It’s true, I continue to be beaten by T-Money cards. Everytime I go to use one or buy one I keep doing something wrong. They shouldn’t be this hard but reading posts online hasn’t helped me understand the most basic of uses such as charging after you buy one. I guess this is common knowledge but I’ve never used public transportation in my life and I keep getting thrown for a loop here in Korea. Today, I hope to finally put the nail in the coffin for my T-Money woes.
Getting a T-Money Card is easy: Go to any convenience store and buy one. But there has been trouble setting up the cards to give discounts for children and teenagers. I was so proud of myself a year and a half ago when I was able to explain to the cashier that I wanted children’s card and I mimed the age of the kids for her to put into the computer. But I was really confused a month later when their cards were being charged just as much as mine. What the heck was going on?! I just let it go thinking I had messed something up at the store but turns out I was missing a very important step, you used to have have to register the cards online within 10 days or they would revert to charging full price. Turns out, that’s not true anymore and after making a few calls and running a few tests, T-Money has a new way of setting up Discount T-Money cards for kids and it’s much much easier than it used to be.
Scroll to the bottom for the South of Seoul Language Cards.
What is a T-Money Card/ CashBee Card
T-Money/ CashBee Cards are a simpler method to pay for public transportation in Korea in lieu of using coins and bills. They are Transit Smart Cards in the size of a credit card and fit right in your wallet or in the pocket of a smartphone cover if you bought one of those. There are also smaller cards available in key chain size.
Subways, buses and some taxis accept Smart Transit Cards to pay for the fare. For Subways and buses, swipe when you get on the bus and swipe when you get off. If you forget to swipe when you get off, you may be charged a couple of 100won extra for taking an extra long trip.
IMPORTANT: When on the bus, if you receive an error, the digital screen will have a big E with some numbers after it, try scanning again. The scanners can be grumpy. If you tried scanning 3 times and it still doesn’t work, go ahead and pay the bus driver. Usually putting 2,000won into the money box works and he will give you change.
Tip: These Cards are used all across the country for public transportation but you may find some out of the way areas only accept cash. Always have some won tucked away for emergencies.
T-Money and CashBee can also be used to pay tolls on the highway and may be used to buy products from convenience stores, major retailers, at vending machines and more. To find out if T-Money Cards or CashBee cards are accepted, look for the logo outside the stores near the front door.
Why use a Smart Card to pay for public transportation?
If you haven’t been on a Korean bus yet you are in for a surprise. The buses move fast, really fast. The driver will start driving before the door is closed all the way and I once caught an old lady in my arms and helped her to her seat because the bus took off so suddenly. Imagine trying to stand in the front of the bus with an arm full of groceries or little kids at your knees and trying to find won in your wallet while not rolling down the center of the bus like a circus performer. The Transit Smart Cards make life easier, even if you only plan on using the bus/subway a few times a month.
For an Added bonus, using Transit Smart Cards will give a 100won (about ten cent) discount for public transportation fares per trip.
Buying Regular T-Money Cards
For this article, I am going to focus on T-Money cards because I am not that familiar with CashBee cards and other transit smart cards.
You can buy T-Money Cards from any retailer with the T-Money logo on the front of their shop. Most convenience stores will sell them. Cards can cost anywhere from 2500-8000 won depending on the style and picture you want on the front.
After buying a T-Money Card, it is important to charge the card. The cashier will probably be too nervous to tell you you need to charge it so don’t be like me and get to the bus and have an empty card. Charge the card after you buy it!
Buying Discount T-Money Cards
While at the store, you can ask the cashier for discount T-Money Cards for children or teenagers. There is a trick to this, the birthday for each child needs to be added to the cards for it to become a children’s card. I called the tourist hotline and T-Money HQ and they both confirmed this is how you register a discount card. There used to be a method where you had to register the card online with an Alien Registration Number but that doesn’t seem to be the method anymore.
Just in case, I tested it myself with my kids T-Money cards that I bought last year but didn’t register properly. The lady took our old cards, had me write down their birthdays on a notepad and she added the birthdays to each card. Super easy! I waited ten days, just to be sure they still worked, and the cards are still charging children’s prices.
If you don’t need to register a Discount T-Money card online anymore, what stops adults from using their kid’s card?
When you get on the bus or go through the subway line, Transit Cards make a single beep sound. But Discount Cards will make multiple beeps. This alerts the station guard or bus driver to look up and see if the Discount Card is being used properly. Multiple violations of improperly using a Discount Card may result in a fine which is not worth the $1 or so one would save from it.
Refunds on T-Money Cards
Leaving the country and still have a balance on your card? The easiest thing to do is to gift your T-Money card to an incoming family or to sell it for the balance on your card. The next easiest thing to do is to go have a last hurrah at a convenience store and buy some ice cream or Soju for your last week in Korea. Finally, you can request a refund from the convenience store for up to 20,000won but any more than that and you may have to go to an official office to get a refund.
Have questions about using Transit Smart Cards or Public Transportation in Korea?
Call the tourist hotline, they can help. I have had a lot of luck with them and they will even call you back with a better answer after some research. You can dial 1330 from a Korean cellphone or you can click the Tourist Hotline button in the South of Seoul App.
Use Language Cards to buy T-Money Cards
Download these language cards and save them to your phone for the next time you are at the store. Be patient with the store employees, if they have a lot of customers, it may be best to wait for the crowd to die down before asking to register for discount cards. Thank you South of Seoul for creating these language cards! You can find more South of Seoul language cards in the app for the grocery store and restaurants. Or you can go to the Useful Phrases page on the SoS website. Lots of information for everyone, there!