Public transport can be difficult to understand in a city as large and complicated as Seoul. That’s even without the language barrier!
But, the public transportation in Seoul (and by extension, Korea) is easy to understand once you understand the basics. In this post, I will go over all the important aspects of public transport in Seoul. From the Seoul Metro to buses and taxis. This post will also cover transport cards and will give you all the information you need to know to use public transport in Seoul.
Table of Contents
- 1 Cash VS Transport Card
- 2 Which Transport Card?
- 3 Where do Transport Cards Work?
- 4 Seoul Public Transportation Costs
- 5 Seoul Subway
- 6 Seoul Buses
- 7 Taxis
- 8 Seoul Public Transport Conclusion
Cash VS Transport Card
Photo by Anthony Abruzzo
Public transport in Seoul can be managed without a transport card. However, a card will make your journey FAR less painful. Using buses with only cash isn’t too inconvenient (as you pay on the bus). But, purchasing subway tickets for every ride quickly becomes frustrating.
A transport card (also called T-Money in Seoul) costs 4000KRW (about $3). They can be topped up and make public transport far easier to use. If you have a remaining balance of less than 20,000KRW when you leave the country, you can even get it refunded!
Having a T-Money card will discount you 100KRW every time you use public transport. This means that in 40 uses of public transport it pays for itself. In some cases, it will save you even more!
If you want to pick up a T-Money card at the airport check out this fantastic deal for a SIM card with data and a T-Money Card! Another option to pick up a T-money card from the airport is offered by Klook – for less than $3!
Seoul Bus Passes
Unlimited Korail Pass
Check out other great activities, tours, and packages for travelling in Korea!
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Which Transport Card?
T-Money and Cashbee
T-Money and Cashbee are the two names you will often hear when it comes to transport cards in Korea. T-Money is more common in Seoul. Although it will work on public transport outside of the capital, it can be hard to top-up (outside of Seoul).
On the other hand, Cashbee is more common in other Korean cities such as Busan. It also faces the same problem as T-Money. While Cashbee can also be used in Seoul, not all convenience stores will allow you to top-up.
The good news is that both cards CAN be used in most places in Korea. It just means that at times your top-up options might be limited if you are outside of the usual card region. T-Money is for Seoul, while Cashbee is used in other regions.
Korea Tour Card
Korea Tour Card – find out more.
There are also a few other options. One of the best options for tourists is the Korea Tour Card. This T-Money card is for visitors to the country and also provides a large range of other benefits for tourists.
These cards can be picked up from Seoul Station, Incheon and Gimpo airports, as well as a few other key locations. What makes them ideal is that they are a version of the T-Money card, meaning that you get all the advantages of a normal T-Money card.
What does this mean? Well, they can be used in not only buses and trains, but also in taxies and even convenience stores! On top of this, they can be topped up in nearly every convenience store/top-up machine in the city.
The bonus of this is that you can manage everything from the app. On top of this is that you can use your phone to scan on and off of public transport. This means you have no need for a separate card! How handy!
The biggest downside to this is twofold – you need battery, and you need data. Data is an easy fix with some great sim card options being offered to tourists. However, you will need to be wary of your phone’s battery life.
Discover Seoul Pass
Discover Seoul Pass – find out more.
Finally, the best option for short-term visitors (or visitors who want to experience the attractions of Seoul) is the Discover Seoul Pass. This pass lasts 1-3 days and gives you transportation around the city.
The biggest bonus, however, is that you get totally free entrance to 34 different attractions around the city. These attractions include palaces such as Gyeongbokgung! Even better, you get discounted entrance to a further 29 attractions. Depending on the version that you purchase, the card can even be topped up like a normal T-Money card.
If you are only in Seoul for a short period of time or are planning on visiting lots of attractions, this card is a fantastic deal. Considering that many of the attractions are $10 or more to enter, the $30 price tag is a great deal. More details on the Discover Seoul Pass and attraction list.
