South Korea

Korea Travel Money Guide – Compare Travel Cards

Korea Travel Money Guide – Compare Travel Cards

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South Korea has old villages, a lively nightlife and some of the best street food in Asia for you to feast on.

While it’s easy to get around South Korea with debit and credit cards, if you want to travel on a budget and indulge in some of the best street food in Korea, it’s best to earn (Korean currency) for these small purchases.

Compare South Korea Travel Funding Options

If South Korea is your main destination, then we don’t think a prepaid travel card is the best option. Instead, carry a combination of debit cards, credit cards, and local currency for small purchases.

What should I know about money in South Korea?

Travelcard, debit or credit card?

You can use a Visa or Mastercard-branded credit card, debit card, or travel money card almost anywhere in urban South Korea — that’s not the case in rural areas. In fact, you’ll find South Korea ahead of Australia in mobile payments. Young Koreans have embraced contactless and mobile technology in droves, and you can easily find places where you can use your card. Having said that, you will also need cash, for example a lot of cheap restaurants only take cash. If you want to be like the locals, ATM withdrawal fees need to be considered when comparing travel banking products.

Korea Tourist Fund Selection List

travel money options advantage Precautions
travel debit card
  • Free ATM withdrawals with no currency exchange and Citibank monthly or account management fees
  • Convenience: Citi branches and ATMs across Korea
  • Extensive banking services only available to Citi account holders
  • Only some ATMs accept foreign debit cards
prepaid travel money card
  • lock rate
  • No currency conversion fees and international ATM withdrawal fees for certain cards
  • Fees to consider, such as local ATMs, initial load, reload, and idle fees
  • I won’t let you take Korean won
  • Incur higher currency conversion fees
  • International ATM withdrawal fees
travel credit card
  • accepted everywhere
  • Some cards are cheaper in Korea
  • Contactless payment terminals are common
  • Overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fees
  • ATMs out of service after 11:00pm
  • Some merchants do not accept payment for transactions below 10,000 KRW
travel check
  • acceptance
  • Safety
  • Emergency card replacement if lost or stolen
  • Money back guarantee if you are a victim of fraud
  • Hassle to buy, carry and cash
  • greater payment flexibility
  • convenient
  • harder to manage expenses
  • higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of travel wealth management products on the market. Card features and benefits may vary.

How travel cards, credit and debit cards work in South Korea

Here’s how the different travel currency products work in South Korea.

use credit card

Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards are accepted in South Korea. Some of these cards are cheaper to use than others. Start your comparison by looking at cards that waive currency conversion fees. This allows you to buy with a credit card in South Korea for about the same price as in Australia. Credit card schemes (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) exchange rates apply, very close to market rates, slightly better than travel card rates.
The Bankwest Platinum Credit Card has no currency conversion fees; however, please avoid using the card for cash withdrawals, additional cash advance fees and interest apply, and you will not receive an interest-free day. Other perks include free international travel insurance when you charge your credit card for airfare and purchase protection coverage.

  • hint: Some Korean merchants do not accept credit card payments for transactions under 10,000 KRW (approximately AU$10).

use debit card

It’s hard to fault the Citibank Plus trading account. You’ll get a Visa debit card to use for purchases at Visa-accepting counters and ATM withdrawals, and you can use your card to pay anywhere in South Korea. You pay no extra fees for currency conversion, no international ATM fees, and no monthly or account management fees from Citibank. Also, the best part: Citi has been in the Korean market since the 60’s, so Citi branches and ATMs are all over the country. You can use your Citibank Plus transaction account to make free ATM withdrawals from Citi ATMs.

  • hint: In Seoul alone, there are nearly 100 Citi branches and about 40 stand-alone ATMs.

Using a prepaid travel card

There are no travel cards that allow you to hold Korean Won. Using a travel card to spend in South Korea will incur a travel card currency conversion fee that is higher than credit and debit cards. There are a limited number of travel cards that do not charge currency conversion fees; however, these cards will charge for international ATM withdrawals. ATM withdrawal fees are comparable to what you’d pay with most debit and credit cards (some credit and debit card providers waive international ATM fees), but when you factor in card issuance fees, top-up fees, and inactivity fees, travel cards can be compared to You end up spending more than you would with a travel-friendly debit or credit card. That being said, you might still want to consider a travel prepaid card if you’re visiting a country where other currencies are available.

use traveler’s checks

There used to be a place for travelers checks – in the belt under the shirt. These days, such travel finance products are a hassle to buy, carry and cash. The main benefit of travelers checks is security. Only you can cash your travelers checks and replace them if they are lost or stolen. Credit cards, debit cards and travel cards have the same functionality. If you are a victim of card fraud, your bank will refund your money and can send an emergency replacement card anywhere in the world within days.

