How to Use Korean Banks and Korean Bank Services for Foreigners

How to Use Korean Banks and Korean Bank Services for Foreigners


Money is one of the most essential needs wherever we are. As they say “money is everything” and without this very important medium, it will be extremely hard to survive since we are using money as a medium of exchange, store of value, and unit of account. However, it would be inconvenient and risky to bring along large amounts of cash when you go somewhere, especially when you travel overseas. Aside from the inconvenience, every country has different standards for currency and this is one factor to consider: why it is more convenient to process your funds through banking--either online or offline.


Why it is advisable to open a Korean bank account

If you are planning to reside in South Korea or you just arrived, then here is what you should expect. Almost every Korean has their own bank account and all adults own at least a debit card or a credit card. Cash is usually used in public markets or street shopping areas that do not have POS machines. But most transactions are done using a card of some sort, nowadays even one’s smartphone. 

Salaries are also transferred into bank accounts and sometimes even monetary gifts are processed through bank transfers.

One of the perks of living in Korea is their organized banking system and it is not difficult to use their banks and related services. Banking needs are very accessible here in Korea and you can easily find an automated teller machine (ATM) wherever you go, including rural areas.

Almost all merchants such as convenience stores, marts, restaurants and so on own a POS machine and they accept credit and debit cards.

Moreover, e-commerce is continuously booming in South Korea and every transaction is processed through online banking which is probably the reason why Koreans prefer credit/debit cards over paper bills and coins.

In order to live conveniently in Korea, it is an excellent idea to open a Korean bank account, and here are the steps to get started.


So how do I open a bank account?

If you have decided to open a Korean Bank account then here is a basic guide that will surely be helpful.


Hours of operation

You can just simply walk into any Korean bank from 9 am to 5 pm Mondays to Fridays, excluding holidays. 


Do bank tellers speak English?

For foreigners who are not fluent in Korean, I suggest you choose from these foreigner-friendly banks: KB (Kookmin 국민) Bank, Shinhan (신한) Bank, IBK (Industrial Bank of Korea), Woori (우리) Bank, and NH (Nonghyup농협). These banks normally have a bank officer who can speak English and who is excellent in handling foreign clients. Some of their branches may not have a specific bank teller for foreigners but most of them can understand English and at least speak a bit of English.


What you need to open a Korean bank account for foreigners 

In order to open a Korean bank account, you need to bring your (ARC ID) Alien Registration Card 외국인등록증, passport, and a photo for your passbook (optional). In my experience, I just used my signature instead of a photo.



What to expect when you visit the bank

Normally, a security guard or bank staff greets you at the entrance and asks your purpose of visit. A good gesture is to warmly greet them back even if you did not understand what the bank staff just said. Simply tell them that you are going to open a bank account (Just speak in English if you can't speak Korean at all or if you are not confident in your pronunciation). This will surely give them a hint on how to assist you.

If you can speak a bit of Korean or you want to give it a try then use this phrase: “은행 계좌를 개설하고싶어요” (unhaeng gyejarul gaesoolhagoshipo yo)

The bank staff/guard will give you the appropriate queuing numbered stub but there may be times when you have to get it by yourself from the machine.

As soon as your queuing number appears or is called, proceed to your designated random bank officer and feel free to express yourself in English. In case the bank officer cannot assist you in English do not worry because they will certainly find another officer who is more capable to assist you.


Credit Cards and Debit Cards

Banks offer different programs or types of debit/check cards, but they will surely recommend you with the program that suits your needs and you can also customize your card functions such as a debit and transportation card all in one. 

You will fill out some documents and go through a fingerprint scanning. Korea has a very swift system in terms of processing, printing, and even embossing ATM cards and updating passbooks.

When the application is completed and approved, all you have to do is wait a little more and you will also get your passbook and card on the same day of application. The longest I had to wait was just about an hour, including the queue (I always go in the morning). Once you receive your ATM card, the bank teller will instruct you about your card options and also inform you if it can be immediately used for transactions. 



How to use a Korean Automated Teller Machine

Korean ATMs are certainly one of the most advanced teller machines I have used and seen. The machine has multiple features and functions that you can use on the spot without any assistance from a bank officer.


ATM Functions (Often used)

  • Check Account Balance

  • Withdraw Cash

  • Deposit Cash & Check

  • Transfer Funds

  • Update Passbook

  • Check Latest Transaction History



If you are not used to Hangul and you want to use another language just simply choose the global service and you will be routed to various language options. If you want to use English, press it and you will be routed again to other English options. Choose Domestic English for local cards to proceed onto the bank functions and services.




ATM English Functions

Various functions and services will appear and just simply choose what you wish to do. Complete the information and the process begins until the transaction is completed.

Your bank receipt and card will also come out from the machine.


What to do if your Korean card is eaten by the ATM

In case your card was eaten by the machine, there is a phone available nearby the ATM booth but it will be inconvenient to use if you can’t speak in Korean, so I suggest you go immediately and directly into the bank. 

(9 am to 5 pm from Mondays to Fridays, excluding holidays).

In case you are very unlucky and the incident happened after hours, then there is nothing you can do but wait until Monday when the banks reopen. 

When you go to their main office, just inform the guard or any bank officer about your card and you should be able to answer the details that will be asked from you such as the date and time of the incident. And make sure you have brought at least one ID to prove that the swallowed card belongs to you. After further verification, they will release your card.

In case you lost your cards contact your bank. You can find the phone number on their website. Or you can do the same thing as above, directly walk into the bank to report it lost, deactivate the lost card, and apply for a replacement.


Working in Korea