How to: Get an International Bank Account in Korea
One of the biggest difficulties that people seem to have with being in Korea is with the banking. When I arrived in 2010, things were actually very different to how they were now. However, for many people first arriving, they will find themselves getting a bank account made for them by their company, and won’t know much about their banking. The other problem with banking is that is can be incredibly difficult (and expensive) to send money home, depending on your bank in Korea and your bank back home.
This article is going to be part of a two part series called “How to globalize your bank account”. This first article is simply to make sure you are 100% in control of your bank account, and that you have an account that you deserve as an adult.
As a foreigner in Korea, getting a credit card is very difficult. The general teaching visa is normally not accepted by banks when giving credit, and so the vast majority of new teachers are left using a bank account that is just a cheque card, cards that can hardly be used outside of Korea. Shopping online in Korea is difficult enough, so trying to order things from home is near impossible. While stores like Amazon and iHerb and many clothes stores will ship to Korea, they can’t accept your cheque card. So, lets fix that first.
In this article, I’ll be speaking about the KB bank accounts, however most Korean banks will have options like this. If you find that the bank that your school has set you up with is unwilling to set you up with a proper bank account, making a new bank account with your own ARC card is quite easy, and you can then go with a more international bank like KEB.
KB, or Kookmin Bank, is one of the main banks in Korea. Many schools will set up their students with a KB bank account, or an account with one of the other major chains, like Woori. This account will be the most basic accounts, but it is very easy to change your account type once you have your ARC card.
If you are with KB Bank, I highly recommend getting the Nori Card. This is a discount card where if you spend over 200,000 won a month (Something most people will do easily if they buy groceries and don’t depend on cash) you will be entitled to some great discounts. These discounts can be found at major amusement parks like Caribbean Bay and Everland, at movie theatres, and at major restaurant chains. (Other chains have their own card like this. For example, Woori have the Woori V Cheque Card and Shinhan has a Shinhan Love Cheque Card. Please check with your own bank.)
If you try to switch over to these cards in the local branch of your bank, they may keep your account as a local bank account. This means it will not be connected to the international banking system, and may not be able to access ATMs if you ever go overseas. The whole goal here is first making sure that your account is set up as an international bank.
When you go to your bank’s website, check for an English page, or at least an English contact number. For KB Bank, the English contact number is 1599-4477, or 02-6300-9999 and follow the prompts to get to an English speaking operator (which should be pressing 1, then 0.) Both my friend and I spoke to a gentleman named Mr.Kim, so from the sounds of it, he is one of the full time English call staff. The English speaking staff was really helpful, so as long as you remember the people on the other side of the phone are speaking English as their second language (aka, speak a little slower than normal) they are fantastic to work with.
Explain to the English staff that you are looking to get the Nori card (or whatever bank card it is you’re wanting) and that you need the bank card to work internationally. This means that you want the card to have the Visa symbol on it. This should not be a problem so long as you make it clear you are not looking for a credit card. What this option will do is simply make the money in your account accessible through the Visa system. There will be no credit, and you won’t be spending what you don’t have. The staff will ask you for your ARC number, your current bank number (and you’ll need to input your ATM pin number as well) and then will ask for your bank account number, which can be found inside your bank book. (Hopefully, you learned quickly that the bankbook in Korea is the most important thing ever, right? Right.)
Since you have the English staff on the phone, there are a few things you probably want to check while you can:
- Check the address and contact phone number on the account. For convenience, some hagwons will put the school as the address for your account. This is fine if you’re staying with the school, however if you leave for any reason, it is better to make sure you are the only one with access to your bank statements.
- Do you want any added features to your bank card? Your bank card is able to be used as a transit pass, and can be very convenient if you’re always losing your bus pass. Speak to the people at the bank about your options because they may be able to get the account set up with a transportation chip
- Do you want to be able to use your card for internet banking in Korea? (YES. YES YOU DO.) This is set up in the bank itself, but the person on the phone can explain what you’ll need to do to make sure you can set up the incredibly frustrating system of buying things on Korean websites. (Hint: It involves a lot of digital verification certificates, ActiveX files, Windows, and frustration.) However, once you get it set up, you will be able to buy your movie tickets from your cellphone, order groceries from home and get them delivered, and master GMarket like a boss. You also will be able to use the mobile banking apps, which are incredibly useful.
After getting everything sorted out with the English staff, you should receive a new bank card in the mail within a week. It should have a new Visa symbol on it, and that will mean it will work in most places. It doesn’t work everywhere (my friend had trouble in Japan, which has its own isolated bank system issues) but when I returned to Canada, I had no issues accessing my bank account to get the last of my deposits from my school. The people on the phone will probably instruct you go to into the bank to set up the international part of the account (because you need to sign a document) but that part can be done pretty easily. If your bank people struggle with English, simply call the people you spoke to before and have them explain what you’re looking to do. It’s their job to make sure you’re getting the best bank experience!
If you’ve done all of that, your bank card is now available to use on ATMs overseas. It should work on sites like Amazon and iHerb and the other sites that many foreigners in Korea use. If you have trouble doing that, you need to check with your bank and make sure everything is set up correct. However, this is just half the battle. With step two, I’m going to tell you how to use your newly international bank card to send your money back home while avoiding the brutal wire fees (and also make ordering online even easier again.)
But that’ll be part two.