One of the most common questions fresh ex-pats in South Korea have is how to send money home or vice versa. When you’re dealing with things like jeonse — that large chunk of money you have to put in as a deposit when renting in Korea — or having to pay for unintended expenses and don’t have your first paycheck yet, getting money from your home to your Korean bank account is vital. You may also have a ton of student loan bills and other expenses, too, that need to be taken care of in your home country that requires scheduled transfers from your Korean bank account.
What do I generally recommend for expats in South Korea to send money to and from home?
If you’re all set up in South Korea with your registration card and bank account, I typically suggest that you transfer money to South Korea via Wise (Transferwise) and send money home from South Korea via Sentbe or WireBarley. Continue reading for a closer look at the different options for transferring money in South Korea.
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How to Send Money to South Korea
Wise, or formerly known as Transferwise, has been the easiest way for me to send money from my US bank account to my Korean bank account, KEB Hana. So far, you can only send money to Korea, but that might change in the future. It may sound like I’m shilling Wise, but really guys, it works well.
Full disclosure: I’ve sprinkled a few referral links for Wise in case you want to sign up. You’ll get a free international transfer of up to £500 and I get £50 after three referrals. It’s a win-win! But honestly, I forgot about referrals until recently, so I really do recommend this service with or without the referral link. And no, I was not sponsored.
How long does the transfer take with Wise?
You’ll usually receive the transfer within minutes unless the amount sent is over 950,000 KRW which could take up to two days due to having to verify the receiver through SMS verification. All that means is that you get a text on your Korean phone number to upload a photo of your government ID (Korean registration card or passport usually). If the amount sent is below 950,000 KRW, you won’t need that extra step to verify.
Can you send Korean won back to your home country with Wise?
Unfortunately, you can’t currently send money from KRW, but you can use other apps or services (further below) like Sentbe for that.
How much do you pay in fees with Wise?
The exchange rate is the mid-market rate which you can easily calculate on the Wise website. The fees are very transparent and there are no hidden costs. You can check the fee calculator to get an accurate estimate of how much you’ll end up paying with Wise.
- If you’re transferring US Dollars, there’s a
7.36 USD5.01 USD fixed fee and a 0.75%0.78% variable fee when sending money to South Korea with Wise.
- If you’re transferring Euros, there’s a
1.49 EUR1.18 EUR fixed fee and a 0.73%0.78% variable fee when sending money to South Korea with Wise.
- If you’re transferring British Pounds, there’s a
1.20 GBP0.89 GBP fixed fee and a 0.67%0.72% variable fee when sending money to South Korea with Wise.
Update (08/03/2022): After October 1st, 2022, some of the fees will go up for USD, CHF, CAD, JPY, HUF, MYR, TRY, INR, SEK, PLN, CZK, DKK, NOK and RON. According to Wise, “Unfortunately, markets have been more volatile recently, which makes it more expensive for us to buy and sell currencies — so we need to raise our fees to cover those costs.” You can read more about this at “When do price changes apply to me?” and “Fees to send money on some routes have gone up.” Nevertheless, it’s still one of the easiest and least painful ways to transfer money into Korea.
Wise Transfer Limitations
You can read more details on transferring South Korean won via Wise in their help guide. According to the guide, “you can send up to 5,000,000 KRW per transfer and 50,000 USD (or equivalent) per year to an individual.” Anything above 950,000 KRW may take up to two (2) days and requires SMS verification where you submit a photo of your government ID.
Bank International Wire Transfer
Ah, wire transfer. This is pretty much the most traditional method of sending money to Korea and helpful if your country doesn’t support services like Wise. You also get a pretty fair exchange rate — though you need to watch out for foreign currency conversion fees that are “hidden” in the final exchange rate given.
How much do you pay in fees with an international wire transfer?
When you wire money to South Korea, you can designate which currency to send and how to handle fees with your home bank.
