Coming to Korea means coming into a society where things may be done very differently from your native country – to make it as easy as possible, here are some things which are good to know before you arrive. We have listed the must-have apps for anyone in Korea, and a guide for navigating the public transport system! Basic knowledge of these things will help you to make sense of Korea when you first arrive and will ease your transition into Korean society.
There are a number of apps that everyone in Korea has (or should have); ranging from social media to language learning. Here are the top ones that you should have from day one:
Kakao Talk: Kakao Talk is the most commonly used instant messaging app in Korea – and it is used for more than just that. You can send money to other people, check in to places, send and receive coupons, and much more. You would be hard-pressed to find a Korean who doesn’t have Kakao Talk on their phone, and you would be making life hard for yourself by not having it yourself.
Naver: Naver is the Korean search engine, and is the most visited site in Korea. In
addition to providing search results, it also provides news, weather, blog pages, shopping, and a host of other features. Some Korean businesses will not show up when searched on Google, so you may have to search for them on Naver to find information such as opening hours.
Naver Dictionary: This is the most comprehensive and useful Korean dictionary you
can find – it provides not only a range of translations but also a massive database of example sentences so you can see the words in context. It has dictionaries not just for Korean-English, but in over 40 other languages. Naver Dictionary is a must-have for anyone in Korea, regardless of your level of Korean proficiency.
Naver Map: While Google Maps works fine in Korea, Naver Maps is more accurate and provides a better time for public transport. Since it is specialized for Korea, it lists more businesses and locations than Google Maps. If you want to find out how to get somewhere, Naver Map gives the best results, and will even tell you which subway station will let you off closest to your destination.
Kakao T: Since Uber is banned in Korea, Kakao T is the best app for booking taxis. If you
connect it to your bank account, it will automatically deduct the fare, or you can choose to pay directly to the driver. When you order a taxi, be aware that the driver may call you through Kakao T, so be ready to talk on the phone in Korean. Kakao T also allows you to use yellow Kakao Bikes that you can find in various areas.
Coupang/G-Market: There are two main apps for ordering things online: Coupang and G-Market. Both apps work well, but Coupang has a subscription-based express delivery service which will get items to your door in less than a day. Moreover, you can buy groceries, clothes, appliances, furniture and almost everything else on these apps.
Yogiyo/Baedal Minjok/Coupang Eats: There are a number of food delivery apps in Korea – much like the online marketplace apps, they all work well, and which one you use is a largely an individual preference. Of the main 3 apps, Coupang Eats is the only one available in English, but if you can read Korean then the other two are good options. Coupang Eats is also currently restricted to the Seoul area but is expected to expand its coverage.
Papago: If your Korean is not up to scratch, then Papago is a useful app to have – it generally provides better translations than Google Translate. You can input through typing or an image, and there is a conversation function allowing two speakers of different languages to communicate through the app. It has a feature to translate into Korean honorifics as well, so you can avoid speaking impolitely with strangers.
Images of above apps
Transportation in Korea
Transportation can be somewhat confusing at times, especially since everyone is in a rush and may not have time to help you. Here is the basic rundown of the transport system in Korea:
From the airport: The first thing to take care of is airport transport. If you aren’t taking a taxi or other private transport, you can travel from Incheon Airport in a number of ways. If you are going straight into Seoul, taking the Airport Railroad may be the most convenient. It goes from Incheon Airport, through Gimpo Airport all the way to Seoul Station. Alternatively, you can book an intercity bus ticket at a machine or a booth outside the terminal if you are going straight to another city. The departure points are lined up outside the terminal, and you just have to find the number listed on your ticket. There is also a red bus that goes into Seoul and the surrounding satellite cities, but this will generally be slower than the subway. However, if it leads you close to your destination, then a red bus may be the best
choice for you.
T-Money: When taking the subway or city buses, Korea uses a contactless payment system called T-Money. You can purchase a reloadable T-Money card at convenience stores. If you want to add money to it, you can do so at a machine in any subway station, or you can again go to a convenience store and ask them to recharge it. Alternatively, if you have a bank card, you can ask them for a T-Money chip on the card, which will deduct money from your bank account when you take public transport. Make sure you tap your card when entering and exiting the train station, and getting on and off the bus. This system is not used for intercity buses, KTX or SRT – to take these methods of transportation, you will have to book a ticket in advance.
Subway: Subway stations can be somewhat confusing at first. Until you are very familiar with the subway system, always check whether you are going in the right direction. Korean subways use the character 행 to indicate their destination. All subway stations will have a map, so you can see where each train is going. The best way to figure out which train to take is just to look at which station is next on the map, and follow the signs to the platform going to that station. On the subway, if you use Naver Map, it will tell you which door will let you off closest to the exit. Just check the triangle marking on the floor in the station to see which number door you are standing next to.
City Buses: If you are taking a bus, you can also pay for the fare with coins, using the machine at the front of the bus, next to the driver. Just insert your coins, take the change, and you can sit down. The fares differ for different buses and ages, but it will be listed. When taking a bus, always get on using the front door, get off using the door in the middle of the bus. When the bus is approaching a stop, they will announce the name of the upcoming stop, followed by the name of the stop after that. When you hear
the announcement for your stop, press one of the many red buttons spread inside the bus, to tell the driver that you want to get off. Make sure you listen carefully so that you don’t get off one stop early.
Taxi: Taxis can be a great way to get around, especially if taking public transport requires a large number of transfers. On top of using the aforementioned Kakao T app, you can also flag down a taxi on the street. Empty taxis will have the sign 빈차 on the roof (meaning ‘empty car’). Just tell the driver where you want to go and keep track of your progress on the map to make sure they’re taking you where you want to go. It can often be a good idea to direct them to a subway station close to your destination if you’re unsure. If your trip takes you into another city (시 in Korean, which could mean going from Seoul to Seongnam or Incheon), or if you travel after midnight, there will be additional surcharges.
We hope this short guide helps you to navigate Korea as a newcomer – make sure to follow the Embassy of International Students on social media, and check back with us for more helpful guides!
By Ewan Smith