UPDATE: As of August 2015, there is a new Busan International Ferry Terminal. This post reflects that information. The ferry terminal is at Pier 4, north/east of Busan station, not on Pier 1. https://goo.gl/maps/a4Eo2TsurNz GPS: 35.1171609°, 129.0488441°
Air travel has become a bit of a pain the arse, no? So when I have an opportunity to take an alternative method of travel without sacrificing too much time or money, I take it. Looking to travel between Japan and Korea? Why not take the ferry? In fact, from Busan you can travel to either Fukuoka or Osaka (an overnight trip).
It may surprise some that the two countries are just less than a three-hour boat ride apart. For my fellow Midwesterners, it’s like taking the Lake Express across Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Michigan.
The Busan Ferry Terminal in is a short walk (2 blocks – 5-10 minutes) from Busan Station. (It is about a 20-30 minute taxi ride from Seomyeon station area (just about 10,000 won).
The trains from Seoul arrive at Busan Station, including the KTX high-speed rail from Seoul. You can walk about 10 minutes from Exit 8 of Busan Station to arrive at the Busan International Ferry Terminal, but there is also a shuttle bus for 1100 won from Exit 4. This Busan ferry terminal shuttle bus also departs from two Subway Line 1 stations: from Exit 4 at Choryang Station and Exit 14 at Jungang Station. See the Busan Metro Line Map here. (Page down for some photos of the walk from Busan Station to Busan Ferry Terminal. It would be a drag to do this if it’s raining and you have no umbrella, so keep that shuttle bus option in mind.)
JR Beetle (Japan company) and Kobee (Korean company) run this Busan-Fukuoka (Hakata) ferry route, and a slow boat — the Camellia Line — is about 6.5 hours from Fukuoka to Busan, departing just after noon. The Busan to Fukuoka/Hakata route is an overnight option (11 hours to Fukuoka/Hakata). Departure times and frequency vary depending on the day and the season. Weekends tend to have more departures than weekdays, winter has fewer than summer. Some days leave earlier than others.
Other Japan-Korea ferry routes include: Panstar Dream, makes the trip between Busan and Osaka in 19 hours, but not daily. Kampu Ferry also does an overnight trip that runs longer than 14 hours, between Busan and Shimonoseki, east of Fukuoka, on the top of the main island of Honshu. Days and times vary.
Tickets for the JR Beetle are about 13,000 yen one-way, purchasable up to 3 months in advance online on the JR Beetle website. Discounted tickets are available for folks 65 or older (not 60 as it used to be). No, the JR Rail Pass has no place here. (Wouldn’t THAT be awesome?) But upon arrival in Fukuoka the JR high-speed rail system is not far from the ferry dock (1.7mi/2.7km, 9 min taxi/35 min walking). Just remember if you are looking to purchase a JR Rail Pass, you must do it outside Japan before your trip.
There is a JR Beetle English website but when you go to purchase it still remarkably switches back to Japanese, so I recommend using Google Chrome or a browser with built-in translation if you insist. It comes out in wacky Engurish, but clear enough. I actually did the whole thing in Japanese guessing where to click. Some things are pretty universal. However, since that first time, I found a cheaper and easier option, with good customer service:
Buying Ferry Tickets Online Made Easy
I have found a great international booking agent so you can buy ferry tickets between Busan and Japan online, (along with many other worldwide routes.) Many travelers, myself included, found it easier — and cheaper— to just use AFerry (see the search box below), not just in terms of ease of use for English speakers, but also even coming in with a lower price and putting all possible lines out there for comparison. Be aware you must book more than 5 days in advance. But this works and you get a PDF voucher to exchange for your ticket when you arrive:
That 5 days in advance might sound like a deal-breaker for seat-of-the-pants travel, but be aware that the route is quite popular with Koreans and Japanese, of course, and the fast passenger ferry sells out, sometimes weeks in advance, especially on weekends. It happened to me, so don’t wait until the last minute.
