There are a lot of apps we use to make our day to day lives a little easier. From shopping and eating out to navigating and catching a ride, we rely on apps to do quite a bit these days, and if you’re going to a foreign country, you might need some different apps in your arsenal to keep doing all these familiar things while you’re away from home. Here’s a list of a few apps that I frequently found helpful during my time teaching in Korea.
The reason I mention keyboard apps first is that you’ll find life much easier if you are able to type in Korean on your phone. You don’t need to be fluent in Korean to get by for a while in Korea, but you’ll need to at least be able to read and write the Korean alphabet to make good use of some of the other apps on this list. That means you’ll probably have to spend a little time studying Korean, but being able to read and write in Korean will make things go much more smoothly, whether you’re just taking a quick trip or living in Korea for an extended period of time. Don’t worry though, you can learn to read the Korean alphabet, called Hangeul, easily in about an hour or two. To learn Hangeul quickly, I recommend GO! Billy’s 90-minute YouTube series, and if you’re really excited about learning Korean I recommend TalkToMeInKorean.com.
Most smart phones these days offer options for typing in multiple languages in the settings already. However, if your phone doesn’t have the option to use multiple languages, you might consider installing a keyboard app like Gboard instead.
If you don’t speak Korean, you’ll definitely want to keep some translation apps handy. I recommend being comfortable with more than one translation app if you plan on spending a significant amount of time in Korea. Sometimes one app might just be inaccurate or not be able to find the particular word or phrase you need, and sometimes you might need to translate offline. For a quick trip you might get by with one basic translation app, but to handle all the different circumstances you might find yourself in during an extended stay in Korea, it is best to have more than one app at your disposal. Here are the apps I recommend.
NAVER is a big name on the web in Korea. You can think of NAVER as a sort of Korean version of Google. NAVER offers a range of web services including search, email, translation apps, and more. You’ll see lots of people using various NAVER apps in Korea, and you might end up using a few yourself. The NAVER Korean Dictionary as a translation app is not as fully featured as Google Translate, but it does have some great features that you might enjoy. Its dictionary function is pretty straightforward. You can input words in either language with your keyboard or voice, and it has a handwriting feature for inputting Korean characters. The app also includes Korean conversations with scripts and audio and features short video and audio lessons to teach Korean vocabulary and phrases for those interested in studying Korean language and culture. NAVER’s dictionary might not be the best app for quick translations on the go, but if you’re serious about studying Korean, some of NAVER’s study features more than make up for its unremarkable translation functions.
Perhaps the most useful translation on this list is NAVER’s Papago. Papago is a fantastic app for quick translation on the fly. You can easily switch between several languages, and you have plenty of different input options. You can type in either language using the keyboard, use voice input, and even use a conversation mode similar to the one Google Translate offers. One of Papago’s best features is its camera input method. It allows you to take a picture or screenshot of the text you want to translate, pan around and zoom in on the image, and highlight the specific text you want to translate. Papago saves your translation history and allows you to star your favorites and frequently used words and phrases. Another fantastic feature about the app is its built-in phrasebook for everyday topics, travel and tourism necessities, and emergencies. Papago is a must-have in Korea, and it’s my go-to translation app for everyday use.
I know your Spanish teacher in high school told you that you can’t trust Google Translate because it’s just not accurate. Mine did too, and our teachers were right. Google Translate is not entirely reliable, but it has come a long way over the years. Many common phrases and individual words are perfectly accurate.
Google Translate has some handy features that make it an impressively versatile app. It’s easy to input text in either language with various input methods and has a handwriting feature you can use even if your keyboard app doesn’t already have the option. You can also use your camera to translate text as you look at it. Google Translate also has voice input and a conversation mode that allows two speakers to converse back and forth in their own languages. Another great thing about Google Translate is that many languages are available to download for offline use, making this app indispensable when you don’t have data or Wi-Fi. Google Translate also makes it easy to save frequently used words and phrases in a phrasebook.
Just like you probably rely on a favorite texting app at home, in Korea a lot of people rely on Kakao Talk. Kakao is another big name on the web in Korea. They offer many web services including Kakao Talk, navigation apps, games, and even a social platform called Kakao Story. If you have even one Korean friend or colleague you need to stay in touch with, they’ll probably ask if you have Kakao Talk, or “Katok,” as most people call it for short. Kakao Talk is a pretty straightforward messaging app, which is what you will really need it for. It offers free texting, phone calls, and video calls with all the standard features that other similar apps offer. It has deeper features and functions and connects to other Kakao apps and services as well, but I won’t get into all those details here. Kakao Talk is a convenient and versatile messaging app, and you’ll probably need to get familiar with it if you plan on staying in Korea for long.
