It strikes from the very beginning: Koreans are not joking when it comes to completing any official paperwork. I have observed this fact time and again, and so I would like to devote a 4-part series to describe our culture shock.
If you live in Korea as a foreigner, simple everyday tasks require more planning. For example, you cannot just call a bank and ask for a transfer, nor can you simply go online and verify your balance: everything is in Korean and you need a reliable person to help you with these issues. Yet, if you are like me and try to do everything by yourself, be aware that procedures in Korean banks are different and it may take you a couple of trips to finish your business there. But most importantly, remember – you are a foreigner and the procedures that are put in place do not let you forget this fact.
For instance, I went to the bank to request access to the online banking because foreigners have to do this in person. I was asked for an immigration registration card, which serves as an ID here. Also, I needed to provide my US passport. Why? Not sure. I gave them my US Passport number when we were opening the account. What can change there? They have it in the system. I did not even think that it would be necessary to carry the stack of all my documents in order to just obtain online access to an existing account. And I have worked at a bank myself. Anyway, I had to come back.
Banks also require you to fill out a multitude of papers for any request one might ask. For example, if you want to do a transfer from checking to savings you will write your name, address, telephone number, registration number, amount, and will sign in three places. The teller will put a rubber stamp in two different places.
I always compare this rigid system to the US banking system. It is much easier for a foreigner to open and use the banking system in the US. In the US, if a foreigner loses his/her legal status later he/she will not be asked for a valid Green Card at every corner of any business. Here it is quite the opposite. For instance, yesterday my husband wanted to tune into a free Wi-Fi at a coffee place. In order to get a password he had to give his name and either a US passport number or an alien registration number. How do the spies work in such stingy conditions?