If you take Bank of America (US) as an example:
- Outbound international wire fee (sent in foreign currency) is $0
- Outbound international wire fee (sent in U.S. dollars) is $45
Note: Depending on the bank you have in Korea, you may also have to pay a receiving fee. When I used to work freelance in the United States for international companies that paid me via wire transfer, I was charged $15 USD to receive my wire transfer.
Western Union may be especially helpful if you do not yet have a Korean bank account as you can accept cash at one of their physical locations with your passport, but you’re not going to get the best rates.
You can check out the Western Union website for details on how to pick up money that was sent to South Korea — either a cash pick up at a Western Union office or to your Kakaobank account. To get an estimate of fees involved, you can use their Price Estimator.
You can read more about how to do so on the Western Union FAQ. Sending limits are determined by your bank. Foreigners, or non-Korean citizens, cannot use the app to send money, but you can send or receive money in-person. The full list of Western Union locations in South Korea is available here.
How to Send Money from South Korea
Sentbe is a fintech company specializing in overseas remittances that is popular among ex-pats living in South Korea. The transfer limit is $5,000 per transaction and $50,000 per year. If you’re sending money to the United States, the transfer fee is 5,000 KRW or 2,500 KRW if you choose the Standard Transfer option. Transactions typically take 2 business days (excluding weekends.)
Full disclosure: I’ve sprinkled a few referral links for Sentbe in case you want to sign up. You’ll get credit for a free transfer, and I will, too!
Which countries can I use Sentbe with?
As of October 2020, you can transfer money to the following countries:
- Asia & Oceania: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
- Africa: Nigeria
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK, Ukraine
- North America: Canada, USA
WireBarley is a popular money transfer or remittance service headquartered in Seoul, South Korea.
Beyond transferring money, they also offer a WireBarley global prepaid card to Korean and foreign nationals with the ability to pay in foreign currency without foreign transaction fees. However, you can only make payments with the card up to $1,500 USD per transaction or withdraw $500 USD from an ATM (with a daily limit of $1,000 USD and a monthly limit of $2,000 USD.) I feel like this would be very useful for trips outside of Korea if you’re not a shopaholic — so, no buying Chanel bags — as long as you remember to top up the card.
Full disclosure: I’ve sprinkled a few WireBarley referral links in case you want to sign up. You’ll get a 10,000 won coupon, and I will, too!
How much can I send to the United States at once through WireBarley?
After August 15, 2022, the allowed remittance or transfer limit within one transaction from South Korea to the US increased from $2,999 USD to $4,999 USD. That means you can now transfer $4,999 USD or 7,000,000 KRW — I’m assuming whichever is lower — in one go.
According to Google, the exchange rate is about 7,000,000 KRW = $4,977.32 USD on the same day that I took this screenshot on WireBarley which means you’d lose about $27.62 USD after transferring that large sum. Still, the exchange rate is fairly good. Considering traditional wire transfer fees are typically $15 to $30 for incoming transfers in the United States plus the 8,000 KRW to 30,000 KRW for outgoing transfers from your Korean bank. In addition, you’d still be at the mercy of the bank’s exchange rate.
What languages are supported?
According to WireBarley, service is available in 11 languages and customer support is available in 10 languages. The supported languages include Korean, English, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Nepali, Malay, Indonesian, Mandarin, and Japanese.
Which countries can I send money to from WireBarley?
WireBarley sends to 45 different countries:
- United States
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
Can I also send money to my Korean bank account with WireBarley from overseas?
According to WireBarley, yes. However, sending money to a foreign national in South Korea may be tricky for some as it requires a “valid real-name verification number (alien registration card, foreigner domestic residence report) in Korea.” If you’ve lived here for some time, you may know that real-name verification can sometimes be a pain in the derrière which is why I usually stick to Wise for my USA to Korea money transfers.
How does the exchange rate of WireBarley compare to SentBe?
