Travel money guide: South Korea

Traveling to South Korea? Don't forget your plastic.

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South Korea is a modern and cosmopolitan country, with exciting culture and food. What’s the best way to pay for your travel in South Korea? Use credit. According to the Bank of Korea, only about 20% of financial transactions in Korea are made with cash. Between credit card, debit cards and the popular T-money cards, the South Korean central bank has an ambitious goal of being cashless by 2020.

We’ll help you navigate the best cards to bring and help save you money on fees.

South Korean T-money

South Korea uses the T-money card to streamline payments for busses, taxis and the subway. Just recently they extended those payments for retail and restaurants, making it the most popular way to pay your way in South Korea.

Like a debit card, it’s connected to your bank and makes automatic withdrawals each time you make a payment. You can use the T-money card on your smartphone, making payments as easy as a tap of your phone.

From 2016–2018. South Korea is promoting travel with it’s Korea Tour Card. For less than $4, it’s offered to tourists for all the benefits of the T-money card, but with additional discounts to tourist attractions and shopping.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
30,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
3x Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, 3x points at restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases
$150
Earn 3x Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, 3x points at restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases. Rates & fees
20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
1.25x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at hotels.com/venture
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a Delta purchase in the same timeframe
2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a direct Delta purchase in the same timeframe. Rates & fees
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at hotels.com/venture
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Compare up to 4 providers

What should I budget for my trip to South Korea?

South Korea can be considered expensive compared to budget destinations like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. But you’ll find it more affordable than other developed countries like Japan. You can expect to spend up tp $50 if you’re traveling on a tight budget. If you loosen those purse straps, you can find yourself spending up to $100 to $300 a day.

Average cost of travel in South Korea

Travel money options for South Korea at a glance
Cheap Midrange Expensive
sleep Hostel
$20–$60 per night
2 Star Hotel
$50–$100 per night
5 Star Hotel
$140–$500 per night
Jajangmyeon (traditional noodle dish) and pork ribs
$3–$5
Bibimbap (traditional Korean rice dish)
$7
Korean Royal Court Cuisine
$70
camera Museaums
Free
Guided tour of Seoul and museums
$30
Private DMZ Tour
$150 or more

*Prices are indicative and subject to change

Exchange rate history

South Korea is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and the fourth-largest economy in Asia. Remarkably it was able to rise from one of the poorest countries in the world to a highly developed country in just one generation. Historically, the US dollar has been stronger against the won. Over the past decade, the USD has generally been worth between 1,000 and 1,200 KRW.

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

You can use your Visa or Mastercard and travel money card almost everywhere in South Korea. While debit cards can be used to make purchases, not all ATMs accept foreign cards. Always look for the word “Global” on ATMs before you try it.

Mobil payments are wildly popular with the youth in South Korea. SO load your credit cards onto your smartphones and leave your credit cards back at the hotel when you go out in big cities. That said, always carry a bit of cash on you for tips or smaller restaurants and street food.

Travel money options for South Korea at a glance

Travel money option Pros Cons
Debit cards
  • Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
  • International ATM and currency conversion fees
  • No access to cash advances
  • Only ATMs with the “global” sign accept foreign cards
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Can hold multiple currencies.
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Reloadable online
  • Korea offers the Korea Travel Card
  • Come with lots of fees for loading and reloading, inactivity and ATM withdrawals.
  • Your name isn’t printed on the front
  • Many won’t load South Korean won
Credit cards
  • Major credit cards widely accepted
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Interest-free days when you pay your account in full
  • Some cards offer travel benefits
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Fees and interest for cash withdrawal
  • Many cards charge 3% currency conversion fees
  • ATM machines are out of service after 11:00PM
  • Some merchants do not accept payments for transactions under 10,000 won
Traveler’s checks
  • Security
  • Cash at any bank
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
  • Not accepted by many merchants
  • Currency exchange rate varies over time
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

How travel cards, credit cards and debit cards work in South Korea

Using credit cards

Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards are accepted throughout much of South Korea. You want to find cards that will waive the foreign transaction fees, offer travel benefits and insurance to get the most from your spending. You’ll find that Visa and Mastercards use their own exchange rates that are close to the market rate, and better than the rate offered on most prepaid travel cards.

