Friday, September 20, 2019

English guide to getting gas in Korea

Here is a step-by-step guide in English to filling up your car with gasoline in Korea.

If you're visiting Korea and renting a car, don't worry about having to fill it up with gas / petrol. Nearly all gas stations are self-serve now and you pay at the pump. Foreign issued credit cards work fine.

Still, it can be daunting if you don't read Korean, and most pumps currently don't show multi-lingual options. But follow this guide and you will be fine. I went through and took pictures of every single screen the pump showed me during a recent fill-up. I'll explain what's happening. Just follow along and you'll be fine. Let's do this.

Note: if you're not sure where to even go, scroll down to the bottom section.

Getting gas in South Korea

1. Welcome

Welcome! This is the start screen. You'll see some variation of it everywhere. It will have a big button labeled 시작하기 ("Start"). You know what to do. Push the button.

2. Anti-static pad

It will ask you to touch the anti-static pad somewhere (see next picture) on the pump machine. This is to reduce the risk of static electricity buildup sparking a fire. Find the pad, press your hand against it, and then press the big button there, labeled 계속하기 ("Continue").

Here is what the anti-static pad looked like on the crappy old pump I was using. A newer pump will have a nice shiny big green button looking thing. The point is it will probably be big and green and have some kind of hand symbol. It doesn't shock you, it doesn't depress in. You just touch it. That's it. It won't even really know if you touched it or not so you can be cheeky and press Continue anyway if you're feeling dangerous. 

3. Choose fuel type

Probably the most important step. Green is always diesel. Yellow is always normal unleaded gasoline. Diesel = 경유 and gasoline/petrol = 휘발유. Here's a little memory trick: Die-sel is 2 syllables in English and Korean (gyung-yoo), and Gas-o-line is 3 (hwee-bal-yoo).

4. Choose payment type

Here it gets tricky because different pumps may do this in a different order. I often get asked about my point card first. But this time, I got asked about payment type first. Here's a tip: If you see 1 big button labeled 없음, it's for a point card. If you see multiple big options like this, it's probably for payment.

It's hard to see, but in the list above there is 현금 (cash), 신용카드 (credit card), GS & Point (redeeming your customer points), and 모바일쿠폰 (mobile coupon). As a visitor, you'll probably want to choose 신용카드 (credit card) every time. 

Don't worry; the pump will accept foreign credit cards. Some require the IC chip (the little metal computer chip type thing on one side of the card) so you stick your card in, chip first. But older pumps will have the magnetic strip "slider" style. Some have both. 

5. Choose amount

When you see a bunch of numbers in rows, it's asking how much you want to fill up. 

You can choose: a specific amount (10,000 won, 20,000 won, 30,000 won...), or 금액,리터 입력하기 (enter a specific money/liter amount), or 가득주유 (fill it up).

For me, I usually just put a certain amount of money, usually 30,000 won (~$30). 

Why? Well for one, telling it to "fill up" usually just puts a large charge on my credit card, and then a refund for the balance when the pump is done. Bothersome. Also I don't like driving around on a full tank all the time. I figure all that extra gasoline weight in the tank is just weighing me down and reducing gas mileage. Plus I like the ritual of filling up (it's a good chance to throw out all the McDrive wrappers from my car). Depending on your car, 3만원 should be enough to take you anywhere, 5만원 to 7만원 should fill you up, and 100만원 you must be driving a truck or something. Note that these prices make sense at time of posting. I'm not responsible for higher prices later. And of course if you tell it you want 60,000 won but the tank only takes 40,000 worth it will refund you the difference. 

6. Point card

Here it's asking if I have a membership loyalty card. If you're just visiting, you don't. So press whatever button is labeled 없음 (Don't have it). 

7. Insert credit card

Until now we haven't used our card yet. Now we're ready. If you're using your IC (integrated chip, i.e. "chip and pin") type card, go ahead and stick that thing right into the slot. You will leave it stuck in there for the remainder of the fuel-up. Don't take it out! If you're using the old magnetic swipe method, swipe it now. 

