How To Navigate Korea through Public Transportation: A Guide

June 16, 2022

How To Navigate Korea through Public Transportation: A Guide

You have made it! You have figured out how to fly to Korea, get through immigration and the different COVID restrictions, and now you’re here! But now you’re wondering, how are you going to get to your accommodation without having to spend too much money? Or you’re wondering how you are just going to get around the country during your stay? Here is my complete guide on how to navigate Korea through the most convenient and cheapest way: through the Korean public transportation system.

T-Money Card

One of the very first things that you should purchase when you get to Korea is a T-Money Card or a T-Card for short. You can purchase one of these transportation cards anywhere: either at the airport or any convenience stores (7Eleven, GS25, CU, Ministop). You can get different designs depending on where you purchase the card. For example, some people get the BTS themed T-Cards by purchasing them at a Line Friends store.

There are also different types of T-Cards: there is the basic T-Card, foreigner exclusive cards, and customized cards.

  • The basic T-Card costs $2,500 KRW and serves the same functions as all other types of cards
  • The foreigner exclusive card is a bit more pricey and costs $4,000 KRW. It however offers discounts in various locations such as the COEX aquarium, hanbok rentals, Petit France, Korean Folk Village, and many other touristy places. The basic fee of paying for the card is not a lot more expensive so this is a great option to have just in case you ever want to use it to get discounts in certain places!
  • The customized card is basically a basic T-Card except you can customize the design of how the card looks like. You can do this at different locations by looking at vending machines in subway stations that offer this option. This type of T-Card is a pit more pricier and costs $6,000 KRW.

This is my foreigner exclusive T-Card that I got at the airport vending machine

After buying the T-Card, you need to load money now so that you can travel around Korea. You can load money at the machines in the subway stations (tip: they have English, Chinese, and Japanese options so hopefully it should be easy to load your money that way!). You can also load money using cash only at any convenience store. The fee to ride public transportation varies depending on whether you are taking the subway, taxi, or bus. Most rides, especially subways and buses, have a fee of around $1,250 KRW so keep that in mind when loading in your money. Now that you have money in your T-Card, the next step is to actually use your T-Card by getting on either that subway, the bus, or that taxi.

Subway

If you’re taking the subway, all you have to do is place the card on the sensor at the station until it beeps. The machine will actually show you how much money it charged you and the remaining balance of your T-Card. You are able to walk in and get on the subway that you need to go on.

You have to use your T-Card for one last time at the station that you are getting off at and simply place your card on the sensor again until it beeps. (tip: if you encounter any problems, simply press the help button so that someone can come help you).

Get ready to transfer between different lines and sometimes even different types of transportation depending on which station you are getting on and which station you need to get off. To save yourself from some headache and save yourself some time, I would recommend using navigation apps to get around. Refer to my last blog about what essential apps you absolutely need to get. I strongly recommend using the Naver Maps app in order to survive the public transportation system.

Make sure you look at the banners that are hung around the station to see which direction you need to go in. The same metro line can go in opposite directions so you cross reference on the banners, on the app, and on a subway map if you’re not sure which subway to get on.

Another quick thing to know is that the last train departs at around 11:30 PM and the first train departs at around 5 AM. If you’re planning on staying out late, make sure you accommodate time or think of a Plan B that does not require taking the metro system.

Use apps to get around the system: it’ll save you time and a headache

  • Refer to my blog about what essential apps to get such as the naver maps app in order to survive the public transportation system
  • Get ready to transfer between different lines and different types of transportations
  • The subway closes by midnight but buses basically run all the time (you might just have to wait longer for night buses)

Bus

Don’t be scared of taking the bus! It seems complicated but the buses offer more routes than the subways and they operate at night as well so a lot of locals actually prefer taking the bus more.

The key is to use a navigation maps app so that you are on the correct side of the street, taking the correct bus towards the right direction. There are always more than one option of what type of bus you can take so don’t be afraid to look at other routes. Using Naver Maps will make your life easier as the geographic location is really accurate and it will let you know what your current location is which helps when knowing which direction to go in.

As for the T-Card, the process works similarly as the metro one. You just need to place your card on the sensor when you get on, and when you get off.

Taxi

Taxis are not expensive in Korea and you can actually use your T-Card to pay for the full fare if you have enough money loaded. Make sure you look out for the signs of the “T-card” logo on the taxi and let your driver know that you are planning on using your card to pay for the ride. You simply need to tap your card on the sensor that is above a gray box at the end of the ride.

Sometimes it can be hard to flag down a taxi, especially at night, so another way of getting a taxi is using the Kakao Taxi app that works just like Uber or Lyft.

Taxis can be fun and the drivers are nice and kind but I would personally still recommend using public transportation as much as you can and only resorting to taxis as a last option. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate with the local drivers either because I can’t speak Korean very well and can’t communicate correctly with them or because my accommodation is too far of a drive for the drivers. The bus and metro system is so easy to use (especially with the help of Naver Maps) and even though it may take a bit longer to get to your destination, it is definitely part of the cultural experience and is convenient and cheap!

KTX

If you’re thinking of traveling outside of Seoul to visit other cities, consider taking the KTX, the Korean Train E(X)press. This bullet train is ideal to take when you are traveling in between big cities such as from Seoul to Busan or vice versa. By bus, the ride can take up to 5 hours while the KTX cuts the travel time by more than half and only takes 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Click this link to get more information as the KTX offers so many other options of cities outside of Seoul to travel to. Tickets can range from $10,000 KRW to $45,000 KRW.

And that’s the complete guide about possible transportation systems you will encounter in order to get around Korea! Whether you are taking the bus, subway, taxi, or KTX, don’t be afraid to ask around if you’re not sure about directions. Hopefully using this guide and with the help of the internet, you’ll be able to safely arrive at your destination.

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