Banks

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banking_in_korea

 

[Update: February 8, 2018]

Review of the Best Korean Bank for foreigners and expats

One thing I highly recommend for anyone staying long-term in Korea is to open a bank account. I hate carrying cash, especially coins! With a bank card you can pay for literally EVERYTHING. So which bank is the best one for foreigners!?

With so many banks to choose from it can be a bit overwhelming. Even more so for foreigners! Here is a list of banks I have used the past 10 years. Here are the 4 criteria that I will talk about:

1) English Phone Support
2) In-person banking
3) Online banking
4) Currency exchange

Based on my 10 years of experience living in Korea. I believe I have found the best bank for foreigners. So read on!

woori
Woori Bank

Their English phone support is quite poor as they hire English-Translators and not people that are knowledgeable in bank-related questions. Going back and forth while waiting on the phone can be quite frustrating. What’s even worse is the in-person experience. The 3 times I have been there I waited a long time to finally get a teller to assist me. Average wait time was between 30-40min which I found absolutely ridiculous. I didn’t bother using their online service as I immediately withdrew all my funds due to the long wait times. (Note: I went at 3 different times as well) Their exchange rate is average. Withdrawal limit: 700,000

Pros: Many branches and atms available.

nonghyup_bank

Nonghyup

They have good phone support with knowledgeable staff, wait times for in-person banking is about 10 minutes. Their exchange rate is good. However their online banking has caused me nothing but headaches. They are famous for login errors such as KEYLOGGER (you can google it) and has frustrated me in so many ways that my advice for you is to:

STAY AWAY! Do NOT use Nonghyup BANK. DO NOT EVEN BOTHER UNLESS YOUR LOOKING TO HAVE PROBLEMS. 

They are also very vulnerable to cyber attacks as their security is severely lacking. You can read about the huge cyber attack a few years ago here and the most recent data leak here.

Withdrawal limit: 1,000,000

Pros: Good exchange rate

shinhan_bank

Shinhan Bank

Update: July 18, 2018

The online banking finally worked but after 1 year of inactivity they automatically closed my account. This is a common practice for all Korean banks so make sure to do at least 1 transaction every year to keep it active!

Based on my short experience, they have good English support. The in-person banking is average with 15-20min wait times. Their exchange rate is average. However, my friend and I could not get our online banking to work. Both of us got different errors which leads me to believe that like Nonghyup I may have trouble with online banking in the future. I shall update if I can finally get it to work.

 

 

KebHANAbank

KEB Hana Bank:

[Update February 1 2018]

I can safely say after 2 years since the merger things seem back to normal. Their level of service is on par to what it was before and their English phone support for both banking and credit cards seem back to normal. The only thing I noticed is the local bank seems 2 times busier now that the local branch services both Hana and KEB bank customers. Normal wait times in the bank for 2018 seem to be 20 minutes whereas back in 2014 when I first reviewed the bank it was only 5-10 minutes.  Withdrawal limit: 1,000,000 (300,000 for new customers)

Tip: Download the KEBHana Bank app to get huge discounts when exchanging foreign currency. You can get up to 80% discount on fees for USD saving you huge amounts of money!

[Update July 24 2015]

KEB has been the undisputed best bank for foreigners for many years. However, since the merger with Hana bank there has been nothing but problems. Ranging from bank and credit card purchases not working online and in stores. Personally, I haven’t been able to make any online purchases for a week, and when I was at the restaurant my card was declined for no apparent reason. After looking at their facebook page it seems like many other expats are also facing the same issue. In the past, their English support line has been solid, but now it seems like it’s currently not in service.

[2014 Review]

The #1 bank in my opinion and for many expats in Korea is the KEB Hana Bank (KEB Bank and Hana Bank recently merged into one bank). They have great English-speaking phone support. The ONLINE banking works flawlessly. Whenever I go in-person the average wait times are short (about 5-10 min) and I get everything I need to get done fairly quickly. They also offer one of the best exchange rates. You can also print out the exchange rate discount coupon from their website. If you forget to do it, simply mention it and there is a good chance they will still give you the discounted rate!

Note: One day I had some problems with my phone where it would disconnect for no apparent reason. I made 2 phone calls to 2 different banks. The first bank I called was KEB. In mid-conversation the line cut off. Within 1 minute, KEB called me back. The second bank I called was Nonghyup (NH) again the line cut off in mid-conversation. Like KEB, I expected a call-back. It never happened. This experience stuck with me as it just showed how each bank handled the same issue. Extra thumbs up for KEB for going the extra mile for their customers!

