Useful Apps and Things to Bring to Seoul and Korea!

I finally went back to Korea after the pandemic! We did two trips - one in autumn to Seoul and Jeonju and another one during the summer to Seoul and Suwon. Like China and Indonesia, I wanted to put this general and current tip guide out there for future reference - the mobile apps we used and the essentials to bring for the trip! Hope you'll find this list useful as well 😊 I just posted what to eat and how to survive eating and overeating in Korea in my previous post so you can check that out also.


In no particular order, I would advise you to bring/download the following:

Things to Bring

  • Masks - If you're not over with the pandemic yet, please bring disposable masks and allocate around one per day. Almost everyone doesn't wear it there nowadays so I just use it for extremely crowded areas like the subway (Seoul subways also smell unpleasantly weird for me), overexposure to flowers (in spring and festivals), near smoking areas, if there is a yellow dust warning in Korea and the plane ride. It's nice that the hotels there are mostly non-smoking. There are designated smoking areas and they cannot smoke inside the subway stations.
  • Ecobag - This is for groceries. Plastic bags are chargeable, esp. in supermarkets. The only plastic bags giving it out for free are the underground malls and traditional markets based on my experience.
  • Umbrella with UV or hats - The sun was a bit harsh when we were there. I didn't see anyone using umbrellas though πŸ˜… Mostly, they use trendy caps and bucket hats! You can also buy them there since hiking is a favorite Korean pasttime.
  • Sunblock and Sunglasses 
  • Rubber shoes - You will be walking long distances, esp. in Seoul. Even the subways are a long walk and usually only stairs in the exits (if you don't want to look for an elevator).
  • Cardigan or jacket with UV - If you get cold easily while inside the malls and establishments, I would advise to wear a light cardigan or jacket. In the summers, you'll be unhappy to know that the air conditioning in buses won't be turned on, but the subways and malls could offer you some comfort.
  • Bag - This is to carry any bottled water with you at all times. We found ourselves constantly thirsty during the trip - not sure if due to the heat and due to walking long distances. In traditional Korean restaurants, water is free so you can refill there. 
  • Power bank - This is very important because we mainly used our phones for navigation, translation and all. You wouldn't want to run out of battery anywhere in the city.
  • Outlet plug - They have a 2-pronged round tip outlet. Bring this with you from your country. 
  • Cash for currency exchange - This is very important. There are many money changers in Seoul esp. in Myeongdong and high-tourist places. Usually they ask for my passport (the legit ones). You will use cash to reload your T-money transportation card in convenience stores and reload machines. We also mainly used Korean won cash for tolls, underground shopping mall stores and traditional markets, vending machines, small food stalls and some entrance fees.
  • Credit cards - Good thing they accepted our Philippine-issued credit card for most restaurantssupermarkets and stores. They do require you to sign the charge slip every time like in the Philippines but they don't give out receipts unless you ask for one - it's called Yeongsujeong 영수증. Some stores do require a minimum to use the credit card so a little cash also comes in handy. 
  • Medicine and travel insurance if you can - I realized during my last trip that bringing in medicine from your country might be very handy. This is all detailed in my Korea overeating post so just read that.
Get When You're There
  • T-money card - You can buy this transportation card and use it conveniently all over Korea. It can be for transportation (bus, minibus, subway, trains) and convenience stores (tried Family Mart, 7-11, etc.). You need to top up with cash every time and the convenience stores is the way to go. I think the load doesn't expire because I've been using the same card for around 13 years πŸ˜† There used to be vendo machines in the subway stations but I think you can only buy them in convenience stores now. There are discounts if you use this card with the buses for example and sometimes you don't have to pay when you take a bus immediately after the subway (but you have to tap it when you get in and out of the bus usually). I even used this many times for the airport buses!
  • Please take note that some buses, esp. in Seoul are already cashless. So get this card and load it generously.
  • eSIM - The eSim is so convenient now - you don't need to line up at the airport and return a WiFi egg! I booked a 5gb via Klook online and it was good for 30 days.
