It's been a while since I've done a straight-up informational post about life in South Korea. The fact is, 90 percent of what I know living here has come through pretty basic Google searches of other ex-pats. The "K-blog" era of roughly 2008-2013 or so, where four or five prominent bloggers ruled the roost, has pretty much died off. Now a lot of Korean ex-pats have migrated over to places like Facebook (yuck!) and tumblr (cool!). (Have I mentioned this post shall remain positively neutral and unbiased? Good, because it won't.)
The fact is, over the past ten years with developments in internet culture and apps, it's easier than ever to get along in South Korea even if your language skills are lacking. I'm going to simply throw out some sites that I read and utilize quite regularly.
1) Tripadvisor is -- pretty good. It's getting better though, as more folks use it to rate hotels and restaurants around the country. You'll find it more helpful for higher traffic cities like Seoul and Busan than you will my own lurvely Daegu, but it's not a bad place to start if you're looking for good restaurants or hotels. There are some Korean foodie sites on Facebook that are even more hit-or-miss.
2) Whatthebook? is an English-language bookstore in Seoul that delivers quickly and cheaply throughout the country. Yes, the name is terrible but the service is absolutely indispensable. You can use your Korean bank card to pay at any ATM, which is my preferred payment method for almost any large-ish purchase. (Paypal has never worked with my American bank, and getting a Korean credit card is not worth the hassle IMO.) Also, they've managed to ship me some pretty obscure stuff in terms of sci-fi and even graphic novels. The selection is surprisingly top-notch.
And why not Amazon you might ask? Because Korean customs will charge you extra as an import fee. There is Amazon Japan, and maybe someday Amazon South Korea will be a thing. But for now it's not.
3) iHerb for vitamins, healthy snack options, and perhaps most importantly for foreigners -- stick deodorant. I think these guys are based in America, but they seem to have a very Asia-friendly business. And they sell deodorant, which is a Western toiletry that hasn't really caught on here.
4) English PC Sales -- my laptop died a few months ago and I really didn't want to deal with a typical South Korea "mega PC mart." Sure, you can do your homework and find decent deals within them, but even with a respectable level of Korean language ability I really wanted the freedom to get the exact specs I wanted on a new machine. Lo and behold, English PC Sales is your friend from now on. They have a decent selection, the owner is an ex-pat himself, and they'll put together exactly what you want with minimal hassle. Do be aware that for an expensive bank transfer like this you'll probably end up going to a local branch of your bank to OK the amount required.
5) And finally, kind of the Elephant In The Room of online shopping in Korea, is G-market. They are huge. They specialize in clothing and shoes as far as I can tell but they even sell everything from electronics to sex toys. The drawback is that their prices are pretty awful, compared to someone used to American Amazon. But I'm willing to pay the price as opposed to lugging clothing back from America every time I visit during the summer.
The good? They have Western brands I'm familiar with and more importantly, Western sizes. (US size 12 shoes can only be found near military bases, and the selection is always terrible.) The bad? I'd say my success rate ordering from them is about 50 percent. About a week after an order I will randomly get an e-mail saying the item has shipped or the order has been cancelled (not by me, by them for some unknown reason). The other companies listed all provided very fast shipping. G-market, not so much. It's a roll of the dice, and if they do cancel your order they will effectively "keep" you money in a virtual account (I think it's called Smile Cash or some such). Feel free to try ordering something again and hope the Gods of Commerce and Fashion smile on you.
Anyhow, G-market is what it is. I've gotten some nice stuff in a timely fashion from them, and I've had to wait two weeks after an order to be told they're out of stock and I'm out of luck. This is surprisingly un-Korean, compared to the other services above.
That's about it. As of 2018 there's no reason you should have to lug stuff back from home -- new iPads, books, shoes, vitamins, clothing -- when you can simply order it all from here. Then again, on larger purchases you will save a few hundred bucks on something like a new laptop, and that's nothing to sniff at. Still though, it's nice you know you have more than one option.
(And if you do try to bring an expensive electronic purchase into Korea, never, ever leave it in the box or customs will have some questions for you.)
Any other ideas or suggestions? When it comes to hotels and plane tickets, I'm still using American-based sites like Expedia and Travelocity.