Transportation 101: South Korea

Courtney Cavanah

So you’re going to Seoul, and you’re worried about how to navigate your way from Incheon Airport to your host university. For those of you as “transportationally inept” as I was, I can’t boast enough about Seoul’s infrastructure and how kind it was to me. Not only are the subways and buses clean, spacious, and efficient, but they are also incredibly cheap and foreigner-friendly, with each one-way trip anywhere around the city costing you only a little over one dollar. With that in mind, there are various resources to help you navigate through the city with little to no hassle. There are two main things you’ll need to be zipping around the Seoul in no time: smartphone transportation apps, and a transportation card.

  • Transportation Smartphone Apps: Kakao Metro and Kakao Bus are not only very exchange-student friendly, but they also offer in-depth information to make your commute speedy and comfortable. The Metro app even accounts for how much time is taken to walk between one line and another at a transfer point, which car to board to get closest to the exit, exactly how much it will cost, and even which side the exit is on! Both apps also accommodate other cities in South Korea, as well as providing real-time information about departure and arrival times. I’ve tried many other applications that serve this same purpose, but I always found myself back at the Kakao apps. My only wish is that the Metro and Bus lines were integrated into one app, but they work so well that I can forgive it!
  • T-Money Card: This thing is absolutely ESSENTIAL to getting around anywhere. It is a transportation card that can be used on all methods of public transportation (bus, taxi, subway, airport bus) anywhere in the entire country. You can purchase some basic ones from a vending machine when you arrive at Incheon Airport, but convenience stores are stocked with cards that feature all kinds of fun designs. For those of you who hate carrying around a bunch of cards, you can also request at the time of opening a Korean bank account that your debit card come with the T-money function included, so you won’t need to reload at all (so long as you have enough money in your account). At my exchange university (Seoul National University), you could even have your student ID, debit card, and transportation card all rolled into one! Just be extra careful not to lose it, because with great convenience comes great responsibility.

Armed with these tools, you can travel anywhere around Seoul on what I consider to be one of the world’s most superior public transportation systems. If you’re experienced with the NYC or D.C. subways, you’re in for an upgrade!

Courtney Cavanah is a Junior Linguistics major with a minor in Korean and a certificate in Asian Studies. She participated in an exchange program in Seoul, South Korea during the 2016-2017 academic year on the Freeman-ASIA scholarship, a scholarship for students who demonstrate financial need and are interested in pursuing study abroad in Asia.