Air Quality Apps
An unfortunate dilemma that comes with staying in Korea is having to be wary of air quality. Korea has a bit of a pollution problem. Some of the pollution in the air comes from within Korea, and some of it blows over from China. The severity of the pollution varies with the weather and time of year. You’ll want to keep track of the air quality when you plan on going outside, as the pollution can be detrimental to your health. When the air quality is poor, you should wear a mask outside, even if you don’t plan on being out for long. Breathing the pollution can give you a sore throat, bother your sinuses, and make you sick. It’s best to have an app to check the air quality, so you know when to wear a mask and keep your windows shut to avoid breathing in pollution.
Some weather apps like AccuWeather include an air quality index with the other weather information, but they may not be as accurate or reliable as dedicated air quality apps. I recommend using either AirVisual or MiseMise. If you prefer to be able to read all the detailed information in English, then go with AirVisual. AirVisual offers detailed information about the level and content of the pollution and what precautions you should take. If you would prefer a Korean app, then MiseMise is a good choice. You’ll need a fairly decent understanding of Korean if you want to read the information on this one. Both apps are color-coded and have different visuals for different levels of pollution for a quick idea of the air quality, so if you’re not that interested in the details and just want to know whether the air is decent, either app will do the job.
At home in the States, a lot of us are used to using popular navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze, but sadly those won’t work so well in Korea. Google Maps might be better than nothing in a pinch, but in Korea it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Here are a couple alternative navigation apps you might find useful for getting around in Korea.
Kakao comes in handy once again. KakaoMap seems to be the most reliable map app in Korea. It works pretty much the same as apps like Google Maps. You can even use it in English, but you’ll find better search results for some destinations if you’re able to type their names in Korean. Just like Google Maps, you can search for the best routes by car, bus, bike, or on foot; save favorites; and choose to see the map in several different modes.
Kako Navi is a GPS app similar to Android Auto or Waze. It displays detailed information about traffic congestion and the locations of speed monitoring zones and CCTV cameras for traffic law enforcement. Kakao Navi provides lots of handy information for driving, but it does beep and talk a lot to tell you all this information. Don’t expect much peace and quiet on the road.
MAPS.ME is particularly useful for its offline features. This app also works similarly to Google Maps, but allows you to download maps for offline use, even in places where Google Maps might not let you. It allows you to save area maps, locations, and routes for offline use, which can be a lifesaver when traveling somewhere without data or Wi-Fi. MAPS.ME is not always perfectly reliable though. I ended up doing a lot of extra walking on a hot July day in Fukuoka, because this app confused an apartment complex named Fukuoka Tower with the famous Fukuoka Tower tourist attraction. It’s not a perfect navigation app, but it’s reliable enough and a lot better than nothing in a pinch. Just remember to download important maps and routes before you travel somewhere without data and Wi-Fi.
Public Transportation Apps
In addition to their great navigation apps, Kakao also offers a suite of public transportation apps. For finding a taxi, Kakao offers Kakao T, which allows you to request a taxi to pick you up at your location. If you’re looking to take a bus, there’s KakaoBus. This app offers bus stop information for many cities in Korea and can notify you of bus arrivals and departures. Finally, if you need to take the subway, you might want to try KakaoMetro for checking subway maps and information and finding the right train and exit. Your mileage may vary with some of these apps depending on where you are in Korea, as some apps and services might not work well in small cities or rural areas.
Now that we’ve covered getting around within Korea, let’s mention a few things about traveling internationally from Korea. Incheon International Airport is a big hub for international travel, and it’s surprisingly affordable to travel to a lot of other countries from Korea. If you’re staying in Korea for an extended period of time, it’s likely that you’ll want to travel for a vacation or a long weekend. If you plan on traveling during holidays, especially big Korean holidays like Chuseok, you’ll want to plan as far ahead as possible. Everybody in Korea has the same grand idea of taking a nice international vacation on their long weekends and holidays, so tickets can get expensive if you don’t plan and buy tickets well in advance.
Jeju Air is a budget airline that offers affordable flights to many major international destinations. It’s a popular airline in Korea, because it’s cheap and offers some great deals, especially if you book well in advance. They also have a rewards system, so if you plan on being in Korea for a while and using Jeju frequently, it’s probably worth creating an account. Jeju flights are not always for sale on the usual big travel websites, so be sure to check Jeju directly.
T’way Air is another budget airline based in Korea. I haven’t used this one myself, but depending where you want to go, it’s another cheap alternative to consider when booking your trip.
Kiwi.com is a travel site for booking cheap flights and hotels. They offer some good deals that you might not find on more well-known sites, and they even list Jeju and T’way flights.
The Hopper app tracks flights and tells you when to wait and when to buy for the best price on the flight you want. Again, you’ll want to start watching and planning as far ahead as possible, so you don’t miss the best price on your flight.
If you’re living and working in Korea for an extended period of time, you might need a bank account. Banking in Korea is probably a bit different from what you’re used to. Unless you’re already fluent in Korean, you’ll probably need your employer or a good friend or coworker to help you open your bank account. Once you have an account, you should have a debit card and a bank book.
