Banking frustrations living abroad

by Mr Mike

Banking abroad is possibly the most frustrating aspect of living in another country.  About a month ago I converted a large sum of Korean Won to US Dollars and sent it via KB (Kookmin Bank) using an ACH transfer recommended by my US bank.  Lucky me the money bounced back a few days later due KB’s clerical errors.

Upon getting the money back in Korea they immediately sold my USD back to KRW (at my loss of about $100).  When I found out and went to the bank to confront them on the issue I had 3 separate tellers tell me “no English” and then try to justify the transaction.

After my 4th trip of getting no where I asked my English speaking Korean coworkers to help.  Mrs. Lee and Mr. Eum spent nearly an hour on the phone with the bank and kept getting told the same story I was.  I wasn’t happy about it but I conceded to paying the fees for the botched transfer.  What I refused to pay was their automatic purchase/sell at an arbitrary exchange rate which ended in a $100 loss without my knowledge or permission.

Mr. Eum decided to try one more time and the next day he joined me on my 5th trip to our KB bank branch.  Finally we were able to speak with a manager; the plan was to concede the loss and file a formal complaint (we’d already contacted the corporate office).  Upon meeting the manager he let us know that it all would have been fine if I had a foreign exchange account.   So why was this the first time I heard of it?

Unfortunately I had to come back a 6th time to set this up since my prep was over.  The good news was by the end the manager had opened a new foreign exchange account and reversed their sale of USD for KRW.  It only took another 2 trips for them to successfully wire the money to America (at least I hope it arrives this time)!

After this ordeal I will definitely be closing my Kookmin Bank (KB) account.  As far as I’m concerned they tried to take advantage of a foreigner and snag some extra fees.  Let’s not forget that they played the “No English” card WAY too many times in this month-long debacle.  I’ll be opening a Hana Bank account (which my coworkers tell me have excellent English-speaking customer service) and using Citibank to transfer between Korea and USA. Citi would be my go-to for everything but any paychecks they receive get reported as US based earnings for tax purposes and frankly, I don’t want to have to whip out my tax calculator every time I use Citi.
To make matters more complicated I just found out Capital One automatically closed my account.  I have other US banks so its not an issue but it certainly is ironic that I finally sort out the issue at my Korean bank and the US one messes up.

In the long run these issues have always been resolved but one unexpected aspect of living abroad is dealing with US based customer service.  They are typically open during my sleeping hours so finding out why this account was closed could take a few days and deciding to reopen one or not could be tough if they work on EST daytime hours.

For now I’m not worried.  I highly recommend finding a new bank if you’re trying to send money home using Kookmin Bank (KB) but I’m too busy getting ready for my trip to Vietnam and Son Doong to dwell on it!

What international banking woes have you had?  Do you have any recommendations for banks to use or avoid when working internationally?

Mr Mike

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