Taxis in South Korea are much cheaper than at home. Drivers do not expect to be tipped, although if you have a lot of luggage they may appreciate it.
In general, taxi drivers do not speak English. However, all taxis are equipped with GPS. If you don’t know any Korean, we recommend that you write down the name of your destination (in Hangeul, if possible) and show it to the driver.
During work hours, you can also call Seoul Tourism at 1235 for free translation services.
TAXIES are plentiful and relatively inexpensive everywhere in Korea, especially in cities.
Korea has two major types of taxis: Ilban (aka grey taxis that may also be white or blue) and Mobeom (deluxe or black taxis – black with yellow detailing), although generally only larger cities have mobeom taxis. The deluxe taxi also have a line of van’s that are ideal for larger groups or to bring luggage to the airport.
In May 2009, Seoul introduced the orange and white Haechi brand taxi. A new orange fleet specifically for foreigners was launched then as well – the fare for the foreigner taxi is 20% higher than the grey or Haechi brand taxis if you call them. (However, if you hail them from the street, the fare is the same as ilban taxis). For more information on these ‘foreigner’ taxis, click here.
The most common way to get a taxi is to flag one on the street (stick out your hand, palm down and move your hand toward you.) Available taxis are identified by a red light just inside the passenger-side windshield or by the cap light on top. You can also go to a taxi stand (usually has a yellow canopy with TAXI written clearly near the top) or telephone for a call taxi. It’s best to flag a cab that is facing the direction in which you need to go (if you can figure it out)– if not, it could take up to 15 or 20 extra minutes for the driver to get around the block since left turns are often not allowed. Some drivers will refuse to take you if they are going in the opposite direction to the one you need.
An increasing number of taxi drivers speak English and certain taxis offer a free interpretation service for English, Japanese, and Chinese via mobile telephone. If your taxi does not have a ‘free interpretation’ sign or if you’re having trouble convincing the driver that you need interpretation, call 02-1330 (if you don’t have a cell phone ask the driver for his ‘handee’ phone.
Reaching your destination: Drivers know landmarks, but are not generally aware of the street address (should there be one). Although, an increasing number of them also have GPS, it may not locate your exact destinaiton. So, before leaving for your destination, if possible, get someone to give you the landmarks nearby (as many drivers don’t speak English, it’s also helpful to have the information written in Korean). Most drivers know hotels, but may not refer to them in the same way you do. For example, to get to the Westin Chosun Hotel, say Chosun Hotel and the Millennium Hilton, say Hilton – pronouncing the consonants clearly. With ‘new’ hotels, many drivers still go by the old names such as for example the Grand Hilton, which used to be the Swiss Grand.
Getting Help and/or Interpretation: If all else fails, you can try the free interpretation service available for taxies (the driver will call) or try 02-1330 (1330 from a landline) where an English-speaking person will help you communicate with the driver.
You can also carry a card from your hotel or have a business card made with a map to your home. Don’t let any of the above worry you, it’s usually easy to get around in taxies, but help is at hand if you run into problems. Fortunately, most taxi drivers will take pains to take you where you want to go, even stopping to ask people on the street for help if the destination is obscure. At some large hotels, the doorman will help hail a taxi. He may also give you the number of the taxi so that you can lodge a complaint if necessary.
Fares are shown on the meter and all taxies have meters. Metered fares are based on taxi type, distance traveled, and various surcharges for time of day or heavy traffic. Passengers are also responsible for any tolls incurred. In the countryside, you will often have to negotiate the price before you start, but within city limits the meter should always be used.
When you get into the vehicle, it is a good idea to make sure that the driver has cleared the meter after the previous passenger (should show 0, then 2400 – the base fare. You may also want to make sure the meter is on and doesn’t continue to register ‘0’.
Regular taxi fares begin at W2400 and increase by increments of W100 according to time/distance (every 144 meters), while deluxe taxies begin at W4500 and increase by W200. Airport tolls may be passed on to the passenger – over and above the meter charge. It is also possible now to negotatiate a flat rate from the airport.
Fares go up 20% at midnight until 4:00 a.m.
Refusing Passengers is not uncommon. Some drivers will refuse a fare if the person is going only a short distance – they would rather keep driving around fare-less for some unfathomable reason. You may also be refused because your destination is too far away or in the wrong direction if the driver is going off shift soon or wanting to take a meal break at a certain hour. Moreover, because of the fear of language problems, drivers will sometimes drive past foreigners trying to hail them. That said, the majority of taxi drivers are pleasant and helpful.
Taxi sharing (hapseung) still occurs on occasion, although it is not legal. Hapseung means that your driver may stop for additional passengers who are headed your way. Fares are not shared and each party pay his/her own so they check the metered fare when entering, deduct this amount when getting out and add the minimum charge. Drivers rarely do this when carrying foreign passengers, but should it happen, you can tell him not to pick up more passengers.
Entering the taxi is generally done from the passenger’s side, even if you’re going into the back seat. The back door on the driver’s side is still often locked. Taxis can take up to 3 adults. You can choose to sit in the front seat or in the back. If you are in front, you are required to wear a seat belt. There is no seat belt requirement if you’re seated in the back.
Tipping is neither customary, nor expected, although a ten percent tip might be appropriate for special services. Drivers will sometimes insist on giving you the exact change, even when you try to tip him/her.
Payment is usually in cash. However, as of early 2007, Seoul riders can pay with a credit card or with their T-Money card in some cabs. Eventually, all taxies will take T-money payments.
Receipts are available from all taxis now. They are connected to the meter and therefore show the exact fare and mileage. The print out can be quite small. If the driver does not understand receipt, you can say it in Korean: yong-su-jung choo-say-yo.
ALWAYS GET A RECEIPT In case you have left something in the cab, you can immediately contact the driver. The receipts all have a contact phone number for the driver, usually a cell phone number, although a few show only a landline number. Your receipt can also help you identify the driver should there have been a problem and you were unable to get the driver’s ID before exiting the cab.
Some companies also set up billing accounts with Call Taxies. You just call (or have a Korean speaker do so) and give the company ID number. Your ride will be added to the company’s bill.