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Most people have never taken a boat ride to Korea.  And most probably never will take a boat ride to Korea.  For some, Korea is just a stop on the way to their final destination in Asia.  Because of this, some have never left Incheon when after arriving there until their next plane took off.  But for many, Korea will be their final destination.  If you have never been to Korea before and will be spending some time there, what are some things you should know before you arrive?  What will help you to get your trip off to a great start?  Here are some tips about flying into Korea.

Incheon vs Gimpo 

You may be aware that Seoul has two international airports.  But for most overseas flights, Incheon International Airport will be the only option for you to land at.  Gimpo International Airport is closer to the heart of Seoul than Incheon is, but it is also older.  As Korea became a major hub for air traffic in Asia, Incheon became one of the most important airports in the world.  If you have a layover in a country like Japan, you may be able to book your flight to land in Gimpo, but don’t count on it.

You Are On An Island

Incheon International Airport is literally on an island west of the Korean mainland.  What does this mean?  You will have to pay to get off of the island.  This is a way to help pay for the airport.  There are many ways you can take to get out of the airport.  If you are staying at a major hotel in the Seoul area, I would suggest taking the limousine bus.  While that may sound luxurious and expensive, it is not.  It is a bus that is a little nicer than your average bus that can take you to a specific area of Seoul.

For me, I was staying in Gangnam at the Renaissance Hotel, now the Belle-Essance Seoul Hotel.  The bus went from the airport to all of the major hotels in the Gangnam area, letting people off at their destination.  There are buses for other areas of  Seoul also. The limousine buses charge a flat rate for travel.  If you decide to take a taxi, the rate you pay will vary depending on the traffic conditions and how long it take the drive to get you to where you are going.

Exchange Your Money At the Airport

If you forgot to get Korean money before you arrived in Korea, you can always get it in Incheon before leaving the airport.  The exchange rate charged in at the airport is normally a lot cheaper than the rate you would get if the hotel exchanged the money for you.  This is also important because many street vendors will only take Korean cash, not a credit or debit card for transactions.  You can always check with your bank to see how much they will charge you for getting Korean money, and how long it will take them to get it for you.  Also, you can check to see if the airport you are flying to Korea from will have a better exchange rate on getting Korean currency than Incheon will online.

Traveler Tip:  Another way to get Korean money is from an ATM.  At hotels and major banks, you can use your overseas debit card to withdraw money in Korean currency.  Most will put a limit of $100 USD per transaction, and will charge you a fee for using a foreign card.  Before using this option, call your bank to see how much you will be charged for an overseas transaction using that card.  While some credit unions will charge a 1% fee, other banks may charge around 8% for using your card overseas.  Check to see how much you will pay before doing any transactions.

Also, make sure you call up your bank to let them know you will be out of the country.  Tell them where you are going and for how long you will be there.  If you do not do this before leaving, your card may get flagged and you will not be able to use it until you call your bank.  In the case of traveling to Korea from the United States, the people you need to talk to may be at work while you are sleeping, or it may cost you more money to call back to the United States to fix this situation.

Have Your Documentation Ready

If you are told to fill out a form on the plane to show at immigration, fill it out and have it ready before you leave the plane.  Also, have your passport ready to be stamped before you leave the plane.  Security at Incheon can be strict, but I found them to be very professional and kind.  Also, customs officials in Incheon usually can speak English, so don’t worry if your Korean is not perfect.

Flying to Korea for the first time can be both nervous and exciting.  But if you are well prepared, you will have a great time.  Having a good experience in the airport will get your trip off to a great start.  You will find Incheon to be a modern airport with many wonderful things to offer.  Be kind and respectful, and you will be treated with kindness and respect as well.

Hopefully this will help you if you are about to fly to Seoul for the first time.  And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to #askthewaygookin.

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