Why Does My Card Not Work for Payment in South Korea?

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When trying to use your card for payment in South Korea, you might have encountered the famous crossed-over arms and them saying that it doesn’t work.

The card readers in South Korea work differently than in many western countries, where you have the option to type in a pin code. Most Korean card readers do not allow you to do this and simply pull out the amount without any input from the user when the card is inserted. This is usually what causes the card not to work.

Recommended Read: Where Can You Buy Cheese in South Korea?

You can try to contact your bank and ask them to unlock your card in South Korea, which might fix the issue. But from my experience, some cards will never work, even if your bank unlocks it in South Korea on their end.

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Why does my payment card not work in South Korea?

When you’re visiting South Korea, you’ll undoubtedly want to use your card quite a few times on everything from buying clothes to trying out different foods.

If you’re in the situation that many foreigners face where your card doesn’t seem to work, you’ll quickly notice the crossed-over arms gesture employees make when telling you the card doesn’t work.

The primary reason why some foreign cards don’t work in South Korea is that card readers don’t require you to input any pin code when making a payment. Most don’t even have the option.

Instead, card readers in South Korea simply try to pull out the amount from the card when it’s inserted without any verification, which causes many foreign cards to not authorize the transaction as a safety measure. It won’t even show in your bank statement, as the payment attempt was intercepted before it even reached your bank.

Card reader in store in Seoul South Korea

The fact that you are using the card outside its country of issuing makes it even more unlikely that it won’t work when the card readers work so differently.

One of the things that you can do to try to make your card work in South Korea is to contact your bank and ask them to unlock the card in South Korea, as it might be blocked in other countries entirely.

However, as explained above, the problem might be with the card itself, so this might still not fix the issue. I contacted my bank for them to unlock my card in South Korea, and it still didn’t work.

When I was an exchange student in Seoul, many of the other exchange students experienced the same issue with their cards. My card from Denmark didn’t work, and students from many other western countries had the same problem. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was a Visa card, Mastercard, or something else.

If your card still doesn’t work after contacting your bank, find a global ATM at a bank and pull out cash from those. They always seemed to work with my card and for others that faced the same issue. I mainly used Hana Bank’s global ATMs.

As I was an exchange student and was staying there for a longer period of time, I was able to get a Korean bank account through the bank branch at my university and, thereby, a Korean card, which always worked.

Korean bank account card Hana Bank

I pulled out cash with my foreign card at the global ATM and deposited it on the Korean card at the same ATM afterward. That worked well.

The last time I was in South Korea, not as an exchange student, I used my Revolut card, which always worked as well and is a UK-based company, so it’s easy to sign up for and get.

If you’re on a shorter trip to South Korea, you might not have time to order the Revolut card and get it shipped. But, if you’re staying for a while, I recommend getting it if you don’t have the ability to get a Korean bank account.

That’s why your card might not work in South Korea!

Have any input or suggestions for this guide? Let us know in the comment section below.

Tim Stadel Clausen

Tim Stadel Clausen is the owner of Timzer Travels. He has been fortunate to be able to travel around the world because of his work, and he now shares guides and travel tips to help others.

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