Editor’s Note: A while back, Daniel posted with questions about banking and money management. Visitors to this site frequently find us after searching for related search terms. Here’s an update on his banking experience in Korea.
Even on a good day, it’s easy for Western expats to bitch about Korea. People rush onto elevators and subway cars without letting others off first; ajosshis will shout and treat you like a child if you speak too loudly on the bus; most Korean websites are optimized for Internet Explorer 6.0 and incompatible with Firefox. Little frustrations are always just around the corner.
However, Korea gets some things right, too. They have yeogiyo buttons — roughly translated as “Please come here” — on your restaurant table for summoning waiters; an excellent public transit system; an ambitious, nationwide recycling and composting program. All three of these things put the US to shame. The one thing that really stands out, though, is banking.
First off, pretty much everyone is paid with direct deposit. This means far fewer trips to the bank and if I want my salary itemized I can go online to view and print all the details.
Within a week of arriving, my hagwon’s office managertook me to the bank and held my hand through all the paperwork. They even made my ATM card on premise and handed it to me within minutes of setting up the account. Other banks don’t do it that way, I’m told. In case you want to know, I use Korea Exchange Bank, known for their red and blue logo that says “KEB.”
If you’re like me, too lazy to balance your checkbook once a week, you’ll have no more excuses in Korea. Along with the bank card, they gave me a book for balancing my account. I insert it into a special slot on the ATM and it works just like a bank card in that I can access my account. It also updates the balance information and prints it into the book. The machine even flips the pages(!) to continue printing.
An ATM that balances your checkbook might sound overcomplicated, but they’ve streamlined everything else about banking. If I want to buy something on Craigslist, the seller emails me his account number and the name of his banking institution, then I enter this information at the ATM and the money appears in his account instantly. As far as I can tell, there’s no fee for sending money to another bank. (The postal service here is also worth mentioning — Jen once received a package less than 24 hours after transferring a payment through the ATM.)
Of course, I don’t just want to blow my paycheck on secondhand items I find online. I also need to pay bills and save money using accounts back in the States. That requires international money transfers — an expensive transaction no matter where you are. Well, KEB has made my life easier. They offer an international transfer account that comes with a significantly smaller transfer fee than any bank in the US, less than US$10
Low fees aren’t even the best part. The money is usuallyin my US account the same day. Jen has K*B and her money transfers just as quickly.
As for setting up the transfer account, prior preparation will help things go easier. Before leaving for Korea, ask someone at your local bank branch for all the information you would need to give a foreign bank to set up international money transfers. Then make sure you have your account number written down and safely stashed until you arrive in Korea.
I’m especially impressed by KEB. Each of the three branches I’ve used in Bundang had at least one competent English speaker on hand.
One word of warning: When you arrive in Korea, you might not be paid for a month or longer. Many people end up using Paypal to borrow cash from their parents. Make sure you speak with someone at Paypal before leaving the country and have them put a note on your account that says you will be in Korea after such-and-such date. When you log into Paypal from Korea, your account will be automatically frozen. Just phone Paypal with Skype, then when they see your account they’ll know to unfreeze the money immediately after confirming your identity with account details.
If you do a little legwork and collect the important information ahead of time, money management should be a snap.