Must Have Smartphone Apps for Living in Korea

[Note: This post was published previously. This reposting contains updates and corrections.]
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If you live in Korea or are visiting Korea and you’re lucky enough to have a smartphone with you, there are several apps that can make your life much easier. Here are some must have apps that will improve your stay in Korea.

Note: All apps are free and can be found in the USA iTunes store or Android Market (links below).

Messaging Apps – KakaoTalk Messenger

If you live in Korea, you already know how important this app is to daily life. Everyone and everyone has this app in Korea, and it’s the go-to messaging service for any smartphone user in Korea. Why use up your monthly texting quota when this will do it for free as long as you have an internet connection? This will be especially useful for if you’re traveling to Korea and relying on wifi. If you don’t want to use your money on crazy expensive roaming charges, use this to get in contact with your pals over wifi. (Find Seoul’s 10,000 free outdoor wifi spots here.)

Tip1: You can check if someone read your message or not. A number next to your message means it has not been read; if that number disappears (nothing there), it means the message has been read.
Tip2: Group chat is also available.
Tip3: “Befriend” companies on Kakaotalk and get deals and coupons.

iPhone: Download KakaoTalk
Android: Download KakaoTalk

Free International Calling Apps – OTO/ACE

Calling that boy you met on your trip to Europe is making a huge dent in your phone bill. If you got a smartphone in Korea, this app will allow you to call international from Korea at domestic rates. It calls a domestic number but connects you to your mom in South Africa, your boyfriend in England, or your sister in Sweden, all for the same rate as if you were calling your buddy across the street. The quality of the calls are a bit muddy, connectivity is not 100%, and you’ll use your cellphone minutes, but you can’t beat trading your unused minutes for flirty international calls from Korea!

Tip1: Download both and use the other when you can’t connect on one of them.
Tip2: Only useful for those with a phone plan in Korea. If you’re bringing your phone from home and don’t have it connected to the carriers here in Korea, these apps won’t work as intended.

iPhone: Download OTO | Download ACE
Android: Download OTO | Download ACE

Transportation Apps – Seoul Bus/Jihachul 

Your date tells you “Let’s meet at 군자역 (Gunja station).” Where the heck is that? Use these apps to find out! These two smartphone apps have it all for Korea’s public transportation users. Perfectly time when you’re going to leave your house by checking the subway schedule or seeing how many minutes away the next bus is. See the shortest route between any two subway stations, or check if a bus nearby stops by your officetel. Transportation in Korea can be overwhelming, even for those who’ve lived here for a very long time. So travel like the majority of Koreans, and use these public transportation apps.

Tip1: English version available for both apps, Jihachul and Seoul Bus, but bus stops are written in Korean only.

iPhone: Download Jihachul | Download Seoul Bus
Android: Download Jihachul | Download Seoul Bus

Food Apps – Wingspoon

You’ve meet your friend in an unfamiliar part of town, and after an initial “how’ve you been,” neither of you have any idea where to go eat!  It’s always a tough decision, especially if you’re a foreigner in Korea. Instead of just going in blind to any restaurant and hoping they’ll have what you want, download this app and browse Naver’s database by city, area or even type of food for meals that’ll pique your interest. If you’re craving galbi in Gangnam, search! Or see what’s close by using the GPS feature. Best thing is the reviews that come with every restaurant, which will tell you what everyone else thinks about the restaurant.

Tip1: Only comes in Korean. But a rudimentary ability to read Korean (location names) should suffice. Pictures and starred reviews can make decisions for you (looks good, 4.5 stars, I’m in!).

iPhone: Download Wingspoon
Android: Download Wingspoon

Map Apps – Daum/Naver Maps

Google Korea does have a presence in Korea, but the majority of the Korean internet users go to Naver or Daum as their default search engines. So it only makes sense that their mapping applications are more established than the smartphone’s default Google maps. It’s good to have all three, Google Maps, Naver Maps and Daum Maps. Search Google Maps for that dalkgalbi restaurant in Hongdae and get a blank. Try the same search in Daum Maps, and you might just be able to fine it.

Tip1: Searches in Daum and Naver are more likely to hit if searched in Korean.
Tip2: A hit in Naver may not show up in Daum and vice versa – Try searching all three before calling your Korean friend.

iPhone: Download Daum Maps | Download Naver Maps
Android: Download Daum Maps | Download Naver Maps

Movie Apps – CGV/Megabox/Lotte

So you’re finally going on a date with that girl you’ve been wanting to ask out at the hagwon you work at. Impress her with your smooth-ticket-buying skillz (ok maybe not so impressive, but definitely smooth!). These three apps by the biggest theaters in Korea allow you to browse currently playing movies (Korean movies or non-Korean movies), nearby theaters, and reviews. You can reserve the ticket and the exact seats you want to sit in. These apps are only offered in Korean.

iPhone: Download CGV | Download Megabox | Download Lotte (requires iTunes Korea account)
Android: Download CGV | Download Megabox | Download Lotte

Got your own list of apps you can’t live without in Korea? Share them in the comments!

About Keith

Keith Kim is a Korean-American living in Seoul, Korea. He likes espresso shots, photography art and he loves his Playstation 3. He started seoulistic.com as a hobby site, and is now in the process of turning it into a full-time business. Wish him luck! Check out his blog for an uncensored view on entrepreneurship, dating and life in Korea.Personal Blog: gyopokeith.com Facebook: facebook.com/gyopokeithkim Twitter: @gyopokeith Youtube: "Gyopokeithe-mail me anytime at: gyopokeith [at] gmail.com

41 comments

  1. a

    iptime has a VERY common default password. It’s “password12345″. It works on at least 50% of the locked iptime routers you see around, if not more than 50%.

