Nyamal Gatluak is a TEAN Seoul alumna and an ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador whose experience abroad in Seoul during the Fall 2021 semester exposed her to all aspects of Korean culture and daily life – including public transportation!
Check out her tips and suggestions for navigating the South Korean Public Transit system to maximize your time abroad and to travel the country coast-to-coast like she did!
South Korea undoubtedly has one of the most advanced and extensive transportation systems in the world. Their clean and reliable transit methods make traveling within the country fairly easy without relying on a personal vehicle. However, it can be confusing to navigate through the different transit systems at first. But with a little guidance and practice, you’ll quickly get the hang of things and be able to navigate the city like a pro.
Below is a guide of what you need to navigate South Korea’s public transportation system. One thing’s for sure, if you’re planning on using public transportation in South Korea, then you’ll need a T-money card.
A T-Money Card is a reloadable card that can be used on public transit and in most convenience stores. The card has no expiration date and comes in various creative designs, including the popular Kakao Friends and BT21 designs. Luckily, if you go abroad with TEAN, they provide you with a T-Money Card. Otherwise, you can find them at your local convenience store for about 3,000 KRW (about $2.50), making them pretty affordable. Refilling the card is easy as well – simply ask your local convenience store clerk or use the stations located in the subway to refill with cash.
The subway is one of the best ways to travel in South Korea, especially if you’re located in metropolitan areas. The station lines are color-coded and have both Korean and English writing, making it easy to navigate. As the train approaches different stops, you’ll usually hear the announcer say the upcoming stop and the stop that precedes in multiple languages. However, it can be difficult to interpret what the announcer is saying at times due to the noise of the subway, so paying attention to the electronic banners and signs outside of the stops are key to making sure you get off the right station.
The train runs from as early as 5:30 AM to midnight – so if you end up missing the last train, which happens to the best of us, your best bet would be to catch a taxi.
Recommended Apps: Naver Map, Kakao Map, KakaoMetro (English)
Taxis are relatively easy to find in South Korea. If you find it difficult to communicate your destination, ordering a taxi through one of the apps is the way to go. Through the apps, you don’t have to worry much about directing the driver where to go and you also get the upfront cost of the fare.
You’ll spot taxis in several colors – orange, silver and white taxis are general taxis and are typically the cheapest taxis available. You can also find orange international taxis, which provide translation services in multiple languages. However, these taxis must be ordered ahead of time and cost more than the general taxis. Black taxis are premium taxis and are the most expensive to take. These taxis generally offer a more stable and comfortable ride. Several other types of taxis are available to choose from on the apps, so you can choose what works best for you.
Recommended Apps: Kakao Taxi, Uber
The city bus is another convenient way to travel through the country. In Seoul, the city buses are sorted by various colors depending on the route they take. The ones most common in the city are the green, blue and red buses. Green buses take passengers short distances within the city, blue buses take passengers longer distances around the city, and red buses travel from the city to surrounding suburban areas. The bus can be a bumpy and crowded ride, so make sure to hang tight as you head toward your destination.
It’s important to note that while cheap and convenient, it can be difficult for those who don’t understand Korean to read the route information since most of it is solely available in Korean. To help manage this, pay attention to the GPS tracking system on your app of choice, so you have an idea of where to get on and off of the bus. Also, the predicted bus arrival times on the various apps are often not accurate, with some buses not showing up at all. Luckily, there are electric signs with the estimated bus arrival time at some stops, which are typically more accurate. If that’s not available, keep in mind that buses typically come in 10- to 20-minute intervals, so you may need to hang tight until the next available one arrives.
Recommended Apps: Naver Map, Kakao Bus, Kakao Map
An alternative to the traditional transit methods is electric scooters (e-scooters). While they are more difficult to find than the other transit methods listed above, e-scooters are a convenient and environmentally friendly way to travel short distances in the city. E-scooters can be found in areas like parks, college campuses and around metropolitan areas.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for foreigners to ride these for several reasons. Foreigners need an Alien Registration Card (ARC) linked to their phone number to sign up to use the scooter apps. Also, most scooter apps do not have English translation, making it difficult for non-Korean speakers to navigate. But if you can get your hands on one, they are a fun and convenient way to travel in the city.
Inspired by Nyamal’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your next adventure today!