My fourth Korean Travel Tip concerns one of the most important aspects of all travelling- $$$MONEY!
For most of my travels my standard go-to was the Commonwealth Bank’s Travel Money Card, which is really ideal but… It currently doesn’t carry Korean Won. Ugh. So I had to make alternate plans (I’d still consider the Commbank TMC if you are going somewhere in the currency it carries though!)
So, after my couple of trips, I’ve finally got this (somewhat) a bit down-packed, ha. Here are a few of my notes (gettit? keke) that will hopefully be helpful!
Knowing what is going to work best for you is crucial to make sure money is not a drama! Nothing worse than unnecessary drama on a holiday, unless it’s unnecessary (but wonderful) k-drama watching.
Depending on the length of your trip, where you’re going, what you’re doing, how much is prepaid… all these are obviously going to make a difference as to how much you’re going to require. I always make sure I’ve set aside the right amounts for my guesthouse stay and pay as soon as I arrive for example. I also try and figure out what my daily food allowance is. And my daily shopping allowance (which is sometimes more of a helpful guideline of course… ). Just have a good think and write it all out, that way you’re not caught off guard.
When I’m travelling I always find it’s just so much easier to have daily cash on me, rather than worrying whether the place is going to accept my card. Obviously you don’t want to be carrying too much cash around, even if Seoul is one of the safest places. Just a liveable amount.
It’s also quite useful to actually know the currency rather well, so you don’t feel the fool fumbling around passing the cashier a 50,000 Won note instead of a 5,000 Won note or something and have them look at you like you’re crazy (this may or may not have happened to me).
So, a Quick Crash Course on Korean Currency!
In Korea they of course use the Won! Denoted by a ₩!
Coins come in: ₩10, ₩50, ₩100 and ₩500
Notes come in: ₩1,000, ₩5,000, ₩10,000 and ₩50,000
Confession- I find coins really difficult to use when I’m travelling. I’m always too embarrassed to stand there examining coins to try and work out what I’m trying to pay unless I’m super confident, ie. buying a chocolate bar for ₩500 with a ₩500 coin for example. Most of the time though, I’d just prefer to deal in notes.
My favourite notes by far are the ₩10,000 and ₩1,000! Hahaha. I just find myself using these green and blue beauties the most.
As with anything though, familiarity is confidence! So I guess I should practice more with coins…
Acquiring your cash
Airport currency conversion/commission fees are NUTS so make sure you do your exchanges way in advance. I use Travelex, which I’ve found to be great! You “purchase” your currency online and then select a location to pick it up. It’s usually ready a couple of days later, so make sure you plan in advance! I’ve found them to have decent conversion rates, and they don’t charge commission! Perfect!
Travel Money Cards
To be honest I haven’t tried a lot of the options here, but the Korean Tourism Office did give us a Lotte KOREA PASS card on our To:ur Imagination Trip, which I thought was quite a handy little card! It’s aimed at foreigners and it’s quite similar to the travel money card, in that you can prepay money onto it and then it just acts as a debit card. It’s supposedly accepted in most places, and you can even use it as your transportation card too, which is mighty handy!
Normal Bank Cards
I once made the mistake of trying to use my Australian debit card to withdraw cash from a normal Korean ATM and then faced the terrible fear of it seemingly saying the cash was withdrawn but not actually giving me any! I then had to go through the motions of making sure I wasn’t actually charged and so on… Sigh, it was a bit of a hassle. I really needed to get cash out though, and it was the weekend so banks weren’t open! Luckily for me I mentioned the dilemma to my friend who also happened to be traveling in Seoul whilst I was there. He had a bit more experience than me, and explained that there were certain ATMs we could use our Aus cards in. We met up in Hapjeong station and he showed me how to use the international ATMs (I’m sure there are more of these, but I’m using this Hapjeong one as my go-to from now on since it’s only one station along from my Hongdae!). The process was really easy, basically like withdrawing at home but with a little bit of an additional fee, phew! Crisis averted!
Of course in some instances (when you really need that perfect winter jacket for example…) you might need to use your credit card. Make sure you can properly calculate the international fees and all those extra surprises too!
One thing I would recommend though… is not trying to buy anything online through a Korean payment system. Unless you have a local with you, with a Korean card, a Korean address and a Korean computer. It was just an insane experience of installing about 10 different programs and not having a clue what was going on. Of course if you’re staying in a hotel your helpful Guest Services can assist you here. Otherwise my advice would be: do not attempt on your own. Haha.
Always Always Have Backup Options!
As always when you’re travelling, make sure you have plenty of backup options! Keep a small bit of money in your suitcase in case you lose your wallet, make sure you have your debit card or credit card in case of emergencies and always have the international telephone number for your bank with you as well!
Happy Shopping! ^.^