3 Hassle-free Ways to Get a Korean Credit Card as an Expat [2021]


This post will walk you through the Korean credit card application process step-by-step.

It covers:

  • What you need
  • Where to apply
  • Which card to get
  • and more!

I’ve applied for many a Korean credit card over the past 10 years (and even been successful a few times).

Let’s dive right in!

3 Hassle-free Ways to Get a Korean Credit Card

Three tried and true ways to get a Korean Credit Card

  1. Bring money – 1.2 million won or more to be specific
  2. Have an F Visa – Be or marry a Korean
  3. Find a Korean Guarantor – Lower the risk for the credit card company by having someone pay your balance in case you bolt in the night

4th Option: Don’t get one. You can still do a lot with a debit card (체크카드 or check card) in South Korea, and they are easier to get.

*** Disclaimer ***

The information in this post is valid as of Feb 2021. Korean credit card requirements and benefits change frequently. Check with your favorite bank teller to get the most up to date and accurate info. Terms may vary by bank branch.

Background info

Korea is slowly becoming a cash-free society. According to the Bank of Korea, only 20% of transactions are made with cash.

There’s even a war between credit card companies and online payment services. This is good news for Korean consumers.

They can do some high-tech things like get same day grocery delivery, send gifts through KakaoTalk and call taxis with a credit card.

More about Korean Online Shopping Websites

For expats, using a Korean credit card is a different story.

Even though the number of foreigners is growing in South Korea, they only make up a few percentage points of the population. So, services tailored to them are a work in progress.

Getting a credit card in Korea requires some hoop jumping through inconsistent requirements. 

But, they’re great once you qualify.

Nowadays, Korean banks see the benefits of serving the small group of foreigners in South Korea, and provide English hotlines and statements.

Many websites and apps only accept credit card payments. It’s possible to get by on cash alone or a debit card, but you’ll miss out on many of Korea’s amazing benefits like points and discounts.

Getting a Korean Credit Card may test the limits of your patience in ways you never knew were possible.

But like many things in Korea, it’s worth the effort.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting a credit card as an expat the easy way.

Essential Korean credit card terms

  • Credit card – 신용카드
  • Interest – 이자
  • Payment – 지불
  • Lump sum payment – 일시불
  • Installment payment – 할부
  • Electronic bank certificate – 공인인증서
  • Identification – 신분증
  • Alien registration card – 외국인등록증
  • Black card – 블랙카드

How Korean banks decide to give out credit cards

Your credit score in your country of origin is invalid in South Korea.

Expect to qualify for less credit than you do back home. Most people can only get 1 million KRW limits a month.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a national credit score in South Korea like there is in the U.S. or elsewhere.

It goes from 1등급 (highest) – 10등급 (lowest). If you just arrived in South Korea, your default score will be 7등급. However, Korea changed 신용등급 (credit grade) to 신용점수제 (credit score) as of 2021. There are two reporting institutions, NICE and KCB (Korea Credit Bureau) that use different scoring criteria as shown below.

Credit GradeNICE (Score)KCB (Score)
1900 – 1000942 – 1000
2870 – 899891 – 941
3840 – 869832 – 890
4805 – 839768 – 831
5750 – 804698 – 767
6665 – 749630 – 697
7600 – 664530 – 629
8515 – 599454 – 529
9445 – 514335 – 453
100 – 4440 – 334
Lingua Asia – Korean Credit Grade/Score Table

Each bank has their own policy regarding credit approval. Things get more complicated when you take non-Koreans into account.

They don’t share this info with the public or other banks. You often have to visit your bank to find out their criteria.

Although there are no laws against foreigners getting credit cards in South Korea, the process and requirements vary by card company.

You can still qualify for “secured” credit cards (담보부 신용카드) at some banks, so make sure to go ask.
**I just called KEB Hana (Feb. 3, 2021) for a secured credit card, and the offer is still valid.

How Korean credit cards work

The easiest way to get a Korean credit card as a foreigner is to go to your bank and give them money.

Since you won’t have a high credit score if you just arrived, they need 120% of your limit up front in order to approve you.

You must pay your entire balance each month if you selected 일시불 (lump sum). It’s usually deducted automatically from your bank account.

You only pay interest on your balance when your payment is late.

Interest is charged for cash advances.

You can break up payments into monthly installments (할부), for example when you sign up for a gym membership. The vendor will ask you when you use your credit card. Expect to pay interest with this method.

Credit card statements are issued in Korean through most card companies. Some, like KEB Hana and Samsung now provide English statements upon request.

