Mobile phones

How to choose a network and a calling plan

Mobile phones

South Korea is one of the most technically advanced countries in mobile and wireless communication in the world. More than 80% of Koreans own at least one mobile. As this seems like good news for anyone who wants to purchase a new phone and plan, foreigners have had trouble in the past doing so.

There is a GSM network available in Korea, so you may be able use your old phone depending on your service provider. You also have the option to rent a phone and even keep your current number.

Main providers

Korea Telecom (KT) is a state-owned company that has dominated a wide variety of telecommunications from mobile phones to internet. SK Telecom, controlled by the SK Group, offers mobile phone services and is the leading service provider in Korea. Phones and plans are sold in stores and offices all over the country.

Obstacles for expats

Many companies require some sort of activation fee and even an insurance fee upon purchase of a cell phone and plan. Specific companies, such as SK Telecom, provide insurance at their expense. Sadly, this insurance is not available for foreigners and minors (under 18). The activation fee, required by all, amounts to about 55,000 won ($60 USD). Some companies also require a 200,000-250,000 won ($216-270 USD) deposit upon sign-up, solely for foreigners. Since many carriers do not accept foreign credit ratings, if you do not have a local bank account in Korea, you may be forced to pay for your service upfront or in cash every month. Along with the money, you will need:

  • Alien registration card and
  • Passport

If you decide to bring along a Korean-speaking citizen to represent you (highly recommended), he/she must bring along his/her national ID card. Bringing along a friend will facilitate the process and allow you to pay monthly bills, as opposed to pre-paying everything right away, if the phone is registered under his/her name.

Rental and prepaid phones

If you are planning to visit Korea for only a short time and want to keep your current mobile phone number or do not want to be bound by contracts, there are other options available. There are services that allow you to rent a phone on a daily or monthly basis and some even allow you to keep your current number. You can go online to pre-order one or rent one at the airport once you arrive. The only downfall is the cost. As it may be cheaper than using a hotel phone and more convenient than a calling card, there is a rental fee along with the costs for each call.

There are several different types of phone rentals and prepaid contracts. Generally with phone rentals, the lower the rental fee, the higher the cost per minute. If a company offers a daily rental fee of $6-8 USD, the cost of making calls can be anywhere from $0.015-1.00 USD a minute. On the other hand, there are some that offer a low rental fee of $2.00 a day but charge a bit more for each call minute.

The companies that offer prepaid phones usually charge less than those who simply rent them out. Many times, a company will require you to make an initial deposit and your call fees may be deducted from that deposit. One benefit is that many rental phones allow free incoming calls. If you do not want to deal with signing up for a timed contract under someone else’s name and want to pay as you go, this method may be your best bet.

Note: Exchange rates, numbers and information were collected in April/May 2007 and are subject to change.

Further reading

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