Planning a Trip to Korea? Top Korean Travel Tips

Top Korean Travel Tips

If you are reading this article you have probably already booked your flights to South Korea and are now entering the final stages of planning your trip. For some of you this may be three to six months before you fly out and for others you may be departing in less than a week. This stage gets very exciting as you draw closer and closer to your departure date.

When we started the first version of this article (four weeks before flying to Seoul), our youngest child was so excited that he started a countdown on our family calendar.

Our goal with any article we write is to make the travel planning process easy and fun. Our tips for travelling to South Korea are useful for all travellers, regardless of whether you are backpacking, travelling solo, mid level or luxury. Check it out to make sure you are ready to depart and you can focus on having an enjoyable trip that you will remember fondly forever.

Check out our South Korea Travel Planning Facebook Group – you are welcome to join and it is a great resource to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to South Korea!

South Korea Travel Planning Facebook Group

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Tips for Travelling to Korea

Below are our recommended pre-departure travel tips to make sure you are fully prepared for your South Korean trip, so you can spend more time having fun.

1.        Passport and Tourist Visa Korea Requirements

My first tip is to make sure you have a passport with more than six months of validity remaining beyond your date of departure from South Korea. While there are variations depending on the country you are from, six months of validity is a safe guideline. In addition to having a valid passport you need to have a Korean visa issued by the Korean embassy or consular office in your country.

When it comes to a tourist visa Korea requirements can vary significantly depending on where you come from. The great news is that as of 21 February 2018 there are 107 countries that are part of a Visa Waiver Agreement. People from these countries can visit South Korea for tourism without a visa for periods ranging from 30 to 90 days. Some of the countries on this list are for holders of official or diplomatic passes only. Click on this link for a summarised version of which countries are part of the Visa Waiver Agreement. Use this link for a full list of countries covered by the Agreement.

Daytime view over Dongdaemun in Seoul, South Korea
Daytime view over Dongdaemun in Seoul, South Korea

2.        South Korea Accommodation

If you haven’t already booked in your accommodation for South Korea, I suggest that you make your bookings about three months before you fly out. You might need to book further in advance during peak travel periods or if major events are taking place. My recommended booking sites for South Korea are Booking.com (the link takes you to accommodation options for Seoul) and AirBnB.

Ensure that you have the specific address details for each accommodation that you have booked. Korean street names and numbers are very difficult to navigate, so also ensure that you have the address available in your phone’s GPS app.  To get around Korea we found that the best option was the Kakaomap app which is available for both iOS and Android.

You can also pre-load the accommodation apps from your accommodation sites with your account and booking details on your phone. They will usually have a map option to help you find your accommodation.

3.        Travel Insurance Korea

Purchasing travel insurance is invaluable given it doesn’t cost very much compared to the overall cost of your trip. Some of the situations in which travel insurance can help you get out of a difficult situation include: support in medical and dental emergencies, cancelled or rescheduled flights, replacement of lost or stolen luggage, stress-free car hire, and situations where you’ve been found responsible for someone’s injury or damage to their property. If you haven’t already purchased travel insurance, pre-departure is the best time as most insurance policies will not enable you to purchase a policy post departure.  If you have any pre-existing medical conditions you will need to take action early, sometimes before you book your flights, to ensure you can get coverage.

Here are just a few examples where we’ve been very grateful to have had travel insurance. On a trip to Italy we had an expensive camera stolen and were able to get it replaced through our travel insurance policy. Another example of how valuable travel insurance can be happened on our trip to New Zealand. One month before flying to New Zealand in 2010 the first Christchurch earthquake occurred, and we had to make some significant changes to our booking. We were thankfully able to get refunds (in one case several months after we got back) but if we had not been able to we would have turned to our travel insurance provider. Our third example happened on a trip to Japan. Our youngest son came down with chicken pox when in Japan and we had to spend US$320 on medications which was mostly covered under our insurance policy. If our son had needed to be hospitalised the costs could have been horrific without travel insurance.

