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Kimchi Premium: How Traders Exploit Crypto Market For Profits

Alisha Bains
Last Updated November 9, 2023 10:46 AM
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Key Takeaways

  • Kimchi premium refers to the significant price difference between cryptocurrencies on South Korean exchanges and international platforms.
  • The regulatory environment, high demand, restricted arbitrage opportunities, and cultural factors drive the rise of the Kimchi premium, creating arbitrage opportunities and challenges for crypto traders.
  • The Kimchi premium emerged in 2017–2018, subsided temporarily due to regulatory concerns, and resurged in 2020–2021 amid global economic uncertainties.
  • The legality of exploiting Kimchi premiums through arbitrage depends on compliance with local regulations in South Korea and the trader’s home country..

What Is Kimchi Premium?

The term “kimchi premium” is a phenomenon in the cryptocurrency industry when a coin, like Bitcoin, is priced substantially more on South Korean exchanges than it is on international exchanges denominated in US dollars or other major currencies. 

The demand for cryptocurrencies in the South Korean market and other reasons unique to it give birth to this premium.

Several reasons can contribute to the rise of crypto or Bitcoin kimchi premium:

Regulatory Environment

Trade and investment in cryptocurrencies are subject to particular laws and regulations in South Korea. These rules may make cryptocurrency scarce on regional exchanges, which would raise prices.

High Demand

A sizable section of the populace regularly trades cryptocurrencies in South Korea, where they have become quite popular. Price increases may result from limited supply and excessive demand.

Restricted Opportunities For Arbitrage

The process of purchasing an asset at a discount on one exchange and selling it at a higher price on another in order to profit from the price difference is known as arbitrage. Regarding the Kimchi premium, arbitrage opportunities may be restricted by regulatory measures and difficulties in transferring monies out of South Korea, hence allowing the premium to continue.

The Cultural Factors

Cultural factors and the overall enthusiasm for new technologies and investments can contribute to the higher demand for cryptocurrencies in South Korea, driving up prices locally.

It’s crucial to remember that the Kimchi premium may fluctuate or disappear at any time. The volatile nature of cryptocurrency markets is caused by a multitude of factors, including shifts in regulations, market sentiment, and macroeconomic patterns. Therefore, before attempting to profit from price differences between exchanges, it is important to take into account the mentioned risks. 

History Of Kimchi Premium In The Cryptosphere

The Kimchi premium, named after the popular Korean delicacy “kimchi,” has been seen for a while in the cryptocurrency markets.

Due to the high degree of interest and participation in cryptocurrencies among its citizens, South Korea has emerged as a major player in the market. Here is a quick synopsis of the Kimchi premium’s history:

2017-2018: Initial Observations

When South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges began to see considerable price divergence from international exchanges for cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, in late 2017 and early 2018, the phenomenon known as the “Kimchi premium” came to light. 

Around that time, there was a sharp increase in Bitcoin trading activity in South Korea, and local exchanges saw a huge influx of new members.

Early 2018: Regulatory Concerns

Early in 2018, local market volatility was exacerbated by regulatory worries and possible government crackdowns on cryptocurrency trading in South Korea. 

The government explored taxing cryptocurrency and outlawing anonymous trading accounts, among other steps, to control the market. Because traders were prepared to pay higher prices to obtain Bitcoins before prospective limits came into effect, this regulatory uncertainty led to the Kimchi premium.

2020-2021: Resurgence Of The Kimchi Premium

In 2020 and 2021, the Kimchi premium reappeared, particularly during times of significant volatility and demand for cryptocurrencies. 

A number of factors, including the COVID-19 outbreak, economic uncertainty, and the increasing acceptability of digital assets by the general public, contributed to a resurgence of interest in cryptocurrencies and the Kimchi premium.

But why did the kimchi premium disappear? The Kimchi premium disappeared primarily due to regulatory interventions and increased scrutiny by South Korean authorities.

2022 And Beyond: Variable Premium

In 2022, the Kimchi premium persisted in the cryptocurrency markets, fluctuating according to market dynamics, legislative changes, and worldwide economic circumstances.

