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!
For travel guides to South Korea, Check out our 2015 6D5N S. Korea Itinerary and Expenses here! and our 2016 7D6N Winter trip here!
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 🙂
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Some other places to try it for free:
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.
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.
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.
- South Korea DIY Trip: 6D 5N Itinerary and Expenses
- South Korea Winter Trip 7D 6N Itinerary and Expenses
- 12 Budget Tips from first timers in Seoul, Korea
- Top 10 Things to do in Seoul
- Hotel Maui DDM – New Hip Budget Hotel in Seoul
- Budget Hostel in Korea – Zaza Backpackers
- Top Seoul accommodations as recommended by travelers
- Hangang River Ferry Cruise / Yeouido Park
- Korean Folk Village; Tradition, Nature and Fun
- N Seoul Tower; A Thoughtful View of Korea
- Ewha Womans University / Sinchon / Hongdae
- Nami Island; Walking in Nature’s Art
- Petite France
- Haneul Park; From wasteland to Heaven on Earth
- Temple Hopping in Seoul; Jogyesa – Bongeunsa
- Trick Eye Museum and other quirky places
- DMZ Half Day Tour
- Meat-Ing Cheap BBQ Buffet Hongdae Korea
- Seoul Food Trip / Two Two Chicken
- Seoul Food Trip Part 2 – Winter Edition