Do you need travel assistance during your trip? – A popular service called Sidekick offers real-time travel assistance via chat with friendly local guides in English. They can help with any travel needs, such as translation, restaurant recommendations and reservations, shopping assistance, suggested itineraries, step-by-step directions, etc. It works via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and LINE and costs $20 per day with discounts for their 3-Day and 5-Day Passes.
Where do Transport Cards Work?
Transport cards in Korea are fantastic because of their functionality. Not only do they work on almost every form of transport in the city (including taxis!). They also can be used at convenience stores and occasionally other cafes and restaurants.
Topping up transport cards is very easy and can be done in many different places. Nearly every convenience store will allow you to put money on your card. This includes all the major brands such as 7/11, GS25, CU, Ministop and also some of the smaller brands.
Topping up can also be done using machines which are found in every metro station in the city. These machines take cash and offer Chinese, Japanese, English and Korean language options.
Seoul Public Transportation Costs
For an adult in Seoul, you can expect to pay 1,250KRW per transportation method. This means one train ride (check-in and then check out) will cost about $1 USD. Transferring can make this cost increase.
However, trips that need transfers (including a bus-train transfer or vice-versa) are discounted. If you ride a train and then a bus, the cost of the bus will be discounted.
Based on these costs, it is usual to top-up 20,000KRW at a time. This usually lasts for a few days and means that you won’t need to be topping up too regularly.
Adult Pricing Table
|Transportation Type||T-Money Cost (in Korean Won, KRW)||Cash Cost (in Korean Won, KRW)|
|Maeul Bus (Small green bus)||900||1000|
|Seoul Metro||1250||1350 (buying a ticket)|
All data is taken from Visitseoul.net and is accurate as of August 2019. All prices are in Korean Won, KRW.
Youth and Child Pricing Table
|Transportation Type||Youth (13-18), Cash Cost||Youth (13-18), T-Money Cost||Child (6-12), Cash Cost||Child (6-12), T-Money Cost|
|Maeul Bus (Small green bus)||550||450||300||200|
All data is taken from Visitseoul.net and is accurate as of August 2019. All prices are in Korean Won, KRW.
Let’s start with a Seoul subway map…
Map from visitkorea.or.kr.
Anyone could forgive you for thinking that the map looks complex. However, it isn’t as bad as it looks!
All important elements of the subway are in English as well as Korean. This makes the subway a lot less intimidating than it first seems. From subway station names to the loudspeaker announcements, there are always English options.
From my experience, the Seoul subway system is also one of the easiest to navigate. This is due to the fact that everything is clearly sign-posted and navigating is a breeze once you get used to it.
Once you are on the train, everything will also be in English. Stop names (the loudspeaker announcement and text on the signs) will be stated in Korean, followed by Japanese, Chinese, and English.
There are a few apps out there that will help you infinitely when it comes to navigating the Seoul Metro. It is definitely possible to survive without apps (there are maps inside every station and train). But, navigation is made far easier with the help of technology.
The app that I use most often is Subway Korea (IOS and Android). Since I have used this from when I came to Korea, it is what I have grown used to and what I prefer. However, another popular option is Kakao Metro.
Subway Korea allows you to see everything related to the subway. From station exits to timetables, to which carriage is the most efficient.
Upon opening the app, you will be faced with a map of the whole subway system. To begin plotting a course, simply tap on the train icon in the bottom left. A few options will then appear. All that we will be using for now though is the magnifying glass icon.
This is the search function. From here, simply search the name of the station to find options matching your search. Locate the station and tap on it. This will bring up a little submenu with a few different options.
For now, just use ‘departs from’. This sets your departure station. Now, use the search function again and search for the endpoint of your trip. Find the station, tap on it, and select ‘arrives at’. That’s it! Now the app will plot a course for you.
Once you have selected a course you can choose ‘fastest’ or ‘fewest’ at the top of the screen. This will choose between the fastest route and the route with the fewest transfers. This is super handy for choosing how you prefer to travel.