In our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group, we have heard many recounts of people being severely affected by events such as typhoons and earthquakes – which also occur in Korea. When such catastrophes occur, airlines are obliged to get you to your next ticketed destination. However, this may not be in accordance with your original schedule. You may be left in a foreign country for extended periods of time with mounting expenses. In such cases, an insurance provider can help you with flights or with covering unforeseen expenses.

We use World Nomads travel insurance when we travel overseas. World Nomads provides travel insurance for people from over 150 countries. Click here to check out the price and to book your travel insurance through World Nomads Insurance if you haven’t already purchased travel insurance. Make sure you read the terms and conditions to ensure this product meets your needs before purchasing.

You can also fill in the below World Nomads Quotation Box to get an instant quotation for your trip.  Note that if you plan to do more adventurous activities such as ziplining etc, there are options to add these on after the initial quotation.  We bought the higher activity plan for South Korea as we had booked in to do the massive zipline at Nami Island!

4.        Korail Pass

Many visitors purchase a Korail pass (a special rail pass for visitors) when travelling to South Korea. Many people buy this pass because it makes travelling through South Korea easy, economical and convenient. A Korail pass also comes with a range of other benefits including free or discounted entry to a range of museums, attractions and tours as well as discounts for a range of hotels and duty-free shops. The other key benefit to buying your Korail pass before you depart is that you will have one less thing to think about it organising once you get to South Korea.

Another unexpected benefit of having a Korail Pass is that it makes it very easy to change your seat reservations.  In our case we had reserved seats to travel from Busan to Seoul, however as a result of a typhoon coming directly through Busan we decided to cancel our visit to Busan and return early to Seoul.  With the Korail pass we were able to easily cancel our previous seat reservations and book new seat reservations, and did not have to get a refund for the individual tickets.

When planning our trip, we worked out that it’s possible to purchase tickets for individual sectors such as Seoul to Busan and you can sometimes save a small amount of money compared to a Korail pass, depending on the nature of your travel and the age and number of people you are travelling with. However, this involves a fair bit of extra research and comparison, the need to book multiple different tickets and you won’t get the extra benefits that come with buying a Korail pass.

We recommend booking your Korail pass through Klook. You receive a confirmation email within 2-3 days which you can then use to reserve seats online for your preferred train options.

The Korail pass can be also purchased from the Korail website or from a range of Korail travel centers for the same price. However, we preferred booking directly through Klook as the booking process was very quick and streamlined. We also purchased many other Klook products for use in both Seoul and the rest of South Korea at the same time which simplified our booking process by not having to make bookings through multiple sites.

Klook also offers great online support and has an app for your phone that you can use to easily access all of your bookings and electronic vouchers, plus they offer a loyalty program so as you complete each booking you then receive discounts on subsequent bookings.

View of the Lantern Tunnel at the Jinju Lantern Festival in South Korea
View of the Lantern Tunnel at the Jinju Lantern Festival in South Korea

5.        Local Transport Cards – Public Transport in Seoul and Other Major Cities

Another great item to purchase for your trip to South Korea is a tap on tap off local transport card. Public transport in Seoul and other cities like Busan is the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to get around.

The main local transport cards are a Railplus Transport card or the T-money card. Another option is the Cashbee card for use in Busan, however you can use your either the Rail Pass Plus and T-money cards in Busan and all for all other local transport within cities throughout South Korea.

Both the Rail Pass Plus cards are rechargeable smart cards that can be used to pay for bus and train/subway fares as well as for taxis displaying the T-money or Cashbee logo. One of the many benefits of using a rechargeable smart card is that the fares are discounted compared to paying for the fare with cash. They can also be used to make payments at places such as convenience stores.

Discover Seoul Pass

If you want a super-powered T-money card that comes with additional benefits, another great option worth considering is buying a Discover Seoul Pass. This is the pass we purchased for our trip to South Korea.

