12 Budget Tips from first timers in Seoul Korea

12 Budget Tips from first timers in Seoul Korea

Travelling to Korea for the first time last year was a dream come true for me and my wife. It was an experience that we will never forget. So good that we already booked our next flight to Korea December this year to experience Snow!

Many of us think that we need loads of money to travel in Korea. That is not entirely true because you can travel Korea on a budget. On our 2015 trip, we spent a total of P22649.82 including airfare, and accommodation (but excluding shopping and souvenirs) per pax for 6 days. On our second trip to Korea (winter of 2016), we only spent P23116.42 all-in including the usual like airfare, accommodation plus skiiing, DMZ tour and Trick Eye museum. For me, this figure is just ok. It’s not that high, but not that low either. This figure can definitely be lowered by following the tips I listed below. Just note that some of the items listed below are things we have done and would have done if given the chance again just to lower our expenses.

Read on for the tips!

If you don’t have a S. Korean VISA yet, check our guide here!

For travel guides to South Korea, Check out our 2015 6D5N S. Korea Itinerary and Expenses here! and our 2016 7D6N Winter trip here!

Looking for budget friendly accommodations in Korea? Check out my review of Zaza Backpackers Hostel here and Hotel Maui here! For more recommendations, check this post or search for hotels here.

1. Airfare

Based on my observation these past few months, the airline that offers the cheapest rate from Manila to Incheon is Air Asia especially during promos. On our trip last September, we got round trip tickets at 7203 all-in (base fare at 5638 plus seat reservation fee, processing fee, baggage allowance) per pax. But on our future second trip, I booked a round trip flight at 5560 all-in (base fare 4340) cheaper than our first flight. However, they don’t have direct flights to Busan. So if Busan is part of your Itinerary, then you can try Cebu Pacific if they have promos. In any case, you can just go by train from Seoul to Busan 🙂

Air Asia flight to Incheon

Aboard the Air Asia flight to Incheon


2. Accommodations

No need to book a posh Hotel in Korea unless you really want to. But for budget travelers like us, a Hostel is fine (read our review of Zaza Backpacker’s Hostel here and our review of Hotel Maui here). We initially planned to book in Airbnb (a much cheaper alternative) but since it was the height of the Mers-cov disease in Korea, we opted not to (better safe than sorry). Of course, there are other options like couch surfing, house-sitting, staying in relatives (if you have one in the host country) or staying at Hostel dorms (Check out Kimchee Guesthouse. You can stay in a dorm room for as low as 10k won a night) but it all depends on your comfort level. For us, we wanted a little bit of privacy so we booked a private room with own toilet and bath.

TIP: You would need a multi-voltage travel adapter in Korea as their outlet has two round holes. Instead of buying one, you can just borrow one from your hotel/hostel. More details here.

Zaza Backpackers Hostel

Zaza Backpackers Hostel sign


For a list of top recommended accommodations in Seoul by travelers, check this post or search and compare prices here for more hotels/hostels in Hotels combined.

3. Get discount coupons

Before your flight to Korea, make sure that you’ve printed some of the promotions and discount coupons they offer to foreign nationals. Below are some of the links where you can print out these coupons. On our last trip we used discount coupons on entrance fees to Korean Folk Village and Petite France. We also didn’t pay any rental fee on the pocket wifi. Here are some of the links. Enjoy!

http://www.vkc.or.kr/en/benefit/coupon.asp

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/IngEventMain.kto?func_name=couponList&lang_se=ENG&md=enu

http://www.visitkorea.com.my/node/events-promotions/promotions

TIP: In Myeongdong, there are lots of stores that gives you freebies by just entering their establishment! So even if you are just window shopping, you can take a basket with a freebie in it.

4. Get T-Money or Seoul City Pass Plus

The T-Money is a transportation card used to pay for fares in subways, taxis, buses and even at convenience stores. When using T-money, the public transportation fare is 100 won cheaper than when paying in cash. The card costs 4000 won but you can refund the remaining balance for a fee of 500 won.

If you’re going to take the Seoul City Tour bus to go Palace Hopping and Lotte World, then you must get the Seoul City Pass Plus card to avail some discounts. Its use is similar to the T-Money card, but offers discounts on some select attractions in Seoul. The card costs 3000 won.

