All about the Korean Won

Category : Surviving in Korea / Travel/Events
Nov 28, 2014

 In Korea, the official currency is the ‘won’ (Korean: 원; sign: \; code: KRW). During the 1950s and 1960s, the won endured multiple changes, re-introductions and re-valuations. In fact, in 1950 at the won’s weakest point, it was pegged to the USD and 1USD could buy 1800KRW! It is only recently, since the 1980’s that the won became a floating currency and transformed into stable usable money. Despite its volatile past, the modern day South Korean won is now a strong currency with plenty of purchasing power.


Did you know?

1,000KRW is approximately equivalent to 1.00USD and has about the same purchasing power. Please see the purchasing power and exchange rate charts below for more examples.


Counting the Korean Won

The denomination of the Korean won is in the thousands, so count carefully. There is a big difference between 100,000 and 1,000,000KRW!


(English/ Korean Romanization/ Hangeul)


(English/Korean Romanization /Hangeul)

1 won / Il Won /일원

1,000 won /Cheon Won/천원

5 won / Oh Won / 오원

5,000 won/Oh-cheon Won/오천원

10won /Sip Won /십원

10,000 won/Man Won/만원

50won /Oh-sip Won /오십원

50,000 won/Oh-man Won/오만원

100won /Baek Won /백원


500won /Oh-baekWon /오백원



Did you know?

The current banknotes in circulation are only a few years old: the 5,000KRW note was remade in 2006, the 1,000KRW and 10,000KRW notes were re-introduced in 2007, and the 50,000KRW note was first created in 2009. South Korea increased the security features of the notes, and changed the style in hopes to curb the counterfeit currency boom from the 1990s and early 2000s.


Currency Design

The South Korean won is a pretty currency, distinguished by brightly colored bills and the faces of important historical figures on one side and different Korean nature scenes on the other side.


1,000 Won /Cheon Won/천원 Note

The 1,000KRW note is bright blue and decorated with cherry blossoms and the head of Yi Hwang/이황 (1501-1570), called Toegye/퇴계. Toegye was a brilliant scholar and poet who studied Confucian philosophy beginning at the age of 12, and later worked for the government. He was also Yulgok’s mentor– the man on the 5,000KRW note.  The reverse side of the bill depicts a mountain painting.


5,000 Won/Oh-cheon Won/오천원 Note

Yi I/이이 (1536-1584) aka Yulgok/율곡, protégé and rival of Toegye, graces the 5,000KRW bill, which is a reddish brown color. There is black bamboo behind the head of Yulgok. Yulgok was a genius like his mentor and passed the civil service exam at the age of 13. He forewarned Korean officials of a potential Japanese invasion (later the Imjin war) and advocated that Korea build a stronger military.  He was also the son of Shin Saimdang, the woman on the 50,000KRW bill. On the other side of this note there is a painting of plants and insects by Shin Saimdang.


10,000 Won/Man Won/만원 Note

The green 10,000KRW note has a picture of a folding screen from the Joseon area and the face of the most important person in Korean history, King Sejong the Great/세종대왕 (1397-1450). He was an ingenious King who promoted scholarship and developed Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. Prior to that, Koreans used Chinese characters to read and write. King Sejong wanted all his countrymen to be literate and so he created a scientific alphabet that is incredibly easy to learn. The backside has a picture of an important Korean invention, the globe of Honcheonsigye– a type of clock built in 1669.


50,000 Won/Oh-man Won/오만원 Note

The face of the 50,000KRW banknote is a woman, Shin Saimdang/신사임당 (1504-1551). Behind her picture is a folding screen of insects and flowers. She was the mother of the child prodigy, Yulgok and is known for her devotion as a wife and mother. She was also a talented artist, poet, and calligraphist. The bill is yellow and on the reverse side there is a picture of bamboo and a plum tree.


Did you know?

Damaged Korean banknotes can be exchanged at The Bank of Korea for face value, provided that there is at least 1/4 of the bill remaining.


Exchange Rates

Today the won has bounced back from long periods of instability. The following is a list of exchange rates from Dec, 06, 2012. For up-to-date exchange rates of the KRW, please check or any other currency exchange website.

Taken from: Dec, 6 2012


1,000 KRW equivalent

The Inversion

US Dollar






British Pound



Chinese Yuan



Japanese Yen




Tip: Although the KRW is a decent currency to travel on it is not widely circulated outside of the country. For that reason, you will find high KRW exchange rates in foreign countries. Before you leave the country, save some money and exchange your cash here. And the same goes for arriving in Korea: wait to do it at the Korean airport!


Purchasing Power Chart

« Quoted Feb 2013 from a 7-Eleven Convenience store in Seoul.




Approximate Cost KRW

Bottle of water 355ml



850 / 1,600

Bottle of beer 355ml



1,500 / 2,950

Package of cigarettes



2,500 / 2,700

Chocolate bar



1,000 / 1,500

MacDonald’s Big Mac

2, 880

Bus ride / Subway ride


1,150 / 1,000

«100KRW less with a transportation card


Image Source


Tags : Money. Won. Cash. Vacation.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.