South Korea Currency Exchange Guide

Renowned for its rich history, stunning scenery, vibrant cities, year-round festivals and influential global pop culture, South Korea is a must-visit destination for any traveller. From the bustling city of Seoul to the stunning beaches of Jeju Island, South Korea is a beautiful country in East Asia that will captivate you at every turn. Whether you’re interested in exploring Korea’s unique culture, trying a delicious new cuisine or simply taking in the ravishing natural scenery, your breath will be taken away by all South Korea has to offer.

General South Korea Currency Information

What is the currency of South Korea?

The official currency in South Korea is the Korean won (KRW).

What do Korean notes & coins look like?

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The smallest unit of Korean currency is the jeon, which is worth one-hundredth of a won. Won are available in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000 and 10,000. Coins come in values of 10, 50, 100 and 500 won.

The obverse of won banknotes features historical figures from Korea’s early Yi dynasty, including writers Yi Hwang (₩1,000) and Yi I (₩5,000), King Sejong (₩10,000), who ruled between 1419 and 1450, and the mother of Yi Hwang, Shin Saimdang (₩50,000) who was a noted calligraphist and painter. The reverse of the banknotes depicts various traditional Korean art forms and items, such as YI Hwang’s painting “Gyesangjeonggeodo” (₩1,000), Shin Saimdang’s painting “Chochungdo” (₩5,000), an astronomical clock “Honcheonsigye” (₩10,000), and a simple painting of bamboo and a plum tree (₩50,000).

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Coins feature designs on the obverse that include the Dabotap pagoda on the ₩10 coin, a stalk of rice on the ₩50 coin, portrait of Admiral Yi Sun-sin on the ₩100 coin, and a red-crowned crane on the ₩500 coin. The reverse of all coins is fairly simple, with the value, year of minting and “Bank of Korea” written in Hangul.

Economy

South Korea is the 10th largest world economy by nominal GDP ($1.8 trillion) and the 4th largest in Asia. South Korea has a mixed economic system that is heavily dependent on international trade. The manufacturing sector makes up the largest part of the South Korean economy, followed by wholesale and retail trade. Some of South Korea’s largest exports include semiconductors, automobiles, and steel. South Korea is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and G-20.

Brief currency history

Various iterations of the won have been used as legal tender in Korea for centuries, alongside other currencies, including the Mun and the Yang. Since North and South Korea were not yet separate countries in 1902, the contemporary won can be traced back to a simpler version of the currency known simply as the Korean won.

Between 1910 to 1945, Japan occupied Korea, and during that time, the won was replaced by the Korean yen, which was pegged to the Japanese yen. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Allied powers split up the peninsula of Korea and established occupations in the south and north, respectively. In 1948, the Korean peninsula was divided into the North and the South, and the Korean won was introduced as the currency of the South.

When the won was reinstated in 1962 as South Korean currency after the first South Korean won being supplanted by the hwan between 1953 and 1962, the Bank of Korea initially minted coins with denominations ranging from 1 won to 100 won. But inflation eventually forced the removal of the 1 and 5 won coin from circulation in 1992. Generally, stores were allowed for price modifications of no more than 10 won. There are also brand new 500 won coins in circulation. As of the year 2020, only the 10, 50, 100, and 500 South Korean won coins are in active use.

Taking Travel Money to South Korea

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What currency should I take to South Korea?

If you’re travelling to South Korea, you’ll need to convert Australian dollar (AUD) to South Korean won (KRW) before you leave. Read our guide on exchanging AUD to KRW here. 

Is it cheaper to convert currency in Australia or South Korea?

Converting your Australian dollars to South Korean won in Australia is generally going to be cheaper than doing it in South Korea. This is because banks and foreign exchange providers will charge you a fee for their services, and these fees are often much higher when you convert your currency to another country.

How much money can I take to South Korea?

You do not require permission or declaration if you bring less than USD $10,000 (or equivalent in foreign currency) into Korea. In addition, the importation of promissory notes, letters of credit, or bills of exchange is neither required nor authorised.

Where to convert currency?

Crown Currency Exchange offers great exchange rates on over 80 currencies with 0% commission and hidden fees. For over 20 years, we’ve helped Australian travellers with all their currency needs, from converting AUD to USD for a business trip to exchanging EUR for a European holiday. With more than 50 locations across Australia, you’re sure to find a Crown Currency Exchange near you. Our stores are located in CanberraSydneyBrisbane, The Gold CoastAdelaideTasmaniaMelbourne & Perth.  

Is tipping customary in South Korea? How much is expected?

Although it is customary to tip service workers in many Western countries, tipping is not as common in South Korea and may be seen as disrespectful. However, there are several exceptions to this rule. To avoid any cultural missteps while you’re travelling, here are a few general guidelines on tipping in South Korea:

Restaurants: Tipping is unusual in restaurants, and the staff usually refuses it. The general thinking is that you are already adequately compensated for your meal, so there’s no need to pay extra. As a result, the greatest strategy is to be polite and show appreciation for their hard work by bowing slightly when entering and leaving the restaurant. Say annyeonghaseyo as you enter and kamsahamnida as you leave while you bow respectfully at both moments.

