Is Online Banking Easy for Expats in Korea?

Banking in Korea: : Is online banking in Korea easy?

Even though I’m no longer a helpless expat in Korea, there are times I still feel like one.

Online banking in Korea initially makes many foreigners feel helpless. It takes some getting used to. In a short while, I’ll tell you some pros and cons… But first, let me share my story.

Seeing as I still haven’t decided if I’ll return to Korea, I still have my KEB bank account there. While I’ve used my KEB ATM card for traveling, I haven’t actually done any online banking in over a year. So when I finally checked my online account last week, I was relieved my money was still in tact. That’s the good news.

Giddy I had money socked away, I decided to transfer money into my U.S. account. But when I went to make my transfer, the system informed me that due to my inactivity, I’d been shut off from that service. If I wanted to transfer money, I’d have to re-register.

Re-register? What does that mean?

I’m in Hawaii, my bank is in Korea!

…This is where the hyperventilating begins…


Overseas banking & the myth of global banks

It’s only rational to think that just because belong to worldwide banks like KEB, Citibank and HSBC with locations in the U.S. and Korea, that you can sort out your banking problems in either country. Well, it doesn’t work like that. Two different country locations means two separate accounts; and if your problem is with your account in Korea, then that’s where you need to solve it. .. In or with your bank in Korea.

One thing for foreigners to consider when choosing a bank in Korea

If there’s one feeling an expat dreads, is that their money might be trapped in Korea, while they’re thousands of miles away in their home country. Your ability to transfer money online from your Korean bank to your home country, with ease, is a valuable feature to consider when choosing a bank.

Why? Depending on your school– your last month’s salary and security pension can be deposited into your Korean account as late as a month ‘after’ you’ve ended your contract and left the country. Many expats get a Korean friend to close their account and wire them the money. But that’s not necessary.

Throughout my year in Korea, I had accounts with three different banks. I ultimately chose KEB because a) I’d have easy Mac online access to transfer my money to my home in the U.S., b) the wire transfer rates were low and c) KEB’s services began catering to foreign and expat communities (which means, it’ll make improvements with foreigners in mind).

Anyways, to continue my story, I went to the KEB website to learn how to re-register, when I hit the first wall.


A. Have Korean websites learned English yet?

Good News:
Due to the rise of foreigners and Korea’s desire to globalize themselves through English, more websites are starting to offer an online version in English. Yay! But wait

Bad News:
Often, only the introductory pages are in English and when you click on any information links, to learn about things in-depth, you’re immediately taken to Korean pages. It’s frustrating to say the least. No important information is available in English.

Banking in Korea: : korean banking for foreigners

I had no choice but put a Skype call out to KEB customer service in Korea.

And now for my second wall…


B. Are you PC or Mac? (careful, which you choose…)

Bad News:
When I was last in Korea, everything was PC based and Microsoft Internet Explorer ruled as ‘king of the internet browsers’.

If you were a Mac owner (which does not work with IE), you were screwed with a nail and a jackhammer! Life for Mac owners is a painful ordeal in Korea.

pc vario

PCs take first priority in Korea (sometimes, only priority)

Good News:
Fortunately, ever since Korea let Apple into the country, foreign-friendly banks like KEB seem to be awakening to the Mac-discrimination problem. KEB now offers a downloadable online Mac banking application (click here), which Mac users can install on their computer to make online banking easier and it speak flawless English. The application works like a charm and I can bank from all corners of the globe!

Bad News:
For doing core stuff, like re-registering my service, I still needed to go back to the PC… or re-register in-person. Luckily, a family member had a PC I could borrow. But because my PC was crunky or uh,… American(???), my computer configuration did not work with KEB Korea’s online site!

I’m screwed, right?…

With a nail and a jackhammer.

keb mac online app

Banking in Korea: KEB Mac online downloadable application

C. What is Live Remote Assistance and why do I love it?

Good News:
Live Remote Assistance is a cool service, which acts like invisible hands stretching from Korea, doing all the troubleshooting work on my computer. I press a little button  on the KEB site and it instantly allows the IT/customer service support department in Korea to take over my computer’s mouse controls, so they can troubleshoot my computer and walk me through my online banking registration.

I didn’t need to expose passwords or private codes. IT would turn the computer over to me, let me enter my passcodes and then swing the system back around, to continue walking me through. My computer was in Hawaii and KEB was controlling it in Korea. Pretty amazing technology.

Bad News:
More Korean banks should have this. But don’t. To my knowledge, KEB is the only one who offers this service, although if there are others, feel free to chime in.


This red blinking signal lets you know someone is supporting your computer via Live Assistance


But it didn’t end there…because my ‘digital certificate‘ had expired.

Which brings me to my third wall:


D. Korea’s high security banking & having more passwords than one.

Good news:
You’ll be relieved to know that banking technology in Korea is superior to most. Personal online banking is treated with such an effort of high security, that it leads me to believe that Korea is a country with world class hackers! Why?

