Thursday, December 19, 2013

Transferring money from Korea to the USA: A 4-month journey

I just now (4 months since arriving) was able to successfully transfer money back to the USA from here in Korea!  The money actually hasn't made its way to my personal USA checking account yet, but that should happen in 3-5 days (I'm on step 5):

Here's the final process:

  1. I get paid from my school directly to my NH bank account on the 17th of each month.
  2. I go to an NH ATM and transfer money from NH --> my CitiBank Korea account
  3. I go online at school (must be on Windows with Internet Explorer) and transfer money from Citibank Korea --> my brother's CitiBank USA account
  4. I add money to my personal paypal from my brother's Citibank USA account. Wait 3-5 days.
  5. I withdraw the money from paypal to my USA checking account. Wait 3-5 days.
  6. Success! Now I can transfer the money to my online savings account. Phew!

Anyone prefer visuals?  I've got you covered:

So, kind of round about, but it works.  Using paypal makes it take a little longer, but keeps the cost at $0.  If the USA CitiBank account were in my own name, I could transfer it to my other checking account for free.  But since it's in my brother's name, I would have to pay a ridiculous amount per transfer ($25 or $40).

Rebe, you may be asking, why didn't you just open up a CitiBank account in your name to save the hassle?  Or, why can't you transfer money home from your NH account? Why have two accounts in Korea? How many bank accounts do you have, don't you still have one open in Spain? (Hah maybe, whoops.) Answers below:

Here's why that's the final process:

I'm going to start from the very beginning.  A very good place to start.

9/4/13 - My co-teacher went with me to NH bank and helped me open a bank account with my passport.  I felt lucky because weeks later I was one of the only UW TTG participant with a bank account.  Others were told they couldn't open one until they got their ARC (Alien Residency Card), which didn't arrive for me until October.

10/2/13 - I receive my ARC, which is vital for bank things.

10/4/13 - My school happened to have off this day (Friday), but it was not a national holiday - meaning banks would be open. (Normally banks close at 4 p.m. and are not open on weekends, so it is impossible to go during the workweek.)  Since I have my ARC I bus into Seoul to an NH branch in Gangnam that lets you sign up for internet banking (through which I can transfer money home).  Note: You can't do this at all branches, which is why my local branch couldn't sign me up.

10/7/13 - I need to register the online banking stuff within 3 business days of last Friday, but it must be done on Internet Explorer, so I must wait for a gap at school.  I registered this day or the next.  Since we get paid on the 17th each month, I decide it would be best to transfer money home after I get paid for October.

10/18/13 - I try to transfer money home using the NH online system.  There's a glitch/error in the part where I enter my home bank's routing number.  When I try to select it from their list instead of entering the number, my bank does not appear on their list.

10/22/13 - I try three or four more times to transfer money online with NH.  Same thing happens, I can't get to the next page after entering all my bank account information.  Do more searching, think my home bank might be too small to make their list or something.  Start looking at other options.

10/25/13 - After reading many banking posts, I decide maybe I should give Citibank a shot after all.  Many had recommended Citibank because it's free to transfer money from one Citibank account to another globally, and it's instantaneous.  I nixed this idea back in September when I saw that U.S. Citibank basic checking accounts had a $10 monthly fee.  You can open a Citibank checking account online, which is how many other expats in Korea have done it.  The idea sinks in.

10/28/13 - I realize Citibank student checking accounts do not have a monthly fee.  I look into requirements and find that a fax of a student ID is enough evidence of being a student, which I have.  I have also read online that some non-students were given student accounts when they explained their situation (that they were teachers in Korea and needed to transfer money from Korea to pay student loans), so I didn't feel bad about the little lie.  Also, Citibank is a huge company and doesn't need my $10/month.

10/29/13 - I apply online for a student checking account at Citibank.  I email some documents to my mother to fax them (photo of my driver's license to verify my address, and photo of my student ID (actually a staff ID) to verify enrollment).

10/31/13 - I get an email from mother saying that Citibank called today and I needed to call them.  I called that night and the lady said my account had been closed yesterday by the fraud department because it was opened overseas.  Also, she said the fax of my license was too dark to read, and they couldn't get a hold of me by phone.  I asked what I could do to make sure the account wouldn't be closed when I tried to open another one.  She recommended I just go to a branch in person to do it.  But added, "and when we call, we need to reach you not your mom." Fine lady.  In hindsight, I should have turned on my Hotspot Shield when opening the account, so my computer would have appeared to be in the USA.

I apply for another account that same night, and send mother some more documents to fax to them.  This time I attach a pdf of a credit card statement with my home address instead of a picture of my driver's license to verify my address.  They should have no trouble reading that.  I cross my fingers.

