South Korea and Japan are two fantastic countries to visit, and if you are visiting one, it makes a lot of sense to take the short hop across the East Sea/Sea of Japan to visit the other. Unfortunately, the cost of flights between the two countries can be ridiculously high, with a one-way ticket usually costing over $300 USD for the short two-hour flight.
However, for those in either country, there is another way to travel from the Land of the Morning Calm to the Land of the Rising Sun: the JR Beetle.
A high-speed ferry that zips across the sea in just under three-hours, the JR Beetle is an excellent choice for those on a budget or looking for an alternative to the cost and hassle of flying. It also makes a loop of Japan and South Korea very convenient for those traveling for an extended period of time.
Even better, unlike the airports of either city, which require leaving the city center and going through high-levels of security, the ferry crossing couldn’t be more pleasant. No need to arrive two to three hours before the ferry leaves as check-in, security, and immigration is a breeze.
The ferry connects Busan, South Korea and Fukuoka, Japan, both in the southern part of the country. These cities are fantastic places to spend a few days because they feature some interesting cultural spots, decent beaches, and good shopping. They also have excellent rail connections to the rest of the country.
From Busan, you can get to Seoul in less than three hours for under $50 USD, and from Fukuoka, you can easily get to Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, or Tokyo by bus or train.
When I went in the summer of 2010, the ferry ride was very pleasant, with a refreshment area and an English speaking staff. The ride was very smooth, and they even played “Roman Holiday” an American movie from 1953. The ferry is a hydrofoil, which means that it sits well out of the water, so you should get a fairly smooth ride in all but the worst of weather.
To get tickets for the Beetle, head over the JR Beetle website . The tickets cost 13,000 Yen ($170) one-way or 24,000 Yen ($315) return. It is also possible to get a return ticket for 20,000 Yen if you travel only on weekdays and use the return portion within a week.
(Update: May 16, 2013) If you are having trouble booking your tickets through JR Beetle website, try calling +810-922-812-315 from Japan or, from Korea, dial 051-441-8200. There are usually English operators available. (Thanks to Eugene of Katsu News and Lyndee S. for supplying the updated information.)
Travel Tip: Make sure that you have the “Ferry Departure Tax” when you arrive at the terminals. The cost is approximately 15,000 Won or 1,500 Yen, depending on which country you are in.
The ferry terminal in Busan can be reached with a 5-10 minute walk from Jungang-dong Station on subway line number 1.
The Fukuoka Ferry Terminal has frequent bus connections, and there is an English speaking sign at the information counter telling you how to get to the city center, train station, etc. There is also money changing facilities and a restaurant at each terminal.
Find somewhere great to stay in Busan and Fukuoka!
Jim Cheney is the creator of Tripologist.com. Having traveled extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, Jim enjoys sharing his love of travel and some of his favorite places to visit around the world. He lives in Pennsylvania, USA, with his wife and two kids.
41 thoughts on “Taking the Ferry Between South Korea and Japan: An Instruction Manual”
This is great info and I’m going to save the link to this to remind me of the Beetle when we’re in that area of the world. Thanks!
Totally useful option for getting back and forth. I always fly and do so every spring. This could give a nice spin to my trip. Too bad the JR Rail Pass doesn’t get a discount 😉
The ferry is a great alternative to flying. Thanks for the comment.
I seem to recall that when I did this, there was an option to buy a JR Pass and a Beetle ticket together for a better price.
Basically getting from Seoul to Kyoto is not any cheaper if you take the ferry:
Flying: ~600dollars there and back
Bus to busan: 50$*2 =100$
Train to Kyoto 476$(7 day rail pass or 567$ two single tickets)
Buss to Kyoto 285$
Total: 700$ – 891$(982$)
Staying in the southern part of Japan however is cheaper…
Thanks for the comment. You are mostly correct in stating that this isn’t necessarily the most cost effective way to do a round trip from Seoul to Kyoto. However, having done this exact trip before, it is a very pleasant and relaxing way to do it.
Also, some of your figures are a bit off. The cost for the high speed train from Seoul to Busan is about $50, but the bus is about $30 each way. It is actually possible to take that trip by train for $25 or by bus for $20.
Great idea! I will definitely take the ferry instead of flying!
Great info. Not only is the ferry more affordable, but it’s also a greener alternative to flying.
You are right, taking the ferry is a great way to go green. Thanks for the comment.
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Its kinda late to post this but there is a free shuttle from Seoul to Busan for travellers. It is ceasing operation with effect from January 2013.
But hope this helps somebody out there for the remainder of 2012.
This is good to know. I’m going to be moving to Korea so on a vacation I’d love to jump over to Japan and hike Mt. Fuji!
The ferry is a great option if you are going to southern Japan, but probably isn’t your best bet to get to Tokyo for a week long vacation.
Mt. Fuji looks awesome. I hope to hike it some day as well.
Do you know of any other reputable websites (translated into English) where you can book the ferry tickets to travel to and from South Korea and Japan? I have looked at the link you have provided but there is no option to travel in 2013! I have tried to Google other sites but they either require you to book rooms, costing a lot or are written in Japanese!
Also, I would like to go to Tokyo, so a ferry that would get me closest as it can to that area, or somewhere where it would be easy to travel to Tokyo would be fantastic.
