My phone is my lifeline in Korea. Before moving to South Korea I didn’t have a smart phone. I got one shortly after arriving and beyond regular social media and picture apps, the below listed apps I use if not daily then very often.
I like Kakao bus a lot because you can save bus stops. You can select the nearest bus stop and see how long till the next bus, since where I live is very rural it’s necessary to know how long I have left until the next bus. 10 minutes? 40? 70? Plus I can write down a note underneath the name of my bus stop so I know where it is and can check the bus stops I use often. I don’t use it much outside of my rural home and Gapyeong, usually because it doesn’t work at certain stops. Such as leaving Gapyeong station for some reason it won’t show any buses. But while waiting at Gapyeong station I can check my home bus stop and see which of the buses are going to my home. If you live in a city a regular map app will give you bus information and bus routes and your wait time so it may be less useful.
(Note depending on your phone and app store it may look a bit different)
The Subway app works offline which is insanely helpful, especially if you’re just visiting on vacation. The train picture in the lower right expands to give you options.
With settings you can change the language, city, and distance. This helps so if you’re visiting multiple cities you’ll be able to figure out the Korail trains and easily.
Let’s say I want to go from Cheonyangi to Myeong-dong in Seoul. I select a start option and a stop option. When you click on a station it will tell you if there’s a train on the way, give you a time table, station info (fastest transfers depending on train direction, what side will the doors open when you’re on the train, if there’s a restroom, breastfeeding facility, elevator and if there’s accessibility), exit info (where all the station exits are on a map). You’ll also find Depart from (the play symbol), Stop by (pause symbol), and Arrive at (stop symbol).
As you can see in the above picture, after you select a start and stop point you can favorite it by selecting the star, can pick between the fastest route or the route with the fewest transfers. It tells you how long it will take, how many stations, transfers and how much it should cost. If you select Detailed info this will expand.
This will tell you which direction you need to head, the best car and door to wait at for a faster transfer, and allow you to change the times. The transfer time varies I find depending on how fast I want to move up stairs or if I want to slowly take an escalator. To find train car numbers and door numbers look at the ground on the platform. If it says 1-3 then that’s the first car, door three and for this route above, that would be your fastest transfer point.
(Some people prefer DaumMap or NaverMap, Google maps does not work well in Korea so don’t bother with it)
What I like about Kakao is that I find it a little more user friendly if your Korean isn’t the best. It still requires you to be able to write Hangul for addresses, but a lot of things are very easy and I like that there’s a discover option at the bottom of the map so you slide it up and see restaurants around you, attractions, festivals and movies. And if you just click on search you can select a filter from the top sliding bar. And it will help you find things in the area. You can also favorite areas and choose a color for the stars so they’re easier to find later. This really helps me when I’m planning a trip or a lot to do in a day, I make a bunch of stars one color and then later when I’m on my way I can just click on the star and have Kakao map give me directions.
However I find all the maps that are available have their drawbacks, and Kakao maps does not work well outside of Korea or with other apps like Instagram so do not make it your default map option.
(as I mentioned in my rural life post, this helps if you’re planning to take the KTX, ITX or Mugunghwa-ho rail lines often ) There is an English option for this app and you can use it to book about a month in advance for tickets. Keep in mind that if there are no reserved seats available you will be unable to purchase tickets from your phone and will need to go to a machine or to a ticket counter to purchase standing seats. There will be a more in-depth post about the ITX coming soon.
This is more commonly used in Korea for messages. The characters are also extremely popular and you’ll find them all over. If you want to know about the characters you can read about them here. They’re…interesting. (Keep in mind that KakaoTalk will not hold onto your shared media so save and put anything you want to keep in the cloud, the backups only work for your messages and save those often as well. My phone has died/been lost and I’ve lost a lot of things I wish I hadn’t.)
Korea sometimes has high levels of pollution or dust and each year it gets worse. I use this app to tell me whether I should wear a mask or not, despite the fact it’s in Korean it’s pretty easy to use just by telling the color or range of the smiley face.
If it’s in the black like the image on the right you really should be wearing a mask and not outdoors if you can help it. Blue is the best and red tends to fall between orange and black.
Papago is my go-to translation app. I use it to express myself if my coworkers don’t understand me or if I need help with something while I’m out and having difficulty. I’ve found that I get a lot less confused looks from people than I did my first year using Google translate.
Due to my rural life there are some popular apps that I don’t use, mostly food apps because I don’t live within most restaurants delivery range. Like the McDonald’s delivery app I have used but only when I’m in Seoul because the nearest one to my rural home is an hour away and definitely not available. It’s very easy to use since there is an English version of the app. Uber Eats has also gotten popular in Seoul and when I spend time with Nathalie we usually get things delivered if we don’t want to go out. Outside of Seoul another popular delivery app is Yogiyo which unlike the previous two is in Korean and will require a little more work to navigate. Kakaotaxi is another useful app, however it’s not always the smoothest app to use, and often the taxi driver will call you, which is similar with the deliver apps. So you need to be able to respond in Korean to let them know where you are.