Japan or Korea: Which Country Is Better for Expats?

Have you ever thought about moving to East Asia but can’t decide between Japan and Korea? You’re not alone.

Both countries have much to offer expats. From fascinating cultures and mouthwatering cuisines to booming economies and job opportunities – you name it, you got it.

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But which one is ultimately better for foreigners looking to relocate, Korea or Japan? That’s the million-dollar question you and many others want answered.

To help you make an informed decision, we’ve compiled a detailed comparison of life for expats in Japan and Korea. We’ll break down everything from visas and living costs to work culture and social life.

Whether you’re a solo traveler, family member, or entrepreneur, this inside look at expats living in both destinations will help you determine which best suits your needs and preferences.

Read on as we explore all the ins and outs to help you decide if Japan or Korea is your ideal home away from home.

Japan or Korea: Which Country Is Better for Expats? 1

As an expat considering moving to Japan or Korea, understanding the nuances of living expenses is crucial. Remember, visiting Japan and Korea differs from living in these countries in the long term.

Let’s delve into real-life comparisons to help you decide which one suits your lifestyle and budget better.

Housing Costs

Renting an apartment in Seoul is cheaper than in Tokyo. You can get a one-bedroom place in Seoul for $500 to $1000 monthly. Tokyo is pricier, with rents ranging from $800 to $1500 for the same apartment type.

If you’re considering buying, property prices in Seoul are generally lower than in Japan’s capital. That means you can get more value for your money in Seoul compared to Tokyo.

However, finding a quality place to live can be a bit tricky in both cities, especially in popular areas. You might have more options within your budget in Seoul. But, finding something affordable and spacious in Tokyo can be more challenging.

But what if you want to live in Korea but are looking for a piece of land that is cheaper? Then Busan might be the answer.

Buying property in Busan, South Korea, is reasonable. The average cost per square meter is around $9,300, which is way cheaper than Seoul. Plus, certain neighborhoods like Haeundae-gu are a bit pricier. But, others, like Sasang-gu, are more budget-friendly.

The real estate market in Busan, South Korea, is pretty stable, with a low Fragile State Index. And get this – the economy is expected to grow by almost 10% in the next five years, which usually means higher incomes and more demand for property. So, investing in Busan now could pay off big time.

Meanwhile, if you’re considering Japan, Hokkaido’s another excellent option. But it’s a bit pricier than Busan, with average costs per square meter around $12,000.

Renting is also slightly higher than in Busan, especially in popular areas like Sapporo. But Hokkaido has perks like stunning landscapes, snowy mountains, and outdoor adventures.

So, if you’re weighing your options between Busan and Hokkaido, it comes down to what you value more. You can choose between affordability and those snowy mountain views. Let me know if you need more info!

Japan or Korea: Which Country Is Better for Expats? 2

Food Budget

Compared to Japan, eating out and grocery shopping in Korea are cheaper.

In Korea, I could grab an affordable ramen or $5 to $10 Korean food, especially when I visit Gwangjang Market, which was awesome for my budget. I remember going out with friends and enjoying a hearty Korean meal without breaking the bank.

My friends and I ate at Sandeomi Bulgogi, which was a great experience.

I ordered the Sandeomi Duruchigi for 7,000 won (about $9.3), which included a generous portion of 200 grams of bulgogi. The restaurant is located in the Hongdae/Sangsu area, close to Sangsu station.

When the dish arrived, I was pleased to see the amount of food I received for the price. The bulgogi was served sizzling hot, and the aroma was enticing. The portion size was satisfying, and the beef was tender and flavorful.

The meal was definitely worth the price, and I left feeling full and satisfied.

Besides meals, even groceries were affordable – I could get fruits and veggies for a good price, making it easier to cook at home and save money.

In Japan, I noticed that meals were a bit pricier, usually around $10 to $15. So, I had to be more careful with my expenses when buying Japanese food.

Grocery shopping at AEON Supermarket in Shinjuku and Seiyu Sangenjaya in Setagaya were a bit more expensive. This is especially true for fresh produce.

Overall, living in Korea meant I could enjoy good food without spending too much. It was great for my budget and allowed me to explore more culinary experiences without worrying too much about costs.

However, alcohol and imported goods are more expensive in Korea due to higher import taxes.

Transportation

Korea and Japan offer modern, extensive, affordable public transportation systems. You can expect to pay around $2 in Seoul and Tokyo for a single-fare ticket, making it easy to get around affordably. 

Japanese and South Korean taxis are readily available but pricier, charging approximately $10 for a 5 to 10-minute ride.

Domestic flights are an option for longer distances, often costing under $100. Alternatively, high-speed rail provides a comfortable and scenic way to travel between cities in just a few hours.

This efficient mode of transportation allows travelers to enjoy the journey while saving time and hassle.

Healthcare

In both Korea and Japan, healthcare is comprehensive and relatively affordable. A doctor’s visit typically costs between $30 to $50 in both countries, which is quite reasonable. 

Both nations also offer national health insurance schemes. Monthly premiums ranging from $50 to $200, depending on your income level.

