Navigating Korea with Ease: A Guide to Transportation for Tourists

Navigating Korea with Ease: A Guide to Transportation for Tourists

Getting around a new place when you don't speak the local language can be daunting! If you're traveling to Korea for the first time, here are my tips on how to navigate Korea easily.

In this Korea transportation guide for tourist, we will discuss the various modes available, including the subway, taxi, and bus, to help you navigate the country with ease.

The subway system in Korea is color-coordinated to make it easy to find the correct line.
Signs show the upcoming stops

Navigating the Subway System in Seoul, Korea

  1. Subway: Korea boasts a well-developed subway system that is both convenient and affordable. The subway networks in major cities like Seoul, Busan, and Daegu are especially extensive and reliable and most have romanization of subway names to make it easier for tourists to navigate. Here are some key points to remember when using the subway:

How to use the Subway System in Korea

a. Plan your route: I recommend downloading apps like NAVER Map or Kakao Map to plan your subway route in advance. They have a setting to display in English and Korean Romanization. These apps often provide information on the fastest and most convenient connections, as well as estimated travel times.

b. Follow the signage: Subway stations in Seoul are color-coded and have clear signage in Korean, English, and Chinese making it easy for tourists to find their way. Pay attention to the platform numbers, train directions, and transfer points. Above the door and front of the bus will often show the route's final destination and upcoming stop so keep your eyes and ears peeled for announcements.

Most popular destinations have clear signage and even themed audio chimes to signal that you're in the right spot! (Think seagulls calling for the beach, or traditional drums for the palace!) 

c. Have your T-Money Card or ticket handy: Most subways will calculate price based on distance so you will have to scan your card on the way out. I like to carry my on the back slip pocket of my Elise Crossbody or Kelso wallet for easy scanning! 

Tips to taking the Subway in Korea

  • Purchase a T-money card: This rechargeable transportation card can be used across various modes of public transportation, including subways and buses. It not only offers discounted fares but also saves you from the hassle of buying separate tickets for each journey. More on T-money cards at the end! 
  • Cost of Seoul Metro: In Seoul, the subway fare varies based on the distance traveled. The fare ranges from 1,350 KRW (approximately $1.20 USD) for journeys up to 10 kilometers, and an additional 100 KRW for every 5 kilometers thereafter. The maximum fare for a single journey within Seoul is 2,650 KRW (approximately $2.30 USD). Single ride tickets require exact fare while T-money cards are automatically deducted from your total when scanned. That's why I prefer T-money cards! 
  • Discounted fare: You can often find discounted fares  for children, students, and seniors, so be sure to inquire about eligibility and any required documentation.
  • Peak hours: Avoid traveling during rush hours (usually between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.) to ensure a more comfortable journey, as the subways tend to get crowded during these times.
  • Free Transfers: T-money users can transfer for free between bus and subway lines in Seoul. 

    How to Use Taxis in Korea 

    1. Taxi: Taxis in Korea are plentiful and readily available, offering a convenient mode of transportation, especially for short distances or when traveling with luggage. Consider the following tips when taking a taxi:

    a. Use licensed taxis: Look for taxis with clear signage indicating their status as licensed cabs. These taxis usually have a meter and provide a safer and more reliable service.

    b. Download KakaoTaxi app: This will call a taxi to your location and give a price estimate so you know how much you expect to pay. While you cannot connect a foreign card to pay in app you can scroll in payment option to pay the driver directly with cash at the end of the ride. 

    b. Basic Korean phrases: While many taxi drivers in major cities may understand basic English, it's helpful to carry a note with your destination written in Korean to avoid any communication barriers. It doesn't hurt to learn a few basic phases as well: 

    c. Always carry cash: While credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, it is advisable to carry enough cash as some taxis may not have card payment facilities. Smaller denominations will be handy for paying exact fares.

    Does Uber work in Korea? 

    Yes! Uber works in Korea. There's an app called UT which is the same as the Uber taxi app. You can use it to call UT branded taxis, regular taxis, or UT black.

