Money Etiquette in Korea: How NOT to Be Rude!

Whether you like it or not you’ll be using money pretty much everyday in Korea. And since cash rules, you should know the basic Korean etiquette and manners regarding money. Read this to make sure you avoid being rude in Korea!

The Basics – Use Two Hands

Most people in Korea will use cash simply to buy crazy cute Korean things like animal pajamas. But when you hand that cash over to the vendor, there is a certain social faux pas that you should be aware of. When handing things over to people, especially money, Koreans hand them over with two hands. It’s a sign of respect. And although this is less rigid in terms of small and quick transactions with people you probably won’t see again in the future (i.e. convenience stores, street food, etc.), you should definitely use two hands with certain people and situations, such as:

  • Making purchases with large amounts of money – When you make a large purchase, it’s usually not something quick and simple. Unless you’re a Saudi prince, you’ll have to think long and hard before trading a few million won away for a brand new TV. And this usually involves some “getting-to-know-you” time with the sales people. Like it or not, you’ve built a little bit of a relationship with them once you’ve got to talking. And since you kindaaa know them, that kindaaa means you should respect. Use two hands (also applies when handing over credit cards).
  • Paying for services rendered – If you’re taking taekwondo or Korean cooking classes, you probably know the people you’re learning from to some degree. So since they’ve been nice enough to teach you ancient Korean kimchi secrets or butt-kicking self-defense, you should of course extend them some respect with two hands. This also applies to tutors, workers you’ve hired, your masseuse, blood money, etc. (also applies to credit cards).

 

For Extra Respect, Use Envelopes

Handing over money (or credit cards) to someone with two hands is important to show respect to strangers. But if you know someone personally, there’s an extra layer of respect you can add on. In addition to holding out two hands to someone, you should also put money in envelopes, like if you’re…

  • Giving cash gifts for special occasions – Some special occasions (i.e. weddings, certain birthdays) in Korea require cash gifts as presents (see when to give cash gifts and how much you should give here). Put the cash in an envelope, write your name on it (especially for weddings) and hand it to the cash collectors (usually there will be a very trust-worth person designated to collect money at these special occasions).
  • Giving cash to someone you know – This can be just to give your nieces and nephews some pocket money, your son money for school tuition, to repay a debt to friend/family/loan shark, etc. Whenever you hand over cash of significant amounts, be sure it is in an envelope (name not usually required for these). It’ll show that you’ve put some thought and effort into preparing the money specifically for that purpose instead of just taking out whatever was in your wallet.

Extra tip: When giving cash to people you know, go straight to the bank to get fresh and crisp bills. It’s not the end of the world to give old bills, but it’ll make you look like you didn’t dig it out of your couch. And come’on who doesn’t like the smell of fresh bills? MONAY! 🙂

If you’ve ever wondered who the people on the South Korean bank notes are, find out!
Who’s on South Korean Money

Keith
Keith
Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

12 Comments

  1. L.... says:

    Man Your Website Advices Helped me a lot when i came here, I’m Saudi and I’m not Rich. (Hehe)

  2. Elena says:

    Hey!
    Thanks for great articles! I’m planning to go to South Korea next year and I’m just getting more inspired by reading posts on this website 😀

    I have a question regarding this article: what about credit card payments? How common is it?
    Here where I live, it can go months before I need to take cash into my hands. Shops, restaurants, night clubs, vendors at open air festivals, taxis, even some of the buses accept cards as payments. For trains, you buy the tickets at “ticket atm” box. Even when returning empty bottles in the shops, you just get a receipt and then can pay for your groceries with it. I think many of food kiosks accept credit cards too 🙂 And if we are ordering pizzas with friends, you can often agree to do bank transfer as soon as you get home. Of course in this case, it can be more convenient to have cash, but usually people don’t mind.

  3. Keith says:

    You’re welcome! I think credit cards are more common than cash here in Korea. Personally, I never have cash on me because I can pay everything with credit cards (except street food and things like that) 😛

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Keith, I also have a questions about credit card/debit card use in Korea. Have you ever tried to use an US bank’s debit card to draw money from the ATM? My husband and I are planning to visit Korea next summer, and we are not sure whether our debit card will work in Korea. Have you heard of other Americans having trouble getting cash from the ATM in Korea?

  4. Delia Apodaca says:

    I have been through your websites. I love the fact that you keep it real. Cool your from NY. ATL here, I have learned A LOT!! from reading your posts. Dont give up! I understand you can get drained and not want to continue but just think if you would have stopped then I would not be writing this now. Great work, glad I found your sites and keep them coming!!! 🙂 🙂 (THUMBS UP)

  5. Keith says:

    Hi Keith, I heard that you are living in America, I am enrolled in Canadian international school Singapore. I am also gyopo like you. Anyway, my grandmother is Korean and she gave me an allowance for this month recently. Nevertheless, I didn’t use my two hands to take it and my grandmother was exasperated. I didn’t know about how to take/give a money with two hands and that is a sign of respect for Koreans. I am feeling sorry for my grandma and I am feeling offender myself.

  6. Keith says:

    For reference, my name is Keith same like you.

  7. Sam Tsai says:

    I love your new website layout 🙂 and thanks for the tips

  8. Bee says:

    Hi Keith, I am visiting Seoul in coming March. I found your site and it is very helpful and you make it even more attractive with the videos. just a quick one; is tipping common in Korea, like after you dine in restaurant or bar? is there certain way to do it too? I cant wait to fly over and eat till faint!
    Keep the good job, Keith and success with Seoulistic.

  9. John says:

    I was eating at a local mom and daughter Korean restaurant in town, and when I paid for my food I handed the money with my left hand, using the right hand to support the arm.

    The daughter of the owner (who was cashiering) said that it’s actually preferred to use the right hand to hold the money, and use left hand for support.

    Is this true?

  10. Alana says:

    Hey Keith! great article, although i am curious about something. When dealing with money, i saw people supporting/holding their elbows. is this more casual than handing something over wih two hands or does it imply the same amount of respect? Also, is it only used for money, or for handing over any objects?

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Keith, we were at a Korean restaurant tonight and a middle aged Korean man came over and gave a $20 bill to my young, Caucasian daughter. She is 11. He said, “For the princess.”. I didn’t know whether to be honored or offended, it was not something I’ve ever dealt with before. Is it a norm in Korea to do something like that or should I be creeped out?

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