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[Survive & Thrive] Reasons to forgo cash for bus fare

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 16, 2023 - 15:36

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The sight of a bus passenger paying their fare with cash is dying out in South Korea nowadays.

There are several reasons for this. Cashless payments, via Tmoney cards, credit cards or mobile payment options, are not just more convenient but safer, as the conductor can focus only on driving, which can help improve the safety of everyone on the bus.

Also, cashless payments save you money -- quite a lot, in fact, if you transfer between buses and/or subways. The country’s free transfer benefits only apply to cashless payments.

Lastly, there are many buses that do not take cash.

As of April, roughly a quarter of all Seoul buses are now “no cash buses,” as are all the buses in the city of Daejeon. Other major cities like Daegu and Busan are mulling over whether to follow suit.

For those who do not have a credit card with the transit card function, rechargeable transit cards sold at retail convenience stores are the next best option, after mobile payment apps. There are various types of rechargeable transit cards, but Tmoney is the most widely used one since it is compatible with public transportation systems all over the country, except for in some rural areas.

Tmoney cards can also be used for some taxis that brandish the Tmoney logo.

One can also purchase Tmoney cards specifically for visitors from overseas, such as one combined with a universal sim card or with various discount benefits for tourist attractions. For these types of cards, check out Tmoney’s homepage.

Most regular Tmoney transit cards can be purchased or recharged at convenience stores, newsstands or branches of wireless telecom operators. Subway stations also have Tmoney cards for sale and provide recharging machines.

The plastic cards themselves cost around 2,000 won ($1.50) to 3,000 won -- separate from the money to be loaded for the fare -- and special-themed cards can cost more, such as the limited edition BTS Tmoney card.

While these transit cards can be used in most parts of the country, in some rural areas it may be hard to find recharging services. Hence, it would be prudent to load up one's transit card in an urban area before traveling in the countryside.

Survive & Thrive is a series offering a guide to living in South Korea for new residents. – Ed.