carry cash. Every store utilizes card machines, and you can pay with any Visa or Mastercard from abroad. If you wish to pay with your Korean card or a foreign card, it is possible to do so as well. There are usually no limitations to what payment method you would like to utilize, as long as your card is unblocked and international friendly.
Koreans also use a lot of apps to get discounts from the internet. Just like America, you could wait in line for App coupons to be processed, for almost every item at the store.
For online shopping you can utilize any Master or Visa credit card along with any Korean based credit card or you can do an EFT. An EFT in Korea is super easy, you can transfer money to any account within Korea from an ATM, or via online banking. G-market lets you pay via EFT and you usually have about 24 hours to make payment.
Deals and Discounts
Korea is known for its focus on service and as a result deals and discounts are constantly being offered at E-mart, Lotte Mart and HomePlus. If you know what times to go, you could save up to 30,000W on your grocery shop easily.
Usually after 9pm every night, food products are also discounted up to 30%. This can include dairy, meat, vegetables, baked chickens and prepared foods from the deli and bakery.
Saturdays and Sundays around 2pm to 4pm there tend to also be big sales on products and foods. Look out for a man shouting "timed sale", or a banner that markets the same thing.
Finally, If you utilize Lotte Mart a lot you can get big discounts owning a L-point card. Every time you grocery shop or buy a product from Lotte Mart you can accumulate points. I have bought a wireless headset and got 40,000W off one of my grocery shops with these points.
I hope these tips are helpful for when you make your first trip to the grocery store during your time in Korea. If you have any other tips please feel free to comment below.
It is no surprise that Tijana Huysamen, a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people. After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request more information on teaching in Korea!