Moving to Seoul?
Seoul: International Districts and Transport
Popular International Districts
There are many different international districts in Seoul, which are extremely popular not only among expats, but among locals as well.
- Itaewon-dong (Yongsan-gu) is located near Yongsan US military base and is home to the largest expatriate community in the entire country. It is also a very popular tourist zone. Visitors and residents enjoy the numerous shopping opportunities, clubs, bars, and restaurants the district has to offer. Consequently, Itaewon-dong has become the residential area of choice among expats.
- Hannam-dong (Yongsan-gu) lies near Itaewon and has a significant number of foreign diplomatic missions and embassies. It is divided into two areas — the UN Village and an ordinary residential district. It is primarily a residential area, with a significant number of fancy villages and a distinct theme of Western housing
- Ichon-dong (Yongsan-gu) is renowned as the home of most Japanese expats in Seoul. Currently, there are about 5,000 Japanese people living in Ichon-dong and historically, it has been home to embassy staff and the employees of different trading companies.
- Seodaemun-gu is situated in the northwest of Seoul, surrounded by mountains, and very popular among foreigners. Foreign students and professors in particular like to settle here. They enjoy the close proximity to different universities such as the Ewha Woman’s University, Hongik University, and Yonsai University.
- The Greater Gangnam Area (Gangnam-gu, Seochu-gu, and Songpa-gu) offers various cultural and business facilities such as the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) or the Seoul Arts Center. This area is popular among Koreans for its excellent public transportation and its fantastic schools. Despite the rising housing costs and the hectic traffic, expats continue to move to this district and enjoy the excellent opportunities that comes with it.
A Well-Organized Public Transportation System
Seoul has a comprehensive public transportation system which allows you to travel almost everywhere without much of a hassle. The bus system, for instance, is reasonably priced and operates from 04:30 to 01:00. While some bus route maps are also displayed in English, drivers usually only understand Korean. The bus number will tell you which districts the buses serve.
There are three types of buses:
- The Rapid Bus (red) is used specifically to transport commuters from downtown Seoul to the surrounding metropolitan areas. The main purpose of the bus is to link commuters to other surrounding cities such as Incheon, Ilsan, Bundang, Suji, Suwon, and Anyang.
- Trunk buses (blue) are operated partly by private companies and partly by the government. These buses run for longer distances than any other city bus, connecting suburban areas to downtown Seoul. The Branch Bus (green) is a more flexible form of bus transportation in Seoul. Operated by private bus companies, the Branch Bus covers shorter distances and links downtown Seoul to major bus terminals and subway stations on the outside.
- The Circulation Buses (yellow), which circle around the city center, provide transport to parks, shops, subways, and railway stations.
Alternatively, you can also rely on Seoul’s extensive subway system. Although it is fast, cheap, and safe, you should try to avoid rush hours when the trains are very packed. The subway runs every few minutes between 05:30 to around midnight.
Prefer Traveling by Car?
Taxi rides can be relatively cheap, especially if you share one with your friends and colleagues. Regular taxis (ilban) have a base charge of between 2,800 and 3,300KRW and the fare increase is calculated by distance traveled. Deluxe taxis (mobeom) are black with a yellow stripe and have a base charge of between 3,200 and 5,500 KRW. Unlike regular taxis, they do not require a 20% surcharge between midnight and 04:00.
While only very few taxi drivers speak English, some companies offer a free interpretation service. In addition, Seoul International Taxis started operations in 2009, offering drivers who speak English, Japanese, and Chinese. All taxis come with a meter. However, keep in mind that on the Incheon airport route, you will have to pay for the road toll in addition to the regular meter charge. Tipping is not customary and hence not necessary.
Finally, you could always rent a car in Seoul. It is important for foreigners to note, however, that navigating the busy traffic and different road systems can be very difficult. There are certainly better options!
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