Last Updated on June 7, 2023 by Christine Kaaloa
Online banking in Korea for expats can make foreigners feel helpless.
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 the “global bank”
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.
Things to Know about Online Banking in Korea (for Foreigners!)
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.
1. Does your Korean bank have a website in English?
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.
I had no choice but put a Skype call out to KEB customer service in Korea.
And now for my second wall…
2. Are you PC or Mac based?
In Korea, a majority of computer users are PC-based. Microsoft Internet Explorer ruled as ‘king of the internet browsers’.
If you are a Mac owner, you were screwed with a nail and a jackhammer! Apple stores are still sparsely located in Korea.
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!
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 uh,… American(???), my computer configuration did not work with KEB Korea’s online site!
I’m screwed, right?…With a nail and a jackhammer.
3. Live Remote Assistance and why you need it
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. A red blinky light lets you know someone is supporting your computer via Live Assistance
But it didn’t end there. Tech support noticed my ‘digital certificate‘ had expired and this brings me to my next wall with online banking for foreigners in Korea…
Korea’s high security banking & its passwords.
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?
Depends on how you look at it, but it takes several tools and detailed steps to break into your own account.
Your pins and passwords for the most part, aren’t heavily reliant on memory.
Aside from your account number and alien registration number (in your bankbook), which are good to have should you need extra verification,…
Korean Online Banking Vocabulary
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.
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.
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.
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!