There are multiple ways to get from Incheon Airport to the city center. When I was doing my research, the AREX express train seemed to make the most sense. I wanted to get to my hotel as smoothly as possible after a long-haul flight. The express train is a quick 45-minute ride to Seoul Station in the city center. You get an assigned, comfortable seat, free wifi and spacious room for luggage, at a price not significantly higher than the bus or all-stop commuter train option.
According to the Korean tourism website, a one-way ticket costs 8,000₩ (~US$7), but is discounted to 7,500₩ if purchased through a ticket vending kiosk, or 6,900₩ if you show that you flew with one of the Korean Airlines (Korean Air, Asiana or Jeju Air)
AREX Airport Express train
At the arrival hall
Upon deplaning, it took me about about 20 minutes to get from the gate through immigration as Incheon is a huge airport, though the passport control process itself was very effcieint and took only 5 minutes.
I didn’t have any Korean won with me, and saw long queues at the few limited ATMs in the arrival hall. Some of the ATMs appear to be for domestic bank cards only, which might not work for the Charles Schwab debit card that I planned to use (to get cash worldwide at no fees). So I went straight to a currency exchange shop and converted US$50. Interestingly, the receipt from money exchange provides a discounted Express train pricing of 6,900₩ as well!
I then followed the yellow “KTX — Airport Railroad” signage, which led me one level down. After another strech of long walkway, I reached the orange AREX Airport Railroad area.
Ticket purchase There is a row of vending kiosk that sells the ticket, along with a published train schedule which shows that the express train runs every 25-35 minutes.
AREX Airport Express train schedule
The manned booth had no line at all. I presented my currency exchange receipt to the agent and paid 6,900₩ with my credit card (I later realized that credit card use is very widely used in Korea, with a notable exception that regular metro vending machine does not take credit cards).
AREX Express train ticket booth
Along with the ticket came with a receipt that shows my assigned seat number (which I almost threw away without looking).
Train ticket receipt showing seat 5-10A
As the train was still 15 minutes away, I dropped into a 7-eleven convenience store about 50 meters away and purchased a “T-money” rechargable transportation card for 4,000₩, which would come in handy when transferring to the metro in Seoul.
Getting on the train
About 10 minutes prior to the schedule departure, I got through the boarding gate right next the booth by tapping the ticket on the scanner.
AREX Express train boarding gate
An escalator took me down to the train track. A staff instructed me to get into train car 5, where I was able to easily find my seat 5-10A, a window seat. I put my carry-on luggage in the overhead space and settled in.
AREX express train interior
The train departed on time. My particular car was about half filled, with no one sitting next to me. Wifi worked very well on the train (as is the case in most of Seoul).
Transfer to metro in Seoul
After a mostly uneventful ride, we arrived at Seoul station, a hub for many other subway lines. I exited the gate with my AREX train ticket (the machine would take the ticket away). I proceeded to the T-money recharge station and put in 10,000₩, which would be used on any transportation in Seoul (each ride costs a flat rate of 1,500₩. These recharge machines only take cash.
Ticket vending / T-card recharge kiosk
I then used the T-money card to get through another gate towards metro line 4, which took about 5 minutes and required walking down a few steps without escalator, but was overall pretty easy. Finally, it took 2 stops to get to Myeongdong and a short walk to get to my hostel.
Overall AREX Express train was a pretty decent transportation option to get from Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul in 45 minutes. A few of the signs were not super obvious, but was overall easy to navigate through. Hope this guide is helpful for your next trip in Seoul!