September 02, 2012

Overcoming Financial Worries Abroad

No wants to be without money, right? Especially when in a foreign country. No one can be completely worry free when it comes to financial issues but here are some of my experiences and tips (in bold) to be somewhat worry free while abroad.

(*Note; I arrived in Korea about two weeks ago (August 17) and have been busy exploring and getting used to my school/campus ever since so I haven't had the chance to update regularly. I'm fairly settled so I should be able to post whenever something of interest pops into my mind.)

It's my first time being abroad since I first moved from the Philippines to the US but even then, I was but five years old so I knew nothing about traveling; and a lot has changed since then too. Of course I took the time to study up on all the right and wrong ways to travel but like I said earlier, you can never be completely worry free.

I arrived in Korea with 246,000 (South Korean Won) (roughly $250 including fees). The recommended amount to arrive at your destination with is $300 of the local currency (about a weeks worth of expenses if distributed properly), at least until you can open up a bank account. My friends had planned ahead earlier than me and had exchanged their money via banks or travel agencies, all of which could take a week or so depending on your location. I exchanged my money at a Foreign Exchange station at the airport in Hawai'i because I didn't have enough time to wait for the bank. The exchange rate and fees were okay, but I'd definitely research and consider other options because airports tend to be a bit more expensive.

Roughly 126,000 went to a seven-night stay (18,000 or ~$15 per night) at a hostel in 홍대앞 (Hongdae) called Kimchi Hostel. (My school's dormitories weren't open for another week.) For transportation, about 20,000 went to my T-Money card (more on that another time). And the rest I distributed to food for the duration of my stay in the hostel. I also received 100,000 from my friend's mom (whom I give so much thanks to!!) because she worried about me being financial unstable at the time.

Even though I had moved into the dorms after my stay in Kimchi, I still couldn't open a bank account until the following Monday when school started because the banks in Korea are closed on the weekends. And also because my other friend was going to help me with the process. When opening a bank account, I definitely recommend making friends with and bringing a native speaker because even if the teller knows English, it's very limited and there could be important information that you need to know about your account, fees, etc. I opened a bank account under 우리은행 (Woori Bank) because they have a lot of Global ATMs throughout Seoul, they do online banking, and they have an English website, though I've never really used it.

This is where most of my financial problems really struck home. I really needed to quickly get my money wire transferred as soon as possible because the deadline for dormitory fees was fast approaching (Mon, Sept. 03). Even though Woori had online banking available, I couldn't use it on any computer I tried. I asked the teller if it was possible for them to do it for me but they said it had to be done through my own account from Hawai'i. The problem was that the online wire transfer system my bank uses is only for the US and the only other way to transfer money is to apply in person. Obviously I can't do that since I'm already here, right? So I was scrambling for other ways to get my money here on time.

Remember those Global ATMs I said my bank had? As a last resort, I've been using them to get my money here as quickly as possible. They do have a max limit of 1,000,000 (~$880) per transaction and depending on your bank back home, they will have extra fees and might also have a limit of transactions per day. For my bank, they have an international service charge of $17 and an ATM withdrawal fee of $5. Not too bad for a single transaction but I've already made four because of transaction limits and that definitely adds up. However, I do need to pay my school fees tomorrow so I can live with live without a hundred dollars or so.

Woori is not the only bank in Korea that does international services. Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), 신한은행 (Shinhan Bank), Citibank, and 하나은행 (Hana Bank) are some of the other popular banks in Korea. Each have their own fees, account types, and what have you so either spend some time researching their respective websites or just go with the bank available on your campus.

As a side note, different banks may allow you to deposit foreign (personal?) checks for a fee but it will take about a month or so to get into your account. The fee is most likely less than having stacked withdrawal fees but you do what you must.


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