How to pay in South Korea

Cash, cards & cheques

When travelling, it is always advised to bring your money in several different forms in case of any emergency occurrences. In general, it is easier to make purchases using cash or a credit card (in department stores, bigger restaurants and hotels).

Traveller’s cheques can be more of a hassle if not converted into cash once you arrive. Opening up a bank account in Korea will allow you to make monthly payments and bigger purchases without the worry of conversion rates or any questions of validity.

South Korean Won (KRW)

The country’s official currency is the Won. Notes are in denominations of KRW 10,000, 5,000 and 1,000. KRW 1,000 is called Chon Won in Korean ( chon means “one thousand”). Coins are in denominations of KRW 500, 100, 50 and 10.

As of April 2007:

  • 1 euro equals 1,253 KRW
  • 1 Pound sterling (GBP) equals 1,844 KRW

Currency restrictions

The import and export of local currency is allowed up to KRW 8,000,000. The import of foreign currency is unlimited, provided amounts greater than USD $10,000 (including traveller's cheques) are declared on arrival. Export of foreign currency is limited to the amount declared on arrival.

Plastic money: Credit cards, Maestro /Cirrus cards

International credit cards (American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa) can pretty much be used anywhere. However, only some ATM’s will accept foreign credit/debit cards (look for machines correlated with Cirrus, Star, Interlink, Plus, etc). The bank card issued by your bank is not a credit/debit card, but an ATM card. It can only be used to withdraw cash from bank ATM machines. ATM machines are out of service after 11:00PM so plan accordingly when withdrawing cash.

Traveller’s Cheques

Although traveller’s cheques provide more security compared to cash if lost or stolen, they are not the most convenient form of payment in Korea. Some major hotels, department stores, and large restaurants may accept traveller’s cheques, but most places prefer you to pay in cash. If possible, exchange your traveller’s cheques at your local bank or exchange service centre. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take travellers cheques in US Dollars.

The Korea Travel Card (KTC)

This is a multi-purpose, pre-paid travel card sold by the Korean National Tourism Office, Shinhan Card and the Shinhan Bank, only to foreign tourists or residents. This card provides discounts on currency charges, international and national calls and provides free travel insurance. The card can be bought in denominations of KRW 100,000, 200,000, 300,000, 500,000 or in a customized amount between KRW 100.000 and 500,000.

Direct debits & bank transfers

For larger payments or monthly bills, it may be more efficient to use bank transfers. Your bank may charge a small service fee for automatic transfers, but it is worth the trouble to set up such payments.

Further reading

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