Korean travelers can use their debit cards to withdraw money from ATMs in the U.S. and Southeast Asia next year. This has only been possible so far with credit cards.I hadn't realized Koreans faced any obstacles getting or using their debit cards abroad. Many expats, though, find it difficult or impossible to get a functioning international debit card, ostensibly because banks are afraid of foreigners withdrawing their money abroad and circumventing transfer fees and the limits in place on how much can be sent overseas. What I mean by international debit card, since somebody asked me last time, is simply a card issued by your bank that works not only at domestic ATMs but at overseas ones as well. In my case, mine had a Visa Plus logo on the back, which meant it was compatable at machines worldwide that shared that logo.
The Bank of Korea on Sunday said it is negotiating a joint ATM network with central and commercial banks in Southeast Asia countries and the U.S., which are popular destinations for Koreans.
Once the ATM network is established, it will be possible for debit card holders to look at their account balance and withdraw money from ATMs abroad.
I had the good fortune of having a cooperative person at Korea Exchange Bank (외환은행) set up my account in 2005 and give me a working international debit card for only a small fee. Surprisingly, I had it replaced no questions asked in Gwangju in 2007. I successfully used it in the United States, Japan (at 7-11), China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and have heard countless times from other teachers that KEB is the most hassle-free bank for expats.
In any event, some expats have found that banks refuse cards based on government regulations that, according to a Joongang Ilbo article from January 2008, don't exist.
The difficulties foreigners living in Korea have obtaining international debit cards and local credit cards are a perpetual source of frustration for expatriates.
While some banks even tell customers that “new” Ministry of Finance regulations prevent them from issuing international debit cards to foreigners, there are no such rules, according to a ministry official.
My fiancee was denied an international debit card a couple times from Gwangju Bank, and was told foreigners can't get them. An article in the Korea Times from December 2008 said that foreigners do have access to international debit cards:
[W]ith the government easing regulations, foreigners now have international ATM access and are able to remit over $10,000 out of the country. They can withdraw cash worth $50,000 equivalent in won at ATMs outside of the country. ``If any foreigner has an ATM card that was issued before this free-market type of move, they might need to get it changed,'' he said.Clearly some banks don't comply, and we talked about that in a post on my site. Occasionally, when expats do manage to get one, they go overseas only to find it doesn't work. I put up a poll on Dave's ESL Cafe in December, 2008, asking if users were able to get an international debit card, to which 36% responded they were either refused one or were given one that didn't work. Perhaps a fairly small number, but in my opinion about 36 percentage-points too high.
I can appreciate banks trying to adhere to rules and government regulations they may believe to exist---or may invent on the spot because they don't know the answer---but I do object to banks making it harder for expats to access their money. And, well, to banks making it harder for Koreans to access it as well.