Count the Cost: Budget Tips for Your South Korea Trip
Tip #1: Get this 5-Day pass if you’d like to visit N Seoul Tower Observatory, Han River, Dongdaemun, and more!
The ideal and recommended daily budget for those traveling to Korea is ₱5,000 or $100.
However, through careful planning and discipline, you can easily minimize your expenses.
To get discounts on subway, bus, and cab fares, purchase a T-Money card here.
You may also consider getting a Discover Seoul Pass if you’re looking to visit attractions in and around Seoul. By buying just one card, you’ll get automatic admission to over thirty (30) tourist spots.
If you’ll want to explore other cities like Busan, Daegu, and Daejeon, you’ll also get more savings if you buy and use the Korail Pass. This pass gives you unlimited rides to over 600 stations in Korea. Other recommended travel essentials are also listed below.
If you're looking to get a ₱1,600 discount (around $30) on your first Airbnb booking, you can sign up here using my referral link. Of course, only new users will be eligible for this!
South Korea Travel Budget Guide
While the cost of living in South Korea is reportedly on the high side, travelers can still find flexible options to suit their budget and lifestyle. Thanks to the sharing economy (say Airbnb for cheaper apartments!) and the boom of tourism in the country, we now have more affordable options for transportation, food, leisure, and accommodations in Korea. Hence, one can get rid of the notion that traveling in South Korea for leisure requires lots of money.
For starters, we can consider how an average traveler spends per day (figures are rounded up):
Accommodation in Korea (Hostel or Cheap Hotel): ₩30,000 (around ₱1,500 or $27)
Transportation (City and Inter-city): ₩10,000 (around ₱500 or $ 9)
Meals + Coffee: ₩30,000 (around ₱1,500 or $27)
Miscellaneous (Admission tickets, Alcohol, Snacks, Grocery Items): ₩30,000 (around ₱1,500 or $27)
As we can see, one then needs at least ₩100,000 (around ₱5,000 or $100) to get by in a day. This is exactly why most travelers who have been to Korea would recommend having this figure for one's daily budget. (Of course, this excludes shopping money as well as airfare costs.)
How to Travel South Korea on a Budget
But do I really need this much money, you ask? Not exactly. If you'd like to visit Korea on a light budget, there are tons of ways to trim down your expenses and stretch your budget:
1. Find the cheaper accommodations in Korea.
To help you search for the best (budget) accommodations in Korea, you can use this handy map of hotels and hostels in Seoul with price display:
Try searching for accommodations that are not in touristy places such as Gangnam and Itaewon. Hostels and university dorms outside these areas usually offer the cheapest rates, which can go as low as ₱400-700 per night (around $7-13) in Airbnb. Just note that if you're looking to explore the bustling areas of Seoul, you'll most likely spend more time commuting to and fro.
If you prefer to be in the center of all action, such as famous shopping districts and night markets, you will find cheap capsule hotels and hostels in Myeongdong or Mapo-gu that can offer ₱650-1,100 per night, give or take.
When I stayed in Seoul, I booked Namsan Guesthouse through Airbnb. Their nightly rate was only around $17 per night (₱890), which is definitely not bad for the amenities and convenience they offer. Since this was my first booking via the Airbnb app, I even managed to score a discount of ₱1,600, which is almost the cost of 2 nights in the guest house!
You can also spend a night at a jjimjilbang, which is a Korean sauna with sleeping quarters. These saunas typically charge around ₱350-700 (around $6-13) for one night.
To compare (figures rounded up):
Average traveler's daily spend on accommodation: ₩30,000 (₱1,500 or $28)
You can spend: ₩7,500-18,500 (₱360-890 or $6.8-16.9)
If you don't have an Airbnb account yet, click on the button below so you can make one and get instant travel credits for your first booking.
