The most convenient way of getting around in Busan is by using public transport. Though Busan isn't nearly as congested as Seoul, there can be significant traffic jams closer to the popular beach areas, so most expats choose public transport over owning a car.
The subway system is smaller than in Seoul, but it's still extensive and an excellent way to get across the city conveniently and affordably. Public buses are another efficient way to get around. Street signs and subway signs in Busan are usually written in both English and Korean.
Public transport in Busan
Expats can easily take advantage of the integrated public transport system in Busan. It's possible to get almost anywhere in the city by using the subway or bus. It's also inexpensive, and the city offers a rechargeable T-money card. Transportation rates are lower with the card than purchasing a single-ride ticket. The card can be used for both the subway and bus systems and even in some taxis.
The subway system in Busan is extensive and can be used to get around most of the city. Passengers can buy single-trip tickets from vending machines at any subway station. That said, the T-money card, which can be purchased at subway stations and some stores, is more convenient for those who regularly use the subway. Another advantage of the T-money card is that it can be used on all subway systems throughout Korea, making inter-city travel highly accessible.
Busan recently converted most of its bus fleet to electric buses, and the city plans to convert its remaining diesel and compressed natural gas buses to hydrogen vehicles by 2025.
Smaller green or blue buses only travel in their home neighbourhoods, while larger buses travel longer distances throughout the city. Major bus stops will have an electronic board showing which routes pass through the stop and when the next bus will arrive. Passengers pay when they get onto the bus with their T-money cards, or they can use cash.
Taxis in Busan
Taxis in Busan are incredibly convenient and not too hard to come by. It's possible to hail a cab from the street or through Kakao Taxi – a local taxi-hailing app. All taxis run on a meter, and expats can pay their fare either with a credit card, local bank card or in cash. It's also sometimes possible to use a T-money card to pay for a trip if the passenger swipes it at the start and end of the journey.
Many drivers don't speak English well, so it's always a good idea to have the address or destination written down in Korean to show the driver. Some taxis advertise a free call-in interpretation service which English-speaking passengers can use to explain where they want to go.
Driving in Busan
While Busan may be home to often confusing access, winding and mountain roads, driving in the city is largely safe and enjoyable as most drivers and pedestrians keenly follow road rules. That said, purchasing and driving a vehicle in the city will be largely unnecessary and more inconvenient since Busan boasts an efficient and comprehensive public transport system.
Expats who choose to drive will need to contend with the costs of maintaining and running a car, as well as the process of securing a South Korean driving licence. Alternatively, those looking to explore some of Busan's hidden gems may benefit from hiring a car rather than buying a car.
- See Transport and Driving in South Korea for more on obtaining a driving licence in South Korea.
- Alamo Rent A Car and Avis are some of the most popular car rental companies in Busan.
Cycling in Busan
Although not the most bike-friendly city, expats can get around Busan by bike. However, it is recommended that expats cycle on the shoulder of the road to avoid pedestrians, mopeds and parked cars. Busan offers free public bike rentals and repairs throughout the city.
Expats can rent bicycles for a maximum of two hours and return them to one of the 11 shops sprinkled in the city. Expats will also have to consider the city's hilly nature. If they are prepared to break out a sweat, cycling is a good and free option for getting around in Busan.
- Visit the Busan Metropolitan City website for more on bicycle rentals in the city.
Air travel in Busan
As the second-largest city in South Korea, Busan is home to 18 airlines and the Gimhae International Airport. This airport hosts both local and limited international flights to East Asian and European countries. Travelling by air across South Korea is one of the fastest ways to get around the country, and domestic flights from Busan are affordable.