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- The two apps that Koreans use on a daily basis are Naver and Kakao Talk.
- While not offered in English, many expats in Korea have installed Baemin for food delivery and Coupang for online shopping.
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1. Emergency Ready App (English, Chinese)
Get real-time updates for calamities and health risks in South Korea with Emergency Ready. The app’s main feature, Disaster Alerts, provides information on COVID-19 cases, forest fire, earthquakes, extreme cases of fine dust, and the like. This is especially valuable to foreigners who have yet to get a long-term local SIM card but want to receive safety notifications.
Other features of this app in Korea include:
- Listings of nearby shelters, emergency medical centers, fire station, and police stations
- Safety guides and protocol in the event of a subway accident, forest fire, typhoon, alarming yellow dust, or air raids
- In-app voice connection to 119, Korea’s emergency hotline
Download the Emergency Ready App for free on iOS here and Android here. To limit alerts in your vicinity only, you can go to Setting > Set Receive Area > (Toggle) Set as your preferred location > Add area.
2. Papago (English, Japanese, Chinese)
Google Translate works just fine, but if you’re looking for an alternative that’s more common among locals, you can try Papago. It’s an English to Korean translator app from Naver, which is Korea’s largest search engine.
Some features of Papago include:
- Support for 13 languages, including Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese (Simplified/Traditional), Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Russian, German and Italian
- Offline translation
- Voice and visual translator
Papago is one of the best apps in Korea for translation. Download it for free on iOS here and Android here. Make sure to enable offline translation by going to the Menu > Offline translation > English-Korean & Korean-English.
Naver Map is a GPS and navigation app in Korea that provides rich route suggestions depending on your preferred mode of transportation. The recommendations are more localized compared to similar apps, so you’ll get more information as you plan your commute.
For bus searches, you’ll be shown the fare costs, real-time bus locations, and your ETA. Subway results will have a quick overview of the number of transfers you need to take, fare costs, train timetable per day, and exit information. The app also has a built-in subway map of Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, and Daejeon, so you won’t have to download a separate one.
What’s more is that Naver Map provides a detailed and visual guide for those who prefer to walk or ride the bike. When available, the directions are automatically accompanied by photos, which makes it easier for users to find their way to their destination.
4. WAUG (English, Japanese)
Locals use WAUG to save money whenever they eat out or take a weekend trip. The app can show nearby restaurants and pubs that have an English menu, as well as helpful customer reviews. WAUG also has thousands of activities that members book for a weekend trip, such as the COEX Aquarium in Seoul, Busan Tower, and this cheap Jeju Island bus tour,
In terms of payment methods, WAUG is also more flexible than most apps in South Korea. If you don’t have a credit or debit card from a local Korean bank yet, you can use your Visa, Mastercard, or AMEX card that’s issued from overseas.
5/6. Baemin & Yogiyo (Both in Korean)
Baemin and Yogiyo are the two most popular food delivery apps in South Korea. Between the two, Baemin has the larger market share, according to the Korea Franchise Association. However, this won’t really matter that much since it is expected to merge with Delivery Hero, the mother company of its rival Yogiyo. Either of the two can help expats get food delivered to their doorstep.
As of publish time, both Baemin and Yogiyo are currently only available in Korean. If you’re still learning the language, you can ask someone to teach you how to use Yogiyo or Baemin, or you can just watch the video below.
Please take note that a credit card and mobile number from South Korea may be required to make an order from Baemin or Yogiyo, as some foreigners mentioned in the apps’ download pages. Moreover, the restaurant or the delivery guy may give you a call for some clarifications, so don’t be surprised if your phone rings.
7/8. Coupang (Korean) & Gmarket Global (English)
For online shopping in Korea, the two main apps used by Koreans are Gmarket and Coupang. Gmarket was founded in 2000 and was acquired by eBay in 2009, while Coupang started out in 2010. The former is recommended for wholesale purchase, while the latter is reliable for faster delivery of various products.
Currently, Coupang is available only in Korean, but it has plans to add in English on their app, as noted on their Google Play page here. (Here’s Coupang’s page on the App Store.) Gmarket has a separate app for foreign users (or for Japanese, Chinese, and English-speaking consumers), which they call Gmarket Global. It’s available on iOS and Android.
9. Hana EZ (English, Chinese, Filipino)
If you’re just getting ready to fly in and are thinking about setting up a local bank account, you may want to consider Hana. This Korean bank prides in their financial tech that’s designed for expats, specifically for those who need to transfer money overseas regularly. One of their latest products is the Hana EZ app, which allows registered Hana clients to send money from South Korea to the US, Australia, Canada, Philippines, Indonesia, and others. The app supports several languages, including English, Chinese, Japanese, Nepali, Mongolian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, and Khmer.
Hana EZ’s app is available on iOS and Android, but you’ll first have to visit a Hana Bank branch and set up a bank account. If you’re not available to drop by during weekdays, you may want to visit Hana Bank’s designated Sunday branches, which specifically cater to foreigners. You can find the list here: Weekend Banking in Korea: Hana’s Sunday Branches for Foreigners
10. Kakao T (English, Japanese, Korean)
Kakao T (or the enhanced Kakao Taxi) is an app that lets users find and book a cab in Korea, just like Uber and Grab in other countries. It also allows those with vehicles to find nearby parking spots and hire a professional chauffeur in case the user is unable to drive. The app is very helpful on those times when hailing a cab is difficult, but just like with other online services in Korea, a local SIM card and a bank account may be required before usage.
11. Kakao Talk (English, Chinese, Spanish)
Kakao Talk is one of the two most used smartphone apps in South Korea. New foreigners will want to download the app as soon as possible to be able to reach out to classmates or coworkers. Just like other social messaging platforms (such as WhatsApp or Messenger), Kakao Talk has a feature called Channels, which allows users to connect to various brands and be informed of their promotions (most likely sent in Korean).
Finally, we have Naver, the most popular app in South Korea. The platform not only has the most preferred search engine in the country, but also has portals where you can get the latest on almost all facets of life, including entertainment, fashion, news, shopping, and what have you.
The app does not have an English version on iOS and Android, but you can easily translate Naver search results and content to English, Chinese, and Japanese with the help of Papago. To learn how to change Naver app’s language, watch the video below:
What other apps in South Korea do you recommend?
Let us know in the comments section below!
Author’s note: Except for the company asset, WAUG Travel Inc. and the author of this article do not endorse nor vouch for the apps listed on this guide.