The currency of Korea is the won symbolized by a , which is a “W” with a horizontal line through it at the middle. Though quite unstable in the late 90’s following the Korean economic crash, it has since surged back and the base denomination of 1,000 won is very strong on international markets today.
Korean bills: 10,000 KRW (green), 5,000 KRW (brown) and 1,000 KRW (pink).
Korean coins: 500 KRW, 100 KRW, 50 KRW, and 10 KRW.
Unless you are completely outside of a major population center, you will never have any problem finding a banking machine. Every bank has about four or five, and at least one can be found in every subway station. As well, ATMs can be found in post offices, shopping centers, on university campuses and in many convenience stores. Every banking machine has an option to conduct the transaction in English, so language is never a problem. Transaction options usually include withdrawals by cash (10,000 won) or check (100,000 won), balance inquiry and electronic money transfer. Most machines will also provide credit card services including balance inquiries and cash advances for both domestic and foreign credit cards (Visa, Master Card or American Express only). Deposits can only be made at bank ATMs for domestic cards and accounts only.
As is to be expected, cash transactions are the most common in Korea, but most places will also take a credit card without a second glance. However, small corner convenience stores, small restaurants and traditional markets often won’t accept credit cards, so you should always have some cash on hand.
In both Canada and America, customers also have the option of paying for goods and services using their bank/debit card, however that service is not available in Korea. Cash (including 100,000 won checks) or credit are the only options.
Bigger transactions can be completed quite easily by phone or internet banking, but do not be surprised if your boss hands you an envelope with a month’s salary in it on payday. It can be very unnerving for a teacher to walk down the street at night with their entire month’s pay in their back pocket, but crime here is so incredibly low that most Koreans don’t think twice about paying their employees in cash. If the thought of carrying that much money is too much for you, it is not a problem to request your pay by electronic transfer to your bank account.
Cash advances on foreign credit cards via most ATMs is usually not a problem for the most popular cards like Visa, Master Card and American Express. Some foreign debit cards will even work, but only in special cash machines that are most often found in convenience stores and major shopping centers and department stores. These machines are always much smaller than normal bank ATM machines, and always have a chart, either overhead or on their side, which shows the symbols of the cards that will work (I.E. BC, Cirrus, etc.).
One of America’s top banks, Citibank, has more than 240 locations all over Korea. Teachers with an account back home can access their funds with no fees, though depositing money in their account from Korea does have some restrictions. Visit the Citibank Korea English website for branch locations.
For teachers who need to send money home regularly to pay student loans or pad their savings, international money transfers can be done from any major bank. Banks almost always will have at least one employee who can speak enough English to make this process relatively painless, but it is always a good idea to bring along a Korean friend or coworker, just in case. The transfer itself is usually completed within three to five business days. Banks will require either your passport or alien registration card as identification, and may require a copy of your contract as proof of where you got the money from.
Foreigners can open their own bank account if they have a Korean Alien Registration card (all E-2 teaching visa holders must get one within 90 of arriving in Korea). If yours has not arrived yet, you will need a copy of your contract and your passport. Again, most banks have at least one person who can speak English, but it may be a good idea to bring along a Korean friend or coworker.