Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Since South Koreans are avid credit card users, it's become easier for visitors to use credit cards in most stores and restaurants. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted types, with some high-end hotels and restaurants accepting American Express. For smaller restaurants, outdoor markets, and bus fare, cash is necessary. However, don't carry excessive amounts of cash. If you do, use a money belt (since pickpockets are prevalent in the cities' crowded public transportation systems).
South Korea's official monetary unit is the won (W). Currency is available in W10,000, W5,000, and W1,000 notes and W500, W100, W50, and W10 coins (which are less in use). At the time this book went to press, the U.S. dollar was trading around W1,152, the pound sterling at W1,896, the euro at W1,711, the Canadian dollar at W1,098, and the Australian dollar at W1,055. Bear in mind that conversion rates may fluctuate depending on economic conditions. The latest rates can be found at www.xe.com/ucc.
In South Korea, there are regular ATMs and cash dispenser machines (CDs), which give out cash but don't accept deposits. CDs generally offer directions in English and are more convenient for travelers since most ATMs in South Korea require that customers have an account with a Korean bank. Citibank (tel. 02/2004-1004 Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; www.citibank.co.kr), Korea Exchange Bank (www.keb.co.kr/english), and Shinhan Bank (tel. 02/3449-8000; www.shinhan.com) ATMs generally accept foreign cards. The CDs in train stations, bus terminals, and department stores are the most foreigner-friendly. Some ATMs and CDs are available 24/7, but many operate from 8am to midnight on weekdays and nonholidays. The Cirrus (tel. 0079-811-887-0823 or 800/424-7787, 636/722-7111 outside the U.S.; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 00818-00-908-8212 or 800/843-7587, 410/581-9994 from outside the U.S.; www.visa.com) networks are the most widely accepted in South Korea. Korean ATMs have their own daily limit, some as low as W300,000 per day, but many go up to W700,000. If you have a five- or six-digit PIN, make sure to change it to a four-digit number since most Korean ATMs accept only four-digit PINs (although Citibank and a few other international ATMs allow longer PINs). If you have any trouble using an ATM or a CD, call the Korea Travel Phone at tel. 1330 for assistance in English.
Visa, American Express, MasterCard, and sometimes Diners Club are accepted at major hotels, department stores, large restaurants, and stores. Koreans frequently pay with their credit cards, but just because an establishment accepts a Korean credit card doesn't mean it'll accept yours. Many stores and restaurants may have trouble processing foreign cards, so make sure that you have enough cash on hand for your purchase. Also, remember to alert your credit card provider that you will be traveling overseas. You wouldn't want your credit card company to see a series of overseas charges and block your card. Always carry a backup card with you just in case.
Visa, American Express, and Thomas Cook traveler's checks are used in South Korea and can be exchanged at some banks and exchange bureaus.
Traveler's checks are also accepted at major hotels, department stores, and large restaurants and shops. Outside most major cities and at open markets, smaller shops, and local restaurants, it's best to use credit cards or cash.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233, or 800/221-7282 for cardholders); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322; AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee for checks up to $1,500 at most AAA offices or by calling 866/339-3378); and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign currency traveler's checks, handy at locations not accepting foreign checks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.