Korean torture: banking

By Jordan Karasek

It is the South Koreans preference to employ as many native English speakers (foreigners) as they can and policy to keep the money from leaving the country. This has led many hours of researching and headache, but in a few years will be a great “hassle” story we can laugh at, because it’s ridiculous and funny.

The best part about teaching is that you get paid well and the best part about banking and transferring money home is that you get paid so well. People from the United States are really big into checks, mobile banking, online banking, and getting quick secure access to your money. Korean people claim their odd banking practices are in the name of security when they use some faulty security systems.

To get started we needed a phone to get a bank account but we needed a bank account to get a phone. Who knew? However we were able to give the bank our bosses number to get things set up. We took our passports and our address and signed a bunch of paperwork in Korean, by signature they mean your initials. An hour later we had an account booklet, a debit card, and a security card where you match up numbers the computer gives you with the numbers on the card. To start banking we had to create a digital security folder on a flashdrive or designate only one computer in the world that could to access online banking, and we may only use Internet Explorer which is the least secure of all the web browsers.

Now we are all set up to do online banking except we don’t have a phone. And ready to do transfers but have to go to the bank to do every time. So it’s been a hassle to with the bank and made me very grateful what I have at home. With the high fees and inconveniences we did some research into alternative options each with their own drawbacks.

  1. First is our process of transferring money from NH (NongHyup) bank. They are probably the least expat-friendly. You personally have to go to the bank to wire money and must always bring everything: all documents, identification, account numbers, banks SWIFT code, addresses, everything. Hopefully you get a bank teller that speaks English. Usually we don’t. If they don’t speak English they will call a corporate office member who can . You fill out a form with the information, designate the amount of money to send home and from which account.  If it seems obvious it isn’t. You have to be clear that you are sending money from  your account that is in your name to your other account that is also in your name. Fees: there is usually a bank teller fee that they make up on the spot, so be nice, a transfer/remittance fee charged by the bank, an additional remittance fee by a larger Korean bank for handling and sometimes a final fee for your US bank to receive the funds. Lastly there is the conversion rate so you could be looking at a nice percentage. We spend about $40-$50 every $1500 we transfer, and that’s relatively cheap. Another note: The smaller NH bank branches probably won’t have international transfer options, like ones in tiny villages, but the larger ones will.
  2. If you have a choice, get an account with KEB, the Korean Exchange Bank. They provide services in English and charge less fees and can transfer money directly to the US. They also have automatic remittance which makes it so that any money that enters your Korean account automatically gets sent to your US bank. If you work in a rural area, like us, you will probably have to use NongHyup.
  3. Paypal is an option for transferring, but it’s rates (2.9%) are good for small transfers, under $100. Over that, you can get better rates elsewhere
  4. Wire transfer companies, like Western Union, charge the 3% transfer fee plus other fees based on the time of year.
  5. Bitcoins are a good option. Other teachers we know like to use Bitcoins. It’s basically an intermediary currency with low exchange rates. It would be like using your ₩on to buy Pesos to then buy Dollars
  6. Bank checks or cashier checks are rarely used in Korea, but they can be the cheapest option
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