How to plot a route on the Subway Korea app.
If you are interested in the timetable for a station simply tap on the station in the map view. From there, tap on ‘timetable’ from the submenu that appears. The same goes for ‘exit info’ and ‘station info’.
Station info will let you know which stations have which facilities. This list includes restrooms, baby care rooms, disabled access, and elevators.
When Does the Seoul Subway Open?
The Seoul Metro operates from approximately 5:30 to 24:00 (5:30 am – midnight). However, some lines will close earlier or later depending on their location and the day of the week. For example, most of the inner-city lines will remain open until 1 am on weekends.
While the stations are always open, the trains will not operate through the early morning hours. If you want to see the first/last time for a specific train use the Subway Korea app that I mentioned above. Follow the guide to select a route and then at the top select ‘detailed info’.
Under the detailed info tab, you will see exactly what times the trains depart each station. To the right of the top option (departs) there will be a little sticker which says ‘last train’. Simply tap that to view the latest time that you can depart on your journey (and arrive at the destination).
This is especially helpful because it calculates the total time of your trip as well as the closing times of the different lines that you have to take. It even calculates walking times between trains!
It is worth noting that there are times when the Seoul Metro will cease operation before the time mentioned on the app. Further, if you are even a minute late to catch one train you won’t be able to make it to your destination. As such, I recommend leaving before the stated time of the last train.
Usually, 15-20 minutes early is enough to make sure that you can get to your destination and it allows for a mistake if you happen to make one.
The Seoul Metro is also incredibly clean!
There are a few important tips that will make the trip more comfortable for both you and others.
- Don’t sit in the seats at the end of carriages. Normally, at the end of each carriage there will be six seats (three on one side and three on the other). These seats are for the elderly, pregnant, or those with small children. If you happen to fit into one of these categories then you are more than welcome to take the seats yourself!
- Don’t sit in pink seats/seats with a teddy bear. This may sound a little bit weird, but if a seat has a teddy bear, don’t sit in it. Again, these seats are meant for pregnant women. The same goes for seats that are pink (they are normally located at the end of seating rows). You will often see other people sitting in these seats but don’t follow their example. Unless you are pregnant, don’t use these seats.
- When entering the train stay to the left and right of the doors. When you are exiting, exit through the centre. When you are waiting at the automatic doors you may notice some small arrows on the ground. The two arrows on the side point towards to train, while the centre one points away from the train. This is showing how you should ideally line-up for the train. People entering form two lines on the sides, while people exiting come through the centre.
- Do not eat or drink inside the train. Again, you will often see people breaking this rule. That doesn’t mean you should. It is illegal, but many people will still bring food and drinks onto the train. If you do get caught, however, you will be fined.
- Don’t be loud inside the train. I know how hard this can be at times! Even if you are loud, it’s very unlikely that anyone will ask you to be quiet. However, it’s rude. If you want to talk to your friends just do it quietly!
- You can refund your transport card! If you have less than 20,000KRW on your transport card you can get it refunded at a convenience store.
- Stay to the right on escalators and while walking. While this is the same outside of metro stations, it is especially important within them. You might notice that transfer paths (paths to transfer from one train to another) will have a line down the middle. This is to divide the different directions of traffic. The left side of escalators is for people who are in a rush.
Seoul Metro etiquette.
Buses are often avoided by tourists in Korea because they appear more complicated. However, they are often the easiest and quickest ways to reach your destination.
Luckily, much like the Seoul metro, the city buses all have an English translation. This means that the bus stops will be announced in English, and all the signs will also have English.
Types of Buses in Seoul
There are five primary types of buses in Seoul, each with a different purpose. While it isn’t essential that you remember the bus colours (the number is what’s important), it’s useful to know what they mean.
Each bus also has a different cost, and the costs can be seen in the tables included above.