    I have heard mix feedback on car availability, sometimes with more cars and cheaper prices, and other times not having a car around or a long wait. 

    Either way I suggest having both UT and KakaoTaxi apps installed so you can get a price and time estimate and pick the one you like.  


    How to take the bus in Korea

    1. Bus: Buses in Korea are a cost-effective option for traveling both within and between cities. While they may take longer than trains or subways, they provide an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and explore lesser-known areas. Consider the following when using buses:


    a. Plan your route: Using an app like NAVER maps or Kakao Maps, you can plan your bus route. I recommend downloading the app before your trip to get to know how to navigate it. 

    b. Follow the bus signs: Look for designated bus stops with clear signage indicating the bus numbers and routes. They will often post each line's schedule so you can see what time the next bus will come. The map apps will also provide up-to-date bus schedules and routes.

    c. Pay on boarding: With most buses in Korea, you get on through the front door, pay the fare and get off through the rear door. You can use cash but, if you use a transportation card (T-Money, NAMANE Card, etc.), you may receive a discount and also transfer to another bus for free. Simply tap your card on to the reader located near the entrance. 

    d. Signal for a stop: On popular tourist designations they will often stop each stop or have lots of other people getting off, but on smaller routes you may have to press the red stop button to let the driver know you would like to get off. They are usually by the window or on the holding bars next to aisle seats. I like to look at the route and keep an eye out for the stop prior to mine to get ready to get off. 

    e. Tap off: Typically you will exit through the back door and there should be a reader to tap your card on the way out.  

    Korean Bus Monitor at Stop How to Ride the bus in Jeju Island

    This bus stop monitor tells you the busses that stop here, their arrival times, and the stops they go to. 

    Look for the sign telling you the bus number and direction (the next stop). Board at the front of the bus and pay there. The bus fare is listed near the door. 

    The bus will usually have a screen or LED sign at the front tell you the current and upcoming stop. 

    The bus route is also on this sign, with larger stops highlighted

    Tips to taking the bus in Korea

    1. There are different types of busses: Korea has various types of buses, including city buses, express buses, and intercity buses. City buses operate within cities and are identified by their numbers and routes, while express and intercity buses connect different cities and regions.

    1. City Buses: The fare for city buses in Korea is generally a flat rate regardless of the distance traveled. In Seoul, the basic fare starts at 1,300 KRW (approximately $1.10 USD) for regular buses and 2,400 KRW (approximately $2.10 USD) for airport limousine buses. Some cities may have different fare structures, so it's advisable to check the local transportation authority's website for specific details.

    2. Intercity Buses: Intercity bus fares vary based on the distance and the type of bus. For example, a typical intercity bus fare for a journey between Seoul and Busan can range from 20,000 KRW to 40,000 KRW (approximately $17 to $35 USD), depending on the bus company and travel class.

    2. Bus etiquette: It is common practice to give up seats at the front of the bus for elderly or disabled passengers. Respect local customs and be mindful of other passengers during your journey.

    3. Free Transfers: Free bus transfers are only available when using a Transportation Cards such as the NAMANE Card or T-Money Card and, if you use cash, you may not receive free transfer benefits. Free transfers are available between buses and also when using a subway after getting off a bus.  

    For the free transfer you need to tap your card to another bus or subway within 30 minutes when between 7:00-21:00, or 1 hour when between 21:00-7:00). 

    If you get off a bus and then get on a bus of the same number, a free transfer will not be applied. Up to four free transfers are available (five rides).

    How to get to Seoul from the Airport, Incheon Airport and Gimpo Airport

    1. Airport to Seoul Transportation: When arriving in Korea, you'll likely land at one of the major international airports, such as Incheon International Airport or Gimpo International Airport. Fortunately, there are several convenient transportation options available to travel from the airport to Seoul:

    a. Incheon International Airport:

    1. Airport Railroad Express (AREX): The AREX is a dedicated train service that connects Incheon International Airport to Seoul. The non-stop Express Train depart every 20 to 40 minutes from Incheon Int'l Airport and takes approximately 43 minutes to reach Seoul Station, while the All Stop Train departs every 5 to 10 minutes, makes multiple stops along the way and takes around 53 minutes. Both trains offer comfortable seating, ample luggage space, and free Wi-Fi onboard. The Express Train costs KRW 9,500 each way, while the All Stop Train is KRW 4,150 - 4,750.

