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Travel money guide: South Korea

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

South Korea is a modern and cosmopolitan country, with exciting culture and food. Credit cards, debit cards, and cash are all accepted without issue in South Korea, with cash becoming less common.

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, South Korea is quickly becoming a cashless society. The best way to make payments in South Korea is to use credit, particularly a card that reimburses or waives foreign transaction fees like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

South Korean T-money

South Korea uses the T-money card to streamline payments for buses, taxis and the subway. They recently extended those payments for select retail and restaurants, making it a 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. Use the T-money card on your smartphone, making payments as easy as a tap of your phone.

Our picks for traveling to South Korea

Travel rewards with no annual fee

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Go to site
on Capital One's secure site

Rewards

Up to 1.25 x miles

Annual fee

$0

All-around travel value

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Go to site
on Capital One's secure site

Rewards

Up to 5 x miles

Annual fee

$95

Cash back with no foreign fees

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Go to site
on Capital One's secure site

Rewards

Up to 1.5 % cash back

Annual fee

$0

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

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

Mobile payments are wildly popular with 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.

These are your options for spending money in South Korea

Using a credit card

Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards are accepted throughout much of South Korea. You want to find a card that will waive the foreign transaction fee and offer travel benefits to get the most from your spending, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You’ll find that Visa and Mastercard use their own exchange rates that are close to the market rate, and better than the rate offered on most prepaid travel cards.

Travel credit cards also offer opportunities for rewards and other ways of saving during your travels. Before making your trip, review your travel card options to find one that can best support your travels and your wallet.

  • Tip: Some South Korean merchants won’t accept a credit card payment for transactions under 10,000 won (about $10 USD).
Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • Fees and interest for cash withdrawal
  • Many cards charge 3% currency conversion fees
  • ATM machines are out of service after 11:00 p.m.
  • Some merchants do not accept payments for transactions under 10,000 won

Compare travel credit cards

Narrow down top travel credit cards by welcome offers, rewards and annual fees to find the best for your budget and financial goals. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

1 - 3 of 43
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Up to 1.25x miles
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases in the first 6 months
Up to 4x points
$250

Rose Gold is here to stay. Card Members can choose between a Gold or Rose Gold Card.

Earn up to 4x points on select purchases and enjoy a bevy of travel perks with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Up to 5x miles
$95
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Using a debit card

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 waives international ATM fees or foreign transaction fees. Not all providers offer this luxury, so look for banks that do, such as Betterment Checking, if you’re opening a new account.

  • Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in South Korea.
Pros
  • Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
Cons
  • No access to cash advances
  • Only ATMs with the Global sign accept foreign cards

Using a prepaid travel card

Though many of the travel cards you find on the market will carry South Korean won, South Korea has its 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. You pay the value of the card (4000 won) and reload it with any amount you specify at a subway machine or convenience store. Although when you reload, you’ll have to use cash rather than your credit card.

  • Tip: Travelers can purchase prepaid travel card online before their trip and use the mobile app version of the card on their phone.
Pros
  • Can hold multiple currencies.
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Reloadable online
  • Korea offers the Korea Travel Card
Cons
  • 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

Paying with cash in South Korea

Although card payments are the norm in South Korea, street food, small restaurants and some public transport only accept cash — 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. weekdays.

Pros
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
Cons
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft
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South Korean currency

1000 Korean won5000 Korean won10000 Korean won
50000 Korean won

The main banks in South Korea are:

  • Shinhan Financial Group
  • NongHyup Financial Group
  • KB Financial Group
  • Hana Financial Group
  • Korea Development Bank
  • Woori Financial Group
  • Industrial Bank of Korea
  • BNK Financial Group
  • DGB Financial Group
  • Kakao Bank

Buying currency in the US

The import and export of local currency is allowed up to KRW 8,000,000, or about $7,000 USD. 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 cash to South Korea ahead of time with a money transfer service and have it waiting for pickup when you arrive.

Live Rate

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ATMS in South Korea

There are two types of ATMs in South Korea: those that accept foreign cards and those that 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. However, you’ll save on each withdrawal if you find a debit card that waives foreign transaction fees, like the card offered by Betterment Checking.

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 less pricey than other developed countries like Japan.

Expect to spend up to $50 daily 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

CheapMidrangeExpensive
AccommodationHostel
$20–$60 per night
2-Star Hotel
$50–$100 per night
5-Star Hotel
$140–$500 per night
MealsJajangmyeon (traditional noodle dish) and pork ribs
$3-$5
Bibimbap (traditional Korean rice dish)
$7
Korean Royal Court Cuisine
$70
ActivitiesMuseaums
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 global economies and the fourth-largest economy in Asia. Remarkably it was able to rise from one of the world’s poorest countries to a highly developed nation in only 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.

Case study: 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 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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8 Responses

    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

    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

    Default Gravatar
    RachelNovember 20, 2018

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

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JhezelynNovember 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

    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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