Weakness of dollar has Korean students in U.S. smiling

December 11, 2013

Tour industry is also happy, but importers are not 

Korean won hit a two-year high against the dollar on Tuesday. (Newsis)

The Korean won hit a two-year high against the dollar on Tuesday. (Newsis)

By Lee Woo-su

The recent weakness of the U.S. dollar (USD) has Korean students studying abroad and travel agencies here smiling.

The 26-year old postgraduate student Lee in Los Angeles is a good example. He says he feels much better about receiving financial support from his parents back in Korea right now, because it takes less won for his parents to wire-transfer the same amount he has been receiving in USD.

As of Wednesday, the exchange rate was floating around 1,051 won for 1 USD – which means Lee’s parents, who had to wire 11,610,000 won to send 10,000 USD just six months ago, can now wire approximately one million less won for their son to receive the same 10,000 USD.

Lee says he is happy because even if his parents sticks to wiring the same amount in won – 10 million – he ends up with an extra $1,000.

For that reason, Lee says his parents have even rushed to send him next semester’s tuition in advance.

It also takes less money for his parents to pay for what their son charges on his credit card in the United States.

Another Korean postgraduate student Kim, 27, shared a similar story. He is living in Orange County to study computer science and says that thanks to the falling exchange rate, he feels less guilty about asking his parents for money.

Travel agencies in Koreatown are also welcoming the weakness of the USD against the Korean won. One travel agent in Koreatown said, “Winter is an off-season for Los Angeles as far as Korean tourists are concerned, but we are doing much better this year. If it continues into next year, more Koreans will take this opportunity to visit Los Angeles.”

Park, 34, came to visit her relatives in Los Angeles with her family last week and says it even feels like she’s saving money.

Even Korean professional sports teams are rushing to sign foreign players right now because contract figures are negotiated in USD; it take less won for them to pay whatever they have to pay up front, such as signing bonuses.

But Korean Americans making a living in the import business say they are suffering. One person from a company that imports food ingredients from Korea says, “If this continues, companies in this industry will have no choice but to turn to cheaper Chinese products. I hope the exchange rate stabilizes fast enough, so it never comes to that.”

The current 1,051-to-1 rate is said to be the lowest since the same 1,050-to-1 rate was recorded back on August 2, 2011. According to the experts, it can go as low as 1,040-to-1 and an early ‘recovery’ next year is likely.