  2. Love these kiosks. Great post!

    Do you think you could do a post on how to get a smart phone cell phone plan (for foreigners)? The last time I was there, you could get a rental phone at the airport as you landed. But I’m looking for a one or two year plan with a nice phone. Any suggestions? Can I bring over from America an iPhone or similar phone to be activated there in Korea?

    • hannah

      If I am bringing my Iphone over to Korea, would I have to unlock in the states or can I do that there?

      • Chris Yu Rhee

        As far as I know, you can’t activate an American iPhone here.

      • Sognatrice

        States.

    • Rob

      There are options for a one or two year plan but not everyone can get this plan. For example if your military and traveling on official orders you may get a cellphone with a one or two year plan. I came to Korea with a unlocked iPhone 5 and they will attempt to activate your phone with there service but there is no guarantee it will work. Most Korean phone companies won’t even activate just a SIM card for you because they lose money by not selling you a phone with your plan. But overall the plans are cheaper than most plans in the United States and they have update phones.

  3. Great post!

  4. Great post! wow

  5. Edric Ting

    Awesome info. I’m going to try this this week when I’m in Korea. Thanks loads!!!

  6. Rodney

    Matthew Check out this site http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost.php?p=13051666&postcount=106 I have a Pre paid Iphone 4 from the states (at&t) unlocked … Im here for a short time.. This link will show how to do it.. Good luck…

    • Nicole

      How about for phones from Malaysia? Is it the same?

  7. Edwin

    Excellent. BTW, Daum Maps shows that information too.

  8. Rick

    Matthew,

    LG will do a contract on a smart phone/plan (1 or 2 year) for foreigners with no problem if you have an ARC. Last time I checked, you only had to have 1 month left on your ARC for them to do it….

  9. Joel Seah

    I use metroid (android) for the subways. I find it really good cause it comes in korean and english. It has a search function to look for the best, shortest or the least transfer path. It even tells you your ETA and which door to take so that you transfer to the next line quickly.

  10. linda

    Are any of these must have apps in English? Will not do good if I cant read the app..

  11. Alwin

    I’ve tried buying movie tickets online or via mobile and pay via a korean credit card but they all require you to enter the Korean ID Number. Used my ARC number but it did not work.

    • Alwin, try paying with your phone number. It will be charged to your bill

  12. Digitalsoju

    Great list including a few I didn’t even know about. One warning though: take the reviews on Wingspoon with a grain of salt, I think the system has been corrupted with companies having people deliberately overrating their restaurants. The worst gobchang I’ve had in Seoul was a 5 star on wingspoon.

  13. Seoul Bus and Jihachul have always been one of my favs. I take the express bus frequently to Seoul, so timing my walk to the bus stop is important if I don’t wanna wait long. Never knew about the movie apps though, so I will try those out.

  14. Otto Silver

    @Matthew

    You can get smart phone plans in Korea as long as you have a credit card and more than 6 months left on your visa. I’m not 100% on the credit card though. For KT you can go to their Plaza at Gwanghwamun. They have English speaking staff there to assist Waygooks like us. Problem is, in their infinate wisdom they have decided that we all only work on Saturdays and not during the week, so you will not find an English speaker there to help you over weekends.

    If you dont want to go there, then you should be able to go pretty much anywhere. If there is no one to help you in English, then a Korean friend should be able to help you out.

    Bringing in phones from other countries is not all that practical. It costs you almost as much to register your phone on the network as it will cost to buy a new one here. It might have changed. Things change so often.

    • Jennifer

      I will be arriving in Korea to teach within a month or so. I’m planning on getting a smart phone and plan, but I do not have a credit card, will this be a problem?

  15. Jane

    Hi. If you’re looking for a short term plan like me.. I have an iPhone I brought from Cali.. I pretty much live off wifi at my parents home, restaurants, and im not sure how, but i seem to pick up free wifi on the bus and most places i go.. i use kakao talk for phone calls and from what I’m told, you can buy a 24 hour access wifi code from most convenience stores. I been here a month and so far, everything worked out perfectly.

  16. Really useful apps for Korean in the list. But I would like see “Metro Soul Korea” in this list. Because its the best subway app in the Korea.

  17. Steve

    Everything’s in Korean, as usual. What’s the point of downloading them?

    • Aira

      Why are you coming to South Korea if you can’t speak or read any Korean?

      • Alexa

        So true!

        • Alexa

          I have started learning Korean so it would be good for me so I’m fine with it

  18. Maps of Korea in English.
    Jidohero.blogspot.com

  19. Joel

    And for those living outside of Seoul, the Korail app is super useful.

    Olleh Weather (올레 날씨) is nice, too.
    Converter+ for weight, height, temp., etc.
    The Naver app is mostly useless for foreigners, but it can also listen to any song and tell you the name. More accurate than Soundhound, esp. For Korean tunes.
    Lastly, 영어사전 (“빠른 영어 사전”) will automatically paste any word from the clipboard into the input field, allowing anyone with a cellular connection to have a fast English/Korean dictionary, but it’s useless without a connection.

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  21. Cam

    Just letting you know that Naver closed down Wingspoon, so the app doesn’t work anymore.

  22. Bea

    wingspoon isnt available anymore for android~