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  Sending Money Home
Greetings! And welcome to what is, hopefully, a helpful and mildly entertaining trip through the wondrous world of money and banking in the great nation of South Korea.
First and foremost, know that if you don't have cash here, you don't have money. By this, I mean that debit cards are a completely foreign concept at most stores and there will likely even be some issues using a Canadian/American issued credit card (the explanation for this is beyond me). The good thing is that bank machines are plentiful.
However, it is highly recommended that you obtain all necessary cash from them early in the evening if going out for the night as they are not open 24 hours - they close around 11:00 PM. Some 24-hour ones are available, but they can be tricky to find and use (they're mostly in Korean), especially after a night of soju.
While we are on the topic of using the bank machines, it should be noted that getting a local bank account is not only recommended, but pretty much essential. Clearly, your bank card from home isn't going to work out here, so getting an account here, assuming you aren't keeping all your cash in a cupboard or something, gives you access to your money, and who doesn't want that? As well, having a local bank account makes things much easier when it comes to sending money home.

If you have no bank account, you will be asked to fill out forms, answer questions, and have your passport stamped every time you wire money into your home bank account. If you have a local bank account, the forms and questions aren't necessary after the first time, and the passport stamping is bypassed entirely.
Sending money home has a further complication. There are certain limitations as to the amount you can send home while you are here, as the Korean government would much prefer that you spend your money in Korea rather than take it all back to North America. For those of us on the standard one-year contract with a work visa to go along with it, you are permitted to send home 60% of your earnings. This percentage is not certain... some banks allow you to send 80% others 100% others don't care and don't stamp your passport...

If your stay is shorter than 1 year, then the supposed limit is $10,000.00 US. The bank is supposed to keep track of your total for you. This is good to keep in mind if you have exhorbitant student loan payments or some such thing. There are also service charges, of course. What bank would be complete without them? You get nicely double-dinged for them, too. The Korean bank will charge a fee to send the money, and your home bank will charge a fee for receiving it. The fees will vary from bank to bank, both here and at home. It's best to try to make as few transfers as possible with as large an amount as possible to avoid these paying these fees often.

Some people that are making extra money and have a surplus to send home will take a trip to Thailand or another country and will wire the money home from there. Legally you can enter almost any country with less than 10,000USD without declaring the money. There are Western Unions all over the place.

Other teachers that didn't have time to go for a golf trip in Thailand have talked to their Korean friends and solicited their help. Koreans can send out however much money they want... make sure you trust the person cuz they are going to have to go to the bank without you...
This brings us to the glorious topic of exchange rates. The main thing to remember here is that they fluctuate. This can work in your favour or against you, depending on which way the markets are heading while you are here. Try to send the most money home when the won (the name of Korean currency) is strong and the dollar is weak. It won't always work out that you can do this, but it's a good thing to try. As a general rule though, 1000 won is equivalent to $1 (more like 1200 won for $1 US and 900 won for $1 CAD, but as I said, it changes).
As for choosing a bank to open an account at, well, my personal opinion is that banks are banks and it makes no real difference which one you use. It's probably best to go to the same one your fellow teachers use, as that bank is likely used to dealing with foreigners sending money home, making those painful language barrier moments slightly less awkward. If you happen to be the only foreigner at your institute, your newfound Korean friends and co-workers will most likely be extremely helpful to you in finding a bank with someone who speaks at least a smattering of English.
One last topic, that being your actual payday. As mentioned above, Koreans deal in cash. This will be readily apparent on payday. Do not be alarmed if, as happened to me, you are summoned to a darkened office with your school's director and s/he smiles a bit disconcertingly at you while tapping a thick envelope on the desk. You are just getting paid. There is something extremely satisfying about receiving an envelope stuffed with bills every month, though.

Anyway, dealing with money and banks here is pretty easy once you get yourself set up and used to the system. It's mildly irritating, takes a chunk of your time that you'd rather spend doing other things, takes money in service charges, but is mostly easy to ignore - just like home.


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