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Can I get around Seoul without speaking Korean?


Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, is a vibrant and bustling metropolis. Its streets are lined with towering skyscrapers, traditional markets, and historic landmarks. However, many travelers who don’t speak Korean may feel intimidated by navigating the city’s public transportation system, ordering food at restaurants or communicating with locals. In this article, we will explore whether it’s possible to get around Seoul without speaking Korean.

The language barrier

Korean is the official language of South Korea, and while many Koreans do speak English, it’s not a given that you’ll be able to communicate with everyone you meet. The language barrier can make it difficult to navigate public transportation, order food at restaurants or ask for directions. However, there are ways to get around this.

Using public transportation

Seoul has a comprehensive public transportation system that includes subways, buses, and taxis. While signs and announcements are mostly in Korean, the subway system has English signs and announcements. Additionally, smartphone apps like Naver Map and KakaoMetro provide real-time directions in English.

Taking taxis

Taxis are readily available in Seoul and are generally safe and affordable. Most taxi drivers do not speak English, but you can show them your destination on a map or use a translation app like Google Translate to communicate.

Ordering food

Korean cuisine is known for its spicy and flavorful dishes. Many restaurants have English menus available or pictures of their dishes. You can also point to what you want or show a picture from an online menu.


Seoul is a shopper’s paradise with countless shopping malls, night markets and street vendors. While most vendors may not speak English, you can use your smartphone to translate or negotiate prices.

Visiting landmarks

Seoul has many historic landmarks, including palaces, temples, and museums. Most tourist attractions have English signs and offer guided tours in English.

Using translation apps

Translation apps like Google Translate and Naver Papago can be a lifesaver when it comes to communicating with locals. These apps can translate text, voice, and even images in real-time.

Learning basic phrases

Learning a few basic Korean phrases can go a long way in bridging the language gap. Phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” are easy to learn and show a willingness to communicate.

Joining a tour group

Joining a tour group can be a great way to explore Seoul without having to worry about the language barrier. Tour guides are usually bilingual and can provide insights into the city’s culture and history.

Staying in an English-friendly area

Staying in areas like Gangnam or Itaewon, which are known for their international flair, can make it easier to get around without speaking Korean. These areas have many English-friendly restaurants, shops, and bars.


While speaking Korean may make navigating Seoul easier, it’s not essential. With a little bit of preparation and the right tools, you can get around the city without speaking the local language. Whether you’re taking public transportation, ordering food or visiting landmarks, there are ways to bridge the language gap and enjoy all that Seoul has to offer.

Can you get by in Korea without speaking Korean?

In short, it is possible to live in Korea as an expat without knowing the language, but it can be challenging and there may be moments where communication is difficult.

Is it easy to get around Seoul without speaking Korean?

Navigating around Seoul is stress-free if you rely on the subway system. The subway has English signs and announcements, and it is also affordable. Purchase T-money cards at any convenience store for you and your mother’s convenience.

Can you get around Seoul speaking English?

Although Seoul is the contemporary capital of South Korea, most of its inhabitants are not proficient in English as it is not commonly spoken in the country. However, in popular tourist destinations like Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Hongdae, you may have a greater chance of encountering locals who are fluent in English.

Are you allowed to speak English in South Korea?

The official language of South Korea is Korean, but many people in the country also speak and understand Japanese, English, and Mandarin.

Is Seoul English friendly?

Even though Seoul is the contemporary capital city of South Korea, a lot of the residents don’t speak English fluently as it isn’t widely spoken in the country. However, there’s a higher chance of finding locals who can speak English in popular tourist areas like Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Hongdae.

Is it okay to kiss in public in Korea?

Public displays of affection, such as kissing, are considered inappropriate and lacking in modesty by older individuals in South Korea. While the younger generation is becoming more accepting of such behavior, it is still frowned upon by elders. Additionally, dressing well is a sign of respect in South Korean culture.

Meeting locals

Seoul is a friendly city, and many locals are eager to interact with foreigners. While language can be a barrier, some Koreans may be able to communicate in basic English. You can also use social media or language exchange apps like Tandem or HelloTalk to connect with locals and practice your Korean.

Cultural etiquette

Koreans place great importance on etiquette and respect for others. Learning a few cultural customs, such as bowing when greeting someone or removing shoes before entering a home, can go a long way in showing respect for the local culture.

Emergency situations

In case of an emergency, it’s important to know how to get help. The emergency number in Korea is 119 for fire or medical emergencies and 112 for police emergencies. Many operators speak English, so it’s important to remain calm and clearly state the nature of the emergency.


While the language barrier may seem daunting at first, it should not deter you from visiting Seoul. With a little bit of preparation and the right tools, you can navigate the city with ease and even connect with locals. By respecting the local culture and learning basic Korean phrases, you can make your trip a memorable one.

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