Monday, May 23, 2011

Preparing to Leave Korea!

Well folks, somehow time has slipped by and I am in the final stretch of preparing to leave Korea. In three days I'll be boarding the airplane for my 14 hour flight home...and sweet non-rapturing Jesus, there is so much to do before then!

In hopes of helping other people preparing to leave, I thought I'd tell you about my experiences doing some of the close-out stuff we all end up going through. These include mailing things home, collecting your pension, and packing up all your stuff.

Because I am only a few breaths away from being a hoarder, I have way too much stuff here to fit into the two 50 pound bags I am allowed to take home on my flight. I knew I'd have to send some stuff home, but I seriously underestimated how MUCH stuff I'd be mailing. Last Tuesday (with the help of Feeny and Diana C) I headed off to the local post office to send two packed up size five (large) post office boxes and two unpacked lotus lanterns. This process was surprisingly easy.

There are apparently three options for mailing things.

The first, most expensive, and fastest is EMS (Express Mail Service).  EMS has special labels just for their packages. Everything on the labels is in English as well as Hangul, so it is very easy to fill out on your own. EMS packages take seven days or less to reach the east coast of the US. In fact, last Tuesday (Monday night EST) I mailed a package to my family in Maryland. They got it THURSDAY. That is absolutely ridiculous. In the package were two paper lanterns (extremely light) and lots of bubble wrap. The package weighed basically nothing...and cost me 34,000won. Benefit? If you use EMS they will come pick up your packages for "free". Too bad it costs so much that you're MORE than paying for that pick-up service. The heaviest box I sent was about 11kg, and would have cost 110,800won to send to the US using EMS.

The "mama bear" option, if you will, is Air Mail. You fill out the same labels for Air Mail and Surface Mail, but check different boxes according to which one you want. The two choices for Air Mail/Surface Mail boxes look almost identical. The only difference is that one has a red box on it (this one is for insured items) and the other does not. Air Mail apparently takes 2-4 weeks to arrive, and prices are still high. An 11kg box would cost 105,100won to send to the US via Air Mail.

Finally there is the option I've been embracing: slow and cheap. Surface Mail is an option that allows you to send massive amounts of stuff home for a super reasonable long as you don't need your stuff anytime soon. Surface mail takes 60-90 days to arrive, but an 11kg package sent to the US (zone 3) was only 31,000won! More than reasonable!

The size five boxes filled completely with clothes weighed only about 9kg (about 20lbs). The heaviest a surface mail box can be is 20kg (about 50lbs) which would be hard to achieve unless you're ONLY books...or bricks. I'll post again this summer when my parcels arrive, but so far I've been really pleased with the surface mail option. I've sent two boxes already, I'm sending one this afternoon, and I'll have 2-3 more in the mail before I leave (dude, I told you I had a love of stuff).

You can find your local post office here (but it is in Korean). This site will show you the rate comparison for Air Mail and Surface Mail (here are the definitions of various zones), and here are the EMS rates.

When you get into your post office the firs thing you're going to do is get a number if it is busy. If it is not busy, I usually write out my labels first, and then get a number, to keep people from having to wait for me. No one else cares.

Grab your labels. These are your label choices. The one on the right is for EMS packages, while the two on the left are for Air Mail and Surface Mail. The lower one is for insured items (note the red box).

Write out your labels for each box. One cool thing about post offices here is that they also sell everything you need to just package up a box there. Boxes themselves are really cheap (each one of these large boxes was just over a dollar) and you are provided with free tape and free bubble wrap. Sweet deal!

Now it is time to go up to the counter where (if you're lucky) the person speaks English. This man, at the Gangdong Post Office, speaks just fine. The woman I had today...less so.

Once everything is packaged they'll weigh it, slap on a label (and some fragile stickers in the case of my lanterns) and whisk it away. You pay, get your receipts, and you're done!

Another thing on the expat returning home's checklist is getting back your pension. If you are from America or Canada, you are eligible to get a refund of all pension money collected from you over your time in Korea. Australians can apparently now also get their money back. The UK has a confusing situation all their own. South Africans don't get pension back because they don't pay it.  Kiwis have to pay it and don't get anything returned. (More information can be found here.) Each month, 4.5% of your paycheck is subtracted and sent to the pension office. Your school also pays 4.5% to the pension office, making your refund equal to 9% of your wages each month. That turns out to be quite a bit of money.

The first thing you need to do is find your local NPS (National Pension Service) Office. You can do that on GalbiJim's site. They are all over the place. When you actually go to the office, you will automatically be directed towards an English speaker. I ended up not needing my co-teacher's help at all.  You will need the following items: a copy of your one-way plane ticket out of Korea, your Alien Registration Card (ARC), your home bank account information (address, account number, routing number), a copy of a bank statement (this can be printed out from online banking), your home address, and your passport. If you have an outgoing wire transfer cable, they'll really really like you for it. It simply makes their job easier. You'll be given a form to fill out (all in English) and as you do that they'll go make copies of all of your documents. Then they'll tell you how much you're getting back, when to expect it, and send you on your way. Over the past 20 months I've accrued nearly $4000 in pension benefits. That is pretty sweet. They process pension refunds on the tenth of the month, and since I get paid tomorrow (May 24) they can't process mine until June 10. She said that by June 17 I should expect the money in my account. Couldn't be easier.

Unassuming sign for the NPS office in Songpa-gu, located right by the Jamsil Subway Station.

NPS is on the second floor of this charming building.

Necessary materials: wire transfer sheet, bank and personal information, passport, and ARC.

I'm thankful that I've been able to cross at least a few things off of my going-away checklist. Next up is cancelling my cell phone plan, closing my bank account (after pay day, of course), and making sure everything is all squared away for my severance and security deposit to be sent to my American account.

I've spent a whole lot of time preparing for Mark, my replacement. Creating new folders, organizing all my lesson materials, typing up directions to various places, detailing how do do tricky things in the apartment (turning on the hot water heater, etc), and today I think actually finished all of that. Woo! Progress!


  1. Wow thank you so much for this!! I may or may not be leaving in February (still torn about whether to renew or not) but knowing that I get back so much pension might help me make that decision. I thought that was too good to be true- apparently not. Thanks so much for posting your real account! :)

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  3. A question about the mail labels. Do they have English on them or is it all Korean? I would hate to fill out the boxes wrong.

  4. Thanks for the heads up about surface mail!

    My co-teacher translated a few words that may help:

    선박(son-bak) = ship
    해상(hey-sang) = sea
    우편 (oo-pyeon) = mail

  5. Mailing stuff home using EMS is the easiest and most cost-effective way if you need it fairly quickly.

  6. Hey, great guide to mailing stuff back! Here's an even cheaper option... find someone (probably a U.S. soldier) who has access to the military base, and ask them to take you to the base post office and mail your stuff from there! The postage rate is the same as if you're mailing from within the US. But I guess if you don't know any soldiers then you're gonna have to go with the Korean post office.


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