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Public Transportation in South Korea

Expats in South Korea do not only benefit from the fast economic growth of the country. It is also a fascinating nation where rapid advancement and Confucian traditions co-exist. Read our InterNations guide on moving to South Korea for info on visas, public transportation, and the government.
South Korea has an excellent public transportation system.

South Korea has an excellent public transportation system which offers many choices for getting around at a reasonable price. Planes, trains, and express buses connect urban areas while intercity buses allow you to travel between smaller cities and towns. Local buses are available as well, and car ferries let you travel to offshore islands. You should know, however, that all transportation works on the Korean ppalli ppalli (hurry hurry) system. This means that trains and buses always leave on time and drivers usually speed and may disregard road rules completely.

Taking the Bus Can Be Confusing

There are lots of long-distance buses running all throughout South Korea. As a rule of thumb, buses run at intervals of between 15 minutes to 1 hour. However, there are usually no regular timetables, and departure times can vary throughout the day. Buses always leave on time or sometimes even too early. They go to more places than trains but are also less comfortable.

Local buses are popular for their frequent and reliable services. However, expats often struggle to find the right connection. Timetables and bus stop names are rarely in English and bus drivers don’t speak English, either. The best way to deal with the situation if you are still trying to pick up on the local language is to write your destination in Korean Hangeul letters on a card and show it to the driver.

A Punctual and Clear Railway System

The train services in South Korea are excellent. Unfortunately, the network is not comprehensive, and trains do not travel everywhere in South Korea. Trains still connect you to many major towns and cities. They are clean, comfortable and punctual. Unlike local bus stations, almost every train station has signs in Korean and English.

If you decide to take the train for a long-distance journey, make sure to buy your tickets in advance. This makes sense particularly on the weekends or on holidays. There are negotiations about reopening railway links between North and South Korea. However, this depends on the current political situation in both countries.

How Comfortably Do You Want to Travel?

There are four classes of trains in South Korea. The high-speed KTX trains travel at approximately 300 km/h from Seoul to Daejeon. The train tracks also extend to Busan on the east coast. Saemul trains are also fast and luxurious. They stop in major cities and offer their passengers all kinds of comfort. Mugunghwa trains, on the other hand, offer the same comfort but take more stops. That way, traveling by Mugunghwa can take a little longer than a journey with Saemaul trains. Tonggeun (commuter) trains are your cheapest option and stop at every station. They run infrequently and only on certain routes.

In terms of fares, it should be pretty obvious for experienced expats that KTX trains are the most expensive choice, followed by Saemaul trains and Mugunghwa trains, while Tonggeun trains are the cheapest option. All in all, fares are made up of a complicated and confusing range of discounts. As a rule of thumb, tickets are cheaper for travels between Tuesday and Thursday and if bought in advance.


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