Some links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through my links I may make a small commission at no extra charge to you. See my disclaimer.
Today’s post aims to help you prepare for your time in South Korea by recommending some phone apps. Travelling or moving to a new country is already a little bit stressful, so anything that can help make that process easier should be happily received.
Travelling to countries like South Korea, China, Japan and other places where English is not widely spoken, means travellers have a slightly harder time communicating during their visit.
As exciting as it is to try and learn a new language in a place so different from home, it can sometimes cause frustration if you struggle to do basic tasks like finding your way.
Luckily for us, there are so many ways technology helps us on a daily basis. Years ago, you’d need to take so many items, that these days all fit into one object – a mobile phone.
This means that whether you need something to help you navigate, communicate or purchase things locally, there is an app for that.
If you are going to be using public transportation and navigating using the transit apps below, make sure you get a T Money or Cash Bee card.
|South Korea (Republic of Korea)
|South Korean Won / KRW
|Do you need a visa to visit as tourists?
Don’t forget to get travel insurance to cover you if something bad happens. One company I have personal experience with is Safety Wing. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you and your trip plans.
When you need to transfer money or check exchange rates during your overseas trip, consider using Wise. They have competitive rates and make exchanging foreign funds easy. I’ve been using them since 2015.
Since you will need a data connection to work the apps below, consider getting an eSIM so you don’t need to rely on WIFI during the trip.
GPS & Travel apps for South Korea
Think of this app as similar to Google Maps, but specifically for Korea. You see, Google Maps isn’t yet working at a strong capacity in Korea so Naver Maps is the best app to navigate the country.
You’ll find public transportation routes and timetables as well as have the chance to read basic reviews on restaurants and attractions. You can build your own lists of places you have been to or want to visit by saving them to your account for ease of finding them again.
Be aware: It can sometimes be difficult to find places on the map when you type in the English address. So, where possible, enter the Korean address or manually find it on the map.
Kakao Metro is yet another one of our apps for South Korea that helps you navigate. With a modern and interactive subway map, you can plan your route in any major city in the country and easily find your way. You can search for stations and the app will give you multiple routes on the relative journey.
It has a handy widget that will allow you to check live train times as well as see if there are any issues with the individual lines. This is currently one of the best ways to find accurate travel routes while travelling through Korea.
Be aware: The latest update seems to have removed the ability to use the search bar in English. Hopefully, they bring it back, but in the meantime, you might need to manually select your stations from the map.
This is a great alternative to Naver Maps and often comes down to preference. With this app, you can see better walking directions as well as have an accurate timetable for most transport options. It will typically show you the cheapest route first, followed by the fastest, and often includes routes with the least time walking.
Be aware: It is difficult to get search results based on English place names. This means oftentimes you need to input the destination in Korean or click directly on the map.
After a long time of frustrated foreigners trying to navigate the above apps, Korea decided to create a foreigner-first app in English! This means that if you want to navigate the Seoul subway without dealing with converting English names into Korean on Naver or Kakao, then you can skip those steps and go straight for this app.
It’s been getting praise in the reviews from visitors and long-term English-speaking expats in Korea and I’m sure you’ll get some use out of it too – if the other apps are not quite cutting it for you.
Korea Transit Card Balance
This app makes owning a TMoney card that much easier as you no longer have to go to a convenience store or subway station just to check your card balance. If your mobile phone has the ability to pay using NFC then you will have no problem using this app!
Simply open the app, make sure your NFC payment setting is switched on, and then put your TMoney card over the sensor. Some newer devices have this sensor on the front above the screen, and others (like mine) are located at the back of the device. Once the phone has recognised the card on the sensor it will show you the remaining balance on your card. You can even check a history of the card usage!
Apple devices can’t use this app, but a great alternative is: BucaCheck-Korea Transit Card
Korean Language apps
Also created by the minds behind Naver, Papago is one of the most popular online translator apps which can help you get by in Korea. Similar to Google Translate, Papago allows you to turn Korean into English and other languages in multiple ways.
You can use the app in multiple ways including by voice, conversation, image and study camera.
Voice – This is where you can speak into the app and it will translate the verbal words into written translation as well as tell you how to say it verbally too.
Conversation – This feature allows you to have a conversation with someone efficiently even without either of you knowing the same language. It works in a similar way to the voice feature, except this one is quicker at allowing you both to actively participate in a conversation.
