I got my first foreign credit card today. Besides saving me from double foreign exchange fees (converting money and sending it home to pay bills converted the other direction by the credit card company), it will allow me to more easily buy things online within Korea. It also effectively deals with the problem of having too many bills to fit in my wallet (the largest denomination bill in South Korea is only 10,000 won).
Some differences with home:
- A person from the card company has to come and find me (either at work or at home) to give me the envelope with the card. I then had to sign three different items on documents stapled to the envelope. This despite the fact the card still needs to be activated, like cards have to be elsewhere.
- The interest rate (12%) is quite low compared to other countries. Since I applied for this after only having been here about a month, I had no credit history whatsoever in Korea. They don’t look up foreigner’s credit history in their home countries, as far as I can tell. Nor will my credit performance here have any bearing on credit at home.
- The card works similar to the traditional American Express cards, even though it is not an American Express card. On a preset date, the card company will attempt to withdraw the full balance on the card from my Korean bank account (which ordinarily means no interest unless you make a deal with a shop to break up a purchase into installments).
- The expiration date on the card is more than 5 years from now. At home, the expiration date would never be that far into the future, and the card companies often send new cards because the old ones were vulnerable to identity theft.
- Some of the coupons that came with the card are actually useful – there is a coupon for a free non-dairy ice cream or coffee if I go to Soy Delicious and spend more than 10,000 won. Easy to do, given that just one sundae there costs over 6,000 won.
- Most people at the card company do not speak English, so there is a language motivation if I need to speak to customer service in a pinch.