Korean bank books function sort of like an ATM card and a checkbook in one. Bank books are important and should be kept up to date, but sometimes it’s much more convenient to view your account information on your phone. The app should update your transactions almost immediately after they occur, so you have an accurate idea of how much money you have in your account every time you log in. You will likely be required to download an additional security app alongside your banking app for added protection.
Apps for Learning Korean
Whether you’re going to be staying in Korea for a while or you just really love the language and culture, you might be looking for some apps to help you learn Korean. Like I mentioned previously in this article, if you’re serious about learning Korean, I’d recommend TalkToMeInKorean.com. They offer free audio lessons, and they sell a great collection of textbooks and workbooks for serious students. No app out there can really get you to a true mastery of a language, but there are a few that can supplement your learning along the way.
Anki is a flashcard-based study app you can use to memorize just about anything. You can download flashcard sets made by others or create your own. Anki will then show you some new cards each day and use spaced repetition to review old cards. Anytime you come across a new word or phrase, add it to your deck of flashcards, and Anki will do the rest!
Rosetta Stone is not perfect, and it won’t make you fluent, but it can give you a good start. It’s available on mobile devices and in a web browser if you prefer to use it on a computer. Rosetta Stone takes the immersion approach to learning a language, attempting to simulate the way we naturally learn our native language as we are exposed to it. It’s speech engine also helps you improve pronunciation. Rosetta Stone is a good place to get started, but it will not help you fully understand things like reading, writing, and grammar, and it will not prepare you very well for natural, real world conversations all on its own. If you decide to subscribe to Rosetta Stone, I recommend you check prices on their website and in the mobile app before you pay. The pricing within the mobile app is often significantly lower than the pricing offered on the Rosetta Stone website, and subscribing from either the app or the website grants you full access to both platforms.
Innovative Language offers courses for a lot of languages. The website for their Korean courses is KoreanClass101.com, where you can listen to their podcasts and access many other useful learning tools, some for free and others requiring a subscription. Innovative Language often offers big sales and discounts on apps and books available on their store page as well, especially for new subscribers. Much of the content you can find in Innovative Language podcasts and apps is also available for free on their YouTube channels.
HelloTalk is a language exchange app. It allows you to chat with native speakers of your target language who wish to learn your native language. You can message each other for free and easily translate texts and correct mistakes to help each other improve. The app also offers free voice and video calls to practice speaking and interacting with native speakers. There are some paid features available, but the free version should be more than adequate for most users.
Duolingo is primarily useful for memorizing key words and phrases from the app or your favorite browser. It makes memorizing vocabulary somewhat entertaining and gives you a little sense of progress to keep you motivated. However, it can get a bit tedious and will not help you much with speaking or grammar, although it is still improving over time.
Quizlet is a good flashcard tool, and it offers several methods for learning and memorizing vocabulary cards in engaging ways. You can make your own flashcard sets, or you can study sets that others have already made. Quizlet is available for free on mobile devices or in your web browser.
Sometimes you may want to use a VPN to access non-Korean versions of certain websites. Many websites automatically detect your location and display the version of the site designed for the country you are currently in, and it can be difficult and frustrating to find your way to the version you’re looking for, if you can get there at all.
A VPN can also come in handy for online shopping. If you’re trying to make a purchase online with a credit or debit card from your home bank, the merchant might decline your card for security purposes. Sometimes simply selecting your home country on your VPN settings is all it takes to get the transaction to go through. A good VPN to try is ProtonVPN. It’s free and available on mobile devices and on your desktop. Hoxx VPN is also a decent option. It’s available as a free app or as an extension for Chrome and Firefox web browsers. If you want to know more about how VPNs work or need help choosing the best one for your specific needs, I highly recommend this article by ConsumersAdvocate.org. Their team has done thorough and diligent research and put together a list of the best VPNs to help you choose the right one.
Now that you’ve downloaded and set up a suite of useful apps to make life in Korea a little easier, you might want to install a security app to keep everything running smoothly and protect your personal data. Korea has a bit of a problem with scammers and hackers these days. That’s why Korea takes security so seriously, especially when it comes to banking and online shopping. Sometimes the extra security can be frustrating, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The readily available public Wi-Fi connections all over Korea are just as convenient for hackers as they are for the rest of us. Even having a simple app like Kakao Talk get hacked can cause drama and inconvenience for you and all your contacts. Therefore, I recommend having a security app to protect your devices, especially if you use public wi-fi connections at places like coffee shops, malls, and restaurants. McAfee offers protection for all your devices under one subscription, and it has great security options for scanning, protecting, and cleaning your devices; securely deleting sensitive files; managing passwords; protecting your device on public Wi-Fi connections; and locking and locating a lost or stolen device. There are plenty of other reliable security apps available with equally competitive offers. Choose a reliable security app you’re comfortable with for added protection and peace of mind while you’re living abroad.
I hope you found this discussion helpful and thought-provoking. If you’ve found some other apps useful in Korea, or you think I missed something that should be on this list, please feel free to share! If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing and following the Grammarai Warrior Facebook page for updates.