For the last many travels, people ask me why I change my monies at airports knowing I can get a better rate elsewhere. I’ve seen a number of posts online about where the best places to exchange money in Seoul is. And while I’ve only ever exchanged money at the airport for a good reason that I will talk about later, I really do think most casual travelers can benefit from this, not just in Seoul, but likely in most places around the world.
First, I have to be honest that I am not familiar with Korea, having only been there 3 times in total: once last year, and twice in the last 3 months. And with my experience of exchanging money only at airports, you may think I don’t have good advice to offer. Well, depending on your perspective and the amount of money you are changing, you may be right.
When I first decided to move to Japan in 2010, I made the deliberate trip to Chinatown to change about SGD$2,000-3,000 to Japanese yen, which I believe was a good decision. However, for every trip since, I always did it at the airports (except Japan) no matter where I went. Sure, I agree with you that airport rates are not as good as what you can get at money changers in the cities, but if you look at the bigger picture, you may see where I’m going.
One thing I’ve learned from living here is to never ever exchange money in Japan, regardless of whether it’s at the airports or in town. Reason being, Japanese exchange rates are among the worst I’ve ever seen (in the very few countries I’ve been to). If I could get 80-82 yen to the dollar at Singapore’s airport, I will be getting about 72-74 yen at best at most places in Japan. That’s a loss of about 8-10 yen (sometimes even 12 yen) per dollar, and if I change $200, I would lose 2000 yen, which would be about $20, enough for a very nice meal. And since I would be at the airport anyway, might as well do it before I arrive at or after I leave Japan.
When I visited Seoul last year, I converted my Japanese yen to Korean won at Incheon Airport; and this year, I got my money changed at Gimpo Airport. If you read online and find people telling you to change money somewhere else like in Myeongdong or what not, I have a different opinion. That’s not to say they are wrong because they do get astoundingly good rates. But because I only change very small amounts of money, it doesn’t make sense for me to spend time traveling somewhere just to get a better rate.
To put things in perspective:
- Based on the exchange rate I received at the airport (9.8 won to the yen) vs the rate XE.com published (10.132 won to the yen) on June 5, 2017, I only received about 96.7% of the published rate on XE.com.
- Based on a fellow Singaporean blogger R’s exchange rate they received at Myeongdong (10.44 won to the yen) vs the rate XE.com published (10.376 won to the yen) on March 28, 2014, they received about 100.6% of the published rate on XE.com.
Now, let’s do some math.
With the above information, we can derive that, if I were to have exchanged my money on the same day at the airport as R, I would’ve received about 10.04 won to the yen. That means, R actually received a much better rate in Myeongdong than I did at the airport. That is to be expected since rental and operational costs at the airports are higher. To give a more absolute figure, they received 0.4 won more than I did for every yen exchanged. Translating that to my situation, exchanging 20,000 yen at the airport lost me about 8,000 won which is around USD$7.
Would I specially make the effort to travel to Myeongdong for $7? No.
If I don’t already have Myeongdong planned, I wouldn’t make the deliberate trip there because $7 is simply not worth the time and effort when it could’ve been spent experiencing the better part of Korea. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish.
So, my view is, depending on your priorities, you may want to save the trouble of traveling far to save just that bit of money because I noticed a lot of people around me travel high and low to find the best exchange rates only to exchange a couple of hundred dollars (different story if you’re gonna change like $1,000). At the end of it, the extra amount they receive barely covers the transportation costs spent to get to those money changers.