Shopping & Money, Seoul
Getting money can be a big problem sometimes. Many ATM's don't accept foreign cards, even a VISA card logo does not guarantee your VISA will be accepted. Many banks don't offer the service. Usually the airport and Central Station have 1 or mor ATM's who can provide you with money but it's no guarantee.
My best advise, find out where you can get money and take a sufficient amount of cash with you, and get some more cash once you're halfway through. This way you don't get stuck without money. My best bets have been the ATM's of the convenience stores, the C-Space markets accepted my Dutch bankcard without any hastle.
Be aware that there are very few international ATM's. Korea is a highly developed country for IT access but I did struggle with ATM's. Let me give you my first experience. Having arrived in the international airport I went to an ATM to ontain enough money to get me into the city centre (about an hour away by bus). Imagine my horror when I realised that none of the machines in the airport would take my card. Thankfully I had £30 sterling whihch I was able to convert with a money changer (there are many of these when you get through immigration and customs). Even when I got to the city centre, locating an international ATM was a bit of a mission.
Beware of eating in a make-shift stall in those night markets. These fly-by-night vendors have no priced menus and they'll do all they can to fleece you. I learnt it the really hard way when my hubby and I were charged 75, 000W for 2 prawns, a stick of gingko nuts, 2 plates of noodles, some pig intestines, a small plate of unagi and grilled chicken. After our jaws hit the ground with a dull thud, I flipped thru my phrase book angrily, determined to get a fair bargain. All I could say was " Pee-San! Pee-San!" (expensive ). Well, to no avail, I could be saying pee in English for all she cared. She exploded into a burst of loud words and it sounded hotter than Kim-Chee. Cowed by the 4m tall lady ,the waving ladle and hot wok, my hubby and I puffed up our chests, paid and vowed never to return.....I was only glad I took her picture before I left. Here it is, for all the world to see and be warned.
I know alot of people have been ripped off with these Foreigner prices but when Ajuma yells at you (korean old lady) it is the only defense they have. Everyone here is trying to make a living and shopping in Korea is always a fight (except at fixed price name brand stores which are extremely expensive)
if you find yourself being charged a ridiculous price just pay the amount you think is fair and walk away. they wont do anything because you just called their bluff. koreans often yell (or what westerners think is yelling) when shopping it seems very common. so don't feel threatened at all
Bring some cash with you so you can exchange it at a booth. Alot of credit/debit machines are hard to use and will not work with alot of cards. So, bring some cash until you figure out the machines.
For example, I have a U.S. Debit card/visa. It can be used at Plus, Star, Interlink and Instand Cash Machines. That's what it says on the back of the card. I can use it at most machines in the subways and other select machines. I really don't know why. I have been able to use it effortlessly in Malaysia. The Seoul Banking system is just different. I don't bank here so I don't understand it. I do know they have many machines that are just for their specific customers and give out vouchers instead of cash. These machines are right at the banks. Try the machines in the subways, airport, large department stores and in touristy areas. They usually have an option titled "foreign card". From there they are easy to use.
Shopping is one of Seoul`s main attractions but it can
also be a hassle. At the markets, like Dongdaemun,
you should haggle. Make no mistake about it, if you
pay the first asking price the vendors will be
laughing all the way to the bank as soon as you leave
the store. Most shopkeepers keep a calculator handy to
help you bargain across the language barrier.
However : beware !!! There is a "Korean price" and a
"foreigner price", and of course the foreigners price
is much, much higher. Go with Korean friends if
possible, and if u see something u like, register it
without even making direct eye contact, and ask your
friends to go back and bargain for it. Im not kidding.
If you so much as look at an item, let alone check the
fit, the vendors will be on to you and refuse to lower
their (inflated, tourist) price. You have been warned.
The second thing to remember is that when you buy dirt
cheap clothes, dont expect them to last forever. You
really do get what you pay for. You can pick up a
funky shirt for a few dollars but dont be heartbroken
when the stitching comes undone the next week.
And lastly, more fashionable virtualtourists might be
disappointed with the deisgns on offer - Seoul
specialises in cheap clothes and fast alterations, but
it is NOT a style capital (as you may have noticed on
the crowded streets) .You can find stuff if you
look...hard...but if you were expecting the kind of
crazy cuts and colors of Tokyo`s Harajuku district,
you may be disappointed. Dongdaemun does cheap and
cheerful, and occassionally funky, but its not exactly
Korea is an incredibly safe country. Generally speaking, you don't need to worry about pickpockets, muggers, rapists, or murderers. It's safe for women to wander alone, even at night. Lost items are frequently returned. I've never heard of anyone being robbed.
That being said, Itaewon is still not totally safe at night, despite (or because of???) the presence of so many soldiers. Make sure your room locks well, that you've hidden your valuables or taken them with you, and that you use the buddy system at the bars. Be careful of anyone trying to spike your drink.
Korea offers you an opportuntiy to buy many "trademarked" products at an apparent bargain price. Be careful, they will be knockoffs and if you are planning on returning to a country that enforces such laws you are at risk of having them all confiscated.
In Itaewon, be careful when u try to bargain, especially at the roadside stalls. Be warned NOT to try to bargain for more than 2000 won, or u will be scolded by the sellers!!
If you looking for souvenirs, look elsewhere coz they are expensive at Itaewon and not much variety!