Useful Apps to Have in Seoul

Authored by:
Natalie C.

Natalie C.

One of the great things about Seoul is its technology and infrastructure, it is so easy to navigate through the city! Here are apps that I think are essential to have while in Seoul and some that I think are really useful.

Communication:

KakaoTalk:​  Probably one of the most important apps is KakaoTalk, which is a messaging app. This is how most Koreans message each other, instead of texting or WhatsApp. Through CIEE, you will most likely be asked to make an account before leaving the states to connect with other students on your program as well as the on-site staff. Here are things to note: 

  • The characters on Kakao are fun and beloved in Korea (there are even merchandise of them) so be sure to check them out! 
  • There is also a PC version so you can text from your laptop 
  • There are downloadable themes to switch it up (I personally use the Apeach theme).
  • One thing to remember is that if you add someone as a friend, you have to text them first so that they get the friend notification.


FreeTelecom Pretty Mobile: If you get a sim card from the SK Telecom shop downstairs in the SK Global Dorm (where CIEE students who chose residence hall stay), this app connects to your sim card. It will tell you how much data, texts, and calls you have left. All the plans have pretty large data bundles so most people don’t run out, but if you’re like me and just want to know, this is the app to get. You can pay from the app, but I found it easier to do it from the website. You can find the app by typing in “FreeTelecom”, at least for android users.

Public Transportation:

Kakao Map vs. Naver Map: Both of these apps are GPS navigation apps. They both are great and tell you information about public transportation, timing, and guide you through it. There is a small debate over which one is better and its usually up to personal preference. I am a big Naver Maps fan, I always used it and found it easier for me to navigate with. They both work similar to Google/Apple Maps. Here are some fun tidbits about Naver Maps (I don’t know much about KakaoMaps):

  • When the app uses the subway, they will have a number such as xx-yy. This refers to the door number on the platform. So in Korea, each door on the platform has a number (1-1, 1-2….3-1, 3-2…etc), in ascending order. The app will tell you which door to enter on based on your needs (aka the door closest to the escalator near your exit or the door closest to the transfer line). While you don’t have to board that exact cart, you’ll at least know the general area. 
  • You can sign up for a Naver account and favorite/star locations you want to go or have been! When researching restaurants/cafes etc. you can also look at reviews. Since Naver is one of the biggest search engines in Korea (kind of like Google), most people leave reviews on Naver, giving you a more accurate idea. 
  • Sometimes you have to input the name of your destination in Korean in order for it to show up (the English translation doesn’t always go through). But once you input the Korean name, the navigation is in English and often the destination names changes to English as well. For this reason, I recommend having the Korean keyboard on your phone and being comfortable with using it. 
  • When taking the bus, sometimes it can be confusing which side of the road (often buses have their own sidewalks in the middle of the road) to stand for the correct direction. My advice is to find a close landmark that shows up on the map (e.g. a cafe or restaurant), and seeing on the map if the bus heads away or towards it (the blue line). This can help orient yourself and make sure you head in the right direction! Side note, sometimes if you get to a location by taking Bus A for 5 stops in one direction, getting on Bus A for 5 stops in the opposite direction will not always get you home! Therefore, I suggest always checking with your navigation app first. 



Bucacheck and T-money Balance Check: These apps allow you to check the balance of your T-money card (public transportation card) from your phone by scanning the RFID chip. These are super helpful so you always know when to reload your card and if you have enough money for a certain trip. The T-money cards work all over South Korea, so if you travel to Busan or Jeju or anywhere else, you can use the same card. An important note is that you can only recharge the card with cash (you might be able to do use credit/debit cards in certain places but the majority of the time, it is cash only). 

KakaoT: In Korea, Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare apps are not used, instead taxis are still the predominant method of automobile public transportation. However, the KakaoTaxi app functions pretty similar to calling an Uber. You input a destination and a pick-up location, then the app finds nearby drivers to pick up the ride. You get the taxi license plate and model and an estimated time of arrival. A few things to note: 

  • If you do not have a Korean card, you cannot pay on the app. Instead, you’ll have to pay the driver after the ride is completed. This can be credit/debit card or cash. I’ve heard people say you can also use yout T-money card (make sure you have enough)!
  • The time it takes to get a taxi depends on the situation, so for example, 1 am after the club, everyone is trying to get a taxi at the same time and you might not get one. 
  • You can also try flagging down taxis, it has worked for my friends before. But you never know which taxis are on their way to pick an app user. 

 

Translation:

Papago: Naver has its own translational app called Papago. This allows you to type or speak a sentence and have it be translated. You can also take photos and translate the words on it as well. Obviously, these will not be 100% accurate, especially depending on the quality of photo or audio, so it is a good supplement but having general knowledge is good as well, especially with food names. That being said, translated photos are a huge help in restaurants when reading menus and in stores for reading signs, labels, and instructions. 

Google Translate/Google Lens: These two apps work together to do what Papago does in one. Google Translate has the type and speak feature where Google Lens has the photo feature. Google Lens has other features such as searching from photos etc. Between these and Papago is really a personal preference, I have a Google Pixel so I am more familiar with these apps. However, Papago is very prevalent and popular in Korea


Delivery:

Shuttle: Korea is well known for its efficient and widespread food delivery system. However, without a Korean credit card or phone number, the options can be limited. For semester students, Shuttle is a great option that takes foreign credit cards and has good choices near the dorms. 

  Olive Young and GMarket: These two apps are purely optional but they are also good websites to know. Olive Young is the go to store for anything toiletry. From cosmetics to beauty to skin care, they have everything. But some shops don’t carry all their products on hand and if you want to have something delivered, look on the app or website. GMarket is kind of like an Amazon, where you can shop for cosmetic products to blankets to shower heards. These also take foreign credit cards. 

 

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