Geotechnical engineers need versatile numerical tools for the successful solution of seepage problems involving phreatic surfaces. The paper reviews and assesses techniques used for the numerical modelling of this category of problems, for both steady-state and transient conditions. This is based on experience gained through the development of a finite element computer model for seepage with phreatic surfaces. It is shown that the results from the various methods may differ significantly, especially for transient seepage analyses. A realistic modelling of flow in the unsaturated zone was found to improve the quality of the results. The study also led to conclusions on some additional points of interest to the numerical modeller, concerning other factors potentially affecting the quality of the results. © 2006 Taylor & Francis Group.