    2. Airport Limousine Bus: Airport limousine buses are a convenient and cost-effective option. They operate from Incheon Airport to various destinations within Seoul, including major hotels and popular neighborhoods. The buses are comfortable, equipped with luggage storage, and offer free Wi-Fi. The travel time varies depending on the destination and traffic conditions. There are several companies that you can research and book online before your trip. 

    3. Taxi: Taxis are readily available at Incheon Airport, and they provide a convenient door-to-door service to your destination in Seoul. Taxi stands are located outside the arrivals hall, and there are different types of taxis available, including regular taxis and deluxe taxis. The fare will depend on your destination and the type of taxi chosen. Additionally, I suggest downloading KakaoTaxi and UT (Uber) beforehand so you can call a taxi directly in app. 

    b. Gimpo International Airport:

    1. Airport Railroad Express (AREX): The AREX also operates from Gimpo International Airport, providing a direct train connection to Seoul. The travel time to Seoul Station is approximately 20 minutes on the Express Train and 26 minutes on the All Stop Train, with trains leaving every 10 minutes. The AREX stations are conveniently located within the airport terminals. Tickets cost ₩1,500 - ₩3,100.

    2. Airport Limousine Bus: Similar to Incheon Airport, Gimpo Airport offers airport limousine buses that connect the airport to various locations in Seoul. These buses are a convenient option, especially if your destination is not directly accessible by train. The bus stops are located outside the airport terminals. There are several companies that you can research and book online before your trip. 

    3. Taxi: Taxis are available at designated taxi stands outside the airport terminals. They offer a convenient and efficient way to reach your destination in Seoul. The taxi fare will depend on the distance traveled and the type of taxi chosen. Additionally, I suggest downloading KakaoTaxi and UT (Uber) beforehand so you can call a taxi directly in app. 

    It's advisable to consider factors such as travel time, cost, and your specific destination in Seoul when choosing the transportation option that suits your needs. Additionally, it's worth noting that public transportation services may operate on different schedules, so it's always helpful to check the operating hours and availability beforehand.

    Keep T-Money cards accessible as you will need it to enter and exit buses and subways. I like to keep it in the slip pocket of my Elise Crossbody!


    Paying for Public Transit in Korea

    1. T-money Cards: T-money cards are an essential tool for navigating public transportation in Korea. These rechargeable smart cards can be used on subways, buses, taxis, and even at select convenience stores and vending machines. Here's what you need to know about purchasing and reloading T-money cards:

    a. Buying T-money cards:

    1. Convenience stores: You can easily purchase T-money cards at convenience stores such as CU, GS25, and 7-Eleven. They cost around 5,000w and you add cash to it to use at subway stations, buses, or even buying items in the connivence store! Look for the card racks near the cashier or ask the store staff for assistance. These stores are often found near subway stations or major tourist areas. Note T-Money is a specific company by 

    2. Vending machines: Some subway stations and major bus terminals have vending machines that sell T-money cards. These machines are user-friendly and have an English language option, making it convenient for tourists to purchase the cards independently.

    3. T-money retailers: T-money cards can also be bought at T-money retailers, which include subway station customer service centers, tourist information centers, and some bus ticket offices. Look for signs or inquire at these locations to purchase your card.

    4. Tourist packages: If you have time to look before your trip, many promotions are held for free T-money cards packaged with items like SIM cards or tickets to attractions like Namsam Tower. You will still need to add cash value to the card to use it, but will save you around 5,000w for the card itself. 

    b. Reloading T-money cards:

    1. Recharge machines: Most subway stations and major bus terminals have T-money recharge machines. These machines allow you to easily add value to your card using cash or credit cards. Simply follow the instructions on the screen, select the amount you want to load, and complete the payment.

