5 Things You Should Know Before Spending Money in Korea


Here are some tips to make spending money in Korea as frictionless as possible. There’s almost nothing worse than creating problems at the register or being denied entry. If you’re new to Korea, read on.

5. Sales Tax is Included

When you’re looking at prices, know that you don’t have to try to mentally add tax to calculate the real cost. A 10 percent sales tax or VAT (Value Added Tax) has already been calculated into the price on the label. The money goes to the national government so it’s a federal sales tax. Europeans tend to have more experience with this than Americans.

4. No Tipping

When going out to eat, there is no tipping. For hair salons, the culture is shifting more towards tipping. You don’t have to, but they seem to expect it more. Let’s just say the hair salon won’t turn a tip down. But a restaurant would return the money to you.

3. Choose the Local Currency

Some advanced retailers are trying to arbitrage the currency exchange market when you use your card from back home. You may see an option to be charged in your own currency or the local currency (the amount you saw on the price tags). Always choose to pay in Korean won and let your credit card company do the exchange rate. It will be the best deal and close to market prices. Choosing your own currency at the checkout essentially means the retailer is selling you local currency with padded margins for them, which means you end up paying more than you bargained.

There’s one exception to this rule though – duty free shops. Most of the time they have the baseline price in dollars. And paying in the currency you’re comfortable with is usually not arbitraged to an extreme. So if you’re from the U.S., go ahead and pay in U.S. dollars with a U.S. credit card in a duty free shop. In any other store in Korea, never choose the dollar option.

Always choose to pay in the local currency

2. Get a T-money Card or Cashbee Card

Do you want to be one of those Seoulites who zooms in and out of the subway gate with a tap of their wallet or phone? You’ll have to get a transportation card. You can get one straight away from a convenience store at the airport or at most convenience stores around Korea. Think of it as a prepaid credit card that can be used on subways, buses and convenience stores. Only load up to 50,000 won (about $50 USD). Otherwise, getting a refund on your unused balance could involve some hurdles. Refunds can be made at the convenience store too!

If you’re wondering, Seoulites have the transportation feature embedded into their credit cards. It’s an option that almost everybody chooses to activate when they apply for the card. Then, they can link a card to the NFC chip on their phone, leave the card at home, and use their phone as a transportation card. If you’re staying long-term in Seoul, that’s how you graduate from a T-money card.

More information on the transportation cards can be found here: https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/TRP/TP_ENG_8_1_1.jsp

1. Get Integrated Quickly

If you’ve moved here, get integrated quickly into the financial system. There are some English-speaking specialists at some banks who can smooth out the process. You may find out that relying on non-Korean-based accounts and cards will make e-commerce burdensome.


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