transportation in south korea

How to Navigate Public Transportation in South Korea

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Public transportation is a crucial aspect of daily life in South Korea and is widely used by locals and tourists alike. The country has a comprehensive and highly efficient transportation system that includes buses, taxis, and trains, which make it a breeze to get around. 

As you plan your South Korea itinerary, you can get a rough idea of the best routes to take. Thorough planning will help you get the most out of your trip, so take a look at how to use public transportation in South Korea.

How to Buy Bus & Subway Tickets in Korea

The Seoul subway system is renowned for its cleanliness, ease of use, and frequency of service, and has been consistently voted one of the best in the world. You can easily get around the city using the subway, which operates from approximately 5:30 am until midnight. The subway lines are color-coded and stations have signs in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese, so you won’t have trouble finding your way.

To ride the subway, you can use a single or multiple journey pass. Single-journey passes can be purchased at the subway stations, and you’ll need to pay the exact fare to your destination, plus a 500-won refundable deposit. If you plan to use public transportation more than once, you can purchase a T-Money card at most convenience stores (and online here with $5 additional value!).

This card allows you to transfer between subway lines for free, and also between bus and subway lines if you’re a Tmoney user.

 View interactive subway map here.

How to Buy Train Tickets in Korea

If you’re planning to travel by train in South Korea, you’ll likely come across the term Korail. This stands for Korea Railroad Corporation, which is the national railway operator in South Korea.

Now, if you’re looking to purchase train tickets, you might want to know that you can easily do so through the official Korail website. You can purchase tickets up to one month in advance, which is great for planning your trip ahead of time. Note that this website isn’t the best and can be a bit confusing. That’s why I also recommend using the website Rail.Ninja to book train tickets in Korea.

You can also purchase train tickets at a train station in-person via a ticket booth. Most railway stations also have ticket vending machines available, especially for KTX train tickets. These machines not only print KTX tickets but also sell regular train tickets, so you can get everything you need in one place.

One of the best things about these machines is that they operate in both Korean and English, making it easy for anyone to use. Plus, you can pay for your tickets using your credit card, so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash with you.

Korea Rail Pass (2, 3, 4, or 5 Days)

You might also want to look into the Korea Rail Pass if you know you are going to take a lot of trains in Korea.

This pass lets you travel on almost all trains operated by Korail – over 600 stations and 80 routes all around the country. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from!

For example, if you want to travel from Seoul to Busan, the KTX train only takes 2.5 hours and is very comfortable to travel with. And with the Korea Rail Pass, you’ll be able to travel on this train and many others throughout the country.

The Korea Rail Pass is valid for either 2 or 4 flexible days within a 10-day period. You’ll be allowed 2 seat reservations per person per day, but after that, you can still travel on the pass without a seat guarantee. There are also 3-day and 5-day passes available that can be used for consecutive travel days.

So if you’re planning to travel around South Korea by train, be sure to check out the Korea Rail Pass for a convenient and affordable way to get around!

Public Transportation in South Korea: Apps That You Need

Navigating public transportation in South Korea has never been easier thanks to mobile apps. You can plan your trip, purchase tickets, and keep track of your travel history on one platform. 

Here are some of the must-have apps to navigate South Korea public transportation:

Naver Map

Naver Map is a popular navigation and mapping app developed by Naver Corporation, a South Korean online search portal. It is widely used because of its many navigation features.

This South Korea public transportation map app provides real-time information on various transportation options, including subways, buses, and taxis. Users can plan their trips, look up locations, and view estimated travel times and routes. The app also has a My Place feature, which allows users to save and organize their favorite locations.

You can also use Naver Map to look up important details about the places you want to visit, including their exact address, phone number, and reviews. Users can view satellite and street-level maps and search for nearby attractions, restaurants, and more.

T-money

T-Money is a smart card that can be used for payment on various forms of public transportation in South Korea. Simply tap your card on the reader when entering a subway station or boarding a bus, and the fare will be automatically deducted from your balance. You can also use T-Money to pay for taxi rides. Most convenience stores and vending machines also accept T-Money as payment.

The biggest benefit of T-Money is its interoperability: it can be used on multiple transportation systems across different cities. You can also take advantage of discounts on transfer fees if you need to transfer between subway lines or from the subway to a bus.

T-Money cards can be purchased and reloaded at subway ticket vending machines, convenience stores, and online via Klook with a $5 additional value coupon.

Subway Korea

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is the rapid transit system in the country’s bustling capital. It serves millions of passengers daily, one of the most used in the world. 

The country’s subway system is highly touted for its efficiency, reliability, and convenience. Trains run frequently, with minimal wait times even during peak hours. The subway system is also very well-connected, with easy transfers between lines and conveniently located subway station entrances.

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway also has onboard Wi-Fi, mobile device charging stations, and ample seating—heated during the winter months. Most subway stations have many shopping and dining options, so you can grab a bite or shop for souvenirs on your way to your train.

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway app has a detailed map of the system and provides real-time information on subway schedules, routes, and transfers. You can also use the app to purchase tickets and reload your T-Money Card.

Train – Korail App

The South Korean railway system, known as Korail, is a comprehensive and modern transportation network that connects cities and regions across the country. It includes high-speed and traditional trains, great for both long-distance travel and commuting.

