Money & costs
For a developed country, Korea can be a remarkably inexpensive place in which to travel. Transport, simple Korean meals and snacks, alcohol and the country’s network of splendid national parks – free. Budget travellers, staying in backpacker hostels or the cheaper motels or yeogwan, avoiding pricey course meals and travelling on buses, can easily get by on around W50,000 a day, probably even less if they are careful spenders. For those who wish to travel in more comfort, a budget of around W100,000 a day is more realistic. If your travel requirements run to four-star or higher accommodation and more lavish cuisine, this jumps to at least W300,000.
The South Korean unit of currency is the won (W), which comes in W10, W50, W100 and W500 coins. Notes come in denominations of W1000, W5000, W10,000 and W50,000 note.
Banks in most high streets offer foreign exchange services (look for a ‘Foreign Exchange’ or currency sign), although changing money can take some time. Tourist shops and hotels exchange money, but compare their rates and commissions with the banks before using their services. US dollars are the easiest to exchange but any major currency is accepted. Travellers cheques have a slightly better exchange rate than cash.
Don’t forget to reconvert any surplus won into another currency before you leave the country, as exchanging won outside Korea can be difficult or impossible. If you reconvert more than US$2000 worth of won at Incheon airport, you will have to show bank receipts to prove that you exchanged the money legally.
Korean ATMs are a little strange. If you have a foreign credit card, you need to find an ATM with a ‘Global’ sign or the logo of your credit card company. NICE ATMs often accept foreign cards. Most Global ATMs have basic instructions in English and operate in units of W10,000. ATMs can be found outside banks and post offices and inside deluxe hotels, subway stations and department stores. Restrictions on the amount of money you can withdraw vary from machine to machine; it can be below W300,000 per day, but many ATMs have a W700,000 limit. Another problem is that ATMs have time restrictions and most only operate between 9am and 10pm.
More and more motels, hotels, shops and restaurants in cities and tourist areas accept foreign credit cards, but there are still plenty of yeogwan, restaurants and small businesses that don’t. Be prepared to carry around plenty of cash, especially if you are touring around outside the main cities.