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How to get around Seoul on a budget

The capital of South Korea, Seoul, has a population of approximately 10 million and is the largest city in the country. If you’re travelling to the city, here’s everything you need to know on how to get around Seoul on a budget easily! 

Seoul has one of the world’s most robust transportation networks, but it takes knowing some basics to make getting from point A to point B easier.

Airport to the city

Most international flights will fly into Incheon International Airport, which is quite a ways away. Seoul has made it easy to find your way around, but luckily, there are a few cost-effective options:

Airport Express (AREX)

Korea Tourism Organization

Time: 43 minutes into Seoul Station
Cost: ₩9,000

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This is the fastest way to journey 63 kilometres into Seoul. In a short 43 minutes, the express trains will take you direct from Incheon into the city centre–no stops. The trains have a dedicated area for luggage storage, and padded seats. You’ll need to put a ₩500 deposit down on a single-use transit card which is returned at your destination station upon exit.

All-stop subway

Time: 60-70 minutes into Seoul Station
Cost: ₩4,950

This cuts down the cost for those travelling Seoul on a budget, but you’re definitely sacrificing time and comfort. There are no luggage shelves on the commuter train, and makes 13 local stops into the city. Same as the AREX, you’ll need to put a ₩500 deposit down on a single-use transit card which is returned at your destination station upon exit.

Airport bus

Time: 90 minutes into Seoul
Cost: ₩10,000-15,000

The last and longest route is the airport bus. They do, however, offer family discounts and varying routes go to many of the large interchange stations for drop-off.  

Local transportation

Subway

Cost: Adult (₩1,350 cash, ₩1,250 Tmoney), Youth 13-18 (₩1,350 cash, ₩720 Tmoney), Children 6-12 (₩450 cash, ₩450 Tmoney)

There are many subway routes that take you from one corner of the city to another. Clean, easy to navigate, and timely, it’s a must for those travelling Seoul on a budget. The system opens from 5:30 a.m. through midnight, and single fares require the same ₩500 deposit down on a transit card which is returned at your destination station upon exit.

Transfers between subway lines are free, and Tmoney pass users (more below) can transfer to buses up to four times within 30 minutes of tapping out of the last card tap.

Bus

Wikipedia

Cost for blue and green buses: Adult (₩1,300 cash), Youth 13-18 (₩1,300 cash), Children 6-12 (₩450 cash)

I found myself using the bus more than I did subway in Seoul which is a surprise. English is not as well-observed on buses, so you’ll need to know your way around. Google Maps is good for this. Again, Tmoney card users receive a ₩100 discount per ride, and you must tap on and off when boarding and disembarking the vehicle. Alternatively, you can use exact change.

On top of the language barrier, there’s a whole array of different coloured buses you’ll need to figure out to make sure you’re getting to the right place. 

Blue, green, and yellow buses run within the city of Seoul. Yellow and red buses operate outside of the metropolitan city.

Should I get a transportation card?

Here, you have two options, a transit card designed for tourists, as well as the Tmoney card. 

Korea Tour Card

If you plan to use public transit a lot, you can pick up a City Pass, which allows you to use the bus or subway up to 20 times per day.

There is also an option to utilize the City Tour Bus, but the cost is significantly more than pay-per-use rates. It’ll run you ₩15,000, ₩25,000, and ₩30,000 for one, two, and three days, respectively. 

The City Pass Plus is a card, also for tourists, that’s reloadable, and the Plus variation enables foreigners access to discounts to different attractions from museums and palaces. 

Tmoney

This is my personal preference. The card costs ₩3,000 and can be used to pay for public transportation among other things. Think Hong Kong‘s Octopus card or Toronto’s PRESTO card.

You can reload Tmoney at stations as well as local convenient stores, and it works on both subways and buses. For each ride, you’ll save ₩100 from the cash equivalent.

Best part, when you leave, you can get the remaining balance back (up to ₩20,000).

How do you get around Seoul?  Share your tips in the comments below!

Winston is currently a freelance technology and travel broadcast journalist, consultant, and is the creator and founder of Master Travellr—Canada’s destination for travel news, guides, and budget recommendations.

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