Unexpected Cultural Surprises in Korea: Public Transportation (part 1)

We have previously discussed transportation methods near Hanyang University (click here for the article), and thus, it feels necessary to discuss the proper etiquette of using public transportation in Korea.

Before I start, please be reminded that there is no official set of laws that says that you must follow these rules. Do not worry; you will not be arrested or taken to Transportation Prison if you do not follow these rules. However, these are just unsaid etiquette that exists in public transportation in Korea that must be addressed for not-well-informed foreigners, like all of us on the exchange program here at Hanyang.


  1. Elderly, Pregnant Women, Disabled, and Mothers ONLY

There are sections on the subways and buses that are reserved for the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled, and mothers. On subways, these spots are usually 3 seats at the end of a subway car. Also, these seats are usually a different color from the others and have a sign like the following to indicate that the purpose of these seats.


On buses, these seats are much more difficult to differentiate; it is not as systematically organized as they are on the subways. A good rule of thumb is that the seats towards the front of the bus are usually reserved for this group; some buses have clear signs, some do not. If the bus is empty, it is normal for these seats to be taken by the norm. However, if one sees an elderly grandfather or grandmother get on the bus, it is polite to offer your seat to them. The same goes with mothers, pregnant women, or the disabled.

Yes, there are some Koreans who do not follow this polite courtesy; I have seen many young Korean lads and ladies who blatantly ignore this and sit. But no need to be “that foreigner” that gives all the rest of us bad names, right?


  1. Bus Buzzer

Now, this is not really etiquette, but more of an informative section. On public buses, you will be informed of what stop is next and what stop will come after. This way, you will be sure to not miss your bus stop when it comes.

However, these buses try to be as efficient as can be, and they will just skip a bus stop if they see no one waiting at the location. So, to indicate if you want to get off, there exists a wonderful little button, usually red, in which you can press to inform the bus driver that you will be getting off at the next stop. This way, the driver will know now to stop, so you can properly exit the bus to go on your way.

Also, don’t forget to scan your T-money card as you get off the bus. This will reduce the cost of your fare if you are transferring to another bus or to a subway.


Article by Wonmi from the U.S.A.

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