This post has been edited for accuracy. Added a sample computation at the bottom!
Since I am from the Philippines, I will be writing this topic with perspective of the Philippine Peso (referred to as PHP later in this article).
During my first trip to Seoul in April 2013, I had a hard time exchanging my then US dollars (USD) to Korean won (KRW). My province does not have many KRW users, apparently. I didn’t want to go to Manila just to exchange my money so I settled with what small conversion I got, and just brought a few hundred USDs to exchange in Seoul.
Generally, USD conversion to KRW is better than PHP if you already have USD on hand. But a few cents or pesos might/will be lost if you go PHP->USD->KRW. My Dad is an OFW at that time so it’s a bit easier for me to get USD. But when he retired in early 2015, I sort of refused to exchange my PHP to USD at money changers when we planned for our October trip.
A few weeks before our trip in October, however, I got very busy with work and school and before I know it, I have only five more days before the trip and Zero KRW. My Mom had a friend who frequents Korea so she tried to exchange some (this friend however just requested to return the KRW as is after the trip). I didn’t want to convert my PHP because the exchange rate at that short time frame was ridiculously low (0.045PHP for a KRW is crazy!).
We only had 50,000 KRW, 20,000 PHP and 115USD for two people when we boarded the plane to Seoul. I still need to pay the guesthouse in cash.
So how did we do it? For some people, this is already a huge amount. But we were supposed to stay in Seoul for 6 days. Shopping was also on the list (we didn’t buy anything before this trip because we want to shop in Seoul).
I am not a huge fan of credit cards before I started working. I only use cash and debit cards because I don’t want to be buried in debt. But credit cards are convenient in buying tickets online and, sometimes, huge purchases have rebates and freebies from partner organizations.
With that said, during my second trip to Seoul, I slashed my credit card at almost all stores that accept it – which is almost all stores. Only street stalls don’t accept them; every establishment is pretty much a bait for credit cards. Plus I don’t need to carry big amount of money around. Not that it’s unsafe, but you just know how it is.
I use a supplementary BPI Gold (again, because I’m not a huge fan, I never applied for one that’s my own). I asked my Mom to activate the card for international use at our bank before the trip. I also requested to increase the limit because I don’t want to risk a rejected credit card in the middle of the trip – remember, I didn’t bring enough cash with me.
When my bill arrived, I was surprised because it has the best conversion I’ve seen. I never did like computing for conversions, so my standing point is, the closer it is to 25KRW/PHP or higher, the better. My bank’s conversion was 23.84KRW/PHP. This is a good enough conversion.
Now you won’t usually see this conversion in the Philippines. I’ve only seen this in Incheon Airport when I convert PHP to KRW. In the Philippines, we’ll go with cents.
The standard conversion in cents is 0.040 PHP for every 1 KRW. This means you have to go as close to 0.040PHP or less for a good conversion. Your PHP is more powerful in that sense. BDO for example sells KRW for 0.0398PHP (June 7, 2016). BPI sells it at a whopping 0.050PHP (June 6, 2016). My purchases were more or less converted at 0.0419PHP/KRW.
My last trip in May 2016 gave even better conversions! They’re still not at my target of 0.040PHP or lower, but I was close. For some strange reason, my purchases all vary in their conversion.
EDIT: On average, my December 2016 Korea Trip was at 23.539KRW/PHP or 0.0425PHP/KRW. To be honest, this was worse than my previous trip, but with the USD, you pretty much know why.
In terms of cash, as I have mentioned, the Money Exchange near my house sells it at 0.045PHP per 1KRW. This is too expensive for me, so back in 2013 I only exchanged a few and sold my USD for KRW in Seoul. In 2015, I completely let go of converting with them. And in 2016, let’s just say I didn’t even think about converting my money before flying out.
My friend however suggests buying at BDO as they have a good selling price. But I do not have an account at any BDO branch (I’m thinking of opening one eventually) so I’m not sure if I can just walk in and buy. Any of my readers know?
There’s also Czarina. But there’s no branch near my place and I don’t plan on visiting a farther city during work hours or on weekends just to get a decent conversion.
Upon arrival at the Incheon Airport, there are mini banks right before the exit and you can exchange your PHP there. Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) is right between Exit 9 and 10, and Woori Bank is between Exit 3 and 4, and near Exit 9. If I remember correctly, in 2015 the better conversion was at Woori Bank, but in 2016, KEB has a better conversion at 22.75WON/PHP vs Woori’s 22.71WON/PHP. You can get better conversions at their branches in MyeongDong though. But I’ve only converted dollars there. Next time I visit, I’d be sure to check those out.
Outside these banks, you can also convert at Money Changers. But there are only few branches that buy PHP. One Money Exchange that I have returned to was in MyeongDong: from exit 6 (Migliore) or 7 (Uniqlo), on the first street to your left, right before the Line Friends Store. They sell KRW for 23KRW/PHP – which they say is the best conversion. This may be true at least in the area, because I’ve certainly seen 22.16WON/PHP near my hostel.
EDIT! During my December trip, there was another one. From this money changer, go to the 2nd street on your right. There’s a money changer there that buys PHP.
With these in mind, you now are not forced to convert you PHP to KRW in the Philippines. If you lack the time, or there simply isn’t a good conversion around you, know that you can also exchange your precious money in Seoul. It may not be the best conversion, but they still got you covered. I am still searching for the best one so I’ll be sure to update you!
Here’s a manual conversion I did to make the computations easier:
Have you had conversion stories in Seoul? Let me know in the comments! Share the love and info!