Here's the extremely high tech pump I was using. I'm joking but some are flash and all touch screen, some are old school and just mostly touchscreen. Notice this one has a swipe stripe reader on the left, IC card slot on the right. I'm using the slot. If you're curious, that thing in the middle is for scanning barcodes (for vouchers?) and the thing on the right with the red writing is for inserting cash. 

8. Reading credit card & confirmation

It's reading my credit card. Please wait. 

It's checking if this is correct. I want 50,000 won worth of gas, right? It looks good so I'm going to push the darker 확인 ("Confirm") button. 

For some reason it's reading my card again. Please wait. 

9. Fueling up

We did it! It's time to fill up. Take the yellow handle (for gasoline) and start pumping. 

When it's done, of course the gas will shut off. Now it's telling me to replace the nozzle back to the pump. 

And don't forget to screw your gas cap back on. 

10. Finishing up

We're almost done. Now it's printing my receipt. Please wait. 

Please take my card and receipt. You cannot miss this step because a loud doorbell sound will start ringing over and over and you will have no idea what's going on. Relax. It's trying to remind you not to forget your card. Though I have no idea why of all sounds it's a doorbell sound. I hate this sound. It is so loud. DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG. 

I didn't withdraw my card fast enough, because I was taking these pictures. The pump is angry at me and demanding that I remove my card. Balli, balli, you dumb foreigner. Move on.

And there you go. 

Other driving and refueling concerns

Here are a couple of other things I've been asked about before.

How do I find a gas station?

Gas stations are called 주유소 (pronounced jew-you-so). You can search this term on any map app. I recommend Naver Map [iOS / Android] as it has an English interface, English navigation (great for driving), and detailed coverage. Search here or here. You can also use Google but you may get fewer results. Search here or here.  

How about turn-by-turn navigation?

A quick note about navigation apps:
  • Google Maps Navigation does not work in South Korea. 
  • Naver Map is your best alternative, as it can offer on-screen and voice navigation all in English. 
  • Waze also works, but will be less accurate.
  • Apple Maps works, but again, less accurate. 

When I say "less accurate" I mean that they may have fewer specific locations/business listings. But they can make do. They tend to direct you on more major roads and occasionally don't have smaller roads in their databases. For me the main sticking point with Waze/Apple Maps is that you have to just "follow the line" which can be difficult if you're not already familiar with the roadway. It will be more challenging to get in the correct lanes and sometimes they will suggest moves (like "Make a U-turn at the next intersection") that are not allowed by traffic rules in that location. So you'll have to be vigilant about ensuring that the directions are accurate to real-world conditions. With Naver Map, all of these issues are taken into account so it's an overall smoother experience. 

If your car has a built-in navigation system, here's a tip. It can be hard/awkward to input your destination in hangul if you aren't familiar with Korean. So, find the destination's listing first on your smartphone, and locate the business phone number. Most in-car navigation systems can search by that number. For example, the Ramada in Jeju has a business phone of 064-729-8100 on Naver or 064-759-8831 on Google. Just type this number in the car navigation's search box and see if the Ramada comes up. Tap it and begin directions. Easy. 

Which gas station to use? 

Each corporation gives the same basic gas. Some popular ones include SK Energy, GS Caltex, S-Oil, etc. I usually go to an SK near my place just because it's a few won cheaper and I get a free car wash sometimes. Different stations will have different posted prices, even from the same company. I usually see about a 200won/liter difference in prices. Assuming you're filling up a 30 liter tank, that's a 6,000 won (~$6) price difference, or $10 difference in a 50L tank. So shop around a bit if you want. There are websites and apps but your car navigation system can probably show you prices of local fueling stations without you having to drive around. Look for a little gas pump icon on the screen. 

There are also a few stations around that are not self-serve. In those, you just park by the pump and the attendant will come to your window, asking how much fuel you want. You can hand over your card or just pay him with cash, and he'll fill up the tank for you. I remember one station right by the National Assembly building like this. It's usually a bit more expensive. But those are rarities these days. 

Can I pay with my foreign-issued credit card?

