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Changing US$ dollars into Korean Won (and Japanese Yen)

change us dollars into korean won south best rate airport atm how to

10,000 Korean Won Bill

One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one dealing with getting the best rate when you change dollars into Japanese Yen. Here is a 2013 update based on my actual experience, and my exchange rate and fees for converting my dollars into Korean Won.

First, the yen…
My 2009 experience held true in 2013. I was planning to get money out of an ATM in the Narita airport while transferring planes to Fukuoka. However, once I went through customs and security in Narita, there were no ATMs so I couldn’t get yen out of an ATM there. You can obtain yen in the Narita airport if you are departing from there, and perhaps you can near customs, but I didn’t think to look until after I went through security for domestic transfers as I was more concerned with finding my gate than obtaining yen. In Fukuoka I didn’t look for an ATM in the airport (as I had brought enough yen with me to get to my ryokan). The next morning I walked into the first 7-Eleven I saw, inserted my (Wells Fargo issued) ATM card (which has Plus, Star, Instant Cash, and Interlink logos on the back), and without any troubles withdrew my maximum allowed on the US side (which I had raised via a phone call before leaving). The yen came out at the market rate and Wells Fargo charged me a $5 fee (which means my total exchange fee was 1/3 of 1%). Rates for changing cash in the US airport were more than 5% and in Japan the rates were about 2 or 3% so the ATM card is still the way to go (if you need to change more than a couple hundred dollars).

Next, the won…
The English instructions at the first ATM I went to in the Korean airport were pretty confusing, and I couldn’t get any won out using my ATM card. I asked someone for help, and they assisted me even though they couldn’t speak English. We went through three ATM machines before we found one that gave me won. Also, the ATM machine in Korea spit out only 10,000 won bills. In the USA I’m used to getting $20 bills out of ATM machines. In Japan you get (mostly) 10,000 yen bills (about $100). A 10,000 won bill is worth less than $9 so that means if you are pulling out the equivalent of, say, $1,500 in US$ you will receive about 160 bills! Try fitting that into your wallet! The rate charged was the market rate, and Wells Fargo charged me $5 so, again, the ATM was the way to go for getting the best rate (if you are pulling out large sums of money). The number of ATMs that work in Korea don’t seem to be as high as those in Japan (I’ve never had an ATM in Japan–whether that be an airport, convenience store, bank, or post office–not work), but don’t give up. Just try another machine until you find one that will give you Korean Won with your foreign bank card.

5 Responses to “Changing US$ dollars into Korean Won (and Japanese Yen)”

  1. 1

    Update: My second withdraw of Korean Won from an ATM went no smoother than the first. I tried about eight different ATMs before I found one that would do the job. Actually, about four ATMs into the process I found one that would give me won, but the maximum amount was only 100,000 won (less than $90) so I didn’t want to pay $5 to take out that small of an amount. The other six or so machines gave differing error messages. The one that finally worked would give out no more than 1,000,000 won, but it gave out 50,000 won bills so I didn’t have to walk around with a hundred bills.

  2. 2

    Hello, thank you for the very informative post regarding the money exchange, including your old ones from 2009. I will be traveling to Japan soon, and will be arriving in Narita airport. I am somewhat confused at the transaction fees though. So for example, if I wanted to withdraw $1500 from BofA, the best and easiest way to do it is to do an ATM withdrawal at 7-Bank or Citi Bank at Narita Airport (Or should I do it at the Airport post office?). I would then incur a $5 withdrawal fee + 3% foreign transaction fee ($45) + 2-3% exchange rate in Japan (~$45)? Meaning, I would have to pay $1595 for 150,615 yen? My bank shows $1593 to order online in the US, so isn’t that basically the same?

  3. 3

    I don’t know about BofA, but Wells Fargo did not charge me a 3% transaction fee for withdrawing yen. Nor did the Japanese side (post office, banks, or 7-Elevens). Had I used a credit card I would have been charged the foreign transaction fees, but not just an ATM card withdrawal.

    It shouldn’t make a difference which ATM you use (bank, airport, or post office). Orders done in the USA will have all kinds of extra charges and fees. If you wait and do it in Japan they should be much lower (or non-existent), and you won’t have the risk of traveling with all of that cash that can be lost or stolen.

  4. 4


    Thanks for writing up all these. I’ve followed all the postings from 2009 that finally let up to this! I’m coming to Japan and Korea in mid March, and I’m tempted to get the exchange rate right now while it’s still low and in favor of the US dollar. My question is, by going through your ATM method, does it still work for a Chase JP Morgan bank? I’m not sure if they have those ATMs in Japan. Thank you if you read this.

  5. 5

    There are no Chase JP Morgan banks in Japan, but you don’t need to go to your bank to withdraw yen in Japan. Just go to a post office or 7-Eleven and use their ATMs to pull out yen. If your Chase ATM card has Plus, Star, Instant Cash, and Interlink logos on the back you should be good, but check with your bank first just to be sure. My experience is only with a Wells Fargo ATM card.