Get a refund if you’ve been the victim of a fraudulent transaction

While card payments are common in South Korea, street food, small restaurants and some public transport only accept cash – and some merchants also don’t accept card payments under 10,000 won (about AU$10).

Once you arrive in South Korea, you can withdraw money at an ATM, or go to an exchange office or bank to exchange foreign currency. Banking hours are 9am to 4pm, Monday to Saturday.

Korea ATM Withdrawal

There are two types of ATMs in South Korea, one that accepts foreign cards and one that doesn’t – Cash Dispenser (CD) machines usually accept international cards. If you insert the card into an ATM machine and it gives you an error message, you need to search for another machine. Before inserting a credit, debit or travel card, look for the Global ATM logo on the front of the ATM and select the English option. These types of ATMs are common in public places, such as bus stops and train stations.

Local ATM operator fees will apply. There is no free partnership between local banks in Australia and Korea; but you will find CD machines in Korea as well as ATM machines in Australia. If you are a Citi cardholder, you can use your Citi card to withdraw cash at Citi ATMs in South Korea with no local ATM operator fees. There are ATMs throughout Seoul including major airports.

  • hint: Citi is an international financial institution and you will have no problem using your Australian credit, debit or travel cards at Citi ATMs.

Why we recommend a combination of travel funding options.

You must obtain funds for travel to South Korea in more than one way. Use a combination of credit and debit cards so you know you won’t get caught without cash. Credit cards can be used for big-ticket purchases and to pay for online bookings, and debit cards can be used for over-the-counter purchases and cash withdrawals. All credit cards also offer interest-free days, so you can use your credit card to make interest-free purchases between statement periods if you manage your account properly.

Korean culture outstrips its influence on the world stage, which is probably why it is one of the most visited countries in Asia. Compare travel funding options before you go so you can make the right choice and save paying unnecessary bank fees.

exchange rate history

Australians exchanged almost twice as many won for every dollar they exchanged in 2012 than in 2006. In recent years, the won-Australian dollar has fallen back to 2006 levels. This represents a loss of about 30 cents against the dollar over the past 4 years. Forecasting foreign exchange rates can be difficult; however, the Korean economy is stable and Australians don’t have to worry about currency fluctuations affecting profits too much during the holidays.

Year Change Australian Dollar (AUD) to South Korean Won (KRW) ($1 AUD=)
2012 1182
year 2013 1107
2014 941
2015 894
2016 859
2017 869
2018 833

*Exchange rates listed above are correct as of January 1 of each year

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Buy Currency in Australia

There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency you can bring to South Korea. However, if you are carrying more than $10,000 in cash, you must declare it to customs. Cash includes bank notes and travelers cheques. You can bring up to 8 million won from Australia. That’s about A$10,000.

There are several options for withdrawing Korean Won in Australia. Your bank will be able to sell you cash, which you can withdraw at a branch, or you can use a foreign exchange specialist such as Travelex.

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How much Korean Won do I need to bring to South Korea?

South Korea is expensive compared to budget destinations in the region such as Vietnam and Laos, but less expensive than other developed countries such as Japan or Australia. As with all overseas travel, Korea can be as cheap or expensive as you like.

It all depends on how you eat, where you stay and what you do. Eating like a local saves money, as staples like rice and meat are cheap, and there are plenty of cafeterias and restaurants (cash only) where you can eat for a few bucks.

Some Daily Expenses for a Korea Vacation

cheap mid-range expensive
sleep hostel
$30 – $70 per night
two star hotel
$70 – $150 per night
five star hotel
$250 – $600 per night
food Jajangmyeon (traditional noodles): $3-4
Ribs: $5
Eating out
Bibimbap (Korean traditional rice): $7
Eating out
Korean Palace Cuisine: $90
camera Museum: free Seoul and Museum Guided Tour
$40 per person
Private Demilitarized Zone Tour
From $150 per person

*Prices are for reference only and are subject to change

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