When a check is NOT a check

by Anne Ladouceur, 14/08/2007

If you’re new to Korea, you may have been a ‘bit’ confused if you were asked if you wanted your money in cash or check, or when the ATM offered you the same choice. Contrary to the definition some of us have of a cheque - a bit of paper on which is printed our bank account number and which we use to pass money from our bank account to another person and/or to pay our bills. In Korea, such transactions are done through a direct bank transfer. On the upside, it can be done via the Internet - no fuss, no muss. The downside may be that old excuse to buy time ‘ the check is in the mail’ won’t fly here.

In Korea, a check is paper, yes. But it’s one on which an amount of money is printed. The standard amount is W100,000, but you can have them printed at the moment for any amount you wish. Those you get from the ATM are for W100,000. As Korea is a country where we actually may be walking around with a paper bag full of cash, since the largest denomination is W10,000 (U$10.00). Cheques make carrying larger amounts of money less bulky and theoretically, safer.

Same as cash…but not exactly

We are told that checks are just like cash and up to a point, that’s true. However, no surprise here, there are some important differences.
1. If you try to cash your check at a bank other than the issuing bank, you may have to pay a small service fee of about 1-2,000 Won for a W100,000 check.
2. Some merchants may also charge this service fee, especially if the check was issued by a bank in another city.
3. To avoid the service fee, you can deposit the checks into your bank account. You’ll get the full face value without charges. However, be aware, that the funds will be frozen for up to 24 hours. This applies even if you make the deposit through a teller. Note: if your bank account is in the bank that issued the cheque, the wait may be waived.
4. When using the check to make a purchase or when cashing it at a store, you will likely be asked to write your name, telephone number and maybe your address and/or registration number on the back.
5. Even if you’re depositing checks in your account, the teller may ask for your passport or alien registration card as proof of identity.
6. Note also, that the ATM’s in some banks do not offer the option of depositing cheques if you’re conducting the transaction in English ? the assumption being that non-Korean speakers are all tourists and as such don’t need to have access to many of the functions that are available for Korean-speakers, depositing checks being one of them.

If you want the money quickly, make sure none of the checks are larger than W100,000 and use them to purchase goods or go to a store/restaurant where you are known. If it’s a large amount and you can wait 24 hours, just go ahead and accept one ‘big’ check and deposit it to your account.

Checks are a great convenience as long as you are aware of the rules. They may also be safer than flashing a lot of cash.



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