More info between the two cards and others here:

http://www.travelwithhobbit.com/2015/03/seoul-citypass-plus-seoul-citypass-and.html

TIP: In Seoul, you usually don’t need a taxi. All places are accessible by train and bus but be prepared to walk a little bit. Wear comfortable shoes.

More TIP: If going to/from Incheon airport to downtown Seoul and you’re taking the Airport Railroad Express, a good option for budget travellers (and not in a bit of a hurry) is to take the all-stop train. The all stop train only cost 4250 won while the express train cost 14800 won. The time difference is not that much also as the all stop train travels at 56 minutes while the express is 43 minutes.

5. Sharing is caring

If you’re travelling with someone, especially someone close to you and you’re in a really tight budget, then consider sharing food between yourselves. Some dishes in Korea are good for two. Just check that some restaurants/eateries in Korea don’t allow food sharing but most of them allow this.

For budget conscious travelers, it’s also a good idea to bring some food with you in Korea like breads or canned goods. But of course, don’t bring a lot as you have to enjoy their food too.

Also check if your hostel has free breakfast even if it’s just bread or coffee. You can ask them if you can take some with you outside especially if you are touring early in the morning and have no time to eat in the hostel.

Nami Island Cold Buckwheat Noodles

Cold Buckwheat Noodles for 6000 KRW

6. Food is cheaper in non-touristy areas

Myeongdong is a tourist hub so prices of food there cost higher than other areas. If budget is a concern, walk a little bit away from the tourist spots and check if there are small eateries or street food there where locals eat. We found that university areas like Hongdae is cheaper and areas where there are less tourist spots like Dongmyo. We ate a big bowl of noodles (good for 2-3 persons) for just 3500 won and 5 pcs steamed dumplings for just 2500 won in Dongmyo area.

You can check our Seoul Food Trip here.

Our review of Meat-ing BBQ Buffet restaurant in Hongdae here.

7. Palace hopping

If you will be going Palace hopping i.e. going to Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung (including Huwon Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Jongmyo then it’s better to get the Integrated pass that costs 10000 won as opposed to buying the tickets individually which will cost you a total of 14000 won.

We didn’t avail this since we only went to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Click here for more details regarding the Integrated Pass.

Hwangwonjeong Pavilion

Hwangwonjeong Pavilion

Also read, Top 10 Things to do in Seoul.

8. Go Museum Hopping or anywhere Free

There are several museums in Korea that not only are awesome but have free admission like the National Museum of Korea and War Memorial of Korea. Trust me, it’s enlightening.

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin's Turtle Ship

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin’s Turtle Ship

Other than museums, you can also go to places where it’s awesome and definitely free! For example, on our last trip to Korea, we went to Haneul Park, Bongeunsa/Jogyesa temple, Bukchon Hanok Village and Dongmyo Park. All Free of entrance!

Haneul Park

Haneul Park

9. Try the Hanbok dress for free!

There are spots in Seoul where you can fit Korea’s traditional costume for free. In our case, we tried it in the vicinity of Gwanghwamun square.

Hanbok Fitting Experience

Hanbok Fitting Experience at Gwanghwamun Square

Some other places to try it for free:

Palaces

Seoul Global Cultural Center

10. Tips on shopping

You can find cheap clothes at Dongdaemun and Namdaemun market. We scored some tees there for 2000 won only. Women’s accessories and fashionable clothes at Ewha and Sinchon area. There are also cheap accessories and cosmetics in Myeongdong and in subways.

Sinchon Shopping

Shop shop shop… while me, I look look look for a chair.

For electronics, you can try Yongsan Electronics Market though we didn’t go there.

Lotte Mart is great for buying grocery items and food souvenirs. Lots of buy 1 get 1 chocolates 😀

Update: Dongmyo market is a must for budget conscious shoppers. There’s a flea market and some shops that sells brand new items as well. For example, we bought a pair of brand new Winter shoes for just 20k won or PHP850, gloves for 1k won and a winter jacket for 7k won.

Winter shoes

Our winter shoes. It kept our feet warm.