  • Tip: Some South Korean merchants won’t accept a credit card payment for transactions under 10,000 won (about $10 AUD).

Using debit cards

A debit card is a good way to access your cash while in South Korea, though be aware that not all ATMs accept foreign debit cards. Look for the “Global” sign on machines that will take your cards. Also, many ATM machines shut down after 11 p.m.

A debit card is a good choice if you want to avoid racking up debt and carrying a balance on your credit cards. It’s best if you can find a card that wives international teller fees.

  • Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in Vietnam.

Using prepaid travel cards

Though many of the travel cards you find on the market will carry South Korean won, South Korea has it’s own travel card. Buy the Korean travel card for less than $4 and get discounts on museums and shopping, covered by travel insurance and pay for food, travel and entertainment. It’s sold at convenience stores and can be bought in denominations of 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 and 500,000.

Using traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks once had a place — in a money belt tucked under your shirt. Today, this travel money product is a hassle to buy, carry and cash. The main benefit of a traveler’s check is security because only you can cash your traveler’s checks and they can be replaced if lost or stolen. However, credit cards, debit cards and travel cards have taken the place. Your bank will give you your money back if you’re the victim of card fraud.

Getting a refund if you’re the victim of a fraudulent transaction

Paying with cash in South Korea

Although card payments are the norm in South Korea, street food, small restaurants and some public transport are cash only — some merchants also won’t take cards for purchases under 10,000 won, about $10.

You can make withdrawals at Cash Dispenser Machines or visit an exchange office or bank to get foreign currency changed when you arrive in South Korea. Banks are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

ATM withdrawals in South Korea

There are two types of ATMs in South Korea, those which accept foreign cards and those which don’t — cash dispenser (CD) machines generally accept international cards. If you insert your card into an ATM and it gives you an error message, you’ll need to search for another machine. Look for the “Global” logo on the front of the ATM and select the English option before you insert your credit, debit or travel card. These types of ATMs are common in public places such as bus and train stations, and are out of service after 11 p.m.

Local ATM operator fees will apply. You’ll save on each withdrawal if you find a debit card that waives foreign transaction fees.

krw-notes

Peter's trip to Seoul

On his last trip to South Korea, Peter visited Seoul for one week before heading to Hong Kong. While in Seoul, he took a flight from Gimpo International Airport (Western Seoul) to Jeju Island so he could see the Seongsan Sunrise Peak, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

What cards did you take with you?

Why did you take these cards?

  • BankAmericard. Peter took this card mainly because there’s no foreign exchange fee. And because he’s a Bank of America customer he gets travel rewards for using his card on purchases like his flight and hotels.
  • Bank of America debit card. This is the card he uses at home in the US. He took it hoping he could find a Deutsche Bank — part of the Global ATM Alliance, but he didn’t find one in South Korea. He kept his withdrawals to a minimum, using his card mostly for purchases.
  • South Korean travel card. It allowed him to load money from his bank to use for travel, food and shopping. Most of the locals can be found using this type of payment, so it helped him go with the flow of busy South Korean life.

Where could you use your cards?
Peter says card acceptance was much the same as at home — convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, train stations and even vending machines.

What about using ATMs?
Peter had to look for Global ATMs that accepted international cards, not too hard in larger cities. He found he needed more cash on Jeju Island, so he was withdrew about 300,000 KRW before he arrived.

What travel money tips do you have for South Korea?
Peter purchased a Korean travel or T-money card to make payments easier. It can be used to pay for goods and services at most Korean merchants. What’s more, Peter says you can get a discount when you use the T-money Card to pay for public transport.

