South Korea is a nation of contrasts. From the super high-tech Seoul to the quiet rural villages, and any one of the 3,300 beautiful sub-tropical islands, there’s something on offer for every traveller. No wonder South Korea is one of the most visited countries in Asia.
If you’re visiting South Korea soon - or considering a longer term stay, to work or study, you’ll need to get your hands on some cash to pay for everything you need while you’re there. Getting your Korean Won - that’s South Korea’s local currency - from ATMs once you arrive is a convenient way to quickly get the local currency you need.
If you’re planning on using ATMs in South Korea, here’s all you need to know.
In South Korea you’ll find both ATMs, which are multifunctional, allowing people with local bank accounts to withdraw cash, pay bills, and deposit money, as well machines which are for dispensing cash only. Some ATMs will only allow local bank account holders to withdraw money - if you have a foreign debit or credit you’ll need to find one which is marked ‘Global Services’, and shows the Visa/Mastercard logo. Cash Dispensers are usually found in convenient locations such as subway stations and are more likely to allow cash withdrawals for credit and debit cards.¹ You may, however, have to pay a fee for the service.
Not all ATMs operate 24 hours a day - some are inside bank branches and therefore only accessible during office hours.¹ Try a well known global banking brand if you’re struggling to find an ATM which will accept your card. Fortunately, most places - including taxis - typically accept card payments, so you shouldn’t need to worry too much if you’re low on cash in one of the cities.
To find a convenient ATM, use these ATM locators for local and global banks:
- Citibank ATM locator
- HSBC ATM locator
- KEB Hana Bank ATM locator
- Standard Chartered ATM locator
- Woori Bank ATM locator
Using a foreign debit or credit card in South Korea is easy enough if you want to make direct payments in a store or restaurant for example. However, there are some restrictions on the use of foreign bank accounts, and not all ATMs accept international bank cards. If you find that your credit or debit card is refused at one ATM, try to find another. Different banks - and even different ATMs in one location - can accept different card types. Travellers have reported that even ATMs displaying the Visa/Mastercard logo sometimes fail to work for foreign cards, so persistence is the key.
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted networks in South Korea.² Discover cards are common enough and can be used for cash withdrawals at global banks like Citibank, but also several local banks like Busan Bank and Daegu Bank.³ Amex cards can be used in ATMs run by a number of South Korean banks, including KEB.⁴
Find a handy ATM to suit your needs using one of the following locators:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
Bank cards issued in South Korea have 4 digit PINs. Longer 5 or 6 digit PINs don’t usually work in South Korean ATMs. If you have a chip and PIN card with a 4 digit PIN you should have no problem. However, if you use a card without a PIN for everyday use, like an American-issued magnetic stripe card, you’ll need to request a 4 digit PIN for the card from your bank before you travel.
There is legislation which covers the amount of cash a foreigner can withdraw from a bank account based overseas, when in South Korea. These limits are set fairly high - at USD5,000 a day or USD10,000 a month - but you might need to talk to your local bank before you travel if you intend to withdraw large amounts in South Korea.⁵
You’ll find that bank ATMs set their maximum cash withdrawal limits to reflect this legislation - a transaction limit of KRW1,000,000, and a daily limit of KRW6,000,000 is common.⁵ However, if you have a lower daily cash withdrawal limit set by your home bank, then this will apply instead of the South Korean bank’s rule.
The last thing you want is to be in South Korea without a bank card you can use. However, this could happen if you don’t inform your bank in advance that you intend to travel.
If you don’t talk to your bank before you go, the bank’s fraud department might block or limit your card if they spot a sudden spike in overseas card use, until they can confirm it’s you using it.
Most people using a foreign debit or credit card in South Korea will have to pay a fee to use the ATMs there.
Here are the fees - and scams - to watch out for if you use your foreign card in an ATM in South Korea.
Dynamic currency conversion (also called DCC for short) - is where you’re offered the option to pay for a transaction or cash withdrawal in your home currency instead of the local one.
Banks will say it’s to make life easier for travellers struggling to navigate a new and confusing currency. However, DCC is a rip-off which doesn’t offer good value for customers. That’s because the exchange rate used is often not the real, mid-market rate, which you’d find on google. Instead, the exchange rate used is marked up by the ATM provider or merchant, who then pocket the difference. You’ll get a better deal if you always choose to pay in the local currency instead.
It’s common for banks to charge for international ATM usage.
Don’t get a nasty surprise. Make sure you find all the details of the charges added to international ATM withdrawals for your specific account online, or on the back of a bank account statement - before you travel.
If you bank with a regional or global brand which is represented in South Korea, like Citibank or HSBC, it’s worth checking out if you can get cheap or fee-free withdrawals, if you stick to their ATMs. If not, you’re likely to be charged a fee by the local bank, or ATM provider for the use of the ATM.
If you don’t have an account with one of the global banks in South Korea, then it’s still worth asking your home bank if they have a partner institution based there. Often banks work together in networks, to offer their customers free or reduced fee cash withdrawals, from specific ATMs overseas. Check out the options from your own bank before you travel, to make sure you get the best deal.
Even if you can’t get rid of fees altogether, you can reduce ATM fees in South Korea with a few simple tricks.
In an ideal world, all bank accounts would charge fair, low and transparent fees for ATM withdrawals overseas - or better still, it would be a free service. However we are some way off that ideal, and currently, all bank accounts have their own fee structures for international ATM use.
As fees vary widely, if you have more than one credit or debit card, it’s worth checking out which offers the best deal for overseas cash withdrawals. You could even open a new account specifically for travel, with a bank which offers a good deal on overseas cash withdrawals.
DCC - as we explained above - is a frustrating, but entirely avoidable expense for travellers using a foreign credit or debit card at ATMs. Avoid it by choosing to pay in local currency, and dodge DCC’s high fees and poor exchange rates.
At the moment the currency route of sending to South Korea is closed for new customers joining Transferwise, but you’re more than welcome to go into this link to request that it be made available in the future. If in the future, if this route is back open, Transferwise could be a great option for you to consider as they can save you money both by offering the fair mid-market rate and on international fees as their transfers are completed with local transfers on both the sending and receiving end.
Using ATMs in South Korea might involves a little trial and error to make sure you can find an ATM which accepts your bank card - but it’s certainly a convenient choice once you have found your way around the system. And as long as you’re careful about DCC, you can often keep fees down to a minimum.
¹http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AK/AK_EN_1_5_5.jsp (March 6 2018)
²https://www.frommers.com/destinations/south-korea/money (March 6 2018)
³https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/help-center/account/international-use.html (March 6 2018)
⁴https://network.americanexpress.com/globalnetwork/atm_locator/en/#search/35.90775699999999/127.76692200000002 (March 6 2018)
⁵http://img.shinhan.com/nexhpe/ko/news/201001280441159_1264643513000000173.pdf (March 6 2018)
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