Every month you see the same article from expat websites get regurgitated: how to save money in Korea. You click to find the article consisting more of general common-sense money saving tips (‘Wear more layers in the winter to save on heating bills!’) rather than actual things that are specific to Korea.

Because of this, I set out to find actual and useful money-saving tips in Korea that most expats are unaware of, or don’t find out about it until it’s too late. Some of this might not even make sense or be possible until after you arrive in Korea, but if you look for these things, I guarantee you will save more money and be able to pay off those pesky students loans that are waiting for you back home.

*Note: Savings amounts are all approximate values

1. Don’t Exchange Money at Incheon Airport

It will be tempting. A currency exchange desk will be in plain sight as soon as you grab your bags and hand in your custom card (I’m not joking, banks have deals with the airport to appear before you exit customs).

But hold off at all costs of doing so. Conversion rates AND conversion fees are generally higher at Incheon airport. Instead of converting your money at the airport, convert it at a bank in the downtown district of your destination city. This is where you will get the best rates.

Freaked out about making it without any local currency until you reach your destination? Ok, fair enough. Convert about $100 USD to Korean won and then save the rest for converting later.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
For converting 1,000 USD to Korean Won, expect to save about 30,000 won doing so at a town bank branch rather than at the airport.

Savings Level: Fair
2. Get a Seoul Commuter Pass

I love the Seoul subway. I take it to work on weekdays, and I take it to meet friends on the weekend. It’s also fast, clean, and relatively cheap. If you want to save even more money then get a Seoul Commuter Pass (정기 승차권).

By buying a Seoul Commuter Pass you will get 60 subway rides (30 days a month, to and from) for a set 55,000 won, instead of paying for each ride individually at a more expensive rate.

Having a Seoul Commuter Pass can therefore potentially save you 35,000 won a month or 420,000 won a year. That’s a brand new iPad Air!

One caveat is that the pass is only good for the subway and doesn’t cover an extra bus ride if your commute needs one. But if you only need to take the subway, this one is a no-brainer.
Don’t miss out. Sign up for this as SOON as you get to Korea. You can do so at any subway station information desk on your route.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
A. Without commuter pass: 1,500 each way X 60 Subway Rides = 90,000 won
B. With commuter pass: 60 Subway Rides = 55,000 won
Savings: 35,000 won a month / 420,000 won a year

Savings Level: HIGH


3. Sign Up for Your Phone and Internet Together

You know deep down in your heart that you’re going to sign up for a cell phone service and internet when you arrive. So when you do, make sure you do get them together at the same time and at the same place. The majority of providers give you an extra discount off each month when you bundle services.

By bundling just cell service and internet together, you can expect to save anywhere from 10-20% each month on your bill.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
Approx. 10-20% savings each month on your internet and cell phone bill.

Savings Level: MEDIUM
4. Ditch the pubs, go to a bottle bar

Drinking alcohol isn’t frugal. It just isn’t. If you want to save the most money, it’s best not to drink premium pints of beer that cost entire McDonald’s Big Mac Combo’s every glass. But if you have friends that want to go out, then try to steer them towards a bottle bar.

Bottle bars (맥주창고 or 셀프맥주) offer various kinds of different bottled beers in little refrigerators. Often times they’ll have cheaper domestic beers for around 2,500-3,000 won. Then once you and your friends have had your fill, you can separate your bottles into your own bucket, and pay for yours separately. No more confusion of splitting 4 ways or 5 ways or god forbid trying to tally up everyone’s drinks by memory.

But what’s the major kicker of going to bottle bars? You don’t have to buy food to sit down.

Pubs in Korea require you to buy Anju (pub food) in order to stay. So when a pub advertises cheap 2,000 won pints of beer on the sign outside, that’s because you have to buy at least the cheapest thing on the menu, which is probably going to run you at least 12,000 won. Bottle bars most of the time also offer free snacks to munch on while drinking. All in all, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
A. 2 beers (3,500 KRW each) = 7,000 KRW
B. 2 beers + Food (3,000 KRW beers + 12,000 Anju) = 18,000 KRW

Savings Level: HIGH

5. Get familiar with your last subway and bus times: Taxis will kill you

Ok taxis may not kill you in terms of like, murder, but I seriously think there would be a positive correlation between expats in Korea that take taxis often and how broke they are. I will admit, taxis are cheap in Korea compared to other countries, but they still will cost you big if you use it as your primary method of getting around.

As most expats know, the MOST EXPENSIVE taxi ride is the one you take when you’re trying to get back to your nice sweet home from a night out with friends in Seoul. Not only are taxi fares more expensive at night, they also charge extra for those crossing between Seoul and other provinces (Gyeonggi).

Taxis charge an extra 20% fee on a distance between the hours of 12 AM – 4 AM, and another 20% fee on distance if you cross-province lines.

Get extremely familiar with your last subway route times, and stick to them. If you miss your subway, then take the bus home. Express buses (시외버스) are more expensive than town buses (시내버스), but often times they run till later than the subway does.

Korean citizens almost always take the bus home at night. While taking buses will require you to get to know bus stops (which sometimes can be challenging), it will pay off tremendously instead of taking a taxi.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
A. Subway from Gangnam to Bucheon: 1,550 won
B. Express Bus from Gangnam to Bucheon: 2,500 won
C. Taxi from Gangnam to Bucheon: 40,000 KRW

Savings Level: HIGH
6. Sign Up for a Rewards/Point Card Program

I firmly believe that when it comes to rewards and point cards, Koreans do it the best. Every time I go and buy something, no matter where it is, the store or place will ask me if I have a certain point card. These point cards are usually free to sign up for, and often times they reward you with straight store credit.