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    Buying currency in the US

    The import and export of local currency is allowed up to KRW 8,000,000, about $7,000. Be sure to declare any incoming money greater than $10,000, including traveler’s checks. And you can’t take out more than you bring in.

    You can always send your money to South Korea ahead of time with a money transfer service and have it waiting to be picked up when you arrive.

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    Get travel insurance quotes for your vacation in South Korea

    Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip delay
    100%
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    Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.

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    8 Responses

    1. Default Gravatar
      TrishaFebruary 25, 2019

      Hi, we are traveling to Hong Kong, South Korea, Beijing, and Shanghai. Is it best to take a travel credit card? Where can we purchase a travel card?

      Many thanks, Trisha

      • Avatarfinder Customer Care
        JoshuaFebruary 26, 2019Staff

        Hi Trisha,

        Thanks for getting in touch with Finder. It’s nice to hear about your travel plans, Trisha. :)

        Regarding your question, aside from travel credit cards, you can also use prepaid travel money cards. Whether travel credit card is best for you or not would depend on your needs, preference, budget. It would be good to know the advantages of using travel credit cards. You can know more how travel credit cards compare with other travel money options using our table above under the subheading, “Travel money options for South Korea at a glance.”

        Regarding your second question, you don’t “purchase” a travel card, but instead, you apply for them. You can use our comparison table above and compare your options based on currency conversion rate, annual fee, and APR. Once you’re done comparing, you can then click on the “Go to site” green button to be redirected to your chosen provider’s website. From there, you can know more about the card and initiate your application.

        I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

        Have a wonderful day!

        Cheers,
        Joshua

    2. Default Gravatar
      PoojaFebruary 2, 2019

      Hello! We are planning to visit in mid of March. We don’t have credit cards. We have a forex card. Does it work in South Korea?

      • Avatarfinder Customer Care
        JoshuaFebruary 6, 2019Staff

        Hi Pooja,

        Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

        If you are referring to the forex card, a prepaid travel card, then it should work just fine in South Korea. Depending on which forex card you are using, you need to take a look if it has the Visa, Mastercard or Amex logo on it. Once you have determined this, you can then use your forex card in stores or ATMs with your logo displayed.

        I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

        Have a wonderful day!

        Cheers,
        Joshua

    3. Default Gravatar
      RachelNovember 20, 2018

      How to open a saving account in the bank in South Korea?

      • Avatarfinder Customer Care
        JhezNovember 21, 2018Staff

        Hi Rachel,

        Thank you for your comment.

        To open a bank account in Korea, please refer to the steps below:
        1. Visit the nearest bank branch of your choice.
        2. Take a ticket from the queue ticket machine at the Foreign Exchange section, and wait for your turn.
        3. Proceed to the desk that displays your number.
        4. Present your passport and alien registration card in order to open a bank account.
        5. Apply for a check card with ATM deposit/withdrawal functions.

        Generally, the bank will require you to fill out a short application, verify your documents, and assuming there are no problems, you will walk out with a new bank account. Please note that when applying for a local bank account, you may be required to present some or all of the following documents:

        – Passport
        – Certificate of Alien registration
        – Visa

        Should you wish to have real-time answers to your questions, try our chat box on the lower right corner of our page.

        Regards,
        Jhezelyn

    4. Default Gravatar
      SeandeNovember 2, 2018

      Hi, my friend is leaving to Korea today and I was wondering if I get her gift cards here if they will work there? Specifically McDonalds and Baskin Robbins? Please answer as soon as possible. Thank you.

      • Avatarfinder Customer Care
        CharisseNovember 13, 2018Staff

        Hi Seande,

        Thanks for reaching out to finder.

        Generally, retailers’ gift cards are limited to use within the country they are issued in.

        Upon checking, Baskin-Robbins gift cards can be used to pay for any purchase at select Baskin-Robbins or Dunkin’ Donuts locations in the United States only. The same goes for McDonald’s gift card, it is valid only at participating McDonald’s restaurants in the US.

        Please feel free to contact us if any other questions arise.

        Cheers,
        Charisse

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