The Discover Seoul pass can be purchased as either a 24/48/or 72-hour pass and comes with a built-in T-money card. The Discover Seoul Pass includes entry to a selection of 35 tourist attractions including the four grand palaces and discounted entry to an additional 30 attractions. An additional benefit of the Discover Seoul Pass is that it includes a one-way AREX Airport Express Train ticket from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station.

Its use as an admission ticket starts after you use it to visit one of the listed attractions or use it to travel on the AREX and goes for the length of time you have chosen. It can also be used indefinitely as a T-money card, note that you need to separately add credit to the card to be able to use it on the transport system.  The process to add credit is very easy at the machines near the entrance to all train stations which have a large range of languages available.

The Discover Seoul Pass also enables you to access discounts for performances, duty-free shops and more even after the attraction part of the card has expired. Click here to book your Discover Seoul pass through Klook. This pass is also available through the Discover Seoul Pass website but it is cheaper through Klook. Check out the list of attractions and additional benefits to decide if you think it makes sense to buy the Discover Seoul pass compared to a standard Rail Pass Plus or T-Money card.

Railplus Transport Card

If you don’t want all the extras that come with a Discover Seoul Pass, I would suggest that you buy a T-Money card or a Railplus Transport Card. Railplus Transport cards have the same sort of coverage as a T-money card offering discounted fares on trains/subways and buses as well as Story Way convenience stores. It can be topped up at any Subway station as well as Story Way convenience stores.

The main benefit of buying a Railplus card over a standard T-money card is that it can be purchased ahead of arriving in Korea through Klook. The cost is US$2.05 for an adult card and US$1.89 for a teenage or child card. You will be provided with a voucher which will then be exchanged for the cards at K-books (between 6:30am and 9:00pm Monday to Sunday) located at Incheon Airport. Just like a T-money card it is not preloaded so you will need to add credit before use. Click here to buy a Railplus Transport Card through Klook.

T-Money Card

A T-money card cards costs 2 500 Won (about US$2.20). The card doesn’t have any preloaded value but can be loaded/recharged with amounts ranging from 1000 Won to 90 000 Won. They can be purchased at convenience stores as well as at vending machines in subway stations and can be recharged at the same locations.

When leaving South Korea you can be refunded for any amount remaining on the card (less 1 500) won from any T-Money card vendor but trying to get amounts over 50 000 Won can be tricky. We normally don’t get the balance refunded unless there is a fair bit of value left on the card, because the card can be used indefinitely if you, your friends or family make future trips to South Korea.

Other Tourist Transportation Cards

There are a range of other more specialised transportation cards including M-Cards (a time-limited transport card for use in Seoul and Jeju), a Korea Tour Card, Amazing Pay Tmoney card, Seoul CityPass Plus and Seoul CityPass. This webpage and this webpage give you a more detailed overview for each of these products.

6.        Seoul Airport Transfers

After a long-haul flight to get to South Korea it’s likely you’re going to be exhausted and just want a simple method of getting from the airport to your accommodation. Here’s an overview of some of the Seoul airport transfer options:

Airport Limousine Bus Seoul

A quick and easy transfer option is a Seoul airport limousine bus. There are multiple route options to take you to different areas in Seoul.  The key benefit of the Limousine Bus is that it takes you directly to a wide range of hotels. If your specific hotel is not on their list, it also provides a great option to get you very close to your accommodation without having to navigate the Seoul public transport system.

Note that if you going to arrive or depart around peak hour that traffic in Seoul can get very busy which can affect the Limousine Bus arrival schedule, and as a result a better option during peak hour is to travel on the AREX Airport Express train as detailed further below.

Click here to book your Limousine Bus tickets through Klook.

In addition to deluxe or limousine bus services, standard bus services are available from Incheon Airport. Both standard and deluxe buses are also available from Gimpo Airport.

Airport Express Seoul

The Airport Railroad Express (AREX) from Incheon Airport is a fast and comfortable option to get to Seoul. It’s a non-stop service taking around 43 minutes from Incheon Airport Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Click here to book your Express Train tickets through Klook.