Regarding prescription drugs and medical procedures, costs are generally lower in Korea and Japan than in other developed nations.

This means that accessing necessary healthcare services is more financially accessible for residents.

However, I’ve noticed some differences in the healthcare systems of Korea and Japan.

For example, Korea has a more extensive network of clinics and hospitals, especially in major cities. This results in shorter waiting times for appointments and procedures. 

On the other hand, Japan is known for its excellent patient care and advanced medical technology, making it a great place to migrate to.

Japan or Korea: Which Country Is Better for Expats? 3

Job Opportunities and Salaries for Expats in Japan and Korea

Teaching English

One of the most common jobs for expats in both Japan and Korean soil is teaching English. Demand is high in both countries, where English is essential for career and economic success. Salaries average around $2,000 to $3,000 per month. 

Here are a few things to remember:

  1. Job Opportunities: Both Japan and South Korea have numerous opportunities for English teachers. Positions available in public schools, private language academies (known as “hagwons” in Korea and “eikaiwas” in Japan), universities, and corporate settings.

  2. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree and native-level English proficiency are generally the minimum requirements. But, many employers prefer TEFL or TESOL certification when looking for candidates. Some positions may also require prior teaching experience.

  3. Salary and Benefits: Salaries for English teachers vary depending on different factors. It includes qualifications, experience, location, and employer. In addition to a monthly salary, many positions in both countries offer benefits. They offer housing allowances or provide accommodation, health insurance, and paid vacation. Some even offer flight reimbursement.

  4. Work Environment: Teaching English in Japan and South Korea can offer a rewarding cultural experience. Class sizes are typically smaller in Japan, focusing on building solid relationships with students. In South Korea, English teachers often work in after-school programs or academies. I this setting, classes may be larger and more structured.

  5. Cultural Experience: Both countries offer unique cultural experiences for expatriates. Japan is known for its rich history, traditional arts, and modern technology. Meanwhile, South Korea provides a dynamic blend of conventional culture and K-pop entertainment.

International Companies 

Major international tech, finance, and engineering companies often hire expats for management, engineering, and product development jobs.

These roles typically pay much higher than teaching, in the $5,000 to $10,000 monthly range. 

However, they usually require several years of experience and relevant degrees. Seoul and Tokyo both have a strong presence of multinational companies.

Startups

Japan and Korea both have thriving startup scenes hungry for foreign talent. Expats with web development, marketing, and UX design skills are in high demand.

Salaries at startups vary but often include options or profit-sharing that could become quite valuable.

While risky, joining an exciting young startup could be very rewarding. Seoul is currently a hot startup hub, though Tokyo also has opportunities.

Japan and South Korea share some similarities in opportunities and salaries for expats. However, there are also key differences in their economies and cultures.

Your choice comes down to whether you prefer the fast-paced tech scene of Seoul or Tokyo’s more traditional work life. WJapan or Korea: Which Country Is Better for Expats? 4ith an open mind, expats in either country can find fulfilling work opportunities.

Safety and Crime Rates for Foreigners in Japan and Korea

Japan and South Korea stand out as safe destinations for expatriates and visitors. Both boast lower crime rates, particularly concerning violent offenses, than many Western countries. 

However, despite their safety, foreigners must be mindful of specific considerations while residing or traveling in these nations.

Japan:

  • Safety Standards: Japan is renowned globally for its low crime rates and robust public safety measures. The country’s efficient law enforcement system contributes significantly to maintaining a secure environment.

    In 2020, Japan had very few murders, with only 0.2 for every 100,000 people. This is much lower than the United States, which had 5.3. Robberies in Japan were also very rare, with only 1.2 per 100,000 people.

    This is much smaller than France, Germany, and the United States, where robbery rates are much higher.

  • Emergency Services: Japan provides reliable emergency services. This includes prompt police, medical, and fire response teams. The emergency hotline numbers are 110 for police assistance.

    You can dial 119 for medical and fire emergencies, ensuring swift assistance in times of need.

  • Regional Safety Data:
    • Okinawa: Okinawa Prefecture, known for its serene landscapes and unique culture, maintains a reputation for safety in line with Japan’s standards. While specific crime data may vary, Okinawa generally experiences lower crime rates compared to urban areas.
    • Osaka: As one of Japan’s major metropolitan areas, Osaka enjoys a relatively safe environment. Crime rates are comparable to other major cities worldwide. The city’s efficient public transportation and vigilant law enforcement contribute to its safety.
    • Kyushu: The island of Kyushu, located in southwestern Japan, offers a tranquil setting coupled with low crime rates. Cities like Fukuoka and Kumamoto boast modern amenities and cultural attractions. But at the same time, it maintains a safe and secure environment for residents and visitors.

South Korea (included under “Overall” but not under “Japan”):

  • Safety Profile: South Korea shares Japan’s commitment to public safety. In general, it has low crime rates and efficient law enforcement mechanisms. Violent crimes are relatively rare, fostering a sense of security among residents and travelers alike.

  • Emergency Services: South Korea’s emergency services, accessible via the unified hotline number 112, provide swift emergency assistance. This streamlined system ensures prompt response times for police, medical, and fire-related incidents.

