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If going to South Korea is your first time visiting another country, you may wonder how to pay for things.  Many people use their credit or debit cards when traveling.  But if you do not take necessary precautions, you could wind up not being able to use either.  Here are a few tips to make sure you have access to your money while in the Republic of Korea.

Call Ahead

Because of fraud concerns, it would be a red flag to any financial institution if they see a transaction on your account from a different country.  You account can be frozen, meaning that you won’t have access to your money until you convince your financial institution that the transaction was really from you and legitimate.  To avoid this, call your bank and credit card(s) before you leave to explain where you are going and for how long you will be there.  That way, when your cards are charged in Korea, it will not come as a shock and your account will not be frozen.

Check for Foreign Transaction Fees

When you call ahead to make sure your card(s) won’t get blocked in Korea, ask how much of a foreign transaction fee you will be charged.  Some travel credit cards that are issued from airlines or hotels will have a 0% fee on international purchases.  Some banks may charge over 7% extra to your transaction(s) when you are out of the country.  But others may charge less.  This will help you budget your money.

For example, I had to get $100.00 U.S. while in Korea from an ATM.  My bank only charged me a 1% fee that they said Visa charges for foreign transactions.  So for me to get the $100.00 USD in Korean currency, I was charged the $100.00 USD to my bank account, the ATM fee, plus the 1% fee.  Had I used my other bank card, it would have been around 7% for the transaction.  That 7% would have been more than the 1% and the ATM fee that I paid for using a foreign card to get money.

Pay in Advance When Possible

When it comes to major purchases in Korea, your biggest one would probably be for your hotel.  If possible, you can pay for your hotel in advance before you arrive.  In Korea, many hotels employ people who speak English and other languages as well.  You can call or email ahead to inquire about paying for your room before you arrive with your credit or debit card.  You will be sent a form to authorize the hotel to charge you card in advance.  Once the hotel does that, the charge will appear on your card, and could save you some money. This will protect you since you will get a confirmation that your room is paid for, and protects the hotel since they already have their money from you.

Look at the Logo

You will need to know where you can use your card(s) at overseas.  Many debit cards have a logo that will say Star or Plus on the back of it.  If an ATM has that logo on it as well, your card should work there.

Keep Your Card’s 1-800 Number in Your Phone

In the event that you are having trouble with your card(s), or if your card(s) are lost or stolen, you will need to call up the 1-800 number for the card(s) right away.  Doing this can protect you from any fraud that may occur, or will allow you to have your account frozen or unfrozen if you need it.

Keep Cash With You

South Korea is known for it’s wonderful street food and street shopping.  But not everywhere will accept a credit/debit card or take mobile payments.  You will still need cash in these places.  Plus if you have to pay a foreign transaction fee, cash will save you money.  Try to plan how much cash you will need in advance, and also know how to get cash if you need it while in Korea.  Check with your bank to see how much they will charge you, and how long it will take the to get Korean money to you before your trip.  You can also check your airport to see how much they will charge to exchange your money for Korean money, as well as what are the hours of their currency exchange offices.

If you cannot get Korean money before you arrive in Korea, you can always get Korean Won at Incheon International Airport.   Some hotels and banks can exchange money as well, but you may pay more to do the transactions through them.  For me, the total amount for me to get $100.00 USD in Korean Won at an ATM was $105.00.  Had I gotten Korean money from a bank in my area, I would have been charged around $9-$10 USD for the same amount.  So using an ATM at a hotel was the most economical way for me to get cash to use in Korea than getting the money at a bank or airport in the United States.  Your case may be different, but with early planning you will get the best deal possible.

Hopefully this will help you save some common pitfalls people have when traveling to Korea.  Having money problems while in another country can be a nightmare.  But with knowledge and early planning, you will be able to have fun and save money in Korea.  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to #askthewaygookin.

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