Pros of having a Korean credit card

Get access to online shopping and apps

Get discounts, cash back and points towards purchases

You can add the T-Money function you see Koreans use on public transport

Pay no interest if you have your balance due automatically deducted

Get monthly financing options depending on the store you shop at 

Cons of having a Korean credit card

Complicated to get as a foreigner

Lots of paperwork 

Lower limit compared to what you deposit

High transaction fees when used overseas

Some have high annual fees

General requirements to getting a Korean credit card

  • Be a legal resident of South Korea
  • Work contract or permanent residency or business registration
  • Make consistent payments into National Health Insurance
  • The minimum amount for a credit card is 1.2 million KRW to get a credit card with a 1 million KRW limit.
  • ARC (Alien Registration Card) 
  • Passport
  • You may be asked to provide other documents
  • A Korean friend, your teller will thank you

For E-2 Visa holders you’ll need

For F-series Visa holders you’ll need

  • ARC (Alien Registration Card) 
  • Employment contract or business registration
  • You may be asked to provide other documents

My experience getting a Korean Credit Card

I’m not a big fan of the process.

I’ve gotten two over the past ten years out of three attempts (the first one resulted in a clear defeat since I gave up). I probably could have applied for more, but I lack the patience of a saint.

All the tellers reacted the same way when I asked for one. They did their best to hide their despair and reluctance. And I understand completely. The paperwork took about an hour each time. You have to sign numerous forms, so don’t make plans that day.

More about Life in South Korea as an Expat

I got approved after a few days and they delivered the card to my apartment. You need to personally be there to sign for the card and present your ARC to prove your identity.

I never lost a card but I did need a replacement one time. The process is pretty straightforward. You just call the issuing bank’s hotline and press the correct numbers, and enter your credit card info and pin until you reach a live person. You then explain your situation in Korean or English.

They delivered the card using the same process as when you first received it. You’ll get a new credit card number, so you’ll have the pleasure of updating info on websites and apps where it was saved.

Also, there was one time when my card got skimmed (someone sitting near me got my info from the IC chip using a reader) at Brisbane Airport. I simply sent a screen grab of the unusual charges (3 identical iTunes purchases of $100 each). They reimbursed those charges quicker than I expected, since they said it could take 3-6 months. I wrapped my card in tin foil like a loon for a year after that.

Step 1. Prepare yourself

Get one of the following lined up

1.2 million KRW or higher or an F Visa or a Korean cosigner

The easiest way to get a Korean credit card as a foreigner is to go to your bank and show them you have money or a history of transactions with them.

Since your credit score is most likely low, you need 120% of your limit up front in order to give you one. Just in case you decide to cut and run one day.

or

an F Visa 

F-6, F-4 or F-5. Any of them will do. They’ll make it easier since you have an established presence in the country.

or

a Korean cosigner

Time to cash in that favor. A cosigner will be liable for any unpaid balance you may accrue. This is a big ask so hopefully you made some good friends while you’ve been in the country. On the flip side, think about how many people you’d be willing to do this for. 

Step 2. Find the right bank branch

Choose the bank you want to apply at. It’s a good idea to simply choose your current bank for simplicity’s sake. You’ll have a transaction history with them, so they’re more likely to approve you.

If you’re feeling brave, you can shop around for a card that meets your needs.

Bank branches in Itaewon tend to have tellers who can speak English, and are used to dealing with our kind.

Go to the bank’s website to see what their requirements are before applying.

Or

You can try calling ahead to schedule an appointment (works if you’re a priority member or VIP) and ask what you’ll need (they probably won’t know). 

Or

You can also try emailing if you’re on good terms with a teller. I use this method as frequently as possible, since I’ve been using the same bank since 2006. 

Step 3. Gather up your documents

Since step 2. probably didn’t answer your questions, just bring every form of ID and financial document you have.

I’m talking:

  • ARC (Alien Registration Card)
  • Passport
  • Bankbook with bank statements
  • Employment contract
  • And more!

Step 4. Suit up

You don’t need to wear an actual suit, but a few levels above a tracksuit will help. Make sure to shower and shave too. This will lower any friction and increase your chances of success.

Step 5. Go to the bank with an empty social calendar

You most likely won’t get a teller who speaks English if you go to the bank in person.

Don’t even think about making plans after your appointment. This won’t be a quick pop in at lunchtime. Be polite but firm to make sure you get what you need.

Step 6. Play the waiting game

You never know when you’ll be approved. In theory, it can take up to a week, but things tend to move faster in Korea. Be prepared to receive a text or call from your bank informing you when they’ll bring it to your house.

Best Korean credit cards for expats

For foreigners, the best card is the one you can get. There are some amazing benefits that each card company offers, but at the end of the day, you might not be able to get them.

Each credit card company has a variety of cards with benefits to suit your lifestyle and requirements that change often. “Best” also depends on what your needs are and how often you do the following:

  • Dine out
  • Travel abroad
  • Shop
  • Make business purchases
  • Use your mobile phone

The most popular credit cards for foreigners are:

  • Shinhan Card
  • Citibank Card
  • Hyundai Card
  • Samsung Card
  • KB Card
  • Lotte Card

Here are some card types by category and their general requirements:

Easy to Get

Woori Card: If you have 6 million KRW in Woori bank for 6 months, you can qualify for a 1 million KRW limit each month. Make sure to go to Woori Bank, not Woori Card.

