Over the past 60 years, South Korea has grown rapidly to become one of the wealthiest countries in Asia. But on an individual level, how much is needed to be “rich” in South Korea today? Would you qualify as “rich” there?
A monthly income of ~$6,000 USD or more would arguably make you “rich” in South Korea. That amount puts you in the top 5% of earners, along with attorneys, CEOs, and doctors. For net worth, you’d need ~$2.2 million USD of assets to be in the top 1% in South Korea.
I’ll expand on those numbers and more below, to help you understand what is really “rich” in South Korea. We’ll look at common salaries and net worth, cost of living comparisons, and a lot more!
What is “Wealthy” in South Korea?
When we talk about being “rich” in South Korea, we have to look at both wealth and income. Let’s start with wealth.
The 2022 Korean Wealth Report defined “wealthy” as a net worth over 1 billion KRW (~$761k USD). By that definition, there were 424,000 “wealthy” Koreans reported in 2021. But this figure seems low compared to other sources.
Another report by Hanwha Life Insurance found the following wealth statistics for South Korea’s rich:
- The top 10% wealthiest have 900 million+ KRW in assets (~$685,000 USD).
- The top 5% wealthiest have 1.3 billion+ KRW in assets (~$989,000 USD).
- The top 1% wealthiest have 2.9 billion+ KRW in assets (~$2.2 million USD).
- The top 0.1% wealthiest have 7.68 billion+ KRW in assets (~$5.8 million USD).
How does this compare to other countries in Asia? Well, Singapore is richer, requiring ~$3.5M USD to make the top 1%. Meanwhile, in Malaysia you only need ~$485,000. The Philippines and Indonesia are lower yet at ~$60,000. (source)
What about the number of millionaires in South Korea? If you’re a millionaire in US dollars, how rare is that level of wealth in South Korea?
Credit Suisse’s 2022 Global Wealth Databook reports there were ~1,290,000 dollar millionaires in South Korea. That’s ~3% of the adult population. This means ~1 in 33 South Korea adults were USD millionaires in 2022.
What Is a Good Salary in South Korea?
Now let’s talk about monthly income. First, let’s look at the lower end of things—minimum wage and lower-income jobs.
In 2024, the minimum wage in South Korea will be 9,860 KRW per hour (~$7.80 USD) (source). If working 40 hours a week, that would be roughly ~$1,310 USD per month.
Many lower-income jobs in South Korea are reported to pay even a bit less than that (maybe due to minimum wages being lower at time of reporting):
- Mechanic: 1,460,000 KRW(~$1,110 USD)
- Cashier: 1,520,000 KRW (~$1,160 USD)
- Secretary: 1,750,000 KRW (~$1,330 USD)
So, the lower end of South Korea earners make around ~$1,300 USD per month. But what about higher-income jobs? How much do richer South Koreans make?
High Incomes in South Korea
Here are reported monthly incomes for some better-paying careers in South Korea:
- Attorney: 8,050,000 KRW (~$6,130 USD)
- CEO: 8,780,000 KRW (~$6,680 USD)
- Dentist: 9,370,000 KRW (~$7,130 USD)
Aside from these specific jobs, we can also look at overall salary distributions. What do the top 50% of South Koreans make? What about the top 5%? As of 2023, Salary Explorer reports the following:
- The top 50% earn 3,500,000 KRW or more per month (~$2,660 USD).
- The top 25% earn 5,300,000 KRW or more per month (~$4,030 USD).
- The top 15% earn 5,950,000 KRW or more per month (~$4,530 USD).
- The top 5% earn 7,610,000 KRW or more per month (~$5,790 USD).
- “Almost everyone” earns 17,400,000 KRW or less per month (~$13,250 USD).
Summary: For monthly income, the low end in South Korea is around ~$1,300 per month, while the median is ~$2,660 USD, and the top earners are in the range of ~$6,000 to $13,000 USD (or more) per month.
Cost of Living in South Korea
In practical terms, a big part of being “rich” is having much more money than you need to live. So let’s look at the estimated cost of living in various South Korea cities.
Since this website is primarily for aspiring expats and digital nomads, we’ll use the cost of living figures assigned by Nomad List:
|City||Expat Cost of Living||Nomad Cost of Living|
|Seoul||$1,450 USD||$2,317 USD|
|Busan||$1,289 USD||$2,025 USD|
|Jeju Island||$1,613 USD||$2,113 USD|
|Daejeon||$1,072 USD||$1,672 USD|
|Daegu||$1,259 USD||$2,096 USD|
|Suwon||$1,406 USD||$2,156 USD|
|Gwangju||$1,211 USD||$1,986 USD|
Obviously, your own costs would vary, but these numbers give you a range for a sensible expat budget. In most cities, it looks like $2,000/month might be enough to get by, especially if you’re staying for the longer term.
We can also compare the average cost of living in South Korea to other countries, using Numbeo. This should give us an overall sense of the scale of prices.
The following table shows the “cost of living with rent” in South Korea compared to other countries:
|Country||How South Korea Compares|
|United States||South Korea is ~37% cheaper.|
|Australia||South Korea is ~30% cheaper.|
|Canada||South Korea is ~16% cheaper.|
|United Kingdom||South Korea is ~8% cheaper.|
|Japan||South Korea is ~17% more expensive.|
|Cambodia||South Korea is ~38% more expensive.|
|China||South Korea is ~40% more expensive.|
|Thailand||South Korea is ~41% more expensive.|
|Vietnam||South Korea is ~48% more expensive.|
|Philippines||South Korea is ~48% more expensive.|
|Malaysia||South Korea is ~52% more expensive.|
|Colombia||South Korea is ~59% more expensive.|
|India||South Korea is ~67% more expensive.|
Again, remember that the specific city will impact your costs a lot. Rent costs can be as much as 64% cheaper in Daejeon than Seoul, for instance. (source)
Overall, South Korea is cheaper than America and most western countries—but it’s also significantly more expensive than most countries in Southeast Asia.
Therefore, it makes sense that you’re not really going to feel “rich” with just $2,000 per month, as you might in the Philippines. In South Korea, it’s going to take at least $5,000, probably more like $10,000 per month to start feeling rich.
What It Takes to Be “Rich” in Different Asian Countries
Read my other guides to what counts as “rich” in Asia—complete with salary data, net worth statistics and more: