If you’re about to embark on an exciting journey to South Korea to teach English, you’ve come to the right place. Before you dive headfirst into the land of K-pop and kimchi, let’s talk about the tools that will make your life much more convenient while you’re living your best expat life. These trusty apps will keep you connected, well-fed, and effortlessly navigating the streets of Seoul and beyond. Grab your phone as you read along so you can start downloading. Get ready to embrace convenience like a pro. Without further adieu, here are the 15 Must Have Apps for Korea!
Kakao Talk is the one app that runs through the veins of every Korean. it is a must-have for anyone living in or visiting South Korea. From its seamless messaging to its cute sticker features and beyond, KakaoTalk has become an integral part of Korean social life. KakaoTalk is great for connecting with locals and will likely be the primary form of communication between you, your coworkers, and your friends. Pro tip: Make sure to choose a username that you are comfortable with, because the Kakao platform will only allow you to change it once!
MAPS & NAVIGATION
Lost in the streets of Seoul? Don’t expect your standard Google or Apple Maps to guide you well. Kakao Maps is here to save the day! This is the go-to navigation app for Koreans. Kakao Maps is an always reliable navigation tool. From accurate real-time directions to detailed public transportation information, this app is a game-changer. It has intuitive features, including voice-guided navigation and street view. It even recommends nearby attractions and restaurants.
When it comes to map options, Naver Maps is my personal favorite (over Kakao Maps)! I find it to be incredibly intuitive, especially when it comes to providing directions for addresses submitted in English. Naver Maps offers a wealth of features. These include precise directions, real-time traffic updates, and comprehensive information about local attractions and services. It can show bus schedules, public transportation options, and user-generated reviews.
Kakao Taxi has become an indispensable app for Koreans. Other ride-hailing apps like Uber are NOT available, so if you need a ride quickly or aren’t yet comfortable with public transportation, Kakao Taxi has got you covered. It provides a seamless and efficient way to book a taxi right from your phone. This allows you to conveniently search the address right from your phone to avoid any communication errors with the driver about where to go. Kakao Taxi has real-time tracking, estimated fares, and the ability to choose your preferred vehicle type. (Be aware that you must have a functioning Korean phone number to connect a Korean bank card and pay, but you can always wave down a taxi the old fashioned way and pay with cash or any card!)
If you are looking to travel long distances in a short period of time, check out the KTX (Korea Train Express) and the KTX App by Korail. Get ready to speed across the country at trains reaching up to 300 kilometers per hour. All while enjoying the view, comfort, and amenities offered on board. With the KTX App by Korail, you can easily search for train schedules, reserve your preferred seats, and purchase e-tickets from your phone.
Navigating through various Korean apps and taking multiple screenshots can be tiring and potentially lead to travel mishaps. When I arrived in Korea, I found solace in using trip.com to book my KTX tickets to Seoul and other major cities. While the prices may be slightly higher compared to booking directly through Korean apps or ticket stands, it offers a great alternative for those seeking peace of mind. The app provides a clear understanding of the ticket purchasing process. Embrace the convenience of Trip.com for hassle-free ticket bookings during your Korean adventures!
Language barriers can be a hassle, but the Papago app revolutionizes communication in South Korea. This powerful translation app, developed by Naver, offers seamless translations between Korean and a multitude of languages. With features like text translation, voice recognition, and even image translation, Papago is a powerful tool for new arrivals and language learners alike.
Say 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo) to Google Translate! Just like Papago, this app is equipped with text input, voice recognition, and offline capabilities to support you even when you’re offline. I think what sets Google Translate apart is its impressive real-time translation feature, which allows you to conveniently translate text on your screen using your phone’s camera.
SHOPPING & PAYMENT
Coupang offers an extensive range of products, all just a few taps away. With lightning-fast delivery, this tool is comparable to Amazon. Newcomers often worry about packing, but with the ability to order nearly anything from Coupang, you don’t need to worry so much about packing.
GMarket is another great Korean e-commerce platform offering both local and international brands. It always has deals and promotions, offering great value for your money. GMarket is a great option for new arrivals, as you will need a Korean bank account in order to set up any Coupang orders. On the other hand, GMarket allows you to pay with international cards.
I’m sure you’ve started to notice a recurring theme with the ubiquitous presence of “Kakao” on this list. Enter Kakao Pay, the digital payment revolutionizing how Koreans manage their finances. Whether you’re enjoying an iced americano at your go-to local café or seamlessly splitting bills with friends, this app provides a secure and convenient solution with just a few taps on your phone. With features like mobile payments, money transfers, and even the opportunity to earn rewards, Kakao Pay has it all. Plus, it’s as simple as a tap to make contactless payments straight from your phone using compatible card readers.
CoupangEats, Yogiyo, & Baemin
Arguably some of the most important apps to download are Yogiyo (요기요), Baemin (배민), and Coupang Eats (쿠팡이츠) South Korea’s top food delivery apps! These apps offer an extensive range of options, from local favorites to international dishes. The apps are equipped with photos and descriptions, and the speed of Korean food delivery service is always impressive.
Help Me Emmo!
This option was my saving grace upon arriving to Korea! Ordering from the Korean apps can be tiresome when English descriptions aren’t available. HelpMeEmo (‘Emo’ means ‘Aunt’ in Korean) allows you to chat with a bilingual representative who can assist with placing delivery orders. You can customize your order, ask questions about the menu, and make special requests for just a small fee of around three dollars. And the first order is free! You can also message them on KakaoTalk at ‘HelpMeEmo.’
I hope you’ve found a few helpful apps and services that will make your life in South Korea more convenient and enjoyable! From translation and shopping to navigation and food delivery, these tools are here to simplify your life. Enjoy your adventures in South Korea with these essential apps by your side. Safe travels!
Alexandra Skouras is from Pennsylvania, USA, and has been living in South Korea since April 2021. She studied Biology and Spanish during college but decided to embrace her love of travel and cultural diversity through teaching English in other countries. After spending one year teaching in Madrid, Spain, she decided to move to South Korea, and since then has been teaching Chungdahm April in Sejong. Her favorite part about teaching is connecting with students and seeing how much growth they can achieve in just a short period of time. Alexandra describes her Korean life as the perfect mix of comfortable and exciting, and is passionate about encouraging other people to take the leap of faith and try something new.