We are 3 Indian students, going to attend a 4-month exchange program at the Korean National Police University, in Asan. We are landing in Seoul on the 21st of February. However, because of a last-minute change in the academic calendar, due to the Winter Olympic games, the university can only accommodate us in their dormitories from February 27th. So we have to spend 6 days by ourselves and while that's awesome, there's not much clarity available on a few important things.

  1. We don't have any internationally working debit/credit cards at the moment. We are planning on carrying 500 USD each in cash at the time of arrival at Seoul. However, we would need to be able to receive money from our bank back home and withdraw cash later. Our university will help us apply for an Alien Registration Card, but it hasn't really shone any light on how we can open bank accounts there. We would appreciate any clarifications about what we need to do in order to have access to banking services during our stay there. Also we would like to not use credit cards if it is possible.

  2. Would we be able to obtain domestic SIM cards, which can be used to make international calls and also provide data access, immediately after we land, without having obtained an Alien Registration Card?

  3. We are all currently using Xiaomi phones. We have been unable to find out whether they will function on the respective South Korean 2G/3G/LTE bands. From what we were able to find out, it seems that data and call tariff plans there are bundled along with the phones themselves. Couldn't find any mention of unlocked Xiaomi phones working. If you think those phones wouldn't work, please suggest any places where we may be able to purchase cheap smartphones for the duration of our stay. Would purchasing an unlocked iPhone or Samsung phone from India be advisable?

  • What about opening a bank account back at home in India that issues international debit cards, so you can use ATMs as soon as you arrive? Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 3:16
  • We did consider that option and enquired at a few domestic banks here; we were told debit cards aren't as secure as forex cards, and the currency conversion charges are ridiculous. Plus, no bank could say with absolute certainty that their cards would work in ATMs in Korea.
    – Satya
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 5:01
  • Adding this in as a comment for anyone facing this issue in the future: HDFC bank's Multicurrency Forex Card is the only one in India which offers loading of balance and payment in KRW. It's also offered via Visa, so there's a high chance of it being accepted in most outlets in Korea. It's still got quite a few transaction charges attached, so figure out the calculations beforehand.
    – Satya
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 7:49

1 Answer 1


1. Banking & Money

You don't need much to open an account. Walk into a bank with your passport and your cash. Ask about opening a bank account. In half an hour you should be issued a passbook, an ATM card, and your USD converted in KRW will be in your account. Note that 500 USD, about 530,000 KRW, won't get you far.

Pick a large agency of a big bank, like the HQ of KEB Hana in Myeong-dong, or a Standard Chartered (they acquired Korea First Bank). English is not your friend in Korea. Most employees won't speak English.

But in order to reach downtown Seoul, and (see below) buy a SIM card, you'll need to exchange some cash. Exchange as little as possible – the exchange rates at the airport are not so good.

2. SIM Cards & Phones

Like for the exchange rates, there are better deals downtown than at the airport. There are SIM cards (and wifi routers) for rental, and prepaid SIM cards for sale at various counters. I usually stay a week in Seoul, so I buy a prepaid SIM card in Hong Kong before leaving, and that has me covered. But for four months, you better look into a good deal. Here are some links that should help:

A few comments. Free Wifi is truly ubiquitous in Korea. Aside from all the free networks with a passcode for clients that you will find everywhere, there are a million iptime networks in Seoul, 99% of them open. I think it's a default setup on a common router, and the owners never change the settings. Once I forgot to get a SIM card before leaving, and I was never really off the grid. I could even connect to iptime networks from taxis, as soon as we would stand still for a minute. Remarkable, really...

As for phones, Korea took its time but unlocked international phones finally work, at least those that are 4G. I used one of those for a while, with various phones, and it worked ok. But I really prefer the solution I have for short trips. Your Redmi Note 3 will work there.

  • Thank you for the really detailed answer. I am slightly surprised after looking over the phone and data tariffs.These are really expensive; for comparison, Vodafone offers 2 GB/day LTE packs for 5 dollars a month here.
    – Satya
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 5:07
  • 1
    Well there are two factors here: ① Everything in airports is usually more expensive than downtown. I suggest you wait until you arrive in Seoul proper. ② Foreigners are treated differently there, as you will realize soon enough. One of the things were it becomes obvious is mobile phones.
    – user67108
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 5:17

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