Though daunting, banking as a foreigner in Korea is much easier than 15 years ago, when you got a Korean friend to help you at the teller and after midnight ATMs were down until the next day. Nowadays, banks are competing for expat clients. Even the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (Nonghyup Bank) has an English interface for Internet banking!
To open a bank account in Korea, all you need is your passport to get a basic passbook that you can use for over-the-teller transactions. Some bank passbooks can be used in ATMs to withdraw cash. Ask at your bank if you want this, as you will require a PIN for the passbook.
At the bank’s discretion, you may need to wait 90 days from opening your first bank account. This can be avoided if you already have a certificate of alien registration. Some banks are reluctant to issue ATM cards that will work overseas, so make sure you ask beforehand.
Please note: when you get a new passport, it will have a different number, meaning it will not be valid identification for accounts opened with the old passport. The best thing to do is register your certificate of alien registration as your identification, as registration numbers never change. If you opened the account with your passport, you can change it when you receive your registration card.
Sending money overseas
Wiring funds to your home country is possible, though there are restrictions. The Korean government has laws and guidelines in place to curtail the unlimited outflow of capital.
Each foreigner must designate a “primary foreign exchange transaction bank.” This will usually be where you open your first account in Korea. Henceforth, all money remitted overseas must be done at a branch of this bank. If you visit the same branch each time, subsequent remittances to the same account should be much faster.
You will need to show identification and fill in a remittance form. You can send up to US$50,000 each year without declaring the source of the money. To remit more, you need to show documents to the bank showing the money was legally earned in Korea.
Transferring money within Korea
You can transfer funds from your account to any other in Korea easily and quickly at a bank teller or ATM or via the Internet. Fees vary, but the last option is cheapest. This is an efficient way to pay bills, shop online, and buy travel tickets. You just need the recipient account name, number, and the name of the bank.
Check cards and credit cards
A check card is similar to a debit card. It functions like a credit card, but the money comes directly out of your account, so you cannot exceed your balance. Check cards can be used in most stores, restaurants, taxis and some ATMs. A signature is not always required. You can apply at your bank—some will issue them immediately upon opening an account, while others require a 90-day wait and/or proof of income. Whether you are eligible for a debit card is always at the discretion of each bank.
Foreign residents of Korea can now apply for locally issued credit cards. Eligibility depends on credit history in Korea, income levels, and/or job type. Depending on these, you may be required to open a term deposit; your credit card limit will then be a percentage of that deposit.
All major banks now provide Internet banking in English, but not all levels of service are equal. Check if your bank has explanatory brochures in English and an English-language helpline for phone advice. Some websites are superficially expat-friendly—with error messages and pop-ups in Korean only.
Internet banking is helpful and cheap, but there are a number of security hurdles to surmount. Most banking websites work only with Internet Explorer and require you to allow the installation of firewalls and anti-spyware applications. You also need to download and save a “digital certificate,” which you will use for all future Internet banking transactions with any bank. Then you need an OTP (one-time password) card that holds strings of random numbers. When transferring funds online, you will need to enter your PIN, a transfer password, your certificate password, and two strings of OTP card numbers.
Additionally, some banks offer phone banking and mobile banking.
- Shinhan Bank recently opened a center for foreign customers on the first floor of the Seoul Finance Center.
- Standard Chartered First Bank has ten branches in Seoul with English-speaking staff, brochures, a helpline, and a website in English.
- Citibank runs six “global branches” of its own.
- Woori Bank has 11 “expat-only” desks in its branches around the nation.
- Apart from its 19 global desks, Korea Exchange Bank runs 3 foreign VIP centers, a 24-hour English hotline and a desk in the Seoul Global Center run by Seoul Metropolitan Government.
- KB, IBK, HSBC, Hana, and Nonghyup have direct-dial English-language helplines.
More detailed information about banking in Korea can be found in “Financial Transactions Guide for Foreigners in Korea,” a booklet published by Fn Hub Korea (an arm of the Financial Supervisory Service). It can be downloaded for free at their website (www.fnhubkorea.kr, in the “Living Assistance” menu). Various banks also have a copy on their websites and hard copies in their branches.
Korea Exchange Bank www.keb.co.kr/netc/en/expat/main.html
Standard Chartered First Bank www.scfirstbank.com
Shinhan Bank www.shinhan.com/en/
Woori Bank eng.wooribank.com/
Kookmin Bank money.kbstar.com/quics?page=eng
Industrial Bank of Korea english.ibk.co.kr/
Hana Bank www.hanabank.com
Suhyup Bank www.suhyup.co.kr/eng/index.jsp