How to open a bank account in South Korea

27.03.17
5 minute read
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South Korea is an increasingly popular destination for expatriates to relocate to. A common reason enticing Westerners to move to Seoul is to teach English or work for an international company. South Korea is home to some of the most advanced electronics and telecommunications ecosystems in the world.

South Korea can be a challenging country for foreigners due to the language, the transportation, and the cultural idiosyncrasies. If you’re expatriating to South Korea, you may be wondering how to get started. Opening a bank account is a crucial first step that’ll help you settle in. Luckily, opening a bank account in South Korea is pretty straightforward. Here are some tips to help you.

What documents do I need to open a bank account in South Korea?

The documents you’ll need to take with you to the bank to open an account are:

  • Your passport
  • A valid visa
  • Alien Registration Card (ARC - a South Korean residency card)

The ARC will have your address printed on it, but you should also bring in a copy of your address written in both Korean and English, so the bank can properly capture it.

Note that not all of the documents above are always necessary; some banks allow you to open an account as a foreigner. It should also be noted that South Korean banks don't allow their customers to open an account before arriving to the country - everything must be dealt with in person at a branch.

Can I open a bank account as a non-resident?

Many South Korean banks allow foreigners to open a bank account. The majority of banks offer services in English as well as other languages. Most banks allow new arrivals to open an account, but they’ll require you to conduct all transactions via a teller at a branch, thus restricting your ATM access. After you’ve been a resident for three months, you can then gain ATM access. Note that when opening a bank account in South Korea, everything has to be done in person and online applications aren't available.

Which bank should I choose?

Some of the most popular South Korean banking choices for expats are KB Kookmin Bank (one of the largest banks in South Korea), HSBC South Korea, Hana Bank, Citibank South Korea and Woori Bank.

South Korea also has plenty of international partners with ATMs available across the country, such as:

As an expat, you’re likely to bank with one of the following local retail operations:

KB Kookmin Bank

  • Number of branches: over 1200
  • Number of ATMs: 1200+
  • Products:
  • KB welcome services for foreigners (checking or savings account, free transactions)
  • Personal banking
  • Corporate banking
  • Student account with basic functions (if you have ARC card)

Hana Bank

  • Number of branches: over 40
  • Number of ATMs: 40+
  • Products:
  • Easy-One foreigner service (online banking and services in Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese)
  • Corporate banking accounts

Citibank South Korea

  • Number of branches: over 1200
  • Number of ATMs: 1200+
  • Products:
  • KB welcome services for foreigners (checking or savings account, free transactions)
  • Personal banking
  • Foreign exchange services
  • Corporate banking
  • Citigold and Citigold private client accounts with financial guidance

The logistics of banking in South Korea

To open a bank account in South Korea, no appointment is needed. Just show up at the bank, receive a ticket and wait for your turn. Most procedures are fairly simple and generally ATM or debit cards can be issued on the spot. With some banks, the wait can take up to three months. If you’re looking for a bank with an English speaking service in Seoul, go to The Hana Bank World Center branch.

In most cases once the necessary forms have been filled in, your bank will issue a bank card. It’s important to note that this is an ATM card, but not a debit card. If you require a debit card or a card that works overseas, you’ll need to ask the bank for that specifically. The same rule goes for internet banking. The most straightforward way to get internet banking is to ask the bank staff to assist you with setting it up directly .

Make sure the bank explains the process for registering for online banking, as well as the usage requirements. If you don’t register for online banking, you’ll be given a passbook that you can take to a teller or ATM to get a printout of your banking transactions. To find out what services and account options are available when you open your account, you can visit the bank’s website. The larger banks will usually have explanations in English.

ATMs are plentiful in most Korean cities and can also be found in hotels, post offices, train stations and convenience stores. Although some are available 24/7 and accept foreign cards, many are only online during the day between 8AM and midnight, and only accept Korean cards. If using a foreign debit card, your best bet is an ATM associated with a larger bank.

International cards are readily accepted in large hotels and stores, but Koreans usually pay with debit cards and local Korean credit cards. Smaller stores and restaurants may have trouble processing a foreign credit card.

Banking fees

There may be a small fee for receiving your ATM card from some banks. Most banks will only allow you to have one ATM card. When it comes to ATMs fees incurred by withdrawing money from the ATM of a different bank, each bank has a different policy. All Korea Exchange Bank ATMs are free of charge, no matter which card you have.

Korean banks don't charge monthly fees for your account. You only pay for the transactions that you make, such as using a bank’s ATM that's outside your network, or using your bank’s ATM outside of banking hours. Using tellers may also result in a small service charge.

International banking fees

When it comes to foreign exchange, you'll also see a service charge. Foreigners with a temporary work visa are limited to a transfer that equals 60% of their monthly salary to their home country. This transaction requires a passport for each transfer, especially those who possess a non-resident account. Fees greatly depend on the bank you choose. Korean banks may mark up the mid-market exchange rate, or the true exchange rate at which banks buy and sell currency.

There's another option, if you want to avoid unfair fees and poor exchange rates. If you have a bank account in South Korea or know someone who does, you can use Transferwise to transfer money using the real mid-market rate.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more