You’ve made it! You used the airbnb code and have already ubered to your local airport so, now what? There are so many more things to note on your first trip to Seoul. I’m here to walk you through the basics so that the most stressful part of your trip, doesn’t need to be what kicks it off.
Here we go.
The very first thing you need to take care of happens before you board your plane. Have you called your CC or Debit bank to let them know you’ll be out of state/country? Give them the heads up so that you don’t have purchases abroad being blocked with no way of calling to confirm/deny them. Also, in the event of lost or missing baggage, many credit services will cover the fees to support you until you get your bags back. Definitely call your company on that one to see if you are covered! The second most integral part of this set-up is deciding what you want to do with your phone. The first time I traveled abroad I chose a plan with my carrier that enabled me to have a certain number of allowed texts/minutes for calls. Now, when going to Seoul I definitely recommend picking an airbnb that has a portable wifi egg or something else to that affect. Also, quick reminder to bring portable batteries. Your phone WILL die. Just be ready. You can also pick these up in the airport for anywhere near ~$11 a day. If you are able to keep your phone in airplane mode (turn off your data to be safe as well) there are plentiful resources even along the streets in Seoul to provide wifi for browsing the web or last minute contacts. As I said earlier, having an airbnb with a portable wifi egg allows you to have wifi wherever you are, even in the metro. Speaking of the metro…
Grab a T-Money Card
A T-money card is your best friend for your trip to Seoul, unless you’re rich and want to take taxis all the time. I do not recommend taking a taxi unless you’re doing something after hours when the metro has closed. Taxi services are known to cost an arm and a leg over in Korea and you could end up with the rare driver that overcharges the foreigner. It is always helpful in these situations to at least be able to say where you would like to go. For example, if you are heading to Hongdae Station 3, you can say 홍대역 3번 출구 부탁합니다~ Which can be romanized to “Hongdae yog, sam bon chulgu, butak habnida” I feel weird writing it this way but it is the best way to read it if you haven’t learned Hangul yet!
anyways back to the T-money card.
You can buy the card itself in the main arrivals floor of the airport in a generic CVS 4 U or similar convenience card. The last time I purchased one, it was around $8 or 8,000 won. Then, you can take your card to the lower level where the metro station is and fill it up with the rechargeable machines. Don’t worry, the machine has additional language features.
Make sure to additionally download the Kakao metro app for an easy time going through the stations, be sure to load it before you lose wifi if you haven’t gotten your egg yet. You can also use google maps, a lot of sites will tell you it doesn’t work, but it has worked perfectly for me the last few years. The only thing I do suggest is keeping in mind that if you are walking everywhere, be mindful of the directions on google because they will only show you the subway/bus routes. You can also use your T-money at the vending machines and bus systems and I believe, some taxi.
Exchange Your Money at the Airport or With a Friend
I’ve always exchanged my funds at the airport so that it’s ready for me when I arrive. There is a nasty fee, but it’s better than the ever changing fee’s you’ll find at individual spots in Korea to exchange. The best case scenario would be to find a friend that has cash and has the ability to exchange for you at the closest rate. You also have the ability to take out more funds via Woori and Shinhan bank in Korea, however their fees are always changing and you may not have the best time exchanging. When in doubt, most Taxi and department stores take Visa anyway. You can learn the won system via this link, but it’s super easy. If a bill is 10,000 Won, it’s $10. 5,000 Won is $5 and so forth. There is shopping on every corner in Korea, whether it be in the metro stations, the street food snacks, or the department stores with whole floors of restaurants. You’ll want to know how to budget ahead of time.
So you’re here, walking around new coffee shops with your fancy wifi egg and your portable battery charger. But there’s one problem: you haven’t learned any Hangul prior to coming and don’t know how to ask for anything. For starters, use your plane time to learn some basic phrases, and if you can’t memorize them try writing them down. Here are some apps that I highly recommend when trying to speed run the language:
Duolingo, Korean, and Naver
Duolingo will test you and make learning fun. You can’t look at stocked phrases, but you can treat learning as a game and get some quick syllables under your belt. The Korean app will have a ton of free helpful phrases, and while they are a bit formal, you should use that tense to talk to the older strangers you meet to maintain politeness. Lastly, Naver is a great source of essentially everything for the average Korean. It’s a blog, a translating app, dictionary and news source. That will probably be the most up to date in translating.
There you have it. The first time I traveled to Seoul, I was alone and with very minimal skills in the language. While my language skills aren’t necessarily the greatest, they are enough to have basic conversation and get me where I need to go. I pursued Korean as a minor and find myself loving the food and the culture every time I go back. If you follow these basic starting tips, you’ll do fine! Just remember your 주세요 (Chuseyo: Please Give me), 제발요 (Jeybalyo: Please) and your thank you (Kamsamnida: 감사합니다)!
Have any questions or additional advice? Drop a comment below to enlighten everyone reading!