Life in Korea & Tips

Guide on Public Transportation in Seoul: Subway


As of June 27th, 2015 the public transportation fare (all in KRW) will increase as following:

  • Subways: +200 (from 1,050 to 1,250)
  • Buses: +150
    • Blue & Green buses: from 1,050 to 1,200
    • Red buses: from 1,850 to 2,300
    • Late night buses: from 1,850 to 2,150
    • Maeul buses (neighborhood buses): from 750 to 900

Children’s fares will remain the same.

This is the first fare increase in the last 3 years.

Source here

If you have lived in your home country all your life you may not have thought about this, but taking the public transportation is actually a big challenge when living abroad, specially if you are not fluent in the language. As I like analyzing meaningless things, I have develop quite a knowledge about the bus and subway system in Korea. I have some useful apps that help me, but sometimes you will also see me standing in a bus stop looking at the different bus lines just for the sake of it. Today I’d like to share some of this knowledge, specially how to use the apps to move around the city without getting lost or going the complete opposite direction.

Subway Lines in Seoul take you almost everywhere (may'15)
Subway Lines in Seoul take you almost everywhere


Let’s start with the easiest one. Subways are usually the easiest way to move around, as there is usually English at the stations, and a lot of signs that help you navigate even if you can’t read anything. The Seoul Metropolitan Subway comprises 18 lines in total, including light metro, rapid transit and commuter rail. It is rated as one of the best systems in the world because of its cleanliness, technology (wifi!) and ease of use. Trains run frequently from 5:30 until midnight (varies depending on the line and station)

Subway exits usually look like this
Subway exits usually look like this

Seoul is big and some of the lines are quite slow… so sometimes going from place A to place B will take you more than an hour even within the same city, but some of the newer lines go at a higher speed, specially the Shibundang line (red) that travels over 90km/h.

The name of the stations are usually in Korean, in English (or Korean alphabet) and Chinese (they call it Hanja). In the subways, besides announcing the stops by voice, you can also check where you are at on the LCD screens located in all the wagons. Each line has a number (1 to 9) or specific name (sinbundang, bundang, AREX…) and a color code.

2015-05-17 18.35.06
Sign showing the line (#3), some main stations and the final station of each way
2015-05-17 18.37.14
Once in the subway platform, you can check again whether to take the subway on the right or the left. You can also easily check in what stops you can transfer.
2015-05-17 18.36.30
And on each side of the platform, you can also see on the top the name of the current station (Euljiro sam-ga), and the next one in each direction. Impossible to get lost!

There are usually convenience stores and vending machines in the stations, coffee shops in medium ones, and even shops and small restaurants in main stations. In some popular areas, the subway station will be connected to other subterranean systems such as shopping malls or department stores.

The basic fare starts at W1,150 for the first 10km (W1,050 if you use a T-money card) with an addition of W100 each other 5 km. Some of the “named” lines also add a flat rate (like SinBundang line adds W900 for using it). Most people living in Korea will use a card called T-Money that can be charged at the machines, or the local credit cards that may offer the option of having a T-Money built in. Also, when using the T-Money, one can transfer freely between subway lines and buses, although sometimes you have to pay a small extra fee. (Normally because of the KM rule or using special subway lines/buses).

With the T-money, you save W100 in each trip, plus you save a lot of time. It’s really convenient!

For more basic information about the subway, you can visit this site.

Subway App

subway korea

I use an app called “Subway”. You can set it in Korean, Japanese, or English, in which case the stations show the English/alphabet name, and some of them in both Korean and English. It provides information about the schedules, how to transfer, the stations, the exits, etc. For example, if you want to go from Gangnam Station to City Hall by subway, you would tap on Gangnam and “Depart from” and then tap City Hall and “Arrive at”. You can also tap on stations you want to “Stop by”, or choose the trip with the fewest transfers instead of the fastest.

General overview Select stop Route

When you tap on “Transfer info”, the app recommends you the car (wagon) where you should be so that the transfer time is the shortest possible. It also tells you the average transfer time needed, in case you are in a hurry. Besides, if you are a fast walker or if you are injured, you can set your own transfer time and save it (for that, you will need to have an account), so that next time you know exactly how long you will take at your own pace. To do this, just tap on the bar that indicates the transfer info and then on “Edit” transfer time.

Route info Transfer info

At the transfer area, you can also set the time when you will be traveling or the time when you want to arrive to your final destination. You will also notice a small button saying “Last Train”. By tapping it, you will be shown the latest train you should get on, in order to arrive to your final destination before the Subway system closes.

Other things you can do with this app is marking a route or a station as “Favorite”, check a station’s information (restroom, disabled access, elevators, etc.) or the exits info. Here I have a complain, and it is that they don’t show you which exits are the ones for disabled people, but I guess that is easy to see once you are at the station.

All in All, I love this app and use it a lot, specially when I’m in a hurry and have no time to waste on the subway. Thanks to it, I can plan where to sit to transfer faster, and know exactly at what time I’ll be arriving to my final destination, in case I need to notify my friends that I’ll be late.


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