- Blue buses run between districts. These buses often link different districts of the city together. Usually, they connect suburban Seoul to downtown areas.
- Green buses are district-based and connect areas within a district. This means that they often connect subway stations within an area. They are often more efficient than taking a metro train.
- Yellow buses run downtown and can usually be found in the most popular areas of the city. These buses tend to stop at popular tourist destinations, large train stations, and bus stations.
- Red buses connect the city with neighbouring cities and towns. These buses are usually larger than the other buses and have more seating options. They also have curtains. These buses are also called ‘express’ buses as they stop less often. These buses are most often used to enter/exit the city.
- Maeul buses are smaller green buses which connect residential areas with subway stations. These buses are usually found in areas with fewer people that are further away from the city centre.
Buses cover nearly every part of the city!
Seoul Bus Routes
One of the biggest reasons that people prefer the metro system to buses is due to the apparent complexity of the system. I’m here to tell you it isn’t as bad as it looks!
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has a transport page which lists different options of transport with a map. However, the tool isn’t very helpful and is limited at best.
Instead, let me give you an easier method for managing bus transport while in Seoul.
Seoul Bus Apps
A few years ago Google Maps was useless. However, a lot has happened since then. Nowadays, Google Maps is actually my preferred option for navigating Seoul. Especially when it comes to planning a bus route.
Naver Maps is another option. However, since most people already have Google Maps installed I tend to recommend it. Google Maps is great at planning routes via bus and is usually accurate with it’s time.
The second app that I use is Kakao Bus. This app is currently a hybrid Korean/English app. But, since most of the information is in numbers, it is easy enough to use.
The benefit of Kakao Bus is that it includes information on every aspect of buses in Seoul. From the arrival time (down to a few seconds), to how many seats are available. Kakao Bus is very helpful!
Finally, this app is also useful as it specifies the operation hours of each bus.
Using Kakao Bus and Google Maps
When planning a bus route, first use Google Maps. This step is pretty straightforward as it’s the same as finding a Google Maps route anywhere else in the world.
Firstly, search for the destination that you want to reach. From there, choose ‘directions’ and select the bus icon as your preferred transport method. This will show you all of the possible bus routes as well as where the bus stop is located.
The best part is that Google Maps will tell you exactly how many stops you need to take. It will also tell you the name of the stop that you should leave the bus. From here, it’s simply a matter of following the instructions that Google Maps gives.
Remember that all bus stops will be announced over the loudspeaker (in English!) so you should have no trouble finding the correct stop.
Once you have found the bus stop that you will be departing from, you can find more information using Kakao Bus. Kakao Bus isn’t essential like Google Maps, however, it does have some useful information.
Guide for using Kakao Bus.
Kakao Bus will allow you to see the arrival time of every bus at every bus stop. This is fantastic as it allows you to not waste time waiting for buses to arrive.
On top of that, Kakao Bus also allows you to see the full bus route, how many bus seats are available, and more! This app will make your bus transportation in Seoul a breeze.
How to Use Seoul Buses
Once you have found the correct bus station using Kakao Bus and Google Maps it is just a matter of waiting for the bus. While buses will usually stop at every stop, it can be worth waving at them so that the bus driver knows to stop and pick you up.
Make sure to enter the bus from the front. In Korea, the front doors are used for entrance while the back doors are used for exiting the bus. While this isn’t a solid rule (to my knowledge) it is polite.
Inside the front doors are a scanner and a cash box. If you are paying by cash, place it inside the little slot on the plastic box – it is quite obvious and you can’t miss it. Usually, it is located right next to the driver. If you are paying by T-Money or mobile app, scan your card/phone on the scanner by the door.
If there are empty seats, make sure to sit on a seat with a green cover. Do not sit in yellow covered seats. These seats are reserved for the elderly, pregnant, and those with small children. If you happen to be any of these, then feel free to use the seats. However, usually, you want to stick to the green seats to avoid any possible problems.