I checked the two on September 23, 2022, and these were the results:
- WireBarley: 1,000,000 KRW = $705.40 USD
- SentBe: 1,000,000 KRW = $705.79 USD
WireBarley does not typically charge transfer fees, but keep in mind that SentBe does (around 2,500 to 5,000 KRW per transaction.) If you have a coupon for a free transfer with SentBe — you’ll receive one after signing up with my referral link — the exchange rate tends to be slightly better, but WireBarley may work better if you’re planning on transferring frequently. The difference is fairly minuscule, however, so you’re probably okay with either one.
Bank Remittance (Wire Transfer)
You can sign up for a dedicated remittance account at Korean banks like KEB Hana. You deposit money directly into the remittance account and set up how you would like the money to be transferred. You have to take into account transfer fees and wire fees — both at the receiving and sending end — which can vary between 8,000 – 30,000 KRW depending on which banks you are working with.
If you have a Citibank account in your home country and Citibank in South Korea, you’ll be able to get away with much lower fees as it cuts out the “middle man.” Though you may not pay wire transfer fees at Citibank, there is a foreign currency conversion fee of 2% applied to most, if not all, bank transfers at any bank.
How long does the international wire transfer take?
Wire transfers can take up to 2-3 days to process. If you’re using Citibank, wire transfers between two Citibank accounts should be more or less instantaneous.
One thing to note recently is that local banks in South Korea are starting to implement restrictions on the amount of money that you can wire transfer overseas. For example, Hana Bank (formerly known as KEB Hana) has reduced its wire transfer limit from $50,000 US dollars to $10,000 US dollars in July 2021.
You’re not going to get the best rates with Western Union, but sometimes if you’re in a pickle, Western Union has many, many offices worldwide that can help you transfer money abroad. Western Union makes money from the currency exchange and the fees can vary depending on your method of payment. The website is also buggy and the fees are not transparent. Despite that, it’s been around a long time, and it works.
If you’re sending money from South Korea to your home country via Western Union with WU AUTO-SEND service, you can transfer the money online from the following banks:
- NH BANK
- Kookmin Bank
- KEB Hana Bank
- Busan Bank
- Daegu Bank
Again, you can read more about how to send money from your Korean bank on the Western Union FAQ. Sending limits are determined by your bank. Foreigners, or non-Korean citizens, cannot use the app to send money, but you can send or receive money in-person. The full list of Western Union locations in South Korea is available here.
Why did I not mention PayPal for transfers to South Korea? Because it’s not ideal for transferring money to/from South Korea. As a foreigner, you’re not able to move funds from your PayPal account to your domestic (Korean) bank account unless you hold a domestic business license or you’re a South Korean citizen. You can, however, connect your Korean bank account to pay outbound for things overseas or send money to other PayPal accounts.
Below is a screenshot from the PayPal help center (Korea) that mentions the problem for expats living and working in South Korea. With absolutely no resolution, they state that “Foreign nationals’ Alien ID isn’t supported in our system.” It’s been like this for years, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll change it any time soon.
What do I do with money stuck in my PayPal account in Korea?
If you find yourself in the unlucky situation where you’re sitting on some money in your South Korean bank account, you can either:
- Use it to pay for goods and services that accept PayPal
- Send it to a Korean friend while fully understanding the tax implications and the shady legality of it
- Send it back to another PayPal account that you own which is connected to a non-Korean bank account where you can freely deposit the money
For example, my American friend sent me money last year via PayPal, and instead of being able to deposit it into my Korean bank account — I couldn’t — I just used the money at an e-commerce store that accepted PayPal as a payment method, treated it as an online gift certificate, and paid the difference with my Korean debit card connected to my PayPal.
What can I do with PayPal in Korea?
As a foreign national residing in South Korea, I still use PayPal to pay for goods and services overseas, e.g. shopping on e-commerce websites in the U.S or Europe. I can still connect my domestic debit or credit card in South Korea. It gives me peace of mind in case anything goes awry with the transaction due to PayPal’s protection policy, PayPal Purchase Protection. If a transaction is canceled or refunded, the amount goes back into my original payment method (debit or credit card.)