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Getting a Korean phone (when you don’t know the language)

My new phone. Many Korean phones come with a Korean-English word dictionary
& subway maps for the major cities in Korea.

Warning: This is not a “How To” on getting a Korean phone. I’d probably call it a “How not to get a Korean phone”.

Being new to a country, the last thing you want is extraneous stress and confusion when dealing with important things,  like cellphones and phone plans. Still, when the one person (i.e. my Korean co-teacher), whom you were told could help you set up the necessities of your brand new life, can’t lend simple advice or avoids helping you outside of work hours, what do you do?

Whatever it takes.

The phone store I went to.

Know about cellphones plans before going in to haggle

Knowing how to haggle is one art, but haggling for a phone contract is a different beast. You need to know your options…

Do you want a phone plan with unlimited free minutes or do you want a pre-paid plan? You want text messaging, internet useage, etc…

Prepaid phones

The easiest choice for foreigners. It requires no commitment. You purchase a phone and a number , activate it. It works like a SIM card in that you must pay 10,000W (lowest option)/ month for your minute bank and recharge it to keep the number active. The cost per minute is higher than a normal plan.

A basic phone plan (i.e. my plan with LG)

The cheaper way to go. In some cases, you may get  free phone for signing a contract. You are contracted to a one-year plan. I got the cheapest plan where I paid an initial 30,000W for my first month and 13,000W/month (thereafter) for the service itself. I had 100 free texts but no free minutes. But my rate per minute was low (ie  .02/10 seconds).
The drawback:  it takes time, you must bring in the required documents (ie bank account info, alien card, passport), bargain for a deal and many phone shops don’t speak English.

All my important documents are on the table, as the sales rep prepares my phone and contract.
The white paper before was our intermediary and translator. We negotiated my phone plan through charade drawings.

The easiest solution: Pay whatever amount of money and just get a friggin phone!

Unlike most, I did not strive for the easiest solution.  I didn’t settle for the first thing  available. Instead, I wanted the cheapest phone plan. And because I’m living in Korea, I wanted cool Korean-ized phone; a phone which does something “Korean-special“!

So, I visited three shops before I picked a phone/plan. The last store I went to, the store dealer and I negotiated in bad English and horrible Korean, while also scribbling figures on paper. An hour later, feeling the victorious, I left the store with a one year contract and a cute $50 phone, that twinkles when it receives calls. It also plays free satellite TV which plays and makes calls anywhere, even on the subway.

Extra goodies included a phone case, protection screens and odd trinkets! I pat myself on the shoulder, feeling good that I had succeeded. Getting a cellphone/plan all by lonesome wasn’t as hard people made it out to be!

My new phone (Sky UL-450L)- it twinkles when it gets calls

…it also plays free satellite tv– the resolution is actually really great!

Three hours later, I realized there were language barriers

In getting my Korean phone,  victory cheer inevitably changed to stress .  More questions about my contract formed and my reference sheets was a scribbled paper and a contract written entirely in Korean. The numbers didn’t match the scribbles either! Additionally, my assumption of a basic phone plan were based thinking I had a standard number of free minutes or free provider-to-provider calls. In Korea, a basic plan affords you a discount on your minute-to-minute rates, unless you go with a more expensive plan which gives you free minutes and provider-to-provider calls.

One loose thread can unravel an entire outfit. When it got down to it, I realized my haggling methods were flawed.

Superwoman reverted back to a naive whimpering girl again… The next day, my co-teacher’s had to call the store to find out what I had signed up for. To add to the stress, my phone couldn’t be activated until the name on my bank account matched the name on my alien card to a “T ” . It was a minor discrepancy– the name on my bank account didn’t have my middle initial; my alien card did. My co-teacher regretted not having helped me. It felt like a mess.

One “new  bank account later” and a visit to Soon Hee’s room (a teacher in my school, who befriended me) instantly brought my world back into working order.  Soon Hee made a call to LG (my provider)  and got me to an English-speaking representative. Whatever my terms had been with the dealer (he charged me a rate slightly higher), I’d be able to change  by calling LG directly within a month.   I was grateful to Soon Hee and to finally have a working phone!


Getting a Korean Phone

Option #1: The Quick & Easy English (the Independent dealer)
Location: cellphone store (the only one) located one to two blocks from Camp Walker, Exit 4 in Daegu.
Contract: 1 Year
$110 phone + a $27/month plan for 250 free minutes (texting activation/fees are additional)
Phone: Anycall- simple, white, nice design with clock on the cover
Difficulty: Easy- English speaking
* U.S. Passport required but not alien registration card (as with most places)
* this deal was originally found by a fellow EPIKEr, Jefferey Ma.

Option #2: The Skinny (Pre-paid phone)
A friend gave me a free but old pre-paid phone from his co-teacher + I would just need to pay to activate a number and find cellphone shops  where I can purchase/recharge minutes whenever I run out.
Difficulty: said to be easy, but my specific situation felt hard
Location: Tried many cellphone shops only for the dealer to look at my phone, laugh, return it and say No.
New number registration fee: 30,000W- 100,000W
Phone: standard and minimal
* No contract but must put money on phone each month to keep phone number active.

Option #3: The Obvious Leap (Cellphone store with SK or LG plan)
Location: Bandolwang area (3 stores)
Contract: 1 Year LG plan
Initial plan: $50 phone + 30,000W (1st 3 months) for 250 free minutes, remainder months at 13,000W and 18Won/10 sec (or 12 cents/min)
Revised plan: LG’s basic plan of 30,000W @ 200 free minutes for the 1st month & 13,000W thereafter @ 18W  or 2 cents/10sec!
Phone: Sky UL- cool design with light-up design upon ring, internet/mail capabilities with plan, free TV/video
Difficulty: Medium to hard, ideal to have native Korean speaking person with you.
Resident alien card + bank account required (names on both must match to a T)
You will need a native speaker to make the initial call through to the LG operator to get an English speaking customer service representative or  dial 114 on your phone to access this.
Latest Update: 114 is the service operator and there is an option for English. I was able to speak to an English operator and easily change my plan to 14,500W/mo plan (100 Free texts) + .18W/10 sec.  There is another option 15,500W/mo for 100 free texts + 20hrs Free LG to LG.


  1. tamara says:

    teach me a thing or two about overcoming these crazy things that happen in korea. living a life like this can be stressful

  2. amitha says:

    Hi costco

  3. Angela says:

    Hi there! I just want to give an enormous thumbs up for the good information
    you have here on this post. I shall be coming again to your blog for
    extra soon.

  4. Wynne says:

    Useful Info. I still haven’t gotten my cell phone yet. Landed 3 weeks ago and everyone looks at me strangely asking when I’ll get a phone.

    Navigated to your sight when I was looking to see if there was any place in Seoul that sells original Listerine. I guess not.

    • @Wynne: Welcome to Korea! It actually took me a little over a month+ to get my phone. Many people are in a rush to get their phones just cause feels cool & if you have friends it will be easier to coordinate meetups, but unless you know many people, realistically, who are you gonna call but your co-teacher??? The only drawback I can foresee about getting your phone later is that the one year contract will expire in one year. You’ll need to pay the penalty if there is one and its usually no where near the expense of the U.S. It’s cheap.