When you need to exit the bus, press one of the red buttons located all over the walls and roof. This will let the bus driver know that they need to stop. If the button is already lit up, then no worries, someone has already pressed it!
When exiting the bus make sure to tap your card on the scanner again and exit via the back doors. If you paid by cash, you can just walk off the bus.
Protests are very common in Gwanhwamun area.
Since buses have to face traffic, there are times when they can’t reach areas due to protests. While this may sound like a rare occurrence, it really isn’t. Usually, protests happen around Gwanghwamun area. It’s something to keep in mind when travelling in that area.
If this is the case, the bus driver will announce that they are going to skip the area. Unfortunately, this announcement is often only in Korean. If you are travelling around Gwanghwamun area and hear a loudspeaker announcement consider taking the metro instead.
When using the buses there are a few general rules to follow.
- Enter the bus from the front and exit by the back. This isn’t essential, but it is common manners in Korea.
- Don’t take open food or drink on the bus. As with subways, it is also illegal to take food or drink on the bus. If you are carrying a drink you might find yourself being yelled at by the driver – we’ve all been there. While it is possible to ‘smuggle’ food or drink on, you can be fined if caught. If it happens to spill, you will also be paying. While on the subway this isn’t actively enforced, it is a different matter on buses. It is very strict.
- Don’t sit in yellow seats. Yellow seats are meant for the elderly, pregnant, and those with small children. If the bus is empty, you might see other people sitting in these seats. However, you are expected to surrender them when someone who needs them comes along.
- Hang on! The buses in Korea can be very fast and bumpy. Make sure to grab a hold of one of the many handles located throughout the buses.
- Make your way to the exit and be ready to get off the bus as soon as it stops. Some bus drivers will wait for everyone to exit. But, there are also some who will open the doors for a few seconds, see no-one exiting, and drive off. In order to not miss your bus stop, make sure that you are ready by the exit to get off when the bus stops.
Taxis are the third and final transportation method that I will discuss in this article. They aren’t public transport. However, you will most likely find yourself using them at least a few times while you are in Seoul!
Taxis in Korea are cheaper than most other countries, with a minimum price 4000KRW. Taxis can be paid for with most transport cards. This means that you can pay for taxis by tapping the T-Money scanner in the taxi!
Taxis in Korea are also very safe. There are black boxes inside the taxi to make sure that both the driver and passengers behave. However, you can get crazy drivers! Taxi drivers in Seoul are notorious for getting to their destination as fast as possible. Even if this can be reckless.
Korean taxis are generally safe though. I’ve only had one experience (and I’ve used hundreds of taxis) where I felt worried.
Types of Taxis
There are four primary types of taxis in Korea.
- Regular taxis. These taxis are usually orange, white, or silver. They begin at a price of 3800KRW. These taxis are always found driving around the city, and calling one is easy. Just stick out your hand and/or wave at the driver!
- Call taxis. These taxis are a little more expensive than regular taxis (usually 1000KRW more). They generally respond to callers. Where regular taxis drive around looking for customers, call taxis wait for a caller to reserve them. There are also some international taxi services available (more on that soon).
- Deluxe taxis. These black taxis are driven by only the best drivers. Drivers of these taxis have an accident free driving history with over 10 years of experience. They also tend to be a bit more expensive and start at 6500KRW.
- Jumbo taxis. The final taxis that you will find are jumbo taxis. These need to be reserved and are only meant for large groups of people.
Taxis in Seoul area easy to spot!
Cost of Taxis
|Taxi Type||Basic Fare (KRW)||Distance Price (KRW)|
|Regular Taxi||3800||100 per 132 meters|
|Deluxe Taxi||6500||200 per 151 meters|
|Call Taxi||4800||100 per 132 meters|
Getting a Taxi
Getting a taxi can prove the hardest part of the process. Since most drivers won’t speak English, you have a few options.
