The numerous travel sites, blog posts, YouTube “day in my life in Seoul!” videos, and travel influencer TikToks describing the preparations for travel to South Korea are extremely overwhelming. Before my 6 week study abroad experience in the summer of 2023, I had never traveled outside of the U.S. I hoped to be at least somewhat prepared before getting off my plane at Incheon Airport so that I could navigate my way to my dorm room at Yonsei University in the Sinchon region of Seoul. As an incoming senior at the University of Michigan with a terrible sense of direction both on campus and even in my hometown, you could say I was a little more than worried about how I would even begin to navigate such a large, unfamiliar city with only my Duolingo language skills. 

To help you get started and to hopefully alleviate some anxieties, I have compiled a list of the apps that I found myself using nearly every day while abroad! 

I’d recommend downloading these before you get on your flight to Seoul so that you can set up and login to any accounts that you may need, and so you can start learning how to navigate the apps before you are attempting to get around for the very first time in an unfamiliar city. Make sure to exchange some currency so you have some Korean Won as well. There will be global ATMs throughout some of the city, but you will need cash to charge your public transportation card.

Once landing in Seoul, I’d recommend getting yourself a T-money card as soon as possible. You can get these at some vending machines in the airport near the transportation centers, or you can ask the cashier at any convenience store (CU, GS25, e-mart, 7-eleven- they’ll be at nearly every corner!). You’ll also be able to charge the card with cash at the convenience stores or in some subway stations at the machines. Don’t worry about charging up the card with too much money- subway stations tend to have machines where you can get your deposit back before the end of your trip! Now onto the apps so you can get ready to explore–

1. Naver Map

Naver Map is the only map app that I used while in South Korea. Google Maps and Apple Maps do not work, and both will often tell you that no routes can be found to your destination.

You may need to type in the name of your destination in Hangul, the Korean alphabet system. Usually, you can Google your destination and find the name and/or address in Hangul which you can then copy and paste into Naver.Naver Map has an incredible amount of information for public transportation routes. Seoul has an expansive network of buses and subways, as well as wide sidewalks for walking. Taking advantage of these public transport networks is essential to exploring the city!

The vast bus stops in the center of Gangnam.

Naver Map will tell you the color of the bus as well as the bus number that you need to take. It will let you know the exact arrival time of the bus, including any delays, as well as the next bus arrivals. To double check that you are at the right bus stop, take a look at the signs posted on the shelter, the freestanding signs, or look at the screens. These will tell you the bus routes that stop at this specific stop and the screens will tell you how many minutes until the bus arrives at the stop. On Naver Map, you can follow along the bus stops as you pass them on the bus, and Naver Map will even tell you how much the fare will be for your ride before you begin the route. When taking the bus, make sure to tap your T-money card when getting on and when getting off.Naver Map is also extremely useful for taking the subway. It will tell you the line number (which aligns with a specific color) and the exact arrival time, as well as the next arrival times. It will tell you the direction of the subway that you are taking, so make sure to double check with the signs above the tracks or throughout the station before getting on the subway. Naver will also tell you the subway car number for the fastest transfer and the exit number (the numbers in big yellow circles in the stations) for the fastest walking route to your destination. Some people prefer the app Subway Korea, but I found Naver to have everything that I needed.

A visual explanation for how to switch the Naver Map app language settings.

Be aware that Naver Map does not follow along with you as you walk like Google and Apple Maps do, so it might take you a while to get used to! Some people like to use Kakao Maps over Naver Map, however, I personally found the app more difficult to navigate.

2. Papago by Naver

Another essential to getting around Seoul is a trusty translation app. Papago is recognized by many locals as their common app for translations. It provides much more consistently accurate translations for Korean → English than Google Translate does. Papago can translate Hangul from pictures, and by using the microphone, spoken words can be translated as well. I frequently used Papago in my day-to-day life and found the app easy to use.

3. KakaoTalk

KakaoTalk is an essential app for communications in Korea. Some services will ask you to make reservations or to contact them with questions through kkt. KakaoTalk is also the most used messaging app by South Koreans, and you’ll likely see the Kakao Friends characters around Seoul! And, you’ll need an account if you want to use KakaoTaxi, the main taxi/rideshare app in Korea.

4. KakaoTaxi

KakaoTaxi is very similar to Uber or Lyft, except with a fare meter. Regular taxis are harder to come by in Korea, and Uber sometimes has drivers, but it is much less consistent. Make sure to have your address in Hangul readily available, as some drivers will ask for it.

A visual example for how to order a Kakao Taxi as someone without a Korean bank account.

KakaoTaxi is very similar to Uber or Lyft, except with a fare meter. Regular taxis are harder to come by in Korea, and Uber sometimes has drivers, but it is much less consistent. Make sure to have your address in Hangul readily available, as some drivers will ask for it.

After entering in your pick-up and destination addresses, select general request, then select payment option, and scroll to the right to pay to the driver, then hit apply, and then request. Once you get in the taxi, you will see the fare calculator. The price that you see when requesting your ride on the app is just an estimate, and what is on the fare calculator is what you will pay at the end of the ride.  

Without a Korean bank account, you can only select general requests on KakaoTaxi. For those without a Korean bank account, you will have to pay at the end of your ride with a credit card, T-money card, or cash.

Be aware that there are some videos online of travelers talking about being scammed and up-charged for their taxi rides…I took plenty of taxis in my 6 weeks in Korea and never experienced this! But just something to keep an eye on during your ride.

5. Shuttle Food Delivery

Lastly, this app isn’t necessarily essential, but for my friends who did not purchase a sim card to set up a Korean phone number, Shuttle was a game-changer. Shuttle is one of the few food delivery apps that does not require a Korean phone number. My friends were finding it difficult to find a delivery service that would accept their international numbers, and Shuttle was one of the only reliable options. Although Shuttle has less choices than other delivery apps, it proved to be quick and efficient when craving a night in with takeout!

With these 5 apps, a T-money card, and a sense of adventure, I believe that you are ready to explore Seoul. Go out of your comfort zone and try new things, and don’t be afraid to get a little lost! 

Have questions for Isabel about her experiences in Seoul, South Korea? Contact her at