Are you a Canadian between 18 and 35 years old? Have you ever dreamed of travelling and working in South Korea? Did you know it’s possible to stay there for up to a year with a Working Holiday Visa? Montrealer Caroll-Ann St-Hubert went down the internet rabbit hole by chance and ended up following her curiosity to Seoul. Here she shares her amazing experience a world away from home.
What prompted you to apply for a Working Holiday Visa in South Korea?
“The real story begins with me on YouTube, in my bedroom. I was listening to videos about North Korea when suddenly, a video about South Korea came up as a suggestion. I was intrigued, I watched it, and I was really shocked at how cool it looked. I wanted to learn more, so I started watching more videos and thought, Wow, I NEED to go there!
I got the opportunity to visit when I met a friend on a website. I fell in love with the country right away and promised myself that one year later, on the exact same date, I would return with a Working Holiday Visa.”
How did everyone react to you deciding to leave for South Korea?
“I didn’t get a strong positive or negative reaction. No one really understood why I wanted to go the first time, especially my mother. But everyone was supportive. When I came back and said I was planning to move there for a year, I don’t think many people believed me. Not until I actually left.”
What steps did you take to get your Working Holiday Visa?
It took me a year to get all my stuff together. For the first six, seven months, I focused on saving money. Then I started the visa process three months before my departure. I started a little later to make sure all my paperwork was up-to-date. The visa required me to get a physical check-up with a doctor and your police check within three months of my arrival.
Then I waited. When I finally got the call for my appointment, I could not believe it. I showed up with my visa papers, and my heart was beating so fast. I don’t know why, but I was afraid that they would refuse my application. When the gentleman accepted my documents and said, “Okay, come back next week to get your visa,” I was so excited! I immediately packed my bags for Seoul.”
What was your first impression of South Korea?
“It is a completely different environment than Canada. For me, South Korea is like the New York of Asia in the sense that it’s a city that never sleeps. Everything is open 24 hours a day. There is always something to do. A woman can safely walk around South Korea at night. Also, Seoul is a very innovative and aesthetically-pleasing city: their technologies are advanced, and they always try to build the best of the best.”
Do you have any tips on finding a place to live?
“I encourage you to look around once you arrive, to see where you’d like to live and what you want in an apartment. I would recommend the younger, more multicultural, upscale neighbourhoods. Do your research first. There are a lot of very specific Facebook groups for ex-pats in South Korea, like “Housing in Seoul” and “Find a House in Seoul.” The internet is a great place to start because when ex-pats leave the country, their apartments come up for grabs.
In Canada, renters typically put down a deposit, sometimes first and last month’s rent, and then make regular monthly payments. In South Korea, it’s called “key money.” You pay a lump sum in advance, which the landlords can then reinvest, instead of having you pay a monthly fee. Or sometimes you’ll do a smaller lump sum and then still pay a low monthly fee. It’s the same principle whether you share an apartment or live alone.”
What kind of job can you expect to land with a Working Holiday Visa?
“Honestly, the work opportunities for ex-pats are limited, especially with a WHV. The work available to you will most likely be part-time jobs in the restaurant industry. My first job was tutoring in a children’s café. The principle is that you communicate with kids through play, and they get to learn a little bit of English. Speaking English is a major strength for ex-pats here.
The money you earn will definitely be enough to live, pay for your apartment, groceries, and have a little fun on the weekends. Exactly what you need.”
How much money do you recommend setting aside before you go to South Korea?
“When you apply for a Working Holiday Visa, you must prove that you have at least $3,000 in your bank account. The embassy will check. My recommendation is that you put aside at least $5000, just in case, for the first few months. Who knows? Sometimes you need to furnish your apartment, forget to pack something in your suitcase, or an emergency will come up. It provides peace of mind to have some savings.”
Nomadic Tip: Be sure to register for travel insurance before you go. See our article on SafetyWing travel insurance which now includes coverage for COVID-19.
What were your favourite things to do during your Working Holiday Visa in South Korea?
“Many people work from Monday to Friday and then reserve the weekends for fun and relaxation. So you need to take advantage of the exciting nightlife on the weekends. I really encourage you to go to the different bars and festivals. Winter is not too bad in Seoul, so I took a lot of trips to see the beautiful country. I enjoyed going just out of town, to a town called Pusan.”
What advice would you give to someone who would like to do a Working Holiday Visa in South Korea?
“Just go for it. Don’t be afraid. If you get there and it doesn’t work for you, it’s not the end of the world. The wonderful country of Canada will be waiting for you. You can always come back.
It’s normal to feel lonely at first. Even I, who dreamed so much of going to South Korea, doubted my decision when I got there. But it gets better over time as you start to work and travel and meet people. It’s such a feeling of pride being able to say that you did it. I hope that everyone gets to experience what I felt, starting a life in a new country on my own.”
You may also like: 5 Steps to Get You Started on Your Working Holiday Visa.
Dreams can come true quickly when you’re passionate and have the right tools! If you’re a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 35, you too can turn your travel dreams into a reality.
▶ ️ For even more inspiration, listen to our #NomadTALKS series on YouTube, where we talk with other Canadians who have travelled and worked abroad.
Head over to International Experience Canada (a Government of Canada program) to learn about the exciting 30+ countries/territories where you can apply for a Working Holiday Visa.
The original interview was conducted in French by Emilie Robichaud and adapted to English by Britney Claveau. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.