Flagging a Taxi
The first option is to flag down a taxi. When flagging down a taxi, look at the red neon lighting in the windscreen. This lighting will show the current status of the taxi. Unfortunately, this status will only be in Korean. The word you want is 빈차, meaning ‘empty car’. Anything else is either busy or currently out of service.
However, there are a few possible issues with this. Drivers can and will reject passengers. While legally they aren’t allowed to, they will often complain for a few reasons. If the distance you want to travel is too short, too far, or just inconvenient for them. It’s your choice if you try to force the issue or take another taxi – there is always another taxi that is willing to take you.
Kakao Taxi is another option for finding taxis. This app works in a similar way to calling taxis, in that you request a taxi to come and pick you up.
The bonus to Kakao Taxi is that you usually don’t have to communicate with the driver/call centre. While the driver will sometimes call you after you reserve a taxi, this is normally just to confirm the location. If they realise you don’t speak Korean, it’s okay.
You can keep tabs on their location via the app, meaning that you can see exactly where they are.
Kakao Taxi does need a Kakao Account. To make one, download KakaoTalk (a must-have app if you are in Korea) and create an account. You will be prompted to when you first open the app.
Here’s how to use Kakao Taxi!
Guide for using Kakao Taxi.
Firstly, select the location that you want to catch the taxi at. This can be done either by typing a location or by dragging the marker to your current position.
Once this is selected, choose a destination. You choose the destination in the app (rather than telling the driver). This is handy when the language barrier exists.
From there, just select the type of taxi that you want. Regular taxis are just that – regular. Smart call will find the soonest available taxi. Waygo Blue taxis are driven by drivers that won’t refuse you. As I mentioned above, sometimes drivers will refuse to drive you for a variety of reasons. Waygo Blue taxis will never refuse you. However, they do cost 3000KRW to book. Taxis for women are taxis meant for women and driven by women.
Now you can choose a size – medium, large or deluxe. An estimated price will be shown and you can now request a taxi!
A yellow screen will appear showing that the app is pinging nearby drivers. Once a driver is found, you will be notified. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the driver! Handily, you can see where they are via GPS.
Payment can be done either to the driver or through the app. However, the app payment can be difficult to set up as a foreigner.
International taxis are also available, and these are often the most popular options for travellers. International taxis can be reserved and you can specifically book a driver that speaks English, Chinese, or Japanese.
Another bonus of using an international taxi is that the driver knows what they are in for. They know where they are picking you up and where they will drop you off. This means that they won’t reject you because of inconvenience.
I have listed phone numbers for some international taxi services below.
Taxi Company Contact Information
+82 1644 2255 (International Taxi), 1644-2255 (alternate number)
Further information – Korea Travel Hotline, +82-2-1330
Taxi Etiquette and Tips
- Taxis can and will reject passengers. This can be for a variety of reasons, but usually, because the distance is either too little or too great. While this can be frustrating, it’s something you will quickly get used to. It is illegal for a driver to reject you, however, they will certainly try. It’s your choice if you force the issue or find another taxi.
- There is no need to tip in Korean taxis. Often the driver won’t even accept them if they are offered.
- You can pay for taxis with cash, cards (credit/debit) or T-money. If you are paying with T-money you can also use the phone app that was mentioned at the beginning of the article.
Seoul Public Transport Conclusion
The Seoul Metro is incredibly intricate and covers the entire city.
The public transportation in Seoul is world-class. More than that, it’s one of, if not the best system in the world. In Seoul, you will rarely, if ever, find yourself more than a few minutes away from a metro station.
Not only that, but public transport operates nearly all hours of the day. Where the subways don’t go, buses do. Seoul makes travelling easy. Not just Seoul, but also Korea!
With that being said, I hope this article helped. If you have any further questions or comments please comment on the post below. I’ll be sure to reply as soon as I can!
If you notice any inaccuracies with this post please don’t hesitate to let me know. I want to keep this post as relevant as possible, so I will be doing my best to keep up with changes.