Tour guides: When it comes to tour guides, tipping is good manners as they are usually accustomed to getting tips because they work for an American tour company or meet a lot of foreigners who are used to the custom. While there is no pressure to do so, most guides will be pleased with the thoughtfulness if you enjoy their services. It’s best practice to tip only in touristy areas of Korea. Leaving money for a guide in more rural locations might offend as this gesture isn’t common and, therefore, could be misunderstood.

Taxis: If you need to go somewhere fast and are in a hurry, taking a taxi is an excellent alternative. Unfortunately, today’s taxi drivers have a terrible reputation for leading tourists off course. As a result, double-check the price before getting in or make sure the driver is using the meter correctly and not wasting time on unnecessary detours. If you’re having trouble communicating with your driver, we recommend drawing a route on the map to show him where you want to go. However, not all drivers are like this. So if you have a helpful driver who drives you to your destination without any trouble, it’s sufficient to ask them to keep the change.

Hotels: You don’t need to tip in South Korean hotels. The unspoken rule is that hotel staff provide excellent service without expecting any extra compensation, much like restaurant servers in South Korea. If you decide to leave a gratuity, do so discreetly to avoid any potential embarrassment. When checking out, place the cash in a clean envelope with some won and leave it at the front desk.

Spas: If you’re looking for a massage to relax after a long day, remember that in South Korea, it is not customary to leave a tip. Instead, be sure to show your appreciation by thanking the staff at the end of your session.

Can you bargain in South Korea?

Yes, haggling and bargaining have been a part of Korean culture for a long time. People frequently went to traditional markets to barter for products. This custom is still observed at agricultural or fish markets in most cases.

What is ATM access like in South Korea?

Large banks typically have ATMs open until midnight, and some have 24-hour ATMs, allowing you to access your money at any time. MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards, so if you have either of these, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a place to withdraw cash. In addition, you can use your debit or credit card when making purchases at larger businesses, though it’s always best to have some cash on hand in case you need it.

What should you budget per day?

Budget

With a daily budget of 75,000 KRW (AUD $83), you can cover the cost of accommodation, food, and transportation in South Korea quite easily. However, at this budget level, you’ll have to be mindful of your spending and won’t be able to do any major shopping or go out for expensive meals. If you’re looking to save money, consider eating at budget-friendly restaurants and staying in hostels or dormitories. Free activities, like visiting a park or hiking, are also great ways to spend your time without spending too much money.

Moderate

For a more comfortable and moderate daily budget in South Korea, we recommend allocating between 130,000 – 140,000 KRW (AUD $144 – $156). With this budget, you’ll be able to stay in a private Airbnb or hotel room, eat at mid-range restaurants, enjoy a few alcoholic beverages, and do some shopping or sightseeing without completely exhausting your finances. You can also take the occasional taxi ride or use public transportation without worrying too much about the cost. For paid activities like going to the movies or taking a day trip, we recommend planning ahead and budgeting for these expenses in advance.

Luxury

If money is no object and you want to enjoy the best of what South Korea has to offer, we recommend a daily budget of 255,000 KRW (AUD $283) or more! With this budget, you’ll be able to stay in luxury accommodations, eat at the finest restaurants, and shop till you drop. You can also enjoy VIP treatment at spas and nightclubs, take private tours, and book tickets to the best shows and concerts. Basically, if you can dream it, you can do it – as long as you’re willing to spend the money.

Currency details

Currency:

Korean Won

Currency code:

KRW

Currency symbol:

Central bank:

Bank of Korea

Nickname:NoneCurrency sub-unit:

Jeon = 1/100 of a Won

Bank notes:

₩1,000, ₩5,000, ₩10,000, ₩50,000

Coins:

₩10, ₩50, ₩100, ₩500

Must-do's while you are in South Korea

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1. Explore Busan

Home to the best beaches, stunning temples, and delicious seafood, Busan should definitely be on your list of places to see in South Korea. Spend a day hiking up Geumjeongsan Mountain for incredible city views, and make sure to visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which is beautifully located on the coast.

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2. Visit Seoul

Of course, you can’t come to South Korea without spending some time in the capital city! From the bustling streets of Myeongdong to the serene beauty of Namsan Park, there is so much to see and do in Seoul. Don’t forget to check out the palaces and temples, like Changdeokgung Palace and Jogyesa Temple, which are essential parts of Korean history and culture.

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3. Experience a traditional tea ceremony

The Korean tea ceremony is a must-do for anyone visiting South Korea. Dating back to the 7th century, this ceremony is a way to appreciate the beauty of tea and the simple things in life. During the ceremony, you’ll be served a cup of green tea and given a chance to relax and enjoy the moment.

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4. Experience a Jjimjilbang

A Jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean bathhouse, and it’s an experience you won’t want to miss! Jjimjilbangs are usually open 24 hours a day and offer a variety of services, like massages, saunas, and relaxation rooms. They’re the perfect place to unwind and relax, so make sure to add one to your itinerary.

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5. Hike up Seoraksan National Park

In just 3-4 hours, you can hike up to the top of Seoraksan National Park, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. This is a popular hike, so make sure to start early in the day to avoid crowds.

Other helpful guides & resources on travel in South Korea

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