2. Manage your transportation costs in Korea.
Your transportation costs really depend upon your itinerary, i.e. the attractions and locations that you want to visit in Korea. However, you can do the following to help you save some money:
Use T-Money card to pay for your subway, taxi, and bus fares. This will give you at least a discount of ₩100 (₱4.5or $0.9) on the fares. On the onset, the savings per ride wouldn't really seem to help; however, at the end of my 7-day trip, I was able to save nearly as much as the cost of an Iced Americano offered in Starbucks. You can buy a T-Money card online here or read more about this money-saving travel essential from our guide.
Seoul subway base fares (regular)
Adults [19 years and above]: ₩1,350 (around ₱62 or $1.2) per trip
Teens [13-18 years old]: ₩1,350 (around ₱62 or $1.2) per trip
Children [7-2 years old]: ₩450 (around ₱20.5 or $0.4) per trip
Children [6 and below]: FREE
Seoul subway base fares (for T-Money card users)
Adults: ₩1,250 (around ₱57 or $1.1) per trip
Teens: ₩720 (around ₱33 or $0.6) per trip
Children: ₩450 (around ₱20.5 or $0.4) per trip
Do note that the Seoul subway base fare covers a travel distance of 10 km or less. An additional ₩100 (around ₱5 or $0.09) is charged for every 5 km traveled within a distance of 10-50 km, and ₩100 for every 8 km traveled with a distance of over 50 km.
If you’ll visit other cities like Busan, Daegu, or Daejeon, you can also access their respective subway line/s with your T-Money. Check out their fares here.
Taxis in Seoul have a base fare of ₩3,800 (around ₱180 or $3.40).
To go from Seoul to Busan, Daegu, or Daejeon, you can save more money when you purchase the Korail Pass. WIth this tourist card, you’ll get unlimited train rides that can take you to over 600 train stations in the country. You can check how much it costs and purchase one here.
Do note that T-Money cannot be used to pay for your inter-city train transfers, i.e. Seoul to Busan or Daegu to Daejeon. T-Money can only be used to pay for the subway lines within each city.
To compare (figures rounded up):
Average traveler's daily spend: ₩10,000 (₱485 or $9.2)
You can spend with T-Money: ₩7,500 (₱365 or $6.94)
3. Try the budget-friendly meals and treats in Korea.
Similar to transportation, your meal expenses depend upon whether you want to try out as many authentic Korean food as possible, how big (or small) of an eater you are, or if you're okay with just filling your stomach with junk (boo! #lovekoreanfood).
If you're like me who's willing to spend more on food but is still on the conservative side in terms of daily budget, here's how I worked it out: I allotted at least ₩6,500 per meal and ₩5,500 for coffee. Per day, that would be around ₩25,000 (₱1,200 or $23).
Some of the ways you can further lower the cost:
Get personal recommendations from your host or find low-key, unassuming restaurants near your hostel/apartment. These restaurants are commonly homey-looking and found in alleys. They also have their menus up on their windows so you can see their price range. Full lunch or dinner set meals can go as low as ₩5,500 (around ₱245 or $5.12).
Look for an accommodation in Korea that offers free breakfast (Airbnb has lots)! You can save at least ₩10,000 in a day if you don't mind having instant ramen, toast, and 3-in-1 coffee.
Go for street cart food. If you want a quick fill, get some Korean street food in Myeongdong. Each item usually sells for ₩1,000-3,000 (₱50-150 or $1-3). There are also kimbap shops that sell rice treats (carbs!) for only ₩1,300 (₱60 or $1.2).
CVS munchies, anyone? Convenience stores in Korea like 7-Eleven and CU offer triangular rice kimbaps (samgak kimbap) and other food items (sausage-on-stick, fish cakes, cup ramen, instant jjajangmyeon, and cooked rice) for only ₩800-2,000 (around ₱40-100 or $0.7-1.8).
Other information that might be helpful: If you'll spend time in a cafe, allot around ₩10,000 for a cup of coffee and pastry. Ordering fast food in Korea may cost you around ₩6,000-9,000 (₱280 or $5.3).
If you’re really into Korean food and don’t mind spending a bit more, you may want to book this food tasting tour in Namdaemun Market.
