One of the first things you'd want to do after coming to Korea is to open a bank account. Making purchases in Korea is so much easier with a check card (debit card) that you can get with a bank account. You don't have to be over 19 or be a Korean citizen to get a bank account. The process is rather quite easy if you just follow these steps.
STEP 1 - Know What You Need
To open up a bank account in Korea, you'd need an ID and some money. It's that simple. Don't worry about not being a Korean citizen. Take your seal with you to the bank if you have one. Your signature will do the job if you don't have a seal. (I still recommend that you get a seal because it doesn't cost much and it is pretty cool to have one!)
Acceptable IDs (Pick One)
Passports, Korean driver's licenses, alien registration cards
NOT acceptable IDs
Credit/debit cards, student IDs (some may work), driver's licenses from other countries, expired passports
STEP 2 - Choose a Bank
Picking a bank can be overwhelming at first. There are at least seven major banks in South Korea. But if you know where you are staying, then choose a bank that's close to you. It will make cashing in and out much easier. Otherwise, consider the following characteristics of each bank.
KB Bank - Kookmin Bank (kbstar.com)
The #1 bank in South Korea. They have the most number of branches, so you won't have too much trouble finding one. English support on KB's website seems to be excellent as well.
KEB Bank - Korea Exchange Bank (keb.co.kr)
Even though KEB is not the most popular bank among Koreans, the specialized foreign exchange bank offers many services for foreigners traveling and living in Korea. They even have a special section on their website (EasyOne for Foreigners) for people from outside. Unfortunately, KEB seems to swear by Internet Explorer on Windows for now.
NH Bank - Nonghyup Bank (banking.nonghyup.com)
Other than KB, NH Bank or Nonghyup has the most number of branches in Korea. NH Bank is especially popular outside of big cities like Seoul. FYI, the word nonghyup refers to the NACF (National Agricultural Cooperative Federation). Kind of neat, huh?
Woori Bank (wooribank.com)
Woori Bank has many branches and their blue signs are quite easy to spot from million other signs on buildings. The Woori Bank website is compatible with all major browsers and mac-friendly. The website provides language support for six foreign languages including English. WB is an excellent choice for mac users and people who have trouble reading any Korean words. If you are a Chrome user on Windows, WB is also the way to go.
IBK (ibk.co.kr), Shinhan Bank (shinhan.com), and Hana Bank (hanabank.com) are also available options. Shinhan's check cards (debit cards) seem to work well with transactions taken overseas such as on Amazon and eBay.
STEP 3 - Find a Bank Branch near You
Here's a trick for quickly finding all bank branches and ATMs near your location. Open up Google Maps. Adjust the map to show your location. Now search for your bank's website name. For example, search for "keb.co.kr" will display KEB branches and ATMs within that location.
STEP 4 - Open an Account
Now, you can go to a bank to open an account. The open hours are from 9 am to 4 pm for every bank in Korea. (They are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.) As soon as you walk in, get a ticket and wait for your number to be called. When it's your turn, go to the counter and tell the banker you want to open a new account. (Say you want to make a new "tong-jahng.") Have 3,000 won ready in case there is a fee. Show them your ID. Be aware that they might make a photocopy of your ID for record. Fill out the form they give you. Make sure you ask for a check card and internet banking service as well because they are optional. Otherwise, you might walk out with just a bankbook. That won't make your life much easier. Get a global check card if you can. A global card can be used in other countries as well as in Korea. You might also want to get public transit payment service on the card if possible. Choose post-pay rather than prepay if they ask. With public transit payment service, you will be able to ride buses and subways using your check card only. (You might be able to get a credit card if you provide employment information.)
STEP 5 - You Are Done!
Congratulations. Now everything is complete. Try using your bankbook or your check card on an ATM machine before you leave the bank. Almost all ATMs have foreign language support. Now you can deposit and withdraw money from your account and buy things with ease.
(Optional) Write Down the Numbers
Write down your account number and your check card number and keep them someplace safe. If you got a card, sign the back side. Add the card company's phone number to your contact list on your phone in case of an emergency.