Merger: Since the merger there seems to be some issues when attempting to make purchases online. I expect KEB Hana Bank to work out the technical issues soon. In the mean time, bank and credit card holders should be aware that any purchases made online on Korean websites such as on GMARKET, will require you to use the Korean version of the website.

English Banking Line: 1544-3000 (Press “0” then “9”)
English Credit Card Line: 1544-3500

Pros: Good English phone support

 

 

37 comments on “Banks
  1. James says:

    Standard Chartered Korea is also a great option. Full English site and app for smart banking.

    • chris says:

      It may be a great option. But unfortunately, I don’t see many of them around in Seoul

      • Chil says:

        Hello. I just got a check card in KEB so i can use in widrawing moneg in my paypal but i entered all info required but you also have to put some national i.d i put my alien card number and it says invalid card and id number..anyone can help me with this? Thanks

        • chris says:

          Hi Chil
          Unfortunately as a foreigner you can’t connect your paypal to your korean bank account

        • Kirk says:

          Yes. I spoke to paypal about this actually expats can not use their checking cards at all government rule which was passed. Only credit cards will work for us expats here in Korea. If your card doesn’t say visa or MasterCard. PayPal will not work in anyway. However it will work for a Korean persons account. They said I could use my wife’s. All I could do is just sit there and let my blood boil. This was just a few months ago.

  2. John says:

    I am a current user of Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) and would not recommend it at all. Very difficult to make purchases online and overseas with KEB cards. No one at the branches ever seems to be able to answer my questions. I am constantly having problems with this bank.

    • chris says:

      Hi John
      When your at the branch ask them to call the ENGLISH translators and they can help you out as some branches won’t have English speakers if there isn’t a heavy concentration of foreigners in the area. There seems to be an issue/bug with online purchases as I was having the same problem as you were when I was trying to make purchases on GMARKET and other Korean websites using the “ENGLISH” version of the sites. However, when I switched to the Korean versions then there was no issues and my card went through smoothly. I can’t really comment on using the card overseas since I have never done so. Perhaps you can recommend another bank?

  3. Raikiri says:

    Have gone to Woori and Nonghyup and their service was so bad that I wanted to smash my face in the wall. Shinhan is not bad at all except for the fact that their internet service has a couple of flaw. KEB is one of the best banks and foreigner friendly but sometimes their service can get annoying in person but overall they are better than the latter by far.

    • chris says:

      I agree with everything you said above. Ever since their merger with Hana there was some minor annoyances that I also experienced. However, I will give them some time to work out their kinks and will re-evaluate them again.

  4. Melissa says:

    HI,

    Does anyone have any experience with Kookmin Bank ?

    Thanks!
    regards

  5. Sherry Love says:

    Hi Chirs,

    I will be going Korea for a year soon, what banks would you currenlty recommend. I have read you reviews of the others but this post is from last year. Any update please? Will be very grateful.
    (RELPY TO THIS COMMENT. EMAIL IN THE FIRST ONE IS WRONG) THANKS 🙂

    Thanks
    Sherry

    • chris says:

      Hi Sherry
      I decided to make it a public response since I realized now that your email is incorrect. As of now I would recommend KEB HANA as they have out all the technical issues that happened the first year since their merger. Secondly now that the banks have merged you can withdraw and send money to both banks without any fees which is also a nice bonus!

      • paul says:

        I would not recommend KEB-HANA….at least 25% of my in store card purchases are declined…it is a complete pain…and even …ATM has failed….EVEN at KEB…
        I am presently looking for a new bank….I have been here almost 20yrs…and KEB was great…now it sucks.

  6. Thet Me Me Zaw says:

    Hi,I opened an account with KEBhana bank and I was only allowed to withdrawal won 300,000 per day. Do you know any other bank that allowed foreign students to withdrawal money more than that?

    • chris says:

      Hello
      You can ask them to raise your limit. If they can’t do it right away ask them when you are eligible. There might be a new rule in place since the merger of the two banks before the limit can be raised.

      For your own reference. I can withdraw up to: 1,000,000 WON with KEBHana

    • Brennan says:

      Go to Kookmin Bank. You can request the limit to be raise the day you open your bank. They are super friendly and they are by far the best bank I have ever dealt with.

  7. Kevin says:

    Hi,

    I am new to Korea and will probably go with KEB Hana as you recommend.

