[Updated June 27, 2019]
Ready to start a new life in South Korea? You’ll want to know how to open a bank account in Korea to make your time as an expat a lot easier in the months and years ahead. Not to worry, we’ll map out everything you need for smooth sailing on your application.
Let’s get started!
- 1 About this Guide
- 2 Do Korean Banks Have English speakers?
- 3 What to Prepare Before Your Trip to the Bank
- 4 Application Process
- 5 Important Things Related to Your Account
- 5.1 Account Types
- 5.2 Online Banking
- 5.3 Smartphone Applications
- 5.4 Security
- 5.5 International Transfers to Another Bank
- 5.6 Banking and ATM Hours
- 5.7 Using Your ATM Card While Traveling Abroad
- 5.8 International Currency and Exchange Rates
- 5.9 Charges & Fees
- 6 Approvals and Rejections
- 7 Major Banks of South Korea
About this Guide
Do you need this guide? This info may be useful if:
- You’re thinking about moving to Korea
- Will be moving to Korea soon
- Study Korean at a school and are only here temporarily
- Get payments from an employer overseas
- Will be getting a salary within Korea
- You want to get a Korean credit card
- Will be traveling in Korea for several months
We’ve tried to explain the process of opening a bank account in South Korea here as easily as possible. An important thing to note is that Korea is a rapidly changing country.
The banking rules and requirements are constantly being updated so while you can use this info as a general guide, make sure you know what you need before applying.
Call the bank first before you head in to open an account to find out specifically what you need.
Do Korean Banks Have English speakers?
English levels are great in South Korea! Most banks have at least one English speaking staff, especially at large branches in major cities like Seoul or Busan, so you should be able to learn about all the bank’s services through them. But if you’re in a remote area, or far from a large branch, there is a chance that the only English speaking staff at your local bank works only on certain days, or worst case, no one speaks English fluently. However, all Koreans will have at least a limited English ability.
If that’s the case, it’s best to bring a Korean speaker with you or have one on the phone to help. If you don’t know anyone who can help you can also try the Dasan Hotline by dialing 120, or the Korea Tourism hotline 1330. They may be able to help translate the most important parts of your process.
If you’re motivated to try applying on your own we have some Korean bank phrases that will help you to complete your application.
What to Prepare Before Your Trip to the Bank
While some documents can vary between banks there are some key documents that all the banks here require:
(여권/비자 | yeogwon/bija)
You should already have a Passport including your Visa if you’re in Korea for a job or to study. Just don’t forget to bring it or you’ll have a wasted trip! They’ll usually want your Passport with another photo ID (more on that below).
Certificate of Employment
(재직증명서 | jaejikjeungmyeongseo)
This is a relatively new requirement at some large banks and don’t be surprised if they ask you for it. This could also be some kind of proof of work like a signed contract with your employer.
Just remember that if you’re in South Korea to work. If you’re a student, or on an education visa, then your school should have an agreement with some bank and be able to provide you with assistance or the information you need to open an account.
Alien Registration Card
(ARC | 외국인 등록 카드 | oegugin deungnok kadeu)
Having an ARC will give you the most options for account functionality. For example, it can allow you to do online banking, get an ATM card, and transfer money overseas.
It can sometimes take up to a month to get your ARC though and banks are aware of this. If you don’t have an ARC card or are waiting for yours to be processed, most banks will allow you to open an account with a passport but your account will have limited services or you’ll have to use it in-person with a bank teller until you get it.
If you’re in South Korea on a short-term education visa you may not be eligible for an ARC.
If you don’t have an ARC you’ll have to accept limited services at your bank or reconsider if you actually need a bank account.
Korean Phone Number
(한국내 전화번호 | hangungnae jeonhwabeonho)
This will be used by the bank to call you about your account if need be. They generally won’t accept an International number and in any case you’ll want to give them a number that they can actually reach you at, in case there’s a problem with your account.
If you don’t have a phone yet, you can use a friend’s number and then change it at the bank later.
You can occasionally find bank branches that will allow you to open an account without all of these documents, but the account may have fewer services, like no ATM card for example.
The closer you can meet the bank’s requirements, the more services your account will have access to.
And of course, be sure to try to make a good first impression when submitting your application. That can make an impact of whether you’re approved for an account.
With your documents in hand, all you then need to do is go to the bank! Try to go early because banks close in the early afternoon and can have quite a few people in some places.
When You Arrive
You don’t have to do anything special at this point, when you go in someone asks what you’re there for and you can tell them in English that you want to open an account. They’ll direct you to the correct counter or give you a number to wait for your turn.
After filling out the forms they give you with your real name, address, and number it’s just a matter of working out some of the finer details of the services you need. For more on that, read on below!
After the Paperwork is Finished
Once your application is complete, most banks will be able to give you a bank card you can start using immediately. You’ll also receive a bank book, and an ATM card if you asked for one. It’s a very streamlined experience.
Keep your bank book in a safe place since you may be asked for it sometimes for official purposes.
Your bank book is as important as your bank card so if you lose it then you should report it to your bank immediately!
It’s good if you build the habit of updating your bank book at least every month so you’re aware of your account balances and where your bank book is.
