Expats may see Korea as a paradoxical country when it comes to the cost of goods. While some things are cheap, other things are very expensive compared to other countries. For example, in contrast to the cheap public transportation and eating-out, the majority of groceries here are very expensive. Below is a list of what are considered particularly expensive in Korea among the expat community.
Seoul is the city with the most expensive cakes with an average price of 15.59 USD per kg, while New York is in second place with only 8.33 USD. If you go to a bakery or any coffee shop, you can easily see the price of a piece of cake costs up to 6,000 won ~ 7,000 won.
Not only expats and foreign visitors find cakes so expensive, but even Koreans confess that the price of cakes makes them hesitate when making payment. Cakes, either in coffee shops or bakeries in Korea, are often very beautifully decorated and need the bakers' skills and time so that’s one of the reasons why they are so expensive. Also, the dairy ingredients needed while baking, such as butter, eggs, and milk in Korea, are more expensive than in other countries.
According to a survey, the price of 1 liter of milk in Korea is about 2,683 won, which is two times higher than UK milk, which is only about 1,318 won.
Even the price of 1 liter of milk in Switzerland - a country famous for its high cost of living, falls to about 1,638 won.
Milk price in Korea is high because it’s expensive in Korea to produce milk and maintain farms. The cost of labor and cattle feed also increase gradually every year, this means the milk price will increase accordingly. The price of milk is pretty similar in all supermarkets so I recommend you try Seoul Milk. It is a little bit expensive but worth the price, almost all Korean people like to drink this type of milk.
Every time Koreans travel abroad, they are surprised because fruits are much cheaper compared to the domestic market. On the contrary, foreigners coming to Korea are very surprised because the price of fruits in Korea is so high. For example, 1kg of apples in Korea costs about 6.69 USD (7,941 won), double the price in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Singapore - 3,29 USD (3,905 won).
Agricultural production and small farming in Korea make fruits expensive to produce and ship compared to importing from cheaper producers. Korean people like tropical fruits but the climate in Korea is cool with high mountains so the imported tropical fruits are often very expensive. In contrast, fruits like strawberries can be very cheap in Korea when they’re in season.
If you want to shop for cheap fruits, you should buy them in traditional markets rather than supermarkets. Or if you have time, spend a weekend picking fruits and buy directly from strawberry or apple farms.
In Korea, rice prices are as high as fruit prices. In India, the cost of 1 kg of rice is less than 1,000 won and in Korea, it is about 4,523 won.
Hong Kong ranked first in the list of the most expensive cities in the world but the price of rice is about 2,754 won, only half the price of rice in Korea.
The small cultivated land areas in addition to the unfavorable weather conditions (cold winter and lack of rainfall) make rice in Korea much more expensive than in farming countries like Vietnam or Thailand.
Koreans are well known for their coffee consumption and beautiful coffee shops everywhere. But coffee prices in Korea are higher than in Italy, the home country of many famous types of coffee. Compared to the cappuccino price in Korea, which is about 5,000 won, the cost of this drink is only about 1,600 won in Italy. For the same Starbucks, the price of a latte in Korea in 2017 was 3.76 USD, but in America, it was 3.45 USD. Expats are probably startled when they see Korean coffee prices for the first time.
One of the reasons why coffee is so expensive in Korea is the higher taxes on ingredients like beans or syrups. In addition, big coffee chains need to increase the price to cover rent for large space and beautiful interiors. Customers coming to coffee shops also receive a lot of services like automatic order machines, buzzers, free wifi or air-conditioning so it is no wonder Koreans love going to coffee shops. The last reason is simply that the coffee chains know the market will bear the high prices for their big love for coffee.
It is difficult to compare "love" for beer in different countries because there are many famous beer brands all over the world, but it can be certain that Korean beer price is one of the highest. In 2017, the average price of 500ml beer in Korea was about 4,500 won, which is higher than the average cost of 4,000 won in other countries. Not only domestically produced beer but also imported beer is sold at very high prices. This is due to the high import tax rates on beer in Korea. In pubs or bars, a cup of beer is often sold at 8,000 - 10,000 won. Since taxes on beer in Korea are based on productions, not the sales. Even if a brewery is not popular and unsellable, the government still collects the taxes.
However, unlike beer, soju is very cheap. So if you want to change to something new, you can try soju with fruit flavors or makgeolli. I promise it will be a good experience!