If you plan on coming to Korea, understanding public transportation will make a big difference for you. Most of the Korean people use their pubic transportation because it is good. It is very efficient and cheap. The same kind of people don’t use public transportation in Korea as in America. Students use public transportation in Korea. Commuters use pubic transportation here. In fact, you could meet almost anyone here that takes public transportation. Many people don’t bother with driver’s licenses because the public transportation is so good and drivers on the road make learning to drive scary in Korea. The price is also another big reason people use public transportation here. I know a man who is a millionaire, and he doesn’t bother owning a car, but goes everywhere in taxis because he says it is cheaper and easier than driving himself. I know professors who have never driven a car because they just don’t like the recklessness of many of the drivers here. I am going to explain the many ways you can go besides owning a car in Korea, but in this blog, I will tell you especially about taxis and transportation from the airport.
Taxis begin at a base price, and when you get in, the taxi cab driver turns their machine on, and as long as you are in the taxi, the price is slowly going up. Most people only use taxis if they are tired, late, or some other special circumstance. For example, for a while we lived in an apartment building where if we walked, we had to climb two hills, and then climb four flights of stairs to get to our apartment. It was hard to carry groceries all that way uphill, so we always took a taxi cab from the grocery store home before we got a car. If you are lucky, there are special taxi stands where taxis line up and wait for people to get in. If not, you will have to flag one down, and there are taxis everywhere, so it would be unusual not to be able to get one.
When you flag a taxi down, you must look at the front windshield in the middle on the top. If there is a green light there, the taxi is free, so flag it down. If the light is red, someone else is already in the taxi, so wait for the next taxi to come by. You must flag a taxi down that is going the direction you want to go. If you don’t, you may get in, tell the taxi cab driver where you want to go, and if it is the wrong way, they may put you out.
To pay for the taxi, you have several options. You could just carry cash. However, many people carry transportation cards that look like credit cards. You can buy them at the convenience stores or at the machines in the subway stations and put money on them. They can be used in taxis, on buses, and on the subway. Credit cards also work. The black taxis are more expensive than the others because they are considered luxury. If you get a taxi at the airport, be careful because there are taxi cab drivers who hang out at the airport waiting for foreigners, and they see them coming. They don’t bother turning on their machines, and they overcharge because they think foreigners don’t know any better. If a taxi cab driver doesn’t turn his machine on, ask him to stop and get out. Go with the next taxi. An orange or a silver taxi is cheaper.
It is best not to take a taxi from the airport. Other options exist. The first time I came to Korea, my new employer sent a big luxury taxi with lots of room for my luggage. Since I have a car, if I know someone coming to Korea, I volunteer to go get them in my car because I only live an hour away from Incheon International Airport. If you have luggage, it is hard to try to catch a taxi. I have had several big suitcases with me before trying to catch a taxi, and the taxi cab drivers refused to stop when they saw my luggage. However, some will gladly put it in their trunks. If you land at Incheon International Airport and don’t have someone picking you up or someone didn’t send a driver for you, there are other good, cheap options. There is a big bus called the Airport limousine. It is equipped with a place for your luggage and has more comfortable seats than regular buses. I haven’t ever caught one at the airport, but my international students have. I have ridden these inside the country from town to town. The other option if you are coming from the airport is the airport subway. It is a special subway for travelers. It is connected to the regular subway, to the commuter’s subway, and to Seoul Station where you can get trains all over Korea. It is a little more expensive than the regular subway, but it is worth riding. There is room for your luggage and it has less stops, so it goes faster.
If you plan to visit Korea, I hope this helps you understand a little about the transportation available to you. I will explain the buses and subways in another blog. Some of the taxi cab drivers speak English, but many don’t. It would be helpful to study my blogs that have Korean lessons before you come because you want to be able to speak to the taxi drivers. It doesn’t take much vocabulary to do it, but it does take a little. I didn’t speak Korean when I first came, but some taxi cab drivers speak English, and some also speak Japanese, and I communicated in those languages with whoever I could until I learned a few important phrases. It doesn’t take much to learn how to say “go straight,” “go right,” “go left,” or “go here” and hand them an address.