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We already have a question about ferries from South Korea to Japan, but my question is can I just show up at the port and buy a ticket for the same-day ferry or do I have to book it in advanced?

I usually never know when I arrive somewhere or in this case when I will be ready to leave Korea, so ideally I don't want to make any advanced bookings except when the prices are significantly cheaper.

I don't have a vehicle and I don't know yet which of the ferry routes I will use.

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No, advance booking is not required, you can generally walk up and buy tickets. This applies to both the slow ferries and the hydrofoils on the primary routes (Busan-Fukuoka, Busan-Shimonoseki).

Of course, this assumes there is availability on the ferries, but outside absolute peak travel seasons (Golden Week etc) this is unlikely to be a problem, especially since recently low-cost airfares have made ferry travel a lot less attractive than it used to be.

Also, while the basic fares are same if purchased in advance or on the spot, there are some heavily discounted advance purchase fares available online only. For example, while the full fare for Busan-Fukuoka return is ¥26,000, the "B-Spe" online fare (min. 14 days in advance) is just ¥4,900.

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