Yes. If your card doesn't have the IC chip (most do these days), you'll have to find an older pump that has one of the magnetic swipe readers, but if your card works at the restaurants and shops, it will work at the pump. [Make sure your bank knows you're going abroad or they may block the transactions.]

This is how a gas pump transaction looked in my USA online banking. As a test I used my American bank credit card to put 10,000 won of gas in the tank. No issues at all. 

Which type of gas?

There's usually not the distinction of "Regular Unleaded -- Plus -- Premium" that you see so often in the USA. A few places will offer higher octane (고급휘발유) but that's pretty rare in my experience. If you are driving some kind of premium car that needs high octane fuel, there are octane boosters you can add to the tank yourself. Otherwise just grab the 휘발유 (gasoline) nozzle and relax. 

Gas vs. LPG? 

One thing you should look out for is that not all gas stations are normal gas stations. In a normal car, you want a normal gas/diesel station, called 주유소 in Korean (pronounced jew-you-so). They look like this:

Gas stations (주유소) in South Korea
Gas stations (주유소) in South Korea

The other kind are stations for cars that run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). This is not the same gas you put in your car. Unless you are sure you car using LPG, do not go here. These are usually called LPG충전소 in Korean (pronounced LPG choong-juhn-so). They look like this (notice the letters LPG prominently written):

LPG stations (LPG충전소) in South Korea
LPG stations (LPG충전소) in South Korea

Any traffic rules I should be aware of?

Driving in Korea is basically the same as driving in any major city. People will cut you off and drive like maniacs. Embrace it. Accept it as part of life. And leave a little space between you and other cars. In an accident situation, no one is ever 100% at fault here. If you're renting a car, ask if it comes with a blackbox (video recording device). These are called just "black box" in Korean. 

Right on red

Turning right on a red light is allowed, but make sure no one is in the crosswalk as you make your turn. Often the pedestrian light is green and kids run out of all kinds of blind corners. My tip: wait until the pedestrian light is fully red before making your right-on-red turn. The car behind you will honk. That's his problem, not yours. Relax. 

Unprotected left turns

Maybe the biggest difference is Unprotected Left Turns, called 비보호 (bee-bow-hoe). Unlike many areas of the USA, a plain green light does not imply you may turn left when there's no oncoming traffic. The default for all Korean intersections is that left turns are Protected (i.e. left turns get their own green left-arrow light). If you don't see the green arrow pointing left, don't turn. Wait for your arrow, no matter what else is going on. 

However, the unprotected left turn is allowed if you see the 비보호 sign. It looks like this:

비보호, unprotected left turn sign
비보호, unprotected left turn sign

If you see that sign, you can turn left on a plain green light when the coast is clear and no cars are oncoming. If the light is red, do not turn no matter what. You'd be surprised how many Koreans think 비보호 implies "I can just go whenever I want." Wrong. 

Police lights

A final driving tip: you may encounter police cruising with their flashing lights on. Police here do this simply to draw attention to their presence. It is not an indication that you need to pull over. In the very rare case that you need to pull over, the policeman will make it very clear with hand gestures pointing at you and then the ground. Source: my own experience. [That's a story for another time.] Be aware that most patrol policemen will not be great at English, but that sometimes works in your advantage. 

And of course, if for any reason you need to get out of the car, just park anywhere you want. As long as your hazard lights are flashing, you are entitled to just leave your car there. I'm joking of course but most people do this. Again, not unlike other major cities. 

Have fun!

Driving really opens up your chances to experience "real" Korea. The public transportation options are great, but whether you're dragging a family with you or just want the freedom to make your own schedule, driving here can be a fun way to explore Korea. Good look and see you on the road. 

1 comment :

  1. Just a small addition to selecting the amount, you don't have to press 가득주유 to fill up your tank. You can press the maximum amount your tank can take. Example there is no way my car from dead empty to full will take more than 80000won. So if I press 80, and it fills up to 73000won, then this is what your bank transactions will look like :-


    So for this transaction to work properly you would need to have 153000won on your card if you were using a debit card.