Getting a number is a basic step in setting yourself up in a new country. What do you need and where should you go? A proper phone number (not pre-paid) is one of the dividing lines between being able to function like a native in Korea and being forever sidelined as a foreigner.
Why is that? Well, because for almost any registration or transaction on the internet, you’re going to need to verify your ID, and the holder of the keys for this verification is the phone companies. Aside from getting a certificate of identity from your bank (which we can cover in another article), your phone number is the only fingerprint that will get you access.
What do I need to get a phone contract?
First, you should be planning to stay for at least 1 year in Korea. This will be the first question the staff ask you. If you will be in Korea for less than 1 year, they will point you to the pre-paid options.
You should have your Alien Registration Card (ARC) on hand. Bring your passport also, just for good measure.
Know your Korean bank account information, since the phone company will want to set up a monthly draft for your bill.
Of course, you also need a functioning phone that is not region-locked to your place of origin. The companies here will not be able to help with unlocking, so you should contact the manufacturer back home to complete this step before bothering to go in to a Korean phone store. If your phone is not unlocked, the Korean staff will still set up a contract and put a SIM card in your phone, but the phone will not be able to read it. Be careful if you find yourself in this position, because even if the card doesn’t work, if they send you home with the card to complete the unlock later independently, you may still be enrolled (read: charged) for monthly service. They will hesitate to let you change or drop a plan once you’ve enrolled and left the store, whether or not it was unwittingly done.
On the other hand, you can also buy a phone directly from one of the service providers and pay for it on a monthly plan along with your service, as in other countries. Keep in mind there are some small regional differences between phones, such as the iPhone camera shutter sound being impossible to mute on Korean and Japanese models.
Ok, so I’m ready and I need a phone contract. Where do I go?
By far the best place for an English speaker to go is the branch of KT Olleh in Gwanghwamun Plaza. The staff there usually speak English and have the service manner to help foreigners with patience and professionalism, which cannot be said for all branches. Even if your school has a branch down the block, save yourself the complication of setting up some detail incorrectly and go to Gwanghwamun so they can take care of you.
The major service providers in Korea are KT Olleh and SK Telecom. Both have networks with extensive service, so you should be fine picking either, but I will be discussing details for KT here.
What do I do when I get there?
Walk right in, of course! ^^ At the time of writing, the service counter was along the right wall when entering, and you pull a number from a machine to determine your waiting order (just like at the bank). When you get to the front, the staff will present you with a “menu” of subscription plans based on data usage and range of features. However, not all possibilities are listed here.
If you want a full-featured plan, you will be pretty safe just choosing from the list, but if you want to keep your phone bill minimal, you need the inside info.
There is a “Standard Rate Plan” (표준 요금제, “pyo-jun yogeum-jei) that includes nothing beyond the actual established number but is just 12,000 a month. You can add a data “Plus Service” to this to create a 300MB/mo. plan with free access to any of Olleh’s pervasive wifi hotspots that totals 20,000/mo. This wifi is available in all metro stations, on all trains, and in most public spaces, so if applied efficiently it can keep your data usage low.
You can see that piecing together your own plan, even with the largest data option, is quite a bit cheaper than the advertised plans. I recommend taking these images with you so there’s no discrepancy about which plan you mean or what Olleh offers, “off the menu.”
Ok, I’ve got the details set, and I’m signing papers. Is there anything else to be cautions of?
Make absolutely certain when you write your name on the papers for your phone contract that you write it in LAST FIRST MIDDLE order, exactly like on your passport. Capitalization doesn’t matter, but spacing does. Double-check with the staff that your name is written identically to your passport, with spaces only in the appropriate places.
Korean names typically have only 3 characters, so for domestic subscribers this is a non-issue, but for foreigners with long names it is an easy way to trip up. Especially if your name on your ARC is printed across more than one line, the staff at the phone company may interpret this as a place to put a space, even if it is not the end of one of your names. Check check check! If your name is typed differently (even by only a space), the online ID verification will not work. You will have to go in person to a specific, limited branch of the phone company to change your registered name, so it’s better to seem a bit exacting and get it right the first time.
You can find some additional details for international clients from KT directly, including cancellation info, here.
And if you’d like to check the Korean page for yourself, this is the place.
The English page has a dramatically limited amount of information about their actual plans, so beyond the info included here, you will either need some Korean ability or would be better off just going in person so you can have an associate help you further.
Questions? Write away, right away~!
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