Thursday, February 24, 2011

Freaking, Fracking Banking in South Korea

I really thought that moving to South Korea this time would be much easier since we had lived here once before and understand the differences. So I find myself at times like these comparing what we are dealing with this move versus our previous stay. Getting a bank account here in Korea the first time was no problem except that it took over two hours to get all the paperwork done.

This time it took only about an hour but it has been all downhill since then. We opened the account in only Rocketman's name because you can't have a joint account in South Korea. I was given an ATM card and so was Rocketman so it wasn't a problem. I could get money or buy anything whenever I needed to.

The big difference this time is that Rocketman's salary is 100% USD. Last time, a percentage (chosen by us) was paid in Korean WON and was deposited each month into his Korean bank account so we always had plenty of money. We knew coming over that we would need to do wire transfers between our U.S. account and our Korean account. Before we left, I went to our bank and got the necessary information needed to do this. We also brought enough cash to last a month in case there were problems.

On February 6th, I went to our local branch with Mr. Choi, my yoga buddy, to make a wire transfer, not that we needed the money but in anticipation of any problems. We had to go upstairs into the VIP area of the bank and went to the first desk where a Ms. Choi helped us. Mr. Choi explained to her that I wanted to wire transfer money from my U.S. account to my Korean bank. I made sure he said it multiple times. She went and got the paperwork and Mr. Choi helped me fill it out.

She wanted my Alien Registration Card and the asked for my passport. I didn' have my passport and I was bummed because we had been there for an hour already. So I made sure that Mr. Choi asked her that if I return with the passport I can make the transfer. She said that my passport was all I needed.

We went back on the 11th with everything she told me I needed. As it turned out, she had given me the wrong papers and I actually filled out forms to take out of my Korean account and put into my U.S. account. That would have been disasterous. That was straightened out and I filled out the correct form and gave her my passport. It also turns out that I can't wire transfer money from my U.S. account to my Korean account. I would have to write a check to my Korean bank and wait 30 days for it to clear. That's my only option. I was upset but what are you going to do.

Then Ms. Choi was talking rapidly to Mr. Choi and he back to her. His voice was getting louder and he was shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head. I knew it wasn't good. He told me that I can't put money into Rocketman's account. I stood up in the very quiet Korean bank and yelled, "WHAT! You've got to be kidding me. I did everything she told me to and I STILL can't transfer money!" I was hot and yes, I was yelling. I looked over and the whole floor had stopped working to watch me and her two co-workers jumped out of their chairs when I started yelling.

She then asked their Mr. Choi if I had one of Rocketman's business cards which I didn't. So what she suggested is that I open my own bank account and then write the check to that account and when the check clears, I come in and transfer the money. I ranted and grumbled for a few minutes but then realized, "Becky, you're not in Minnesota anymore" and caved. So left with my own bank account with a penney in it. That's all you need to open a bank account. My check did clear my U.S. bank on the 16th.

The big problem is that we may very well run out of money. It's so blasted ironic. We have plenty in the U.S. but can't get our hands on any of it. We also can't find an ATM here in Suwon that accepts foreign credit cards. We could get cash advances that way.

I even called our bank to see if there is anything they could do. First, they told me that they could not send any money to Korea. It's an enemy of the United States. I told her I was in SOUTH Korea, not NORTH. If I was in North Korea, I would be in a prison. She gave me to another guy who said the same thing about North Korea. He said that North Korea has opperatives in South Korea trying to mess with the banking system so they couldn't help me. I find this so ridiculous because aren't we trying to pass a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea. How is that money going to change hands?

I hung up and gave up. Rocketman tried to get his company to help but there is little they can do so we are going to have to live with the 30 days on transferring money. It's just this first month that may be difficult. Of course, if we do run out, Mr. Choi offered me as many millions of WON I want. Rocketman doesn't want to borrow from him since that whole business of Mr. Choi wanting to be my boyfriend the last time we lived here. Hopefully, we won't run out or we may be eating kimbap for every meal. It's only 1500WON ($1.20US).


  1. What a nightmare! I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that. I hope it gets better so you can enjoy yourself.

  2. Oh my heck. What a mess.

    Can you use US credit/debit cards there?

  3. Geez, I'm kind of not surprised the situation hasn't changed since I was doing my own banking some 8 years ago.

    When my parents visited me in Korea for the wedding they could not get their cards to work in machines here, even in Itaewon, the ones that supposedly take foreign cards. This is a major issue for travelers, no matter how good the bibimbap and b-boys are!


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