Japan 

Japan has an extremely low crime rate. Violent crimes, like murder, are rare. Petty crimes occur, especially in crowded cities like Tokyo, so exercise caution with your belongings.

Discrimination against foreigners can occasionally happen. Some bars or restaurants may deny you entry, and landlords may refuse to rent to non-Japanese tenants. 

Racially motivated harassment is also uncommon but underreported. The good news is that the Japanese government has tried to curb discrimination and make the country more foreign-friendly.

Japan is also very safe for women traveling alone. Sexual harassment and assault are rare, though groping on crowded trains can happen.

South Korea

South Korea, although a bustling metropolis, is also very safe. Violent crime is rare, and crimes against foreigners are infrequent. However, discrimination and racism do exist in Korea.

Some clubs and bars refuse entry to non-Koreans, and housing discrimination can be an issue. 

Racially charged harassment and hate crimes, while still uncommon, seem to be on the rise, especially against Southeast Asians.

Women should exercise caution, especially at night or when alone. While rare, sexual harassment and assault do occur. It is best to avoid sparsely populated areas and be vigilant of your surroundings.

That said, many foreigners travel and live in Korea safely and happily. As in Japan, the government recognizes issues around discrimination and is working to address them.

If you exercise standard travel safety precautions, both countries are safe for expats and travelers.

Do research on local scams or crimes foreigners may face. 

Learn some basic phrases in the local language, respect cultural differences, and feel secure during your stay in Japan or South Korea.

Japan or Korea: Which Country Is Better for Expats? 5

Cultural Adaptation: Fitting in as a Foreigner in Japan vs. Korea

Making Local Friends and Dating as a Foreigner in Japan and Korea

Adapting to the local culture can be challenging when moving to a new country.

Both Japan and Korea have distinct cultures that take time to adjust to. As an expat, you’ll need to learn the cultural norms and etiquette to fit in.

Social Hierarchy and Harmony

Japan places a strong emphasis on social hierarchy and group harmony. You’ll need to be very polite, especially when interacting with someone of higher status.

Korea also values hierarchy and harmony but tends to be more egalitarian. In both countries, avoiding confrontation and open disagreement is essential, which can disrupt group harmony.

Communication Style  

Communication styles differ between the two countries. The Japanese tend to be more indirect and implicit in their communication. You’ll need to read between the lines and interpret subtle cues well.

Koreans are typically more direct and expressive. However, public displays of emotion are frowned upon in both cultures. It’s best to remain composed and avoid overly blunt or dramatic communication.

Here are some examples where you can see the difference in their communication style:

  1. Giving Feedback:
    • In Japan: If your Japanese colleague disagrees with you in a meeting, they might express it indirectly by saying, “That’s an interesting idea, but have we considered…?”
    • In Korea: On the other hand, your Korean coworker might directly state, “I don’t agree with that approach. Here’s what I think we should do instead.”
  2. Expressing Appreciation:
    • In Japan: When receiving praise for a job well done, a Japanese colleague might respond modestly with a simple “Thank you” while downplaying their achievements.
    • In Korea: Korean people might express appreciation more emphatically, saying, “I really appreciate your hard work. You did a fantastic job!”
  3. Making Requests:
    • In Japan: If you need assistance from a Japanese colleague, they might not explicitly say, “Can you help me?” Instead, they might drop hints or use indirect language to convey their request.
    • In Korea: Conversely, a Korean coworker might directly ask, “Could you help me with this task, please?”
  4. Dealing with Conflict:
    • In Japan: During a disagreement or conflict, a Japanese individual might avoid confrontational language and try to find a compromise or solution without causing tension.
    • In Korea: In contrast, a Korean counterpart might be more upfront about their concerns and express them directly to address the issue head-on.
  5. Receiving Criticism:
    • In Japan: When receiving criticism, a Japanese person might listen attentively and reflect on the feedback, even if it’s not explicitly stated. They might read between the lines to understand the underlying message.
    • In Korea: A Korean individual might be more candid in their feedback, providing direct criticism and constructive suggestions for improvement.

Dining Etiquette

Dining etiquette is an important part of cultural adaptation. In Japanese culture, you’ll need to master chopstick use when eating Japanese cuisine, slurping noodles politely, and not sticking chopsticks upright in rice. 

Meanwhile, Korean culture instructs you to avoid blowing your nose at the table and know how to accept drinks and food from elders properly.  In both countries, never overindulge or get drunk on social occasions.

Koreans also wait for toast, and the eldest or most senior person at the table starts eating before the younger ones dig in.

Adapting to a new culture takes time and conscious effort. Research cultural etiquette in Japan and Korea, respect social hierarchies, communicate thoughtfully, and mind your manners, especially around food and drink.

While the cultures differ in many ways, Japanese people and Koreans, be they from south or north Korea, politeness, restraint, and harmony are valued highly.

Meanwhile, if you feel Japan and Korea are not for you, you might consider checking out Thailand. It is a noteworthy Southeast Asian country known for its urban vistas, deep connections with nature, and top-tier beach experiences.