6 Facts You Might Not Know About Korean Currency, the Won

Last updated on March 7th, 2024 at 03:26 pm

  << The Mexican Peso: An Essential Guide>> Your Guide to the Croatian Kuna

Korean currency: Korean coins and bills

Are you traveling to South Korea or sending money home to loved ones? Or maybe you‘re planning a trip to South Korea, and you’re curious to know more about South Korean currency?

This guide walks you through everything you need to know about the Korean won, KRW exchange rates, and sending money to South Korea.

What is the South Korean won?

Korean currency: person using a phone

The won, also spelled hwan, is the official currency of South Korea. 

South Korea is a sovereign state in East Asia on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. Seoul is the largest city in South Korea and also serves as its capital.

The plural of “won” is “wones,” and the Republic of Korea is the only country that uses the Korean won as its national currency.

The Bank of Korea has the exclusive authority to issue banknotes and coins for South Korea. The currency code for the won is KRW, and the official symbol for the South Korean won is a capital “W” with two parallel lines across it (₩). 

Jeon are subunits of the won and equal 1/100th of a won. Bills come in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 50,000. Coins come in values of 1, 10, 50, 100, and 500 won. 

6 interesting facts about the Korean won

Do you love to learn about currency? Take a look at these interesting facts about the Korean won. 

1. The name is a blend of ”yuan” and ”yen.”

South Korea blended the Chinese “yuan” and the Japanese “yen” to create the word “won.” This is understandable, given that both China and Japan have occupied Korea in the past — and both country’s currencies use the same symbol (¥), too.  In fact, the word “jeon” means “money” in Korean, which sounds similar to the Chinese “yuan.”

2. Banknotes feature famous Yi dynasty figures.

The banknotes feature the early Yi dynasty figures on the back of the bill. This includes the writer Yi Hwang on the 1,000-won note, writer Yi I on the 5,000-won note, and King Sejong on the 10,000-won note. 

When the Bank of Joseon initially released its designs for Korean currency, it modeled Korean currency after the Japanese yen because of the Japanese occupation of Korea.

However, the Bank of Joseon made sure to distinguish Korean currency. On the Korean won note, the Bank of Joseon replaced the paulownia tree, an emblem of the government of Japan, with the rose of Sharon, the Korean national flower.

3. Both the coins and banknotes are very hard to counterfeit.

By 2006, many won banknotes in circulation were being falsified. Counterfeiting of the 5,000-won note was such a big problem that it prompted the government to introduce a new series of banknotes with better security measures. 

Other major currencies, like the Canadian dollar, euros, pounds, and the Japanese yen, include these new security measures, too.

Korean currency now includes 3D holograms that change color and watermarks with portraits. Newly minted coins also include a substance that makes them easy to detect against counterfeit coins. 

4. 1-won coins were once made of brass.

Korean banks originally made 1-won coins out of brass. But in 1968, the price of brass increased substantially, which made the value of the brass exceed the face value of the coin.

At that point, the government replaced the brass coins with aluminum because the material has a cheaper face value. The change was successful, and the 1-won coin is still made from aluminum today.

5. The South Korean won is the latest in a series of Korean currencies.

Korean city signs at night

During the Colonial era, the Japanese yen replaced the won as the official currency of South Korea. But in 1945, Korea split into North Korea and South Korea. Each of these territories adopted a different currency, although in both cases it was still referred to as “won.” 

The South Korean won was initially set against the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of 15 won to 1 USD. At that time, the Bank of Joseon minted the coins and issued the notes. After this, the currency suffered a series of devaluations, due in part to the Korean War

Officials created the Bank of Korea in 1950, at which point, they introduced new banknote denominations, too. On March 22, 1975, the KRW became the only legal currency in South Korea.

6. The Bank of Joseon first issued Korean currency.

Different Korean food on a table

In 1946, the Bank of Joseon introduced 10-won and 100-won notes. The 5-won and 1,000-won notes followed in 1949. 

In 1950, the country established the Bank of Korea as its new central bank, which assumed the duties of the Bank of Joseon. 

The Bank of Korea introduced notes (some dated 1949) in denominations of 5, 10, and 50 jeon, as well as 100 and 1,000 won. The bank later introduced 500-won notes in 1952. 

The value of the Korean won

Since the latter half of the 20th century, the South Korean won has performed well due to the stability and growth of the South Korean economy. South Korea is a developed, high-income country and is a member of the OECD. This Asian country is one of the world’s largest automobile producers and shipbuilders and is home to many large construction companies.

In fact, South Korea had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world from the 1960s to 1990s. It remains one of the fastest-growing developed countries in the 2020s, right next to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. As a result, the won tends to be one of the better-performing currencies in world trading. 

However, the won hasn’t been as strong recently. The COVID-19 pandemic affected its value and the currency isn’t performing as well as it did pre-pandemic.

Korean won exchange rates

The Korean won is the only legal tender in South Korea, so if you travel there, you’ll need to get your USD, CAN, or GDP exchanged for local currency. You can withdraw South Korean currency directly from ATMs while in the country, exchange your funds at a bank, or stop by an exchange counter at the airport.

So, how far will your foreign currency stretch in Korea? As of July 2022, one U.S. dollar is worth about 1,319 Korean won.

Supply and demand, economic stability and growth, and several other factors change the value of currency (and exchange rates) on a daily basis. Learn more about exchange rates so you can get the most out of your money.

When it’s time to transfer your money into Korean currency, you can check with your bank or your favorite money transfer company for current Korean won exchange rates

With Remitly, for example, you can simply log into the app and select Korea as your destination. You’ll be able to see the current rates for USD to KRW, GBP to KRW, and more.

Sending money to Korea

Korea is a vibrant country with an ancient history. While Korean currency has changed so much over the past century, its rich legacy is fascinating for both South Koreans living abroad and travelers to the growing Asian nation.