TIP: if you’re a guy like me and you are with your wife or girlfriend, always look for a chair or a coffee shop. Yes, shopping may take a while… hang in there my friend.

11. The map is your best friend.

It’s a pain in the ass to get lost much more so to your wallets. So it’s always better if you bring a map with you or download an offline map (like ‘Subway Korea’) or just get connected to an online navigator app.


12. Buy some KRW here in the Philippines.

It’s better to be prepared. BDO has some good PHP-KRW rates but I think you have to be an account holder and exchange it in your branch of account (that’s what they told us and that’s what we did). But don’t change your entire travel fund to KRW, buy some USD too.

Update: Forget buying USD. PHP is so weak these times against the dollar, so just bring KRW or PHP. If you need to exchange your PHP to KRW or vice versa in Korea, you can check out KEB bank or I think any banks there. Just check if they change it. We also saw money changers in Myeongdong that changes PHP to KRW.

That’s it! Hope this helps you in any way. You can also ask in the comments section if you have any questions and I will try to answer it.

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He is a programmer by profession but has a soul of a traveler. Aside from his ultimate dream of travelling around the world, he loves to eat, drink, listen to music, talk about aliens and the occasional secret guilty pleasure of singing love songs in videoke. His favorite superpower is to teleport from one place to another. I guess you know why.

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  • Kathrine Abanilla

    “We also didn’t pay any rental fee on the pocket wifi”. Can I ask how you managed free rental on the wifi? Btw, this post is very helpful!

  • Allen Carpio

    Hello! We are planning to go in korea in December, about the free pocket wifi,
    do I just need to print the voucher then present it there? Or do I have to reserve the device first? Thank you!

    • Hi Allen,

      Thanks for visiting!

      Just print it and present the voucher there. No need to reserve.

      HTH

  • Hi Joyce,

    Thanks for visiting!

    As far as I recall, they required me to pay through my credit card. I’m just not sure with other wifi rentals.

    Yes, I think they are paid separately. Plus if you’ll be taking the bus from ICN to Myeongdong, that is 10k KRW. That’s already almost half of the 25k T-Money, so I would just suggest to pay in cash if ever.

    Very safe and so many helpful locals. Enjoy!

  • Charlotte Tabing

    Hi. My officemates and I are planning to fly to Seoul September next year (2017). I just want to ask when you booked your second flight, the one worth 5560 all in. I’ve been waiting for Air Asia to have that kind of seat sale again for us to score cheaper plane tickets. Thank you!!

    • Hi Charlotte,

      Thanks for visiting!

      I booked it November, 2015 😀

      • Charlotte Tabing

        Do you know if I can book without passport details? Or is it required? My officemates are scheduled to get their passport on November and December this year. Hehe

        • Hi,

          I actually can’t remember. I don’t think it’s required. Can you try mock booking it?

  • Haha ok! Yup, that’s right. It’ll just get cancelled.

  • flaky

    Hi! I came across your blog because Ive been searching on applications and tips for Korean Visa. Ive read every single comment however I felt a strong need to ask you personally on what your thoughts are regarding my situation. So my mom and I are planning on visiting Korea on June next year and we’re ready to book plane tickets (we luckily found a promo) but the problem is we’re torn if we should book first or apply for a visa. The problem is, it takes 6 months before you could reapply and its so hard to book a flight without reassurance of getting approved. Also, it’s gonna be my first time to travel out of the country if ever but based on what I’ve read it doesnt seem to matter a lot to them whether youve travelled a lot or not but it would still be a plus, i guess? So Im thinking if we should actually apply for a visa now to see if we’re qualified. Since its only valid for 90 days, we will just apply for another one when June is near. Do you think that sounds good? Also, do you know if they will grant another visa to those who were granted before but wasnt able to use their visas? Or were there like instances that they were granted before and then denied the second time they applied? Hope you could reply to this asap. Thanks!

    • Hi flaky,

      Sorry for the late response.

