Banking 101

After you get to Korea one of the things your co-teacher should help you with is setting up your bank account. Your job should do a direct deposit into your account, most schools will deposit your pay check on the 15th of the month.

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Setting up a bank account can be difficult enough in your home country but it’s extra confusing in another one. So here’s some things I wish I’d known the first time round.

Korean banks/ATMs work with a paper booklet called a passbook. When you create an account you’ll probably end up with one of these. It’s a bit like a checkbook without any checks that the ATM will update for you. You flip it open and put it in the machine and it’ll know your account and then you can withdraw money, transfer money (at the ATM) and it will fill out your book with all of your banking so you can easily keep track of your spending and deposits. You’ll need this booklet if you want to do any banking at the bank. Keep it safe, you’ll probably go through several.

Cards: When I first went to the bank and set up my account they asked me if I wanted a credit card and that seemed like a lot of responsibility to have in a new country and while I floundered in confusion and indecision my co-teacher decided maybe I didn’t need one. This was the worst mistake ever to be made my first year. I spent my first year with just a passbook and having to run to ATM’s for cash. As a native English teacher you cannot get a credit card in South Korea, you can only get a debit card. So if they ask if you want a card say yes, it’s not going to be a credit card even if that’s what they call it, it’s a debit card. Not having a card leaves you in many binds, especially if you don’t have cash on you. I saved a lot of money my first year because I couldn’t buy things if I didn’t have a card or enough cash on me, but it also left me in many panics about being able to afford getting home via taxi if I didn’t have at least 20,000 won on me which is a huge pain. I ended up getting a card by taking a friend with me to the bank and having her help me through it towards the end of my first year when I decided I was staying another.

Mobile banking: I didn’t get this set up until my second year. It will make your life a ton easier if you get it done in that first sitting. Your bank should have an app for mobile banking so you can do transfers without an ATM. You can usually do transfers at an ATM so if you don’t have this set up you can still go to an ATM and make a transfer to pay your bills or for something you want from Gmarket or Coupang, but it’s so so so much easier if you can do it from your phone whenever you want. You will need to get a little card full of numbers. This card is essentially a key, you need it in order to complete any banking on your phone. It’s like an extra level of security for your account and your mobile banking.

Online banking: If you can also have this set up. You will need to get a digital certificate to use when you do your banking that is best to keep on your personal computer or on a USB. I still haven’t had this done and it’s the biggest pain, so most of my trips and online banking require either a transfer which I can do on my phone or for me to have enough money in my account back home for me to pay for it then.

Overseas Remittance: This is how you’ll send money home. You’ll need all of your home bank information and you’ll need to give it to your new bank. They’ll help you set it up and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to send money home from an ATM or your phone. This is an area I’m still a little confused about so usually if I have a day off that’s not a red day I go to the bank and take the form they gave me the first time or the last time I sent money home, then I go to the ATM, take out a ton of cash and meet with a teller. I give them my ARC card, passbook and the paper and usually I have to sign some things and they’ll send it to my bank account in the states. This isn’t the best method so if you’ve got a Korean person with you I highly suggest in that first trip to the bank you figure this out better than I have. What I do works, but it also means that I can only do this remittance very infrequently.

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The majority of banks, especially if you are outside of Seoul are only open while you’re working. Their hours are from 9am until 4pm Monday through Friday. They tend to not be open on Saturdays or Sundays. Since the public school work hours are from 8:40-4:40pm you will have to go to the bank either on a non-red day (Korean holiday) that you have off (during your vacation times) or take time off of work. This is a huge pain.

You cannot use your card overseas. No matter how often I and my friends have been told we can use our debit cards (from different banks) when we’re on vacation it has yet to work. It’s unreliable. Take out money before hand, over budget, or take a credit card or debit card from home that you know will work. It’s absolutely awful to be on vacation and try to use your card only for it to not work and find that you have no money.

There is a difference between XYZ and XYZ bank. This is especially important if you are trying to do overseas remittance. I use NH and usually I just pop into whatever NH I can find, however I learned after an hour of trying to communicate poorly with a teller at an NH that I had set up my overseas remittance at an NH bank and due to this both the teller and I had wasted most of our afternoon trying to send something that didn’t work. Technically they’re the same company and I can use their ATMs just fine but only one of the two have my remittance on file.

There are some banks that are easier to transfer to depending on your home country, like Citi bank for USA Americans. If you’re from the states you can set up a Citi bank account and then set up one in Korea and connect the two. This makes when you leave and return stateside easier, however Citibank is currently only really available in Seoul, so any time you need to do banking you would have to hike to Seoul if you live outside of Seoul. I suggest you research banks in Korea and decide what is best for you. Due to my rural location the only nearby bank was NH (the farmer bank) and since I didn’t have a card I wouldn’t have been able to survive with anything else because there wasn’t another bank in town.

Setting up your bank things is something you will really need help with. Not all tellers at the banks speak enough English to help you through the process in a way that you will understand. If you can take your Co-teacher with you they will be an enormous help, however in some cases a co-teacher might just send you off to do everything on your own. In this case you’re going to want to arm yourself with a couple things. If you have a phone the number 1330 is the Korean Tourism helpline, they offer 24/7 multilingual help. Papago is an app developed by Naver (a Korean company) that at least for Korean works much better at translation then Google translate. This can work with WiFi if you’re having phone trouble. Also many banks themselves will have an English phone line you can call for help. If you know what bank you want or what bank your school wants you to get then you can look it up beforehand.

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If you are going by yourself you’re going to have to take a number. With my bank at least there’s two options. You can meet with a general teller or consultation teller. To do things like overseas remittance I have to meet with the one on the left, the consultation. or 상담창구, If I just want to pay a bill then I’d meet with the regular one or 일반창구.  Many places that are set up like this will have screens telling you which numbers are next, but if the screens are broken you’re going to have to listen for them to call your number.

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While in Korea you can pay your bills in a couple different ways. Before 4pm you can take your bill to the bank and pay it in person. I did this my entire first year, it’s a pain to take off work and go and I do not suggest it. You can also pay it at a couple other places (like the post office), but you have to do so before 4pm. They will stamp your bill and give it back to you to show that you’ve paid.

You can do a transfer at an ATM. Your bill should have different bank options on it. Make sure you know what your bank is called in Korean if it’s available. Find how much you owe and the bank account number that matches your bank and go and transfer the money at an ATM that is open 24 hours.

The final and easiest way to pay your bills (other than having them directly taken out of your account each month which can be done for phone bills and internet bills) is to pay either online or on your phone by doing a transfer via your bank app. This is the easiest way to do it in my opinion and usually how I pay my bills.

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