What’s the Best Way to Pay While Traveling Korea?

If you’re planning a trip to South Korea, it’s essential to know the best and most convenient payment methods. From cash to cards, and the all-important backup plans, here’s what you need to ensure a smooth experience.

Wise: The Most Convenient and Versatile Option

When it comes to traveling in Korea, the Wise card stands out as an incredibly versatile and convenient payment method. As highlighted by multiple Reddit users, Wise offers seamless usage compared to traditional credit cards and other payment methods.

Why Wise is a Top Choice

The Wise card, formerly known as TransferWise, is a multi-currency debit card that allows you to spend in multiple currencies with minimal fees. Many travelers have praised its ease of use and reliability in Korea. Unlike some credit cards that might be declined or incur high foreign transaction fees, the Wise card provides competitive exchange rates and is widely accepted.

How to Get and Use a Wise Card

To get a Wise card, follow these steps:

  1. Sign Up: Create an account on the Wise website or mobile app.
  2. Verify Your Identity: Complete the necessary verification steps, which might include submitting identification documents.
  3. Order Your Card: Once your account is verified, you can order your Wise debit card.
  4. Load Your Card: Add funds to your Wise account in your home currency. Wise will automatically convert your money to Korean Won (KRW) when you make a purchase in Korea.

Using the Wise card in Korea is straightforward. You can use it for purchases in stores, online shopping, and even withdraw cash from ATMs. The Wise app also allows you to track your spending, convert currencies, and manage your funds on the go.

Credit Cards: Visa and Mastercard

Credit cards, particularly Visa and Mastercard, are a familiar and reliable payment method. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

Key Considerations

  1. Foreign Transaction Fees: Some credit cards charge high fees for international transactions. Choose a card with no foreign transaction fees if possible.
  2. Acceptance Issues: While Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, some places, especially smaller vendors or certain kiosks, may have trouble processing foreign cards. If this happens, try paying at the register directly.
  3. Backup Options: Having both a Visa and a Mastercard can be useful, as different networks might have varying levels of acceptance.

Cash: The Tried and True Method

Cash remains an essential part of any travel plan, especially in Korea.

When to Use Cash

  1. Street Markets and Small Vendors: Many traditional markets, street food vendors, and small shops prefer cash.
  2. Public Transportation: You’ll need cash to refill your T-Money card, which is crucial for using buses and subways.
  3. Backup: Always have some cash as a backup for emergencies or places that don’t accept cards.

Getting Cash

  1. Exchange Before You Go: Consider exchanging some cash at your home bank before departure for better rates.
  2. ATM Withdrawals: Use ATMs in Korea to withdraw cash as needed. ATMs at airports and major banks typically support foreign cards, though they may charge fees.

Additional Payment Tips and Precautions

Mobile Payments

While mobile payment options like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are available, their acceptance can be hit or miss. Always carry a physical card as a backup.


ATMs are a convenient way to get cash, but be aware of potential fees. Look for ATMs in convenient locations like airports and major banks.

Safety and Backup

  • Keep a Backup Card: Store a secondary credit card or some cash in your hotel safe in case your primary card is lost or stolen.
  • Use a Money Belt: For added security, consider using a money belt or hidden pouch to carry your cash and cards.
Kakao Pay: Not Ideal for Short-Term Visitors

Many Reddit users pointed out that Kakao Pay requires a Korean phone number and local bank account, making it impractical for most tourists. Stick to more universally accepted methods like Wise, credit cards, and cash.

By preparing these payment methods and keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to handle any payment situation during your stay in Korea. Enjoy your trip!