You will enter from the parking area, ground floor, level 1, and take an elevator or escalator to the third floor for departures. See the Busan Ferry Terminal Map:
Inside the Busan International Ferry Terminal you’ll find coffee shops, convenience store, and a few simple restaurants, but you must go up to the third floor for check-in.
The arrivals floor (2F) has a great Tourist Information Center, with materials in English and computer terminals for free use. It is open daily from 8 am until the final departure for the day.
Go to the appropriate ferry company window on 3rd floor. You need to present a reservation number (print it out when you buy it online) and your passport. Then you will be asked for a fuel surcharge (about 4,000 to 15,000 won — 4300 won March 30, 2016). You can use a credit card. You can change money on the second floor (arrivals floor) inside the terminal, but no one wants to blow a big bill at the currency exchange to get what is about $3-12 worth of won. Check in starts 1.5 hours before departure, boarding started 20 minutes before departure.
You will receive a receipt for the fee payment, and Japanese immigration/custom forms which you can fill out at one of the tables near the windows, but you won’t need this stuff until you arrive in Fukuoka. (By the way, leaving Fukuoka for Busan also has an exit fee, of about 1,500 yen.)
From here proceed to security to have your bags run through x-rays and you through the metal detector. It’s pretty light security. Refreshing, really. They’ll wave the wand at your belt buckle and ignore it, you keep your shoes on, no laptops need to come out, no limits on liquids.
Beyond this you get your passport stamped in a heartbeat and head to a waiting area with two gates. There is duty-free shopping here and a small snack/food vendor. I heard no English in the announcements, but the gate signage is pretty clear. If you get in the wrong line, don’t worry: they check tickets well and will send you back to your seat.
There’s free WiFi at the terminal and in some of the eateries, and places to charge your devices. Phone companies are represented on the second floor (arrivals) if you want to get a SIM card or data plan.
On board your ticket tells you what floor you are on, your seat number. If you have a big suitcase, the attendants will send you up front to store it before you head for your seat. If this is the case, I’d advise boarding first or at the end of the line. Brainiac that I am, I got on about middlin’, thus there were no proper luggage spots and my bag was first into the overflow area — making it the last bag possible when we arrived in Fukuoka. I had to wait for everyone else to leave.
Ah, that incredible Korean courtesy… hold on. Attendant number 2 with the half-hearted bow?? What is the world coming to?
The seat has a seatbelt and you’ll understand why later. Some Japanese programming is on a big screen with Korean subtitles. On board the snacks and duty-free accept Japanese yen or Korean won.
This is a hydrofoil. You don’t get to see it in action unless you happen to catch the sister ship passing in the opposite direction in the distance. But this is a boat with jet engines that start with a high-pitched whine and then the roar and then off you go, rising up out of the water on three blades like this is some kind of giant ice skate. It cruises pretty fast and those seat belts should tell you something. It’s rather maneuverable and at various times it may lean one way and then suddenly the other, like a guy on a motorcycle weaving around something at high speed. Very cool. The trip takes about 3 hours.
The harbor lighthouse at Fukuoka, Japan
At Fukuoka station you pass through immigration, and you may have your bags examined. I rarely have that done anywhere in the world, but these officials seemed busy so there may be good reason for them to be searching. I get a lot of questions every time, and they held up my bottle of ibuprofen at one point almost in a gotcha! fashion, but I just said headaches and we were done. You can change money in the terminal of course — but there is no ATM (1/2015) and if you arrive late in the day, everything in the station is closed. A row of taxis awaits at the curb, and regular buses stop here.
This sign explains which numbered buses arrive and where they go and how to use them. In Japan you take a ticket when you board the bus at the middle door. The ticket has a zone number. The screen on the bus shows the price you pay when you get off the bus based upon the zone number of your ticket and stops are displayed in Japanese and English. More complicated than it needs to be but once you know the routine it’s easy enough.
There are other ferries to other places in Japan, all departing from Busan. For example, Panstar operates a 19-hour route to Osaka. All of these can be found on AFerry (a UK company) and you get a PDF ticket to print out:
Walking from Busan Station to Busan International Ferry Terminal