A great alternative option is to book your Discover Seoul Pass which includes a one way AREX Airport Express train ticket.  Click here to book your Discover Seoul Pass through Klook.

There is also another Incheon airport train to Seoul option in addition to the non-stop AREX service. The all-stops train service stops at 10 stations along the way and takes about 10 minutes longer than the express service.

The all-stops train service from Incheon to Seoul also stops at Gimpo airport. If you arrive at Gimpo Airport, in addition to the all-stops service, there are also two other train lines located at Gimpo Airport (Lines 5 and 9).

If you are departing from Incheon Airport and are flying with either Korean Air, Asiana Airlines or Jeju Air, there is a great option to pre-check your luggage at Seoul Station – which means that you can do some further exploration of Seoul, and also travel light to the airport.

View in the Seoul Subway System Signage to get to the AREX Airport Express Train
View in the Seoul Subway System Signage to get to the AREX Airport Express Train

Private Airport Transfer Seoul

A private transfer service is a great option if you want to get to Seoul quickly and efficiently. While the actual travel time is longer than AREX, by the time you redeem your tickets, get to the AREX station, wait for a train, catch the train, and then wait for a hotel shuttle bus or transfer to another train, the total journey time will often be longer than a direct private transfer. Click here to book your private transfer service from Incheon Airport through Klook.

Note my comment above about traffic – if you are going to arrive in a peak traffic period the best option is to catch the AREX train to enable you to bypass the traffic.

Taxi from Incheon Airport to Seoul and Gimpo Airport to Seoul

There are a range of taxi types available from either of Seoul’s international airports: standard taxi (mid-sized standard, orange or silver in colour), deluxe taxi (black with a yellow sign on top), jumbo taxis and international taxis.

Taxis are our least preferred option as it can be expensive, and the price can be highly variable. While most taxi drivers are reputable you also must be cautious of potential scammers.

Note my comment above about traffic – if you are going to arrive in a peak traffic period the best option is to catch the AREX train to enable you to bypass the traffic.

7.        Korea SIM Card and Pocket Wifi Korea options

Here are some of the most popular SIM Card and pocket Wifi options that we recommend for use in South Korea.  We have personally used the first two options and have been very satisfied with their performance and pricing. In addition, we have many satisfied readers who have purchased and used all four recommended products.

  • Wide Mobile Pocket Wifi through Klook– This is a great affordable option which includes multiple pick-up and drop-off locations; rental periods from as short as two days; up to 5 connected devices; strong battery life; speedy (4G) unlimited data (within the fair use policy). Click here to check pricing and make your booking through Klook.
  • Data only Sim Card through Klook – This data SIM card has various pick-up locations; can be purchased for periods of 1, 5, 10 and 30 days; and has speedy (4G) and unlimited data. Click here to check pricing and make your booking through Klook.
  • Data + Voice + SMS Sim Card through Trazy – This card comes with unlimited 4G Data + Limited Domestic Voice & SMS; there are 5/7/10/15 and 30 day plans; and it can be picked up from Incheon and Gimpo Airports in Seoul and Gimhae Airport in Busan. Click here to check pricing and make your booking through Trazy.
  • Long Term Sim Card (for 30 days and more) through Trazy – There are a couple of longer term SIM options through Trazy. Both come with data, voice and SMS. One card has 12GB of data and unlimited domestic data and SMS. The other card has 40 000 Won (about US$35) of stored value which can then be topped up. Click here to check pricing and make your booking through Trazy.

If you would like more detail on the above products or want to find out a range of other wifi and SIM card options, we have detailed articles for both wifi rental and sim cards. Click on the links below to help you work out which option will suit you best and make a booking for your trip to South Korea:

KT Olleh Sim Card Package
KT Olleh Sim Card Package

8.        Pre-purchase Tickets for Seoul Tours and Attractions

You can pre-purchase tickets for Seoul tours, attractions and shows. Below is a summary of the more well-known Seoul tours, Seoul attractions and shows you may be interested in visiting. We have also provided details for a great tour option from Busan.