The thing that makes Korea different is that like airline frequent flyer programs, point cards often are a part of alliances, meaning certain stores may use the same point card.

My personal favorite is the CJ One point card (no, I did not get paid by CJ to say that). It’s my favorite because I watch a ton of movies at the cinema. My friends in Korea are lazy, so I buy them tickets on the CGV app (CJ owns CGV) and they pay me back. Because of this, I have TONS of CJ points, which I can then use at CGV, VIPS, Olive Young, etc. I can’t remember the last time I bought popcorn or snacks at the movie theater. I always just use my points for concessions and it’s all free.

–Famous point cards include–
Happy Point | Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Cafe Pascucci, Paris Baguette, Jamba Juice + More
Olleh Card | GS25, 7-Eleven, Outback Steakhouse, Pizza Hut, CGV, Cafe Bene, Starbucks, + More 
SKT Card | TGI Fridays, Mr. Pizza, Dominos Pizza, CU, Emart, Lotteria, Smoothie King, + More
CJ One Point Card | CGV, VIPS, A Twosome Place, Tous les Jours, Olive Young, + More

Savings level: MEDIUM
7. Transfer from Buses to the Subway or vice versa within 30 mins

If you have to take an additional bus ride after getting off the subway to get home or to your workplace, don’t dilly dally around (to use our parents’ lingo). If you transfer from the subway to a bus within 30 mins, you don’t pay additionally for that bus trip. It’s free for up to 10km.

So don’t go window shopping or stop for a cup of Ramyeon. Get on that bus asap.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
Subway + Bus Ride (within 30 mins) = Approx. 1,500 won
Subway + Bus Ride (after 30 mins) = Approx. 2,800 won

Savings Level: MEDIUM

8. Fast Food Lunch Time Deals

Almost all fast food restaurants in Korea offer discounts on select items or all of their menus at lunchtime. These deals usually are only available until 2 pm. So if you have a fast food craving make sure to get lunch before then.

How much of a discount? While it’s not like 50 percent or anything, usually items are discounted by about 1,000 to 2,000 won or about 20 percent.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
McDonalds Big Mac Set: 4,500 won (regularly 5,500 won)
Popeye’s Cajun Extreme Set: 4,900 (regularly 6,500 won)
Lotteria Lotz Burger Set:
4,900 won (Regularly 6,500 won)

Savings level: MEDIUM
9. Resist Buying a New Phone and Bring Your Own from Home

If you’re coming to Korea and want to get a brand new iPhone 6s, try to resist. Phone prices aren’t subsidized in Korea. Which means that when you sign up for a cell phone plan with a new phone, you’re either going to have to pay full MSRP for that phone (about 1,000,000 won or 1,000 USD for an iPhone 8).

Instead, if you’re a frugal boogal, bring your own phone from home and sign up for a basic data plan. I prefer unlimited 3G. I paid 27,500 won a month, and while it wasn’t as fast as LTE, I never had to worry about running out of data, and I paid about 50% less than all my friends who had LTE plans. Plus Seoul added free wifi in 2017 to all subways line, which means that soon when you’re in transit, you’ll be able to connect to wifi.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
A. New iPhone 8: 1,000,000 KRW
B. Split into 24 monthly payments (standard 2-year contract): 45,000 KRW a month
C. Unlimited LTE Service: 50,000 KRW a month
D. New Phone + LTE Service Total = 95,000 KRW a month

Savings Level: HIGH
10. Sending stuff home? Ship by Korea Post EMS Freight

If you bought way too much stuff while you were in Korea and now need to find some way to get it all home, EMS freight shipments are going to be your best friend. By going to the Korea Post office, you can choose small or large sizes boxes and then get a flat rate for a certain maximum weight.

At the time of this article, getting the largest box and filling it with 20kg, (or 45 pounds), will only cost you 60,000 won (to the US). This is insanely cheap, considering airlines will charge you 100,000 won for an additional bag of the same weight.

The downside? It takes a long time. About 1-2 months. This is because EMS freight packages are sent by a big big boat. But if you plan ahead, you can ship bulky non-essential items back and it will all be there by the time you arrive back home.

–Savings Cheat Sheet–
A. Send ~45 lbs by checked in bag on airliner: 100,000 KRW
B. Send ~45 lbs by Korea Post EMS Freight: 60,000 KRW

Savings Level: HIGH
11. Foreigner Tourism Discounts

This last one is too often overlooked by foreigners, and also let’s face it, illegal back home. The Korean tourism department has made recent extreme efforts to try and attract foreigners to popular destinations all around Korea and often create discounts coupons that foreigners can print and then use. These aren’t small 10 percent off piece of crap coupons either. We’re huge discounts, like in the 30-50 percent off range.

Discounts have validation periods, but you can regularly check on the following site for many different sporting resorts as well as museums and other attractions.

Just make sure to bring your passport along in case they ask to see some sort of ID.

For information check out the official Korean Tourism website at VisitKorea


I hope this helped inspire you to take advantage of all the great ways to save money in Korea. Most of these things are relatively easy to do and just require planning ahead of time.

Do you have a great money-saving tip that we forgot and you’d like to share? As long as it’s legal, we’d love to hear it! Write in the comments section below!

*Featured images courtesy of FreepikPiggy Bank , Commuter Pass Bottles , Clock )