Never mind luggage, food, clothes... I need a phone! Nowadays, having a smart phone is the most important tool to connect to the outside world. Living abroad has never been easier, with access to multiple communication platforms such as Skype, Instagram, Snapchat and Kakaotalk. You can feel closer to your relatives and loved ones from far-away and it is the most important connectivity tool for travellers and expats.
According to Google, Korea has the fastest wifi speeds in the world. So there is no need to worry about not being able to contact your family and friends. Almost every cafe, shopping mall and district (such as Gangnam) has access to free wifi. Also, Incheon airport wifi runs at great speeds and is easily accessible via any Smartphone device.
Your ARC card will take about 3-4weeks to arrive from the immigration office and in the meantime you can access wifi at a nearby cafe or shopping mall. Make sure to download kakaotalk before arriving and set-up an ID. This is the most used messenger App in Korea and your branch managers will be utilizing it to contact you.
Can I use my current phone?
Phone usage in Korea is dependent on whether your phone is locked or unlocked. You need to go to your current phone provider and ask them to check the status of your phone. Locked phones cannot be accessed by phone networks in other countries, meaning that the area codes cannot be accessed by the provider. Unlocked phones can be accessed by international networks and the phone company in another country can configure your current phone to their network.
Most phones from the US are locked. Nowadays there are service providers that can unlock locked phones and you need to get your phone unlocked before departing for Korea. Once you are in Korea and your phone has been locked abroad, you cannot unlock it. This is because the network configuration is not accessible from abroad.
Research the internet to find a service provider in your state that can unlock your phone before your departure. However, in some cases, depending on the phone you currently have, they may not be able to unlock it.
Also, fun fact: If you purchase a phone in Korea you can bring it home afterwards, make sure to ask your Korean service provider to unlock your phone. I have used all of my Korean phones in numerous locations without any hassles.
If my phone is unlocked what simcard should I get?
On arrival in Korea you can purchase a prepaid sim card or a monthly plan. You need to have an alien registration number to sign up for a monthly plan, which is what most foreigners do once settled in Korea. However, if you wish to have usage of your phone before your ARC arrives - you can purchase a prepaid sim card. Take your flight ticket as proof of entry into Korea and your passport. Incheon airport has phone kiosks that sell prepaid sim cards and it is a great quick-stop before heading into Seoul for training week.
A monthly plan is more cost-effective than a prepaid simcard and is for long-term usage in Korea. To purchase a monthly plan you need to bring your passport, ARC card and a Korean bank account number. A monthly plan is very easy to set-up and you have the option of having the amount deducted monthly from your account or pay in-person at the store. Make sure to tell the service provider that you only want a 1-year contract. Often, cell phone providers try to sign you up for a 2-year contract and this can turn into a disaster if you decide to leave Korea after one year.
Cancelling your 1-year monthly plan is super easy. Two days before your departure date go to the phone store and cancel your contract. You may need to pay 2 months phone bills depending on the billing period. Usually it is always one month behind. The phone company will calculate the extra days of use and add it to the bill.
If my phone is locked how can I buy a new phone?
There are three main phone providers in Korea, SK Telecom, Olleh and LG U+. The most popular being SK Telecom for phone usage and Olleh for internet usage. SK Telecom and Olleh also provide higher global frequency bands for when travelling - it is easy to use your Korean service provider abroad.
Both Olleh and SK Telecom are great service providers and offer a large amount of coverage in Korea. The difference being that Olleh is slightly cheaper than SK Telekom. However, I found SK Telecoms' customer service in English very helpful and easy that I preferred them as a cell phone provider.
If you buy a phone in a retail store make sure to visit the official Olleh or SK Telecom store. Here they will set up your phone subscription and offer you the best deals. Ask the customer representative for the correct forms and fill it out. You need your ARC card and money to pay the registration fee which will be between 25,000W-36,000W.
If my phone is locked can I buy a used smart phone?
I highly recommend buying a used smart phone on g-market. The phone arrives within a week and has been updated and modified by phone engineers. I have bought 2 used phones from g-market and they worked perfectly for years without any issues. Make sure to choose a seller that has a return policy and ask them to unlock the phone before shipping it to you.
Used phones can cost anywhere from 100,000W - 170,000W. This is the most cost-effective route if your are not staying in Korea long-term.
To set up the phone with a service provider do the same process as mentioned above. Visit an official store of SK Telekom or Olleh. You will save a lot of money buying a used phone since you owe the phone retail store nothing in interest.
How much do phone plans cost?
A new phone plan including your service provider could cost on average 75,000W to 90,000W per month. Depending on a 1-year or 2-year contract.
A contract with an unlocked phone or used phone could cost on average between 30,000W to 45,000W per month. Depending on the amount of gigs you have available and the usage of it.
It is no surprise that Tijana Huysamen, a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people. After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request more information on teaching in Korea!