Given its compact size and advanced infrastructure, expats should have few problems when it comes to transport in South Korea. The country is well connected by road and rail networks. It’s even possible to travel between major cities on cheap domestic flights. For most expats, especially those living in major cities, owning a car and driving in South Korea is unnecessary since getting around with public transport is generally easy.
Public transport in South Korea
South Korea’s public transport system is comprehensive and well organised. One of the most popular ways of getting around is the railway network, which connects the country’s major cities and is also an effective way to get around within them. Larger cities boast modern subway networks which are another popular way of commuting. Expats will also be able to use both inter- and inner-city bus services.
In addition to extensive subway networks within most of the major cities, South Korea as a whole is well connected by rail. Travelling through the country by train is possible on Korail, the national rail service, which has been upgraded and extended in recent years. That said, it remains a more practical option for travel between major cities, as access to rural areas is limited. The line from Seoul to Busan via Daegu and Dondaegu is the most travelled.
There’s also a high-speed express train (KTX and SRT) from Seoul to Busan via Daegu, Dondaegu and other smaller towns. These trains travel from one end of the country to the other in just over three hours. A second high-speed line runs between Seoul and Gwangju.
Both the KTX and Korail train services are easy to use. There are self-service ticket kiosks that accept cash or bank cards, most stations are signposted in both Korean and English, and station staff often speak basic English.
An extensive bus service connects all South Korean cities. Travelling by bus in South Korea is cheaper than travelling by train, and more practical if travelling to a more rural area. There are a number of intercity bus options, as well as express buses which travel long distance with fewer stops.
Large cities such as Seoul, Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon, Daegu and Incheon have their own subway systems. Although, outside of Seoul’s established, extensive system, expats may sometimes struggle to use the subway to get to the outer reaches of the city they live in. In some cases, expats may need to use a bus or taxi for the final leg of their journey.
Taxis in South Korea
Taxis are plentiful in South Korea, especially in the cities, but drivers are unlikely to speak English. It’s a good idea for foreigners to have a Korean friend or colleague write down their destination in Korean to show the driver, or to carry a business card with the Korean address of a nearby hotel or business.
A local app-based rideshare service called Kakao Taxi operates in South Korea. It allows expats to order a taxi service to their exact address. Uber, after initially failing to launch in South Korea, has made a comeback and operates exclusively in Seoul. Many expats prefer using rideshare apps as they allow for automatic card billing as well as greater control over their route. They also make the language barrier much easier to overcome.