Bad news:
Depends on how you look at it, but it takes several tools and detailed steps to break into your own account.

Good news:
Your pins and passwords for the most part, aren’t heavily reliant on memory.


Things you may need for korean online banking: Bank book, Time OTP, digital certificate on a keychain harddrive, security card


Aside from your account number and alien registration number (in your bankbook), which are good to have should you need extra verification,…


E. Here are other things you may need for online banking:

To the best of my knowledge, here are descriptions of what each does and how they work.

Name that logs you into the online system.

Passcode, usually the same as your card ATM pin number.

Digital Certificate
It’s a digital key, which most Koreans store on their keychain USB drives. It works like a workplace ID card that you flash at the security desk, to gain access into your company. The banking internet system will search your harddrive for the certificate and once found, allow you to use your online account.


Security card
A plastic card with numbered sequence codes with numbers over each character. This offers another password to verify your identity and it’s generated by the site’s system. The system spits out Bingo-like numbers, which correspond to correlating numbers on your card. If you’ve ever enjoyed code breaker puzzles when you were a young child, this is very similar.


Time OTP (*not a common device but KEB offers it and I’ve found it easier than the security card)
It’s a time-based digital security code generator that spits out new numbers for a password to verify your ID. It allows you 10 seconds before it refreshes to a new number. I’m not quite sure how it syncs with the online system, but it seems to do that.


My End Result:

Two hours later,… KEB customer service’s ‘Live Remote Assistance’ has cracked me back into my bank account and re-registered me to use my money transfer service

And that’s exactly how an expat navigates normal everyday life in Korea! One step is equal to ten!

But in many ways, the banking technology in Korea is superior to most and despite the twinges of pain, I appreciate it (sometimes) more than the U.S. Now if they could just warm up to Macs more!



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29 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Christine,

    I’d love to know how the expired digital certificate issue was resolved since my bf now living in the US is exactly in the same situation. He’s also shut off from any online banking services because of his inactivity. He called the customer service a couple times and he was told to visit their branches in LA and NYC, or else he would need to fly to Korea. (Funny joke?) I am a Korean living in Seoul, I could be his proxy if that’s the way to go. Not sure if that is even possible, but if it is, they would ask him to go through a crazy documentation process like getting stuff notarized and apostilled. What was their resolution with your digital certificate? Will they be able to help him with the issue once they connect on their live assistance service?

  • Well, I am a korean who is sometimes frustrated with how many identifications I have to provide and security softwares I have to install just to check my balance. HIgh IT country. ….

  • Avatar
    Gierlang Bhakti Putra
    July 20, 2016 6:20 pm

    I’m gladful with their high class security system. But as an expat like you too, I found it really difficult to get my own money! I’m back in my hometown now and realize that if despite you are using bank with global network, you still need to register your card back in Korea. It’s frustating that years passing by, this system is still so complicated.

    Worse? I’m a Linux user. Guess what, my desktop is just not friendly with Korean!

  • “Time OTP (*not a common device but KEB offers it and I’ve found it easier than the security card)
    It’s a time-based digital security code generator that spits out new numbers for a password to verify your ID. It allows you 10 seconds before it refreshes to a new number. I’m not quite sure how it syncs with the online system, but it seems to do that.”

    It just has precise electronic clock inside, so that deviation of its clock from internal bank system clock is less than 10 seconds even after some years of life away from bank.

    To generate the one-time code, this device adds device’s fixed internal secret string to timestamp string (rounded to nearest 10 seconds of minute), and then applies cryptographic hash function to the resulting string. Hash functions are designed by mathematicians in such a way that their output is a function of input (i.e. equal inputs always lead to equal outputs) but the output looks like a completely random string so you are unable to guess input by looking at output (so called “non-reversibility” of hash function).

    System in the bank also knows internal secret string of the device, it knows current time to 10 seconds precision, and does the same operation — and gets the same output of hash function as the device. This way bank server knows that if strings match, then you have that little device and thus your identity is verified.

    Non-reversibility of hash function means that it’s impossible to make a copy of the device. For copying the device, you’ll need to figure out the fixed internal secret string inside the device — and it’s impossible to do just by looking at the outputs, because of this neat feature of cryptographic hash functions.

  • Hi all. Don’t know if s’one still follows up on this, I am now in Korea with KEB foreigners accounts (local and USD) and consider going to Citibank for better service. Anyone has an opinion on Citibank Korea – are they as good as KEB is supposed to be?
    And one more – so understand many of you still have the accounts active for longer than 1 year after leaving the country right? Does the e-banking still work OK?
    Citibank told me that the account will be deactivated only if stay for more than 1 year without a transaction – well, transaction could mean using your K-debit card at home from time to time and charge your KEB account. Not the USD account, however, this will work only with kW account.
    Any inpot pls?


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