    Although, I will be sending money back to Europe and want the easiest interface for mobile banking..is this with KEB Hana? As I heard Citibank is free for international transactions 😮

  8. Ali says:

    Great post thanks for the information!

  9. Fahad says:

    Hi Chris..,
    thank you for great review.
    I have couple of questions
    does KEB Hana offer english online banking?
    does the app support english ?

  10. Chris says:

    Do you work at KEB hana?

  11. Jan says:

    Hello this is so useful. I love korea and have been there 4 times each time longer than before. I used to withdraw cash easily from Citibank atms using my international atm card but had many problems this trip last month. Of the 5 Citi atms i visited 3 (all in Myeongdong) had disappeared while one at Shinshega store only accepted domestic cards. Finally found one atm in Hongdae in front of Citibank bank and i could only withdraw ₩300k! Was so frustrated as i needed cash 😣 as i plan to visit Seoul and Jeju often and may stay 2 to 3 months I am wondering what I should do to have acceas to cash and if I have to resort to opening a local bank account. Can tourists even open bank accounts in Korea I am wondering. Any suggestions you may have will truly be appreciated.

    • chris says:

      Hey Jan
      I feel your pain, there used to be a Citibank at Sinchon station where I lived as well and they removed that as well. Unfortunately starting from 2018 tourists were NOT allowed to open bank accounts any longer with just a passport.

      I suggest using other ATMs that will accept Citibank cards and call CITIBANK and ask to raise the daily limit. My personal limit is 1,000,000/day withdrawing from the ATM. However that is with a Korean bank.

      Hope that helped

      • Jan says:

        Thanks Chris for your fast reply. OMG if i cannot open an account how am I to last in Jeju if I stay there for 3 months. 😣. Am a noob when it comes to overseas atms. May I know some examples of what other kinds of atms may accept citibank atm card in Seoul and Jeju? Read that citibank closed many branches in seoul last year. Maybe I should open an account with Standard Chartered as saw them in Seoul. Any other advice u can give me will be most appreciated. As for the daily limit of withdrawal my actual limit in my country is high but heard Korea has its own limits. 😐

        • chris says:

          Hey Jan
          I’m going to assume most does accept Citibank but there will be a fee which will show on the screen. ATMs also have stickers/labels on them as well of different banks that can work on the ATM. There are a few Standard Chartered banks around Seoul and also nearby me in SINCHON exit 4. I would recommend you talking to the branch and requesting a higher limit. Usually there is at least 1 person that can speak decent english if not they can call the ENGLISH speaking division which can also help you as well.

        • bankmeister says:

          You can find Lotte ATMs to use your Citibank ATM card. They’re usually at or near Lotte Mart, Lotte Super, Lotte Dept or Seven Eleven. Choose other language and overseas card, and you must see the Citibank logo button.

  12. GFHTN says:

    Used to have Woori account since 2006. Left today. During routine procedure (T/T transfer) something goes wrong and money did not arrive to recipient in a full volume.
    I claimed to staff, and the response was, literally, “I don’t care”. I call hotline, was connected with branch team leader and request for disciplinary actions. He refused.
    Transfer issue was not solved, behavioral problem was not solved.
    Together with Woori taking fees for almost every transaction (KEB do not) and with headaches during certificate management, I decided to leave and withdraw all money from Woori.
    Use KEB/Hana for 6 years already – nice support, English app, no visible problems.

    • chris says:

      Sorry to hear that. I’m surprised they would treat a long term loyal customer like that. I noticed the 2 banks that are really foreigner friendly are KEB/HANA & Shinhan. They seem to go the extra mile for their customers

    • bankmeister says:

      In that case, you can file a report to the Financial supervisory service(금융감독원, you may need to get a help from a Korean friend). It’s a govt agency equivalent to the CFPB in the states.

      • GFHTN says:

        Yes, I got contact numbers for claiming, but it really needs assistant of Korean-speaking person. I will try to manage it.

  13. Gen says:

    Hi Chris,

    I currently have IBK (had to move from Shinhan to IBK due to work). Since I moved jobs I wanted to change back to Shinhan, but I found out that foreigners cannot use their card as a transportation card, which I can do with my IBK card, so I decided to stay. My experience with IBK has been quite positive so far, and their internet banking is quite easy to use. I am thinking of opening an account with HSBC, I do know they only have one office in Seoul, but because of their international reputation I would like to try them out. What do you think?

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