- 11 January 2014
The South Korean unit of currency is the won (W), which comes in 10, 50, 100 and 500 coins and notes in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 50,000.
Foreign exchange services are offered by banks in most main streets - just look for the usual Foreign Exchange or currency service signs.
Hotels and other major tourist attractions may also offer exchange services but often at less attractive exchange rates or with commission charges.
As western tourism has grown over the last few years, we found it just as easy to exchange AUD as USD and most major Asian currencies were also well catered for.
We've never experienced any problems exchanging money in South Korea but recommend you change currency before you get up the mountain as the rates in Seoul are better. We also bought currency before we left the country and when our exchange against the W was at it's peak.
Korean ATMs are a different beast of technology all together. In order to access cash with a foreign credit card, you will need to find an ATM with a ‘Global’ sign or the logo of your credit card company. Shinhan Bank (See below symbol) ATMs can usually be relied upon to accept foreign cards. Most Global ATMs have basic instructions in English and operate in units of W10,000. ATMs are easily located, but just be sure to find ones with the 'Global' sign. Daily limits vary from below W300,000 to a maximum of W700,000 and take note, many ATMs have time restrictions, operating only operate between 9am and 10pm.
Also remember that if you have a debit card, you will not be able to access monies as savings. Be sure to press credit and either enter your pin or sign.
Most major credit cards - Visa, MasterCard, American Express and sometimes Diners Club, are readily accepted at nearly all points of sale, even in smaller restaurant and retail outlets. However, be prepared for the rare occasion when your foreign credit card is not processed and always have a bit of cash on hand. Note the comment above regarding debit cards, and as a matter of caution always let your credit card provider know that you will be traveling overseas. You wouldn't want your credit card company to see a series of overseas charges and block your card.
If you’re going to be traveling in South Korea for more than a week or so, we recommend picking up a T-Money Card. This is a rechargeable card that you can use on the Seoul subway, inner-city buses, to pay for taxis and some purchases at convenience stores like GS25 and FamilyMart. A T-Money Card saves time and money, particularly when sprinting for the train on the busy Seoul metro. The card costs W3,000 (roughly $3) and can be purchased at any convenience store.
Visa, American Express, and Thomas Cook traveller's cheques are used in South Korea and can be exchanged at some banks and exchange bureaus.
Traveller's cheques are also accepted at major hotels, department stores, and large restaurants and shops. Outside most major cities and at open markets, smaller shops, and local restaurants, it's best to use credit cards or cash.
Tipping is not the custom in South Korea and can be considered an insult. While dining at restaurants, customers may sometimes receive gratuity from the owner or server in the form of complimentary food or drinks as a sign of generosity or to reward customer loyalty. Colloquially, this is known as "service" and even then, tipping is not recommended. Many hotels and a few tourist restaurants add 10% service charge on their bills. Use your discretion.