Korean metro systems are unquestionably some of the best in the world, acclaimed for its speed, proximity, convenience, cleanliness, and multilingual announcements. With approximately 9.8 million daily riders, Korea has developed both a written and unwritten decorum to keep most people happy while traveling on the trains. Politeness and manner counts!

Here are several suggestions that will make your subway journey in Korea more pleasant:

   1. Efficiency starts with YOU!

Avoid gridlock! Especially in Seoul, it’s highly possible that you’ll encounter waves of people at subway stations. So, when entering and leaving the exit, both the subway and the station :

  • Have your transportation card out and be ready for the turnstiles.
  • Step aside! Errors with transportation cards do happen; step to the side to figure out your card troubles. If you need help, press the button on the pole at the far end.

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   2. Entering and Exiting has its challenges!

While it seems common sense to wait-your-turn, sometimes people try to push past the exiting crowds in hopes of quickly finding a seat.

  • Allow people to exit before you enter. Step to the side of the door and wait for your chance to enter. Don’t worry, you have plenty of time, and the train conductors watch the doors to make sure everyone is safely on.
  • Rush hours are generally between  6:50~9:00 a.m. and 17:00~18:30 p.m. The busiest stations that are located in main market districts and where commuters make transfers between subway lines, such as Gangnam Station.
  • Bicycles on the subway are limited to the end cars during the weekends but never allowed on line 9 and the Shinbundang line.
  • Take caution around the gap of regret: Cellphones, wallets, and keys have been known to be bumped out of hands and fallen through the space between the platform and the subway car. Secure these items ahead of time in pockets or maintain a tight grip while crossing the gaps.

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   3. Plan Ahead

Sometimes people who aren’t prepared to leave will push and shove trying to quickly get off the subway before they miss their stop. Rushing to leave the door often results forgetting or losing personal belongings.

  • Prepare to get near the subway door at least one station prior to your destination.
  • You may find it difficult or even impossible to weave through people during a rush hour and miss your exit in the end.

   4. Kindness and Respect

A major aspect of Korean culture is respect for elders, and consideration for others. If you’re lucky enough to have a seat, it’s commonplace to give up your seat to someone who may need or appreciate sitting more than you, such as pregnant women, people who are injured or disabled, families with young children, and the elderly.

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   5. Nuisances in the Subway

Keeping peace and order in the subway can be achieved by two essential basic principles: Keep to Yourself and Be Mindful of Others. Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to these rules. Here are a few examples of common situations that are an inconvenience to others:

Backpack Bludgeoners!

Currently, in Seoul, there’s a growing stigma against commuters with backpacks inhibiting maneuverability for others when walking between train cars and to the exit doors, or when backpackers turn sharply, often hitting people with their backpacks. Luckily, you can avoid the scorn by placing your items on the shelf above the seats.

Pro Tip from Korean netizens: If you’re afraid you’ll forget your bag on the shelf, try turning your backpack into a front-pack by wearing it on your chest. Others will surely thank you for your consideration.

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Food Offenders!

Smelly food on the subway is unacceptable! Despite many restaurants and snack shops that can be found in and around the stations, the subway train is just an inappropriate place to have a full meal. Drinks and small scentless snacks are acceptable, but most people will stare at you if you choose to eat next to them, older people may actually yell.

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Cellphone Cacophony

Korea is one of the most connected countries, boasting quality cell service, WiFi connectivity and even TV (DMB on Korean-made phones) in the subways. With so many devices constantly in use, the metro systems have posted code-of-conduct reminders in the stations and trains to please speak softly, keep notifications on a low volume, take caution and pay attention when texting and walking, and use headphones at a reasonable volume. If you choose to break these rules, be prepare for the stare!

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Sleeping Professionals

Commuting warriors and drunk dinner party survivors have a knack for sleeping in the subway in some of the most uncomfortable looking positions, and still managing to wake up just in time for their destinations, it’s truly amazing and baffling. If you can manage to do it, sleeping on the subway is perfectly fine, but leaning over and getting in someone’s space is generally not fine. 🙁

Katies Korean Adventure

The Manspread

In Korean, it’s called “쩍벌남” (Jjeok-Beol-Nam). Despite the name and Oxford Dictionary definition, this is not limited to only men. Just, no. Just don’t do it. No explanation needed, everyone hates it.

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And Finally, for a fun recap of how to ride the subway, watch Michael’s Seoul Subway Song on Youtube!

Happy commuting!  For fun places to visit via subway, check out Trazy.com!

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2 thoughts on “Trazy’s 5 Step Guide to Understanding Korean Subway Culture

  1. Pingback: 5 Extreme Situations Travelers May Encounter in Korea | TRAZY.COM
  2. In many ways, Seoul is one of the best places in the world to live, but the metro will test your patience and make you question living here. After living here for 6 months, I can tell you Koreans are the worst violators of these nuisances, except they never eat or drink on the subway. Everything I’m saying here is a complaint that I hear from Koreans themselves: The elderly shove other passengers from behind, elbow them to get onto or off of the train first, and talk loudly to each other and on their phones. Young couples will give you goosebumps with their PDA, even if you’re crammed next to them on a crowded train. High school and college students never stop gabbing at the loudest volume possible. Rush hour trains are called “hell train,” for obvious reasons, but it’s hell train at any time of day if you can’t get away from the passengers who talk loudly without consideration for anyone else. Maybe at one time the subway was a more pleasant ride, but now, sad to say, it seems the mentality is everyone for himself.

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