Most cities in Korea have an efficient, cheap and extensive bus system. It is one of the reasons that many people can live without a car quite comfortably. We’ll be adding more information to this section in the future. Click the sections below for more information.
Many travelers and foreign residents who aren’t familiar with the Korean language will tend to avoid the bus due to language barriers and difficulties in orientation. However, there are several smartphone apps and websites that can help you find your way around.
In the late 2000s, a second-year high school student developed an app called SeoulBus which made it much easier to find out bus information in real-time. The app is now called KakaoBus and is available on Android and iOS. The app shows real-time information for bus routes and displays nearby bus stops using your location.
An English version of the app exists but the bus stops aren’t translated into English. Here, the problem is that many bus stops in Korea still don’t have an official English name. Thus, we recommend confirming the route of your bus first and using the app to to check arrival times while on the go. One great feature of the app are the alerts that let you know when your bus is about to arrive.
To find the best place to get from A to B in Korea, you use Daum Maps (Android & iOS) or Naver Map (Android & iOS). We don’t recommend using Google Maps as due to Korea’s laws it does not have detailed information on roads or public transport. Find out more about these apps on our general information page.
Riding a Bus in Korea
We want this page to be helpful for travelers and those that are new to Korea. So we won’t sugarcoat the fact the getting a bus in South Korea can be a like a ride at a county fair. Due to the number of people always getting on and off buses, most services will always stop at your location. Nevertheless, if your bus is arriving make it clear that you intend to catch it by stepping forward with your wallet or even give the driver a wave if you think it’s necessary. Just watch out for the bus mirrors when it pulls into the stop, as they can come quite close.
The process of getting on the bus for most passengers is usually an extremely quick one, taking just a couple of seconds.
Paying by transport card?
Simply tap your card against the reader and hold it there until you hear it beep (and sometimes a thank you message), and don’t forget to check the amount paid and your remaining balance on the reader. Important: When getting off the bus always tap your card whether you intend to transfer or not. If you forget to tap off, you may have to pay a higher fare and on some services, a minor infringement is charged to the card.
Paying by cash?
If you must pay by case, paying by exact or near exact cash amounts is strongly recommended. You may find yourself out of pocket if paying for the fare with a 10,000 won note as the cash system on Korean buses doesn’t allow cash notes to be taken out by the driver. The only change they can give is coins via a machine, which sometimes there is not enough of as nearly all passengers use a transport card.
Getting Off the Bus
In general, most city buses have rules or strong guidelines stating that passengers must get off using the rear doors. Buses in Korea can get very crowded at times and buses only stop very briefly. It’s recommended that you get up and make your way to the rear door just before arriving at your stop so you have time to tag off first. Give yourself extra time if there are many people on the bus.
Seats for the Pregnant, Disabled or Elderly
Usually there will be several seats at the front of the bus marked for pregnant, disabled or elderly passengers. Sometimes people will not sit in these seats even if the bus is full. If you do use one of these seats, be aware that it’s expected (and common courtesy) that you’ll give them up to anyone getting on the bus who fits the above categories.
Korea’s capital has a great bus system which is fast and efficient. For short distances it can be more effective than the subway as bus stops are more easily accessible than subway stations. Median bus-only lanes also ensure good bus services even during rush hour.
The public transport reform in 2004 introduced new bus types, which can mainly be differentiated by their color (blue, green, red, yellow) and the number of digits in the route number. Fares are divided into adults (over 19 years old), students (between 13 and 19 years old) and children (between 6 and 13 years). Babies and small children under 6 years ride for free.
The blue buses operate within the city limits of Seoul. They are commonly called blue buses but their official name is the “trunk bus” or 간선버스 in Korean. In comparison to the green buses, the trunk buses cover long distances throughout the whole city and their speed is higher because they often use the median bus-only lanes. On average, the frequency of trunk buses is also higher than green buses. These buses always have three digits.
The green bus type is called “지선버스”, which is officially translated as branch bus. The purpose of the green buses is to connect neighborhoods to subway stations. So it is a feeder to the rail public transport system. The distance of green buses is shorter than the distance driven by blue buses.
Transport tip: In the case that you don’t really know where you are, you can take a green bus and there is a good chance that it will stop near a subway station.
