Financial Matters

Cash or Card: What to use when traveling to Korea?

Which payment instrument to use is one of the most common concerns when traveling abroad. In planning your trip to Korea, you may have asked yourself with the question, “Should I use cash or cash?” As someone who has been traveling to Korea for 5 years and as a former bank employee, specifically handling card products, here are some insights that will help you decide whether to use cash or card when traveling to Korea.


Image from Pulse News

In this digital age and wider acceptance of digital and card payments, we can say that cash is still king. There are a lot of stores and business establishments that accept card in Korea. However, some merchants still prefer to use cash. This is actually one of things that I wish I knew when I first came to Korea. Specially if you are planning to go to countryside and other provinces, make sure to bring cash with you. Moreover, even in big cities such as Seoul, Busan and Daejeon, some stores in their traditional markets and underground shopping malls only accept cash. But for shops that accept cards (credit, prepaid and debit), cards that are powered by major payment network companies such as Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted.


In terms of security, of course, cards are better to use because of its security features. Unlike cash that can be easily lost or stolen. But being stolen from is not really a concern when you are in Korea. In fact, there are a lot of incidents when people had left their things unattended but it would still be there even after days have passed. Though one thing that I noticed whenever I use card in making a purchase in Korea is that they don’t really ask for valid IDs to verify the signature. But I guess, Korea has in-place measures to counter card fraud due to identity theft and other fraudulent transactions. In terms of online shopping, international cards are accepted too but most of the online shops will require you to have a Korean number for sending of security certificates and OTP (One-Time-Password). And remember to immediately call your bank in case of card lost or suspected card fraud.


If you are a budget traveler, you might want to monitor your expenses while you are traveling to Korea. Well, you could do this using your mobile phone too but using card provides a more convenient way to see your previous transactions. Nowadays, most of the banks have their own mobile apps where you could easily check your card usage. In doing that, you could even see the date of purchase, exact amount used, name of merchant and added fees.


And lastly, in terms of savings, which do you think is better, cash or card? If you are traveling to Korea, you can easily exchange your money to Korean won. The exchange rate varies per location, time and date. Obviously, if you exchange at the airport, except higher fees thus, lower conversion of your money. Money exchange outside offers better exchange rates than those from the airport so you can have savings from this. Learn more about where to exchange your money to Korean won here.

On the other hand, if you use your international card in Korea, you can have savings from the following:

1. Low foreign exchange (Forex) conversion rate from your local bank or card provider.

Forex rate varies per bank but it could be from 1.5% to 3.5%. It is usually comprised of the 1% payment network assessment fee (example: Mastercard and Visa) and the remaining percent for your local bank foreign exchange conversion fee.

Image from BPI

Here is a sample computation from my local bank (BPI) which charges 1.85% forex fee. Note that for me to be able to enjoy this low forex rate, I need to have my transaction in Korea be processed or billed in Korean won instead of being billed in my local currency. This will I will not be imposed with unfavorable rate from the Korea’s local bank versus BPI’s offer. Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.

2. Promotions from your local banks or card provider.

Some banks and card providers are offering promotions when you use your card abroad. It could be in the form of rebates, points, gifts, vouchers and etc. that could save you extra money.

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🇵🇭 Joey

A scholar, marketer, educator, traveler, and ultimately, a fangirl currently living in South Korea. I mostly write about Hallyu-related places as well tips on traveling and living in Korea.