Apps to Download
    • The BucaCheck app is how I check the remaining balance in our T-money cards! You just need an internet connection and just scan the card (I think NFC) with your phone. You can scan different cards in one account πŸ˜‰
    • I use the Seoul Subway to check the many subway stations in Seoul.
    • Uber with linked credit card was also useful. We used it to book cars in the Gyeonggi area.
    • I purchased an E-sim via Klook before arrival to Seoul. 5GB was enough for us per person (1 week) with Google Maps and Naver maps being the biggest data use, as well as translating stuff. You can also share your mobile data with your partner if he runs out. Our hotels had decent free WiFi. Instagram and Facebook both work.
    • Jeff purchased an E-sim via Nomad that had a China, Japan and Korea 20gb package since both trips our China and Korea were covered. Use my Nomad eSIM promo code MELOSYCB so that both you and I get $3 off discount! 
    • Google Translate for reading menus and signs was of great help. 
    • The Papago app is also a good translation app, esp. if you want to have a conversation with a local. You can had your phone over to him/her and have them talk in the microphone then it will do the translation. You just need to change the language when it's your turn to talk.
    • Naver Maps and Kakao Maps was the primary tool we used for navigation bus, subway directions and schedules. We also use this for driving. Google Maps has our pinned must-see locations, as well as restaurant reviews. But we follow Naver Maps to double check the reviews, the opening and closing times of restaurants and everything else.
    • We were able to successfully book a Persimmon picking session at the Myrealtrip app so have a translator on another phone ready.
    • We were also able to book two restaurants with the Catch Table app and the Red Table app (λ ˆλ“œν…Œμ΄λΈ”). Both need pre-payments though but both also have free cancellation rules available in case you have an emergency like ours. It's a bit annoying that you have to reserve restaurants, esp. if they are famous or if you have a big group but that's just the way to make sure that you eat where you want in Korea. We are almost always stopped by the language barrier because we need to phone it in so if you have a friend to do that, maybe you should just ask a favor. During our trips, we just head to the restaurant early by 11am and 5pm after checking the opening times and look at the lines. If it's too long and we're already hungry, we go somewhere else. 
    • We were able to book KTX tickets using the Korail website using our Philippine issued credit cards and cancel as well due to our emergency. Unfortunately, we haven't figured out how to book bus rides online with a Philippine number but we saw the number of seats left online and just went to the bus station a day before to purchase.
    • We love the Visa Concierge service for Visa credit card holders since they were able to arrange some restaurant reservations in Jeonju for us over at Viber. We just paid at the restaurant.
    • We have used the Lotte Car Rental website to reserve online the cars Jeff will drive. Kindly check the age of the driver (experienced!) and number of years driving because I believe it is 28 years old or something like that (not 18) in Korea. An International Driving Permit is required with your valid Philippine driving license. You can buy one from AAP (Automobile Association of the Philippines) in Lazada  πŸ˜„ You need to tell them which countries you plan on driving for the 1-year validity 😌  
    • For festival and events info, it is still best to wait for it a month to up to a week before your trip to hear about them in the official tourism channels of Korea and per city or region in Korea. Usually, what was held last year is also not happening this year. So just follow the pages of Visit Korea, Seoul, Gangwon, Busan, Gyeonggi-do, Jeolla and so on to keep yourself updated. The Visit Korea website has been my constant source of tourism related info for the past 10 years.
    • I also follow the Facebook group Korea Travel Guide for recent happenings, guides, tips and feedback about Korea.
    • Did you know that their are free tours in Seoul run by the Seoul Metropolitan government? If you love a good walk and history, I would definitely recommend it. We just did the Ikseondong and Seoullo one, both in English. Of course, you really need to book this one online so plan ahead!

    For now, these are all I could think of. I would update this post if ever I think of more but I think this is a pretty comprehensive note to self if ever we come back to Korea again πŸ˜‰