Guide to Seoul: sharing a handful of useful apps that made our time in Seoul much easier. Everything from navigation to food delivery to translation and more! (Most, if not all, of the apps we used while in South Korea were free.)
This app provides you with real-time air quality and weather information along with recommendations to reduce your health risk and exposure to air pollutants. I honestly had no idea why everyone was wearing masks (germs, maybe?), especially because the number of people wearing them seemed to vary greatly depending on the day/ area. Turns out that wearing them helps to filter out the highly contaminated air! There was even a day when an alert went out warning people to stay in because the air was so bad but, because our phones are in airplane mode, we didn’t receive any information.
Which leads me to my next app:
Emergency Ready App
After many requests, NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) developed an emergency alert app for English speakers. The Emergency Ready App can call emergency contact numbers (such as 119), instruct you on how to respond to emergencies (including videos of how to perform CPR), and show you the location of the nearest shelter.
We used this app several times for food delivery to our Airbnb. It was the only one I could find fully translated in English and the delivery fee was only about $5 USD. You can sort by cuisine and they have tons of options. Cuchara was one of our favorites (similar to Chipotle, the guac was almost identical).
It’s estimated that over 93% of cell phones in South Korea have this app downloaded. KakaoTalk, or sometimes KaTalk, is a free mobile instant messaging application with free text and free call features. You will hear the familiar “KaKao” sound all over when nearby users receive a message. Complete with it’s own cast of cute characters and emojis, you can even visit the Kakao Friends Store and Ryan Cafe to further your obsession. Whenever we made friends in-country we found it easiest to exchange KakaoTalk information to keep in touch.
KakaoTalk is more than just messaging- it’s its own social media platform. You can join chats, exchange various third-party content and apps, including hundreds of games. Through the “Plus Friend” feature, users can follow brands, media and celebrities to receive exclusive messages, coupons and other real-time information through KakaoTalk chatrooms. Users can also purchase real-life goods through the messenger’s “Gifting” platform.
You can also order food! Which leads me to my next recommendation:
Go Wonderfully (formerly: Ask Ajumma)
This isn’t an app exactly, it works within KakaoTalk, but it’s definitely worth the mention. Wonderful marries technology and personal service to make your life easier in Korea as an (English speaking) expat or traveler. It takes the struggle and frustration caused by language barriers and complicated websites by acting as a bilingual middle-man. Honestly, my first words after I discovered this app were: take. my. money! Examples of things you can request:
I used Wonderful to order a pizza from Papa Johns (which we couldn’t get through Shuttle) and it worked… well… wonderfully! Even if I could navigate my way though ordering online in Korean, it wouldn’t let me submit my order without a Korean phone number for them to call me back with any issues. James had been making the 30min trek to the store for carry-out but this was SO much easier!
We use Google Maps (or Waze) at home but Google is significantly limited in South Korea. It won’t provide walking or driving distances and only offers some road names, dots where some buildings are or once were, and little else. Reportedly, even North Korea has better coverage. We’ve been using KakaoMap for just about everything.
You can search for businesses/ specific locations and it will show the estimated time needed to get to the nearest subway station, which entrance to take, which subway car is optimal for the quickest exit/transfer, which exit to take, and walking directions to the final destination. It also lists estimated trip fare price and the schedule for the subway lines so you can gauge when the next subway car will be arriving.
(Naver is a great option too and does a better job showing street view and building levels, but it is only available in Korean- or limited English. We did use this occasionally when we were trying to figure out basement levels, etc.)
This is a translation app similar to Google Translate. James prefers Google and I prefer Papago (developed by Naver). Both apps allow you to type or use voice and both allow you to take pictures to translate. I like that Papago has suggested phrases and let’s you save favorites. Tip: rotate the phone horizontally (in either app) to make the translation full screen with larger text.
If you’re interested in learning Korean, check out:
By far my favorite app I’ve used in my attempt to learn Korean. This app uses a game approach to memorizing categories like numbers, colors, animals, etc. You can switch between romanization and hangul and it’s super fun. I like to do a couple rounds before I go to bed.
I love the Talk to Me in Korean podcast, and have purchased several of their books, but I don’t love the app. I’ve also tried Duolingo and it’s not my favorite. Learn Korean! is another good one, especially for practice writing hangul.
Eggbun is another interactive app that makes learning fun. It’s setup like a text exchange between you and the eggbun chatbot character, Lanny. The lessons are meant to be quick and help aid in retention. (This app also offers Chinese and Japanese lessons.)
Again, not an app, but worth mentioning! We used Trazy to book discounted tickets for shows, museums, and activities like the Trick Eye Museum, COEX Aquarium, NANTA, Kidzania, etc. It’s basically like Groupon for Asia; savings were generally 15-45%! Some shows need to be booked 1-2 days in advance but most can be purchased on the way to the venue with instant download.