To compare (figures rounded up):
Average traveler's daily spend on food: ₩30,000 (₱1,500 or $27)
You can spend: ₩10,000-25,000 (₱480-1,210 or $9-23)
Estimating the Cost of Your Korea Trip
If you are required to apply for a South Korea tourist visa, you will be asked to provide an estimate cost of your trip. Here we list down some of the must-have travel items and tours that you may want to keep in mind (Listed below are estimate of the base rates only; if you want to view the actual discounted rates, links to the product listings are provided):
Unlimited data SIM card for Korea - ₱302 or $5.8
Pocket Wifi device - ₱372 or $7.15 (rental rate per day)
Train ticket from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station - ₱372 or $7.15
Myeongdong to N Seoul Tower Tailored Van Transfer - ₱183 or $3.52
Nami Island Roundtrip Transfer - ₱810 or $15.57
BOOK YOUR TRIP!
Here are the product descriptions for the budget saving tourist cards and passes:
OPTION 1: T-Money Card Korea
PRICE: ₱420 or $8, if not discounted
Travel hassle-free with this exclusive T-Money integrated transportation card in Korea.
Conveniently pick up your card at any of the four (4) locations or have it delivered and use it anywhere in South Korea.
Make cashless payments in various public transports, convenience stores, and even vending machines.
Get the best souvenir to remember your trip with the special Klook design, featuring famous South Korean icons.
You can read more about the product here: T-Money Your Way in Korea
OPTION 2: Discover Seoul Pass
PRICE: Starts at ₱1,850 or $53, if not discounted
Get free access to a selection of thirty-five (35) tourist attractions in and around Korea’s capital with the Discover Seoul Pass.
Enjoy more discounts to at least twenty (20) more attractions with just one card!
Available in 1, 2, or 3-day passes.
Doubles as a T-Money card so you won’t have to purchase one.
Freely customize your Seoul trip with this flexible admission ticket and transport card.
Designed by Seoul Tourism Organization and Seoul Metropolitan Government for foreign tourists.
OPTION 3: Korea Rail Pass (Korail Pass)
PRICE: Starts at ₱4,745 or $90, if not discounted
Read this guide for more information: Korail Pass: Enjoy Nonstop Trips in South Korea
Take unlimited rides on most Korail trains for 3 or 5 consecutive days or any flexible 2 and 4 days.
Discover South Korea by traveling on over 80 routes and 600 stations with the Korea Rail Pass.
Enjoy a discount that is only available for foreign nationals!
Cannot be used in Seoul subway network.
If you are required to fill out the South Korea visa application form, make sure that the currency you will use to indicate your estimate travel costs is USD. Moreover, the amount you'll put in should not go over the money you have in your bank account.
To be on the safe side, aim to show that you have $100 per day to spend.
If you’re planning to get the Discover Seoul Pass, remember that it also doubles as a T-Money card so you don’t have to buy a separate one!
South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in Asia where free hotspots are available everywhere, but most public networks are known to collect, intercept, and share user data. A VPN is a great way to protect your digital privacy and security so you can enjoy free services with peace of mind, and one with a South Korea server can ensure high-speed connections in the country. Learn more about the best VPN for South Korea here.
Ultimate South Korea Budget for Filipinos
How about a budget of ₱16,000 for 7 days (around $305)? Some Filipino travelers have done it, and here's their usual breakdown:
Airfare + Taxes: ₱6,500 (watch out for seat sales!)
Transportation (T-Money + Bus + Ferry to Nami Island): ₱2,200
Attractions (Free + Paid): ₱1,300
Think you can take the challenge?
Just My Thoughts
While there's flexibility in terms of budgeting for a South Korea trip, remember that traveling is not always about measly spending. Your goal should be to work hard for a wondrous escape and reach that point when you can feel financially confident to go an adventure, regardless of how much amount that would entail. Having an overseas trip does not always have to be costly, but you don't necessarily have to shortchange yourself, especially if this is a dream trip that's long pending. Therefore, make sure to plan ahead, research your options, work hard, and bleed your heart out in fun when you're finally in Korea.
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