      I would suggest to go ahead book those plane tickets especially if they’re really cheap. That way, when you’re denied of a visa (which I hope not), it wouldn’t hurt that much. I really wouldn’t suggest to apply a visa just for testing if you’ll get approved. If it is for you, then it is for you… I suggest that you focus on the requirements and be positive. 🙂

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  • Len

    Hi! Im planning to get a visa this coming Dec so that I can visit my husband who is an OFW in Korea. Ask ko lng doon sa part na husband kung isusulat ko yung address & no nya sa Korea? Nagdadalawang isip kc ako. But Im currently employed and can provide all the documents needed. Thanks

    • Hi Len,

      Thanks for visiting!

      Hmm… maybe you can just put his residential address and contact number here in the Philippines. Kasi kung yun sa address niya sa Korea eh work/business address na niya yun… tama ba?

      • Len

        Thanks alot. Dami ko nakuhang tips dto. Wish me luck sa Dec sana the consul will grant me visa. God bless…

  • ilovej_isung

    hi!i came across your blog and i need a lot of help..my officemate and i plans to visit korea around oct to nov 2017.this will be our first trip abroad and we dont have any idea what to do first. can u give us tips for this?like, passport frst or ticket?tips on how to be approved getting visa?tnx!

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  • rizz

    Hi? I want to work in korea. but its quite difficult I think ? Do i need visa going in korea? if its ok if I pass my cv if Im holding a tourist visa only?

    • Hi Rizz,

      Sorry, I can’t help you with anything regarding with employment in Korea. I have no idea about that.

      Thanks!

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  • Jenna

    Hi! We’re visiting in Seoul on Feb 2017. I’ve completed our itinerary so we can budget our pocket money. Any tips on how much per day is safe to allot for food? Thanks!

  • FrustratedWanderlust

    Hi, thank you for sharing your blog, this may help as a guide for us real soon. Somehow, I am just a little bit confuse of the korean won thing, on how much we will be needing for staying atleast 5 days in Korea and how we will spend it. I really dont know if 10k php (inclusive of hostel,souvenir,transpo and food as much as possible, is it possible?) will do for 5 days for I dont really want to starve ourselves when we get there. Lol. Will you give us an idea on how much of food will cost us to not starve ourselves in cheapest way as possible. Were still in college so we dont have enough money to sustain our stay, so we really need to budget our money. Hehehe. Thank you ao much, looking forward for your response. Sorry for making a fuss about it.

    • FrustratedWanderlust

      Oh! Like for example, how to spend korean won wisely, is food 3000 KRW advisable to spend in one meal? And, how much USD to bring, where to use it? Those kind of matter. Sorry for asking too much, please understand because it is our first time to travel outside the country. Btw, i am with just one friend.

      • Hi FrustratedWanderlust,

        Thanks for visiting!

        That’s ok, I like it when people ask me questions! Ok, let me try to answer your questions one by one:

        1) Is 10k PHP enough for 5 days? – Is this just pocket money? If yes, yes that’s doable.
        2) Food cost – A dish usually cost 3k to 7k won. For example, in Dongmyo, we ate at a restaurant where an order of hot chopped noodle soup is just 3500 that’s good for 2-3 persons! Usually food at non-touristy areas are cheaper. Don’t worry, you won’t starve with that budget. They also serve the usual Korean side dishes like Kimchi when you order.
        3) Forget USD. I’ve updated this blog and mentioned not to buy USD anymore. The Peso is so weak against the dollar so it is much advisable to bring PHP or KRW instead. Re-read item 12 of this blog.

        Here is our blog for our latest trip to Korea, maybe you can check the expenses summary and get some idea.

        http://www.thetraveldebugger.com/2016/12/23/south-korea-winter-trip-7d-6n-itinerary-and-expenses

        If you have more questions, feel free to message us in FB:
        http://www.facebook.com/thetraveldebugger

        HTH

        • FrustratedWanderlust

          Thanks, I will read your blog on ur latest trip.

          Uh, yes that will only be my pocket money if ever that is why I kept on thinking if it will be enough and I am now enlightened lol. And btw, am I still able to buy souvenirs if ever? And oh, I am planning on buying clothes there because I think its cheaper than here in terms of their styling, those jackets thing and whatsoever. Do you have any idea on how much would they cost? So that I can save more for my pocket money. Hehehe.

          • Hi there,

            I think 10k wouldn’t be enough if you’ll include shopping expenses and that depends what you’re shopping for. If you want jackets, you can check out Dongdaemun and Dongmyo market. I bought a jacket there for 7k Won.

