The best way of getting around in Seoul is by using public transport. Although the city isn't as congested as Shanghai or Bangkok, it has its fair share of traffic jams that cause significant delays.
The extensive subway system in Seoul means that there's usually a subway stop within a 10-minute walk of any destination, and its public buses are also an efficient way to get around. Street signs and subway signs in Seoul are usually written in both English and Korean.
Public transport in Seoul
Expats will easily be able to take advantage of integrated public transit in Seoul. Commuters are able to get almost anywhere in the city using the subway and buses. They're also able to take advantage of initiatives such as the rechargeable T-money card, which offers lower rates than purchasing single-ticket rides and can be used on Seoul's metro and bus systems.
The subway system in Seoul is extensive, clean and efficient, and can be used to get around most of the city. Passengers need a subway or T-money card to use the system, which can be bought at subway stations and some stores.
In addition to the subway, there is an extensive public bus system in Seoul. Buses are colour-coordinated depending on their circuit: green buses travel only around their own neighbourhoods, blue buses go between neighbourhoods across town, yellow buses do short circuits around tourist areas and red buses go to different cities. Passengers pay when they get onto the bus with their T-money cards.
Taxis in Seoul
There are two types of taxis in Seoul. Black taxis with a yellow sign are luxury taxis that are more expensive than regular cabs but which provide a better service. Silver taxis are regular taxis and are cheaper. Most drivers don't speak English, so it's a good idea to have a Korean friend or colleague write the destination down in Korean to show the driver.
Some taxis advertise a free call-in interpretation service which English-speaking passengers can use to establish a fare before they go or to explain where they want to go. It's also sometimes possible to use a T-money card to pay for a trip if the passenger remembers to swipe it at the start and end of the journey.
Alternatively, local app-based ride-hailing service called Kakao Taxi allows expats to order a taxi service to their exact address. Many expats prefer using this and similar apps as they allow for automatic credit card billing as well as greater control over their route. Expats will need a basic understanding of Korean or know their destination in Korean to use this app.
After a previous banning, Uber has recently returned to Seoul and expats can therefore also use the Uber app to get around the city.
Driving in Seoul
Many expats find that owning a car in South Korea is unnecessary or even best avoided – especially if they don't plan to do much travelling in the countryside.
There are plenty of car rental companies, including well-known international names, that expats can use if wanting to take a trip out of the city by private car. For inner-city travel, however, parking is often difficult to find and navigating the heavy traffic can be troublesome.
Walking in Seoul
Although Seoul is large and densely populated, there is usually a subway stop within a 10-minute walk of anywhere an expat might want to go within the city. As a result, it's possible to navigate the city through a combination of walking and riding the subway.
The city itself occupies a relatively large area, making it impossible to cover more than a tiny portion of it on foot. The networks of roads and back alleys can also be confusing to travel through, so it's best for walking expats to orientate themselves by taking note of major landmarks.