F Visa Friendly

Hyundai Card: F-4 visa holders can apply for a credit card if they’ve pay 125,000 won or more in health insurance for the last 6 months.

Samsung Card: F-4 visa holders who own more than 100 million won real estate or have more than 2 million monthly income. Non-permanent residents (ARC holders who have at least 6 months of stay left) need to either have more than 3 million won income a month, pay 130,000 won in local health insurance, or have been maintaining a deposit of 9 million won for at least a year.

Unemployed and Business-owner Friendly

Shinhan Card: Unemployed expats can apply if they either pay 135,000 won for local health insurance a month or property tax (worth 300 million won or more for buildings/land). Expats who own a business or work at a company need to have monthly income of 2 million won or more, and 4 major insurances (4대보험). In addition, your period of stay must be at least 1 year from the date of application for a credit card.

FAQ

I have a credit card from my home country, why should I get a Korean credit card?

Having a local credit card makes life easier. With a Korean credit card, there are no overseas charges when you use your card in the country. You can also access local services like KakaoT, SSG grocery delivery, Coupang and get points on purchases.

Which credit card company is best for foreigners?

It depends on what you need. For a while, KEB (the Korean name means foreign exchange bank) had some good services targeting expats, but they merged with Hana Bank and these became limited. Shinhan, Woori, Samsung and Hyundai have cards with attractive benefits for foreigners.

How long does it take to get a Korean credit card?

Most banks will tell you it takes up to a week, but you can usually receive your card in a few days.

Is Korea credit card friendly?

Yes, most businesses accept credit cards in Korea. You can even use them at street stalls. Delivery workers carry card readers.

Do American credit cards work in South Korea?

Yes, most will work in Korea, but there might be extra fees depending on your credit card provider.

What is my credit score in South Korea?

If you just arrived in South Korea, your default score will be 7등급.

How do I find out my credit score in South Korea?

Koreans can visit this website and check for free. It’s unclear if foreigners can do the same, because their info might not be registered in the system. Try going to the bank you currently have an account with and ask. They’re not required to share this info, so make sure you’re on good terms with the teller.

How do I increase my credit score in South Korea?

  1. Check your credit score.
    In the past, Koreans believed that checking their credit grade would lower it (this is similar to how your FICO goes down when you check your score in the U.S.). However, checking now helps because it shows you care about your score.
  2. Pick one main bank and stick with it.
    It helps to maintain transaction performance (거래실적) with one bank by setting up direct deposit for your salary, paying utilities, or paying off credit cards. Your credit score will increase up to 50 points by doing so. Make sure to avoid late payments too.
  3. Spend 300,000 won a month for 6 months with your debit card (체크카드).
    In the past, credit cards were mainly used for credit evaluation. But now, credit rating institutions recommend using about 30% of credit card limits, and using a debit card.
  4. Avoid cash advances or credit card loans.
    It’s better to get government loans such as the “sunshine loan” than cash advances.
  5. Submit your utility bills if you have insufficient transaction history.
    Your initial credit score may be low because they don’t have enough data. You can submit your previous utility history including phone bills, health insurance or national pension through Fintech apps like Kakao Bank and Toss to get 11 extra points. Most apps can be used like this: 신용관리 > 신용점수 올리기 > 통신비 (phone bill from SK, LG or KT(알뜰폰 doesn’t work)) or 일반 납부내역 (general utility bill)

Which credit card gives Korean Air miles?

Skypass Miles can be earned in Korea with:

BC CardLotte Card
Hyundai CardNH Card
Jeju Bank CardSamsung Card
KB CardShinhan Card
KEB Hana CardCitibank Card

Skypass Miles can be earned in the U.S. with:

Korean Air Credit CardEarned Miles
SkyBlue SKYPASS Visa® Card1 mile for every eligible $2 spent
SKYPASS Visa® Business Card1 mile for every eligible $1 spent
SKYPASS Visa Classic Card1 mile for every eligible $1 spent
SKYPASS Visa® Secured Card1 mile for every eligible $1 spent
SKYPASS Visa Signature® Card1 mile for every eligible $1 spent

How much do Korean credit card companies charge merchants?

It depends on which company you go with and how much your revenue is. They normally charge a little less for debit card transactions compared to those with done by credit card. Here are some rough numbers to give you an idea.

Businesses with revenue under 300 million KRW0.8 percent per transaction
Businesses with revenue between 500 million ($447,347) and 1 billion KRW1.4 percent per transaction
Businesses with revenue between 1 billion ($894,394) and 3 billion KRW1.6 percent per transaction

Did we miss anything?

Getting a Korean credit card is a challenging but rewarding experience.

Let us know your Korean credit card tips in the comments below! 

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