High-speed trains in South Korea, such as the KTX (Korea Train Express), run at speeds of up to 305 km/h (190 mph). The KTX operates on several lines, including the Gyeongbu Line, which connects Seoul and Busan, and the Honam Line, which connects Seoul and Mokpo.

South Korea also has a network of traditional trains that provide leisurely and scenic travel experiences to remote areas that may not be served by other forms of transportation.

Korail also operates several tourist trains, including the O-Train and the A-Train, which offer scenic tours of the country and are a popular option for tourists.

The Korail railway system is well-connected to other forms of transportation, including subways, buses, and ferries. The Korail app and website provide real-time information on train schedules, routes, and ticket availability.

KakaoBus

Kakao Bus is a transportation information and ticketing service provided by Kakao, a South Korean internet company. Users can check real-time schedules, find the nearest bus stops, plan the most convenient routes, and purchase tickets from their smartphone.

The app also provides information on the number of seats available on each bus, so you can avoid crowds. It is very user-friendly, with clear and concise information that makes it easy to find the information you need.

Kakao T

Kakao T is a transportation platform that provides a range of transportation services, including Kakao Taxi, Kakao Bus, and Kakao Metro (subway)—a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs.

Kakao T provides real-time information on taxi availability and pricing. Once you book a trip, you can track the progress of your taxi in real-time.

You can use Kakao Bus and Kakao Metro to view bus and subway schedules, routes, and stops so you can find the quickest and most convenient options for your trip. You can purchase bus and subway tickets using the app.

Kakao T also provides parking information, real-time traffic updates, and location-based advertisements.

Curiosities About Means of Transportation in South Korea

South Korea has an incredibly efficient transportation system that has evolved to meet the needs of its rapidly growing tourist population and booming economy.

Here are a few interesting facts about transportation in South Korea:

High-Speed Rail

The Korea Train Express (KTX) runs at speeds of up to 305 km/h (190 mph). It is one of the fastest high-speed rail systems in the world and is a matter of pride in South Korea. You can travel between major cities in just a few hours.

Smart card System

Public transportation in South Korea is known for its advanced smart card system. T-Money cards are used across various transportation options, including buses, subway trains, rail, and even shopping and parking.

Subway System

The subway system in South Korea is extensive, covering major cities such as Seoul, Busan, and Daegu. With millions of passengers relying on it every day, the system runs smoothly with minimal delays.

Automated Bus Stops

In South Korea, bus stops are automated, allowing passengers to access real-time information and purchase tickets via a touchscreen kiosk or mobile app.

Floating Bridges

Floating bridges are a unique feature of South Korea’s transportation infrastructure, with the Taean Floating Bridge being the longest in the world. These bridges provide alternative routes for public and private vehicles, helping alleviate traffic congestion.

Autonomous Vehicles

South Korea is a leader in the development and testing of autonomous vehicles. It is expected that these types of vehicles will play a significant role in transportation in the future.

What To Do if You Get Lost in the City?

Stay Calm

Don’t panic, and try to remain calm. Clear your mind so you can come up with a plan.

Ask For Help

If you’re able to, approach a local for help. South Koreans are friendly and willing to assist travelers. If you don’t speak Korean or can’t find a passerby who can speak English, you can use a translation app to communicate.

Use Technology

Take advantage of technology to help you find your way. Use a mobile app such as Kakao Map or Naver Map to navigate the fastest and easiest route home. Google Maps does not work well in Korea!

Visit a Tourist Information Center

Many cities in South Korea have tourist information centers where you can ask for help. They can provide you with maps, directions, and other information you need to find your way. Call 1330 for the Korea Travel Hotline, operated by Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). This is a convenient multilingual helpline available as a public service for local and international travelers.

Call the Police

If you are still struggling to find your way, you can contact the local police for assistance. The emergency number in South Korea is 112.

Conclusion

South Korea’s public transportation is exceptionally well-developed. The government continues to invest in future-proof transportation solutions, such as autonomous vehicles, to ensure that South Korea remains at the forefront of transportation innovation. 

With its advanced transportation system and user-friendly mobile app technology, South Korea is an excellent example of a country that has effectively transformed its infrastructure to meet the needs of its growing population and expanding economy.

Recommended Travel Guides for Korea

If you want to learn more about South Korea and have a handy travel guide in your pocket, check out these three options below:

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Seoul

This Top 10 Seoul guide is a great pocket guide that breaks down the best of Seoul into helpful lists of ten – from selected highlights to the best museums and galleries, and the most authentic restaurants, tearooms, bars, shops, and markets. I personally helped update the most recent version of this guide. Buy this book.

Lonely Planet Korea

You really can’t go wrong with a lonely planet guide in your hand luggage! I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet and own this guide myself. What I love is the brand-new pull-out, passport-size ‘Just Landed’ card with wi-fi, ATM and transport info – all you need for a smooth journey from airport to hotel! Buy this book.

South Korea: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide

Calling all my solo female travel ladies out there – this guide is amazing! Part of the #1 Travel Guidebook Series for Women (and couples), this take on South Korea will help you avoid the scams, creeps, and tourist traps and skip ahead to the cities and adventures that are worth your time (and money)! Buy this book.

Linda's Pick
I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
04/20/2023 05:57 am GMT
Best Guide Covering All Of Korea
I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
04/20/2023 06:02 am GMT
Best for Solo Female Travelers
I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 08:09 pm GMT

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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