Our two recommended providers for purchasing tickets and short tours in South Korea are Klook and Trazy. Both are reputable travel agencies who are authorised sellers of tickets, tours, transport and wifi.

Day Trips from Seoul and Busan

There are some brilliant half day tours and day tours from Seoul. In the case of the DMZ tours it’s not possible to travel there independently, and for places such as Nami Island and Seoraksan National Park participating in a tour is much more convenient. Here are some of our most popular day trips from Seoul:

Half Day DMZ tour Click here to book a half day DMZ tour through Klook
Full day JSA DMZ tour Click here to book a JSA DMZ tour through Trazy
Nami Island Tour, including options to visit the Garden of Morning Calm, Petit France, Rail Bike (and optional Zip Line) Click here to book a Nami Island tour through Klook
Day Tour to Seoraksan National Park and Naksansa Temple from Seoul Click here to book a Mount Seorak and Naksansa Temple Tour through Trazy
Gyeongju Day Tour from Busan Click here to book a Gyeongju Tour from Busan through Klook

 

View of Lotte Tower in Seoul, South Korea
View of Lotte Tower in Seoul, South Korea

Seoul Shows and Seoul Day Tour Options

There are some great tour and show options in Seoul itself. Here are just a sample of the tour and show options:

Cookin’ Nanta Myeongdong Click here to book your tickets to the Cookin’ Nanta Show in Seoul through Klook
Seoul Palace Half Day Tour Click here to book a Seoul Palace Half Day Tour through Trazy
Seoul Street Food Tour Click here to book a Seoul Street Food and BBQ tour through Klook
Seoul Half Day Mt. Inwangsan & Bugaksan (Seoul City Wall) Hiking Tour Click here to book a Seoul Hiking Half Day Tour through Trazy

 

View of the walk along the Fortress Wall in Naksan Park, in Seoul, South Korea
View of the walk along the Fortress Wall in Naksan Park, in Seoul, South Korea

Visit Seoul Theme Parks

There are three theme parks in or near Seoul. The closest theme park is Lotte World which is within Seoul and is easily reached by subway. Seoul Land is about 45 minutes from Myeongdong by subway or about 20 minutes by taxi. Everland is about an hour away from Seoul.

Lotteworld Seoul Click here to book Lotte World tickets through Klook
Seoul Land Click here to book Seoul Land tickets through Klook
Everland Korea Click here to book for Everland tickets through Klook

 

View over the mostly indoor Lotte World Theme Park in Seoul
View over the mostly indoor Lotte World Theme Park in Seoul

9.        Korea International Driving Permit Requirements

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the process for renting a vehicle in South Korea.

You must have either:

  • a valid international driving permit in conjunction with a driver’s license issued by your home country, or
  • a valid driver’s license issued in Korea to rent or drive a vehicle in South Korea.

Click on this link to find out more about where to purchase an IDP.

10.   Prescription Medicine, Medical Devices and Toiletries

You may not have thought about medicines and toiletries when considering what to pack for South Korea, however it’s important to understand this topic early to enable you to take action if required.

If you take prescription medications, particularly those that contain narcotics or psychoactive/psychotropic ingredients such as amphetamines or opioids, the key message is to plan ahead. Some types of amphetamines are legally prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy. There are a range of prescription opioids including codeine-containing medications.

In order to bring prescription narcotics or psychoactive medications into Korea you must obtain prior approval from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. For further details, contact the Narcotics Policy Division at 043-719-2813 or narcotics@korea.kr. Without pre-approval and the necessary permit, your medications may be confiscated.

If you require prescription medications, make sure you have refilled your medication scripts before your departure. For medications that don’t contain narcotics or psychoactive ingredients, you are allowed to bring up to 6 bottles (or about a 3 month supply) into South Korea. They must be for personal use only.