Blue and Green Bus Fares
Adults: 1,200 KRW (1,300 KRW in cash)
Students: 720 KRW (1,150 KRW in cash)
Children: 450 KRW (450 KRW in cash)
Maeul Buses (Village Buses)
While it may sound confusing, there is more than one type of green bus that operates in Seoul! It is the Maeul Bus (마을버스) or village bus. These buses have just two digits and they operate on very short routes within local areas to connect residents to main transport hubs. The vehicles are sometimes mini-buses like the one in the image below.
Maeul Bus Fares
Adults: 900 KRW (1,000 KRW in cash)
Students: 480 KRW (1,000 KRW in cash)
Children: 300 KRW (300 KRW in cash)
The Korean name for this bus type is “순환버스” or a” loop bus”. These buses are not very common. They are peak-time buses which usually operate during the rush hour. Yellow bus routes have two digits.
Adults: 1,100 KRW (1,200 KRW in cash)
Students: 560 KRW (1,200 KRW in cash)
Children: 350 KRW (350 KRW in cash)
The late-night buses (심야버스) are blue like the trunk buses. They are also called “owl-buses” because they operate at night and their logo shows an owl. This service was established in September 2013 after a trial operation for a couple of months (read here about the introduction of night buses in Seoul). The bus number begins with an “N” and it has two digits. The buses operate between 11:40pm and 4 am at an interval of 40 minutes.
Adults: 2,150 KRW (12250 KRW in cash)
Students: 1,360 KRW (2,250 KRW in cash)
Children: 1,200 KRW (1,200 KRW in cash)
These buses are also called Gyeonggi buses, express buses or rapid buses. The Korean name 광역버스 actually stands for “metropolitan bus” but they shouldn’t be confused with intercity buses which operate from one bus terminal to another. The red bus connects the cities in Gyeonggi-do with Seoul which means that they cover long distances of over 40 km and one to two hours from the first to the last stop.
It’s recommended that you sit on these buses as they often travel on highways. The Korean government did try and ban standing on these buses but failed, meaning passengers are allowed to stand in the buses if there are no more seats left. Since 2015, some buses have signs displaying how many seats are left to discourage standing. The frequency of these buses is lower than that of Seoul inner-city buses.
Transport Tip: Some bus stations in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do are designed so that people queue up for their bus number. You will see a sign with the number of the red bus near the curb or a sign board.
Adults: 2,300 KRW (2,400 KRW in cash)
Students: 1,360 KRW (2,400 KRW in cash)
Children: 1,200 KRW (1,200 KRW in cash)
A newer type of bus in the Seoul Metropolitan Area is the M-Bus (“Metro-Bus”). Similar to red buses, M-Buses operate between Seoul and cities in Gyeonggi Province. M-Buses are marked with an “M” and four digits. The main difference between these buses and red buses is that this service has far less stops and only allows seated passengers. The front window has an LED sign with the number of seats left and if the bus is full, the bus will simply skip the station.
Transport Tip #1: Queuing for the M-Buses is generally the norm. You will find the bus number (for example M4201) on the curb or a sign.
Transport Tip #2: Avoid these buses during rush hour. It’s hard to get them during this time as there are usually no seats left.
The fare of a M-Bus varies for Gyeonggi-do, Incheon and Seoul:
Adults: 2,400-3,100 KRW (2,500-3,200 KRW in cash)
Students: 1,600 KRW (2,500-3,200 KRW in cash)
Children: 1,200 KRW (1,200 KRW in cash)
Airport Limousine Bus
Prior to the opening of the Airport Railroad in 2007, the main way to get to and from Incheon International Airport was to use an airport limousine bus service. Don’t be fooled by the name, limousine simply refers to a coach bus. This service is still extremely popular and travels to both of Gimpo Airport’s terminals and then on to Incheon International Airport. There are 18 bus routes and the fare differs for every route. In general, the fare is between 7,000 and 15,000 KRW and can be paid for with a transport card if you have one. Check out the official website for more information.
Most bus stops in cities have a digital display with real-time bus information.
As you can see in the picture above, it shows the time until buses arrive: Bus no. 7017 arrives in 6 minutes, 704 in 10 minutes and bus 7022 in 4 minutes. Bus N15 also appears on the sign but the Korean word “종료” displayed means that it doesn’t operate because it is a night bus. At the bottom of the display is a list of buses which will be arriving soon (“곧도착”). “Soon” means here in less than 2 minutes. In this picture bus no. 405, 401 and 406 are about to stop at the station. So if your bus is displayed there, make sure to get your cash fare or transport card ready.