Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Return of the Yellow Dust

The yellow dust is back, and Nana and I have discovered that we've got our own canary in the mine: Annie, with her gimpy lungs, starts wheezing even before I do!

On a related note, Annie is doing well still, though we're a bit worried about her lungs. Still not 100%, but improving, as far as we can tell.

Paying Bills . . . in Korea!?!

After some persistent requests for more posts on everyday stuff, I've decided to come through with the first of what will hopefully be an interesting series on Korea's day-to-day quirks.

Now, as many readers have probably figured out, most things are much harder for foreigners in Korea than they are in the US. Not only do Korean businesses seem to have a knack for incomprehensible bureaucracies, irregular business hours, and nonsensical rules, even those tasks which would normally be simple and streamlined for Koreans are complicated by the language barrier we face.

Thankfully, paying bills is the shining exception to this rule.

To pay your bills in Korea, all you need is the bill itself, a bank account, and an ATM. Bill payments are all handled through wire transfers--go to the ATM, log in to your account, and wire your payments to whomever needs to be paid. Plus, all the ATM menus are available in English (in fact, Korea's whole banking system has been Americanizing lately as part of Korea's effort to become East Asia's financial hub). The upshot is that paying bills takes a total of about 10 minutes, no postage, no lag time. The downside, though, is the considerable risk of a typo, with mis-sent funds nearly impossible to recover, especially if you don't speak the language.

I see no reason why US banks shouldn't offer this same kind of service (correct me if they do, but I don't remember it)--though they'd probably charge an arm and a leg for it, just like everything else! We may earn 0% interest on our accounts here, but at least we're not wracked with hidden fees every other day.

UPDATE: Reader Tline asks, "What if you need to pay bills back in the US such as credit cards? Is it the same concept and are these ATM's everywhere or just for certain banks?"

Paying American credit card bills is tricky. First of all, you can't do it at an ATM. You have to make an international transfer to a US checking or savings account and pay the bill from there--and you have to make an international transfer in-person at a bank branch (you also need to show your passport and your foreigner card). Second of all, in most cases, both your Korean bank and your US bank will charge you for the transfer. Our Korean bank (Kookmin Bank, or "KB") doesn't seem to charge much--but transfer fees at some stateside banks can top $20, depending on your account. Also, depending on the particulars, you could also lose around 2-3% of your wire transfer on commissions for currency conversions. Cheaper methods exist if you can get cash, but most foreigners in Korea earn most of their pay in restricted USD accounts that charge a $15 flat fee, not including conversion commissions, for any cash withdrawal. PayPal could be a possibility, but I lack the language skills to figure out how to tie a PayPal account to my local Korean bank. And, finally, getting a Korean credit card is impossible unless you're married to a Korean or have earned permanent resident status (which is practically impossible if you're not of Korean descent).