For students or those on a budget that are looking to stay in Korea for an extended period of time (> 1 month), a gositel or livingtel is probably one of the top choices.
Firstly, let me briefly go through the choices that you have:
1. Gositel / livingtel
2. renting a very small apartment
3. doing homestay
4. living in a apartment converted into a mini hostel
Each of the choices has its own advantages/disadvantages, but since I chose choice 1, I’ll focus on it at the moment.
If you are going on exchange to a university, you may find that their international dormitories are too full or occasionally in a location that is not very accessible and convenient (as in KU).
A gositel / livingtel is an ‘upgraded version’ of gosiwon that boasts a slightly better facility. Most of the gositels in university areas are populated by exchange students, korean students (from other cities), language program students etc.
A gositel can either occupy one / more floors of a building or have their own building. The general idea is that a floor is divided into many SMALL rooms, and they share a common kitchen, with some kind of common area. Each floor usually has an office for the ajusshi living there and it is usually located by the door.
I have lived in two gositels: one very bad (A) and one pretty good (B) and I’ll make reference to both from time to time.
The rooms are usually very small (don’t ask me for dimensions), but there’s barely enough space to walk around. You stand in the middle and you can reach your bed, your table, the bathroom door and the main door – essentially a shoebox size.
There are usually 4 types of rooms:
- inner window (내부창) with bathroom
- outer window (외부창) with bathroom
- inner window without bathroom
- outer window without bathroom
Outer window / bathroom are usually the more expensive options. Inner window simply means a really SMALL square window (video below). I don’t open the inner window for privacy reasons and this means the room can get a little stuffy at times. Having an outside window means u are subject to the elements of the weather (super cold in winter) and mosquitoes in the summer. Having your own private shower facility is the best (for girls at least) but there’s also a common shower / bathroom on each floor.
Most rooms have a mini TV and a mini fridge. Bathrooms have the sink and the toilet bowl near each other and you shower using the shower head connected to the sink.
Unlike what you see in photos, kitchens are not big. Usually it’s annoying to have more than 2 persons in the kitchen but sizes vary from places to places. Gositel A had a spacious kitchen with a kimchi fridge and gositel B had a smaller one with a normal fridge.
Most gositels provide free kimchi, cooked rice, ramen packets and eggs. Gositel A leave their eggs outside in room temp and I often see bad eggs around. I never touched eggs there. The cooked rice are left to keep warm in the cooker but sometimes I feel that the rice looks super old. The eggs in gositel B are HUGE and refrigerated and their rice is the purplish kind (which I like!) and cooked twice a day.
Utensils and bowls are provided and the quality of each varies. Gositel B is good. I usually use their plates / bowls.
Again, there’s no such thing as a common area (for most gositels). Whatever you see in the photos is taken at such a deceiving angle. Most gositels say they provide a PC and although they do, it’s usually the super old PC and located near the entrance of the gositel. It’s so weird to sit there and do your stuff so I suggest you either bring your own laptop or go to school to use their computers. All gositels like to save space and maximise the use of their space.
Internet / Misc:
Most gositels do not offer wireless network service and they provide just a ethernet cable. A solution may be to buy your own router device. There is usually a dustpan / vacuum machine for common use and also an ironing board and iron! Don’t expect too much though D:
- Buy your own cleaning sponge. I am a clean freak and I use my own sponge to watch the utensils before and after using
- I buy my own pot / pan. A small ramen pot cost around 3000won and a frying pan 5000won in Daiso (the savior of all exchange students) and I keep those in my own room after washing!
- I never iron my clothes. Try to buy clothes that do not need to be ironed
Here’s a video of my room in gositel B
How to search for a gositel!
Now that I’ve outlined the facilities in a gositel, it’s time to talk about how to search for one. Gositels are abundant, especially near university areas and they are usually the better ones (I think). There are bound to be popular / unpopular ones and it’s good to check out reviews while you are searching. However, most reviews (in English) are not detailed and perhaps the better ones may be in Korean.
Each university usually have a few gositels that they recommend but doesn’t mean they are the best. Never trust what you didn’t see. That’s a good starting point to begin your search though.
Type in 고려대 고시텔 / 리빙텔 and you should see an array of results. Each gositel has their own site and never believe what you see in their photos. You can use that as a guide, but seriously, nothing looks that nice unless you happen to choose a newly opened gositel.
Gositels are priced at around 300,000 to 650,000won and of course, you get what you pay. A decent room in a decent gositel costs around 480,000won, so take that as a guide.
Each gositel website has a notice board where you can enquire about the room prices / availability, move in date etc. You typically type in a message, input a password (anything) and submit. The ajusshis in the gositel typically knows some English and will reply you within a day or so. If you know Korean, just type in Korean. Reservations are made this way and some places require you to wire a deposit to them.
These places fill up very fast (especially the ones located near schools and in convenient places), so most people won’t have a choice but to choose based on what they see online. However, it would be awesome if you arrive earlier, stay in a backpackers hotel, go see the gositels in person to check out the places before deciding. But hardly possible in reality.
Useful tips / info (moving in):
- Most gositels require to stay for at least 3 months. Some levy a penalty fee if you move out early, others are more lenient and just require a 2 weeks notice or so
- You may have to sign a contract. BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU ARE SIGNING. I can’t stress that enough. Verbal agreement is one thing, a contract is another. Make sure you know exactly what you are signing. Read every single clause.
- They usually require a deposit of 100,000won (which is part of your first month rental fee)
- Keys require a deposit of 10,000 – 20,000won
- Know your contract. Some places cheat by counting a month as in 30 days while others count a month as in 20 nov to 19 dec.
If possible, please visit the gositel before you hand in any money. The surrounding matters too. Gositel A was located in a badly lighted building on the 4th floor and I didn’t like to pass the noraebang and pc bang located downstairs. You always meet random people smoking at the stairways and I hate it. Gositel B has it’s own building and everything is well lit with an elevator. The stairs are nicely tiled and the whole place well ventilated. The front door is locked after 10pm and you have to use an electric key to open it. Adds safety.
- location of the neighborhood is important. All gositels may be located near the university, but neighboring streets may have very very different atmosphere/culture/noise level
- ASK AROUND. There isn’t a wealth of information readily available, but I’m sure you can find someone who said they use to attend that university as an exchange student etc. Just email the person and ask. I’m sure most of them will be willing to help. (If you want to know about KU, email me. But be nice)
- Choose a gositel near the subway station and on the main street. You won’t want to walk home in the wee hours in the alleyways. It doesn’t matter if the gositel is a little far from school, you will probably be coming home more often from a subway station / bus stop
I might do a review of Gositel B if I have time. But if you want to know the name of Gositel A, send me an email. I won’t entertain questions about it on the comment section.