Earning money in Korea requires a bank account and you usually open one right after you become legal. Teaching Kimchi has a nice survey about the various banks in Korea and Just Landed informs us that there are
19 banks are operating in South Korea; the “Big Four” - Kookmin Bank, Shinhan Financial Group, Woori Financial Group and Hana Bank - control 70 per cent of the market. With the exception of Woori, three of the top four banks are majority-owned by foreigners.and that,
Citibank Korea, Korea Exchange Bank, Woori Bank, and Hana Bank are just a few exceptional banks that have experience with foreign clients. Such foreigner-friendly banks may even let you use the currency of your choice.There's of tons information from guides and foreigners about opening up an account but (like getting credit cards) your experience will vary from teller to teller, manager to manager, and even from branch to branch. Like my adventures in getting a Korean keyboard I opted for the first thing that I saw, Shinhan bank, and if i could do it over again I would do it a bit different.
I'll go along with Teaching Kimchi's rating of a 3/5 since Shinhan is large enough to know what they're doing on the banking side of things (well, kind of) but, while their English support exists, it's hardly supportive. In hindsight, I should have identified the key foreigner specific services that I wanted and not assume that I would get the same package that I have back home. For example let's look at the Shinhan Cheque Card that comes with your account. Everybody gets one:
...my bankcard is a Manchester United card. Park Ji-Sung is the miracle man in Korea.The gave me the same Manchester United card and I immediately asked if I could switch if for Arsenal. Unfortunately the lady behind the counter stared at me with confusion and my translator informed me that it was the only card that they had.
This is Korean monoculture at it's best: since there is one Premier Korean on the team, Manchester United is now Korea's Team. What gets me is that most of the people I meet are not Manchester supporters but Park Ji-sung supporters. This is a crucial element to supporting a team in the Premier league. If Park were to leave the team how much would Manchester stock be worth? It's the same with Henry and Arsenal. Any true supporter knows his where his allegiances lie. But I digress.
The real problem with the Shinhan cheque card is that it's only valid within Korea. Escaping the country is less fun when you can't access your funds and the only way you can access your funds outside of the country is by wire transfer. This is nothing new and is part of Korean Monoculture that propagates low-trust policies against foreigners.
I'm starting to realize that the banks that I need either have good foreigner relation departments, or (as a result of the global market) are actually foreign banks operating in the Korean market:
One of America's top banks, Citibank, has more than 240 locations all over Korea. Teachers with an account back home can access their funds with no fees, though depositing money in their account from Korea does have some restrictions. Visit the Citibank Korea English website for branch locations.I could change banks, or even open multiple accounts, but right now Shinhan isn't bad enough to warrant the effort.