Keep medication in its original container, and have proof of prescription with you. It’s also advisable to have a letter from the prescribing doctor which contains the doctors’s full name, details of the medical condition, the medication required to treat it, and the medication regime (dose and frequency). Your name on the doctor’s letter should match the name on your passport.

If you are travelling with a medical device (oxygen bottles, neurostimulators, and defibrillators, etc) you will probably have more of an issue with your airline rather than customs in South Korea. However, most airlines should provide clear guidance on flying with a medical device so check their website, send them an e-mail or give them a call before flying out. Make sure you carry details for the device including operating instructions with you.

If you need medical help while in South Korea, this is a very handy article on hospitals and clinics with international services in Seoul and outside of Seoul.

Bring your standard toiletries with you to South Korea, however be aware that toiletries are readily available in convenience stores and pharmacies which are very common. If you are planning to travel carry-on only and are not checking any luggage, be aware of the limitations regarding taking toiletries on to planes.

View of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea
View of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea

11.   Flights to, from and within South Korea

Make sure you have confirmed your flight details to and from and within South Korea and have a printout of your flight arrangements with you.  I recommend re-checking these details in the week before your trip to ensure your flight details have not changed since you made your booking.

If you are yet to make your flight bookings, a great tool to use to find the cheapest flights is through Skyscanner.  Click here to check out the flight options through Skyscanner.

I would also suggest using a tool like TripIt to organise all your travel plans in one place. This is a tool that we have used extensively and found it to be invaluable. You can include flights, hotel details, car rental, restaurant bookings, tour details and more. There is both a free version which offers a wide range of features and a pro version (US$49 per year) which provides flight status information as you travel, including advice of flight delays and gate changes.  Click here to see our detailed article on the top apps to load onto your phone for your South Korea trip.

View over the Jinju Lantern Festival in South Korea
View over the Jinju Lantern Festival in South Korea

12.   Trip Registration

My second tip is to register your trip details with your government registration service.  This is important so that if an incident occurs while you are in South Korea, they know which of their nationals are travelling in South Korea and can follow up to ensure you are ok.

While looking at your government website, take some time to quickly check if there are any travel advisories you should be aware of for South Korea.

13.   Top Phone Apps for South Korea

We have put together more than 20 phone apps for your trip to South Korea in our article on 18 Top Apps for Your Trip to South Korea. I suggest you check the article out and download the apps before you depart.

14.   Money for South Korea

Before you travel to South Korea, make sure you let your bank know about your trip so they both keep an eye on suspicious activity and don’t block access to your account leaving you stranded. On a related note, make sure you let your bank know straight away if you lose your card while in South Korea.  Also be aware of the risk of card skimming, and ensure you keep track of your card and hide your pin at all times.

It’s quite easy to use a foreign debit or credit card in South Korea to make payments. Most places will accept credit or debit card payments. However, while visiting you’ll still need to get and use some Korean Won. Depending on the length of your trip, we suggest having about US$200 worth of Korean Won for when you arrive which can be arranged through your bank (if you give them enough notice) or a currency exchange.

A key tip is to draw cash from your credit or debit account while travelling, not from your Savings or Cheque account.

If you need to use a Bank ATM or a cash dispenser machine while in South Korea to withdraw extra Won, look for ATMS which are marked with Global Services and display the Visa/Mastercard logo. Note also that the Cirrus network is linked to MasterCard and the Plus network is linked to Visa. If you’re having trouble finding an ATM that will dispense money, try well known international banks.

This webpage provides a handy guide to global ATMs in South Korea. You can also use the following locators to help you find an ATM:

You can also use cash dispenser machines to withdraw money. These machines can be found in places such as railway stations, convenience stores, bus terminals, and subways, as well as department stores. Many cash dispensers are open 24 hours a day and will provide English instructions. If you are having trouble and getting errors, track down a dispenser in a busier location.

Top Korean Travel Tips
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You may also like:

Check out our South Korea Travel Planning Facebook Group – you are welcome to join and it is a great resource to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to South Korea!

South Korea Travel Planning Facebook Group

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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