Thanks for the comment. I have looked into the issue and am trying to find out where you can book tickets. I appreciate you brining the issue to my attention, and I hope that I can find an answer for your soon.
I am planning a trip to Japan and Korea in July of 2013. I plan to use the JR Beetle to get from Fukuoka to Busan. But I cannot find the schedule in English so that I can plan my trip. There is a JR Beetle website in English, but it will not go beyond 2012, and when I enter times into the website, it sends me to a page in Japanese. PLEASE, can you tell me many times per day, and at what times the Beetle goes from Fukuoka to Busan? I can’t find the information anywhere.
I’m also looking to travel from Busan to Fukuoka the weekend of Buddha’s birthday (sailing over on Friday 17th May, returning Sunday 19th May). I’ve gone on to the Beetle website but can only go so far in the booking process before it reverts back to Japanese. Is there an English language website or possibly a reliable travel agency with a speaker of English where I could find help?
Thank you so much for your help!
Sorry for the delayed response. I updated this post with a phone number you can call for more information. I believe the phone number is a Japanese one, however. Hope this helps.
If you are leaving from Busan you will want to call 051-441-8200. They have an English option and it is VERY easy and convenient and you can just transfer the money at the bank. 🙂 It’s so easy!!! If you are leaving from Japan call the number provided above, totally works too!
Thanks so much for the information. I’m going to add it to the post above!
Very useful. I’m planning to travel July 20, 2013, from Busan and return five days later, in case anyone has last minute info. getting up to Kyoto doesn’t seem to be covered in any of the advice but must be fairly obvious once I get there. Well done, everyone.
You can get to Kyoto quite easily on the train from Fukuoka. Thanks for the comment. Enjoy your trip.
Hi there. I was wondering if you thought it would be possible to book the Fukuoka to Busan ferry a day or two in advance? If so – I could ask the hotel concierge to help. This would avoid the hassle of trying to book by phone from Ireland! My family and I will be staying in Fukuoka for two days before leaving to go to Korea.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this
You could certainly try. If you are visiting in the offseason or are traveling on a weekday you might be able to, but it’s up to you if you want to take that chance. Worst case scenario , you can always fly from Fukuoka to Busan, but that might cost a decent amount on short notice.
Thank you for this post!
I’m planning my trip to Japan (15 days) and South Korea (15 days) and that’s I was looking for: clear and easy information about the ferry.
Thanks from Brazil!!! 😀
Thanks. Glad it helped. Take the time to have a look around the site. I’ve got a lot of great information about Korea and Japan.
Thank you dude!
Your posts about Korea are helping me a lot!
Here in Brazil there is no information about Korea, only Japan, that’s why I’m visiting your site everyday. 😛
Elton, Glad the site is helpful! Hope you have a great chance to explore Korea at some point.
Hey, I was browsing for a ferry tiket from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Busan on May 4th and found that in the JR Beetle website it says that the price is 13.000 Yen one way. But I searched from [Removed by moderator] and found JR Beetle ticket for 49 Pound Sterling, which is around 8500 Yen. How is that possible? I wanna book the ticket but I’m just not sure if it’s really cheaper, though I’ve never heard any scam review from aferry.
I would appreciate your answer. Thank you.
Not sure Bila. Maybe they have some special discount. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of the website you listed, but if you can’t find any scam info, it might be legit. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
Hi Bila, I was also looking into this ferry trip and came along aferry. The site seems legit, but I am very curious to hear from some one who has used it. Did you end up booking through the site and did you have any trouble?
Do you know whether it is possible to change the JR copon into a JR Rail pass in Korea. In fact i will make the trip from Busan to Fukuoka.
Sorry for the late reply, Zouhair. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know you can change the coupon over at the train station in Fukuoka. Hope that helps. Enjoy your trip!
Too late for Zouhair, but for others:
I am pretty sure that one can’t exchange JR voucher outside Japan. However, don’t worry, it takes few minutes to exchange it for the JR Pass at designated points (should be every bigger rail station as Hakata f. ex.)
Thank you for your response! Can you advise me about the cheapest mode of conveyance+youth hostel stay to Busan-Fufuoka-Kyoto-Pusan? Thanking you in anticipation. With best regards
For those who have time there s an even cheper and more confortable option than the bettle. The camelia ferry leave fukuoka to busan every day at 12H30, arriving busan at 6:30PM, then leave busan at night the same day arriving fukuoka next morning (so you save one night accomodation). It s a bit longer a bit longer than the beetle but the ferry is a lot bigger so it makes the corssing a lot smother.The ferry is honestly great with mate dormitort style, public bath, restaurant and even gaming center and karaoke for those who get bored !!!!!! It s as well a lot cheeper. It cost me 9000 yen and you can get discount if you re taking round trip. Not necessery to book in advance otherwise ask your hostel to assist you with the korean website as the english version doesn t allow you to book on line. The departure tax is only 500 yen and there s as well a 500 yen tax for fuel surcharge. You can only pay them by cash so bi sure you keep a 1000yen before leaving. Hope it willl help. I took the ferry on the 10th of August 2015
Julien: I was wondering what time the Camelia ferry leaves Busan to Fukuoka (you said at night, and it travels through the night). Do you know the departure time from Busan at night? Thanks, that would be greatly appreciated!
In the meantime I will try to find info on the Camelia ferry online.
I want to visit Tokyo on 20th June for 4days,is there cheap transport for going jeju island from tokyo