How Crypto Traders Take Advantage Of Kimchi Premium?

By taking advantage of the price difference between South Korean exchanges and international platforms, cryptocurrency traders profit from the Kimchi premium.

On local exchanges, traders use Korean won to purchase cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, when their price is much higher in South Korea due to limited supply and rising demand.

Then, in order to sell these cryptocurrencies for a profit, they move them to foreign exchanges where the price is lower. The market dynamics and legislative distinctions between South Korea and other nations give birth to this arbitrage opportunity.

To optimize their profits during the brief period of the Kimchi premium, traders must, however, handle regulatory obstacles, transaction costs, and currency translation problems in addition to keeping an eye on the erratic cryptocurrency market.

Potential earnings can be diminished or possibly result in losses due to regulatory changes, abrupt market fluctuations, and delays in fund transfers. Additionally, regulatory restrictions on fund transfers and currency exchanges into and out of South Korea may restrict arbitrage opportunities. 

Therefore, before participating in Kimchi premium arbitrage or any other type of arbitrage activity in the cryptocurrency market, novel traders must fully investigate the concept, comprehend the risks involved, and adhere to all applicable laws.

How Sam Bankman-Fried Used The Kimchi Premium To Profit From Arbitrage Opportunities?

Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) established Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency research and trading company, in 2017 after realizing the market’s enormous development potential, especially with regard to Bitcoin trading volumes. 

He anticipated large pricing differences between nations and exchanges as demand increased worldwide, which would provide favorable circumstances for arbitrage opportunities. One such chance was the Kimchi Premium: due to strong local demand, Bitcoin hit $15,000 on South Korean exchanges, although it was only trading at $10,000 in the United States.

The Korean Won, which is the regulated currency of South Korea, made it difficult to take advantage of these chances. Other arbitrage opportunities did, however, arise, such as in Japan, where the premium was not as high. 

SBF took advantage of these crypto arbitrage strategies by using Alameda Research for strategic trading. By leveraging large-scale trades, he was able to generate impressive returns and position himself as a prominent figure in the crypto industry.

Is The Kimchi Premium Legal?

The legality of using arbitrage to take advantage of the Kimchi premium is contingent upon the local laws that control capital movements and cryptocurrency trading in the particular jurisdictions—South Korea and the trader’s home country, for example.

Although trading cryptocurrencies is allowed in South Korea, regulatory safeguards have been put in place to prevent speculative trading and protect investors. Strict rules, including know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) measures, had been implemented by South Korean regulators to keep an eye on cryptocurrency exchanges and transactions.

The legality of taking advantage of price disparities between foreign platforms and South Korean exchanges, however, can be complicated. Arbitrage traders must abide by the rules of the source (South Korea) and destination (global) exchanges, as well as, if they are trading internationally, the financial regulations in their home nation.


The Kimchi premium presents both opportunities and complexities for crypto traders. Understanding the contributing factors, historical context, and legal implications is crucial.

While traders can capitalize on price differences, they must navigate regulatory challenges and market volatility. Staying informed, complying with regulations, and employing strategic trading techniques are essential for successful participation in the ever-changing cryptocurrency landscape.


What is the Kimchi premium in the cryptocurrency market? Kimchi premium refers to the significant price difference between cryptocurrencies on South Korean exchanges and international platforms, driven by factors like high demand, limited supply, the regulatory environment, and cultural enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies.

Why did the Kimchi premium disappear?

The Kimchi premium disappeared due to regulatory interventions and increased scrutiny by South Korean authorities, leading to reduced speculative trading and normalized price differentials.

How do crypto traders profit using the Kimchi premium?

Traders capitalize on the Kimchi premium by buying cryptocurrencies on South Korean exchanges at a lower price and selling them on international platforms where the price is higher, leveraging the price discrepancy for profit. However, traders must navigate regulatory hurdles and market risks.

Is exploiting the Kimchi premium legally permissible?

The legality of exploiting Kimchi premiums through arbitrage depends on adherence to local regulations in South Korea and the trader’s home country. Compliance with KYC, AML, and other financial laws is essential for engaging in such trading activities legally.


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