    2. Convenience stores: T-money cards can be reloaded at convenience stores that have the T-money logo displayed. Inform the store staff that you want to recharge your card, specify the desired amount, and pay the cashier. They will help you complete the transaction. Stores include GS25, CU, 7-Eleven, MINISTOP, Story Way, Emart24, 365PLUS.

    3. Tmoney Town (Seoul Stn Exit#10, Seoul City Tower 1F)

    4. Online: If you have a Korean bank account or access to online banking services, you can recharge your T-money card through the T-money website or smartphone app. This option is convenient for those who prefer to manage their card balance electronically.

    c. Refunding T-Money Card at end of your trip

    Present your Tmoney card and inform the staff how much you want to refund in Tmoney card sales/Top-up locations. The refund will be given to you in cash in Korean won along with card.
    - Refund does not include the cost of card.
    - The service fee of ₩500 will be charged.
    ※ Caution : Partial refunds are only available at Tmoney Town and Tmoney service center in subway station. Partial refunds are available only for amounts between 10,000 and 50,000 KRW, and will be refunded in units of 10,000 KRW. (Plate tmoney cards only)

    T-Money Card vs Cashbee Card vs Namane Card vs WOWPASS

    All four are convenient options for a chargeable prepaid card to use on public transit, gets free transfer benefits, and can be used online and in person stores. 

    T-Money and Cashbee cards are available at convenience stores nationwide (GS25, CU, MINISTOP, etc) and are reloadable subway stations and convenience stores.

    The T-Money Card is the most widely accepted in affiliated stores, and costs 3,000-5,000 won) while the Cashbee card costs around 2,000 won. In our trip we happened to go into a CU first so we got a Cashbee, and found it to be exactly the same experience as T-Money so I don't think it matters too much which you get. 

    WOWPASS is a foreigner only all-in-one prepaid card where you can use your home currency to load the card in Korean won right away.

    Not only does it work as a transportation card, but it can also be used like a service-fee free debit card at affiliated stores that accept card payment. WOWPASS can be purchased through kiosks installed at 140 locations, including major subway stations, hotels, and international airports.

    In order to buy a WOWPASS card, you will need your passport and foreign currency bills. After purchase, register your card on the WOWPASS mobile app to see payment history, as well as your remaining balance, and benefit from cash back and coupon rewards.

    NAMANE cards function the same as T-money cards, can be used as transit and pay cards, but can be topped up with credit cards making it a convient option. There is a 3% fee when topping up the card with a debit/credit card. 

    Another selling point is that you can customize the card with an image of your choice, making it a fun souvenir for your trip, You can purchase a card on the NAMANE app or at a NAMANE kiosk installed at major locations nationwide including Incheon Airport, Myeong-dong, and Seoul Station. You can also check the card balance in real time and conveniently reload through the app. The card can be used for all public transportation and at any shop like a debit card.

    Tips for using T-Money Cards in Korea

    • Have cash: T-money card cannot be purchased or refilled with a credit card; you need cash. If you plan on getting them from the vending machine at ICN, you need to exchange some money first. 
    • Discounted fare: Children or youth users can enjoy the discounted fare if they register their card with their date of birth in convenience stores or information center in subway station, by presenting Tmoney card and ID card.
      • Children : Age 6 to 12 
      • Youth : Age 13 to 18

    Can you Share your T-money Card? 

    You will probably want one card per person as you will have to use it to tap in and out of busses, subway systems, and transfer. It will be more convient and for Childen and Youth you can get a special discount by registering their card. 

    Remember to keep your T-money card in a safe place, as you can reuse it for future visits to Korea or pass it on to fellow travelers! 


    Karin is the co-founder of Arden Cove and co-creator of the Anti-Theft Waterproof Crossbodies - bags created for women who want all the practicality and safety features without compromising in style. Shop

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