Here are some of the more specific details you may need to know about your account and services you can get with it. If you have a more specific question then just let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to find the answer for you!
As a general purpose bank account, most foreigners will opt for a regular account. Keep in mind that interest gained in your account is extremely low. If longterm savings are on your mind then you should specify to the bank staff that you would like to open a savings account.
The longer the term you’ll keep money in that account, the better the interest rate.
All major banks offer internet banking and the largest have options in English (and several other languages too!). However, the menus are often limited, and will only be good for most usual transactions. Some may also not have as many services as they do in Korean. But its benefits make it worth having.
If the bank staff don’t suggest internet banking then you should ask.
They’ll get you set up with passwords for your online banking and you should expect to be prompted to change these as a requirement every so often. This is just a bonus security measure.
You’re going to need a digital certificate in order to do online transfers, so make sure you get one when creating your account. This is a digital file that identifies you so you can send money from your account. It’s an added layer of security to make sure nobody is trying to make you part ways with your hard earned cash.
You can save this file to your computer, a USB, or your smartphone so you always have it when you travel. Just don’t lose it and make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands!
If lose or misplace your digital certificate, call your bank and report it missing, just like if you lost your bank card or bank book.
Most banks now have apps in English and Korean, but again the services in English may be limited.
The amount of hoops that banks require you to jump through, especially if you opt for online banking, can be a hassle. Just think of it like benefitting from a personal security service keeping you safe and protecting your hard-earned money.
There are a lot of con artists in Korea and abroad that will try to trick you into revealing your secure bank information so remember to be safe and be careful!
International Transfers to Another Bank
When you open a bank account in Korea, make sure to ask about choosing a “Foreign Designated Bank”. This is extremely important!
Foreign Designated Bank
If you will be transferring money or using your ATM card services outside of Korea, you will need to have one bank set up as your foreign designated bank. If not, you won’t be able to transfer money to other countries. Or even worse, you may find yourself traveling in a foreign country with no way to access your cash in Korea.
You cannot have two foreign designated banks but it’s easy to change in person at your local branch.
Your bank will have limits on the cash amount you can transfer per day, per month, or based on your salary so you should find this out from the bank. You should also find out the bank’s exchange rate into the currency you’ll be using and how this factors in to limits. It’s often not as good as the market rate, but can be close depending on the bank and account.
Banking and ATM Hours
Most banks are open from 9am – 4pm, however different bank services may operate on different hours. Some branches stay open later or are open on weekends and all banks have ATMs. However, you might be surprised that many bank ATMs have hours of operation. Some quite limited too!
Large banks usually have ATMs that are open until midnight and some have 24 hour ATMs, but often they lock the doors after a certain time and require your ATM card to open them.
There are always plenty of ATMs throughout Korea you can use.
If you’re not using your bank’s ATM then be prepared to pay a small fee or even using your bank’s ATM outside of business hours.
Using Your ATM Card While Traveling Abroad
If you’re using your ATM card from another country, look for “Global ATM” signs so you can withdraw your cash from your international account. It’s usually not a problem.
International Currency and Exchange Rates
Try to be familiar with the exchange rate your bank uses, it’s usually more favorable than the rate you’d get at currency exchange counters but this isn’t always the case. It’s usually not as good as the market rate, but you might be pleasantly surprised.
Charges & Fees
Most accounts don’t charge a service fee, and don’t require a minimum balance. You may have a small fee to get your ATM card and will have to pay a transaction fee if you transfer your funds abroad.
Basically, the more labor-intensive the service is for the bank, the more you’ll pay. Bank teller transactions will be the most expensive, followed by ATMs. Internet banking has the lowest fees. You can also expect typical ATM fees for ATM’s that don’t belong to your bank or when you travel.
Some ATM’s may have a fee for depositing money though, so be aware of this. There may also be a fee imposed by your bank if you’re exchanging currency.
Approvals and Rejections
South Korea has become a very cosmopolitan country and almost all banks now allow foreigners to open accounts. 99% of the time people will be able to open an account no problem, provided they have all the right paperwork.
With that said, some branches may have had bad experiences with foreigners and might have policies that limit the services to your account or require a waiting period of a few months. At the worst, your application will be rejected.
Don’t be discouraged if this happens. There are plenty of bank options to choose from and one of them will allow you to open an account if you meet their requirements. And you may even be able to open an account at a different branch of the same bank.
Major Banks of South Korea
Ready to shop for banks? You’ll have plenty to choose from, especially in Seoul, so let’s get started with the big three that expats and visitors in Korea typically use. Give them a ring and see if they’re worth a visit! You should also check a map of your area so you know what local banks would be most convenient for you to use.
These are some of the most expat friendly banks you can find in South Korea and you shouldn’t have an issue opening an account with them.
KEB Hana Bank
Korea: 02-1544-3000 x8,9
Overseas: +82-1544-3000 x8,9
Notes: Expats love their experience with this bank. A little light on the ATMs but good English support and services.
Notes: ATMs everywhere. Online banking is very good as well.
Notes: Lots of branches, cater to expats and international visitors with a robust selection of services.
Do you have any questions about opening a Korean bank account? What do you think is the best bank for expats? Let us know in the comments below!