Image – This allows you to upload or take a fresh picture of the written Korean language and it will translate it on your screen for you.
Study – This feature only supports Korean one way but it helps you to understand the written language and gives you tips to learn and understand what you are reading.
Communication apps for Korea
This is easily one of the most popular apps in Korea and it is used to communicate with others located in the country. Similar to other apps you might be familiar with (like Whatsapp or Viber), this is an app tied to your mobile phone number.
You can set status’, build a small profile and even send files and photos between yourself and your contacts without losing too much clarity. If you’re planning on being in the country for a long time, I highly recommend using this app as it is the best way to stay connected to locals without needing to rely on social media.
Rideshare style apps for Korea
You might be familiar with Uber. Well, Uber is illegal in South Korea so they have their own rideshare app named Kakao T (an easy way to remember is T for Taxi). This app allows you to find taxis, drivers and bikes through their platform easily.
You can easily connect your debit or credit card as an automatic payment method but you also have the option to use cash in some circumstances. So that the app can keep the users safe, there is a review system to rate your experiences as both a user and a driver.
Be aware: Tourists might struggle to book a ride without a Korean ID (known as an ARC) but this does not seem to always be the case. People who stay in Korea for more than 90 days can apply for their ARC.
Shopping Apps for Korea
G Market Global
This is a shopping app almost comparable to Amazon. Although Amazon is found around the world, it is not used much in Korea so most locals will use G Market instead. It’s the leading app that sells a huge range of Korean products so you’ll no doubt be able to find what you need.
The prices are consistently low yet the site regularly offers promotions. The app has multiple language settings including Korean, English and Chinese so you should have no trouble trying to navigate the site.
One downside: The site occasionally has scam sellers offering fake products so stay vigilant but the majority of the items are real and as expected.
Coupang is another addition to our list of apps for Korea. Similar to G Market it is another shopping app for you to use when searching for anything from homewares, clothing, toiletries and electronics. Most of the app’s settings and features are only in Korean but the shopping navigation is easy when searching for items by their English names. The site also conveniently has images and icons so you can easily find what you’re looking for.
Once you know what you want to order, find the name in Korean and search again. Items are significantly more expensive when you search the English name – even though it’s the same item.
Be aware: If you are trying to purchase and import items from outside Korea, you will need to order using your ARC card so it’s difficult to do so on just a tourist visa.
Tourist Activities in South Korea
Klook is a popular tour and activity app used throughout Asia that allows you to purchase tickets for travel, events, and days out. Previously I had always used Viator (as you may have seen listed in my previous posts), but in Korea and Taiwan recently I found the offers to be better when using Klook.
They have an easy-to-use website as well as their mobile app so you’ll be able to book attractions either from home or while on the move.
Visit Korea Travel Guide
Visit Korea is a useful app for travellers created by the Korea Tourist Organisation. This app has a lot of useful information such as where to find ATMs to withdraw money as well as a map showing the destinations around the country you should visit.
To help you speak to locals easier, the app even provides some everyday phrases in Korean so you can communicate for basic needs. The app has a great layout aesthetically and makes it clear to see what’s available both near you and in other locations. This is one I highly recommend using to plan your trip.
Trazy (combined travel & crazy) is another tourism app that allows users to purchase tours and activities – often at a discounted price. The app is straightforward to use when looking for things to do and you can purchase each tour directly through the app.
The app also has a points & rewards system so for each tour you purchase, you earn points. You can then spend those points on a future trip to make even more savings!
Food-related apps for South Korea
MangoPlate is one of the most popular apps for foodies in Korea. It has a library of over 200,000 restaurants listed throughout the country. The app allows you to check out the menus, reviews and locations of each restaurant individually so you’re in the best position to find the perfect restaurants for your needs.
Currently, most of the listings are in Seoul which is the main focus of the app. But as time goes on we are noticing more and more restaurants appear on the app in other parts of the country too. So, if you’re planning on living outside of Seoul, just be aware you might not have as many options yet as the capital.
Summary of helpful Apps in South Korea
Trust me, if you download these apps before moving to South Korea you’ll be in a much better position to navigate without any trouble. By being prepared in advance you’ll find the transition a lot simpler than trying to set up accounts once you are already here.
Korea has some of the fastest interest speeds worldwide so once you’re connected you should be good to go!