            To be sure, I’d allot 3k to 5k pesos for shopping. Again, depends what you want to buy.

  • Anthony

    Can you tell me a specific BDO branch where we can exchange our peso? My mother is an account holder but her branch of account doesn’t have korean money. Please help us.

    • Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for visiting!

      We exchanged ours at BDO SM Taytay (my wife’s branch of account). I suppose most of the BDO Branches in Manila should have Korean won.

      HTH.

  • Thank you and goodluck on your trip. 🙂

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  • Pasio Lee

    Wow~ Fantastic!!:) It’s really so helpful. When I traveled to Seoul, Korea, I played with Korean local friends who are sooooo kind and really soooooo funny. I want to share the website tourmatekorea.kr ! Enjoy your Trip!:)

  • ffffei

    hello. i’m happy i found your blog. i’m planning to go to korea this year but i’m a bit hesitant. i haven’t found someone who’s willing to go with me. any tips for those who would go for a solo trip?? and is it true some koreans gets aggressive to some foreigners (esp. females)?? what about communication, do u know how to speak korean or english will do just fine?? also i’m glad that your budget here is much much cheaper than what i’m planning to save, yay! this is really helpful. thanks.

    • Hi fei,

      South Korea is safe and very much tourist friendly so don’t worry about it.
      I don’t know about that, but they will normally bump you when you’re in their way. But don’t be mad about that, that’s just the way they are.
      If you only know annyeong and kamsahamnida, then you’re fine. 🙂

      Thanks!

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  • Dawn Adlawan

    Hi! We are planning to go to Korea too, I read something about wifi rental, but you mention about not paying rent for the wifi pano po yun? what did you do? how didi you do it po? did you have to buy sim card? is it expensive? because everytime we go to HK we always buy sim card, and when we went to SG we bought sim card too. but I am interested with the wifi rental so I don’t need to take out my sim anymore. thank you.

  • Diane Ponte

    Hi!! I just want to ask you regarding on how to book cheap flights. i missed the piso fare thats why im losing a chance to go to korea but i just wanna know how many months did you guys booked before your said travel dates. Is it still possible for me to get a cheap flight for a peak season in korea :((

    • Hi Diane,

      Thanks for visiting!

      On our two trips to Korea, we booked months ahead and everytime there was a seat sale in Air Asia. But recently, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia are offering seat sales to Seoul/Busan even when travel dates are 2-3 months from booking date. So it’s a matter of timing too…

      • Diane Ponte

        Thank you so much!! Hopefully i can get a cheap flight 🙁 Send me some luck, thank you po!! <3 God bless!!

  • Sherry

    Hi ulit kuya, DIY po ba pagpunta niyo sa petite and nami? Or ngavail kayo ng package tour? Which is better kaya yung DIY or e avail na lang services ng tour guides? ☺ plan po kasi namin Nami island, petite france and garden of the morning calm in 1 day lang.

    • Hi Sherry,

      DIY lang kami lahat. Ok lang DIY niyo na lang para flexible dn time niyo.

  • Ellaine

    Hello po. My friend and I are planning to go to Korea early next year but I’m quit hesitant whether my visa will be granted or no. Kung sakali po na yung employment contract and bank statement lang yung ipapakita ko, malaki po ba possibility na mabigyan ako ng visa? Currently, I’m working in Malaysia.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Ellaine,

      Thanks for visiting!

      Are the requirements for a VISA the same sa embassy ng Korea dyan sa Malaysia? i.e. do you need to show ITR and bank certificate? If you have a bank statement for sure you can get a bank certificate. For the ITR, you can write a letter stating that you can’t show an ITR because you’re currently working abroad. Maybe you can show your tax returns in Malaysia. hth

  • You won’t get lost as long as magamay mo na yun subway…

    Re Jeju It’s ok if you have the time and money 🙂

    • Medz

      Do you think cherry blossoms are still in bloom this May 12? :/

      Thanks

  • Crisel

    Hi Medz. When are you going to Korea? would love to meet you there! 🙂

  • Crisel

    message me at my email: criselalcabasa@gmail.com