11/2/13 - My parents get some letters from Citibank in the mail with a debit card.  But it's from the first account that was already closed.

11/5/13 - No school because it's my school's birthday, which again is a very rare and lucky thing to have off on a day that's not a holiday.  I spend the day busing into Gangnam and going to Citibank to open up an account.  I'm there for over two hours, both waiting and being helped.  Many, many papers to sign.  But I leave with a second Korean debit card and bank book.  Success! So close to the finish line (I thought...).  How was the Korean end easier than the U.S. end?

When I got home I had an email from my dad.  He faxed and sent me some of the letters from Citibank.

11/8/13 - I call my parents via G+ Hangouts and they give me the card number and account number of the second account I opened.  While we were G+ing I asked my dad if he could call and activate the card, since you can do that by punching in numbers and talking to a computer.  Except when he typed in my card number it transferred to a real person and they wanted to talk to me.  So after the G+Hangout I called the verification number to speak to the woman.  I had all of the numbers I would need written down from my parents.

The lady tells me that this account has been closed by the fraud department.  Say whaaat?!  I opened this one with Hotspot Shield on, meaning it would not look like I was overseas.  So why did they close it?  Well this lady could not tell me why.  She had no reason; didn't see any details in the file.  I was on the verge of tears.  How can I open an account without having it get closed? I asked her.  Just go to a branch in person, she said.  I cannot do that, I'm out of the country, I said.  Well you'll just have to wait until you're back she said.  I was so frustrated.  How had all those other expats on waygook opened a Citibank account online successfully before?

11/9/13 - I email my younger brother, a real college student, and ask him how he would feel about opening a Citibank student checking account in his name, and then letting me use it to transfer money to the USA.

11/16/13 - We touch base and the younger brother says yes, he can open the account.

11/17/13 - I email back some details and a link to open the account.

11/28/13 - Update email from younger brother: He's opened the account and sent in all the documents needed to confirm the account.  Waiting to receive card/account number in the mail.

12/8/13 - Younger brother receives letters in the mail from Citibank and sends me the account number and relevant information.

12/10/13 - At school I successfully transfer money from my Korean Citibank account to my brother's U.S. Citibank student checking account (after transferring money from NH --> Citibank here in Korea).  Thrilling!  Except then I realized I didn't know how to get the money from my brother's Citibank account to my personal checking account.  Withdraw cash from an ATM and deposit it into my bank account?  (A transfer to another bank account in someone else's name -- my name -- would cost $25 or $40 per transfer, I forgot which.  Either way that's ridiculous, Citibank!).

12/14/13 - Younger brother sends me the routing number for his account, so I can finally  make my final student loan payment.

When I lived and worked in Spain, I used paypal to send money to myself from Spain to the USA, using two different paypal accounts hooked up to my separate bank accounts.  I look into using paypal in the same manner, and find it (should) be even simpler.  A paypal account can be connected to two bank accounts at once, and my U.S. paypal account was only hooked up to my personal checking account.  In theory, I could also connect it to my brother's Citibank account.  Then, I could add money to paypal from my brother's Citibank account, and later withdraw money from paypal, transferring it into my checking account.  So I did just that and initiated the first step of the process: Add money to paypal from brother's Citibank account.

12/18/13 - The money finally appeared in paypal, so I initiated a transfer from paypal to my checking account.  This should happen in 3-5 days.  My loan payment also went through today, meaning I have a big announcement: I'm debt free!

Lessons learned from banking in Korea:

  • Open a Citibank student checking account when you're still a student in the states.  It will save you many headaches down the line.
  • If you have a day off during your first two months that's not a holiday, do whatever bank things you need to do.

In addition to wishing I'd known about Citibank before going to Korea, I also wish I'd had a guide to Korean food/restaurants—like this one!
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  1. Campeona Campeona ohe ohe ohe, enhorabuena eres libre del yugo de los bancos, 2014 año nuevo, vida nueva. Me alegro mucho por ti RebeCCa, felicidades. Tu constancia, tu saber gestionar te han permitido este logro. Era una de tus metas importante y la has logrado en menos tiempo del que te habias propuesto, y eso te da aun mas merito. te has hecho un buen regalo de navidad...Libertad

    1. Muchísimas gracias - Sí, libertad de los préstamos. Es gracias a todas las noches que me quedé en piso en vez de ir a Kapital, no? jeje En 2014 tengo que enfrentarme a la salud!

  2. Hi Rebe, I have a friend in Korea who wants to transfer money to me in the US. Can Koreans use any of the online applications such as Google Wallet or Square that you know of?
    Kind Regards,

    1. Hi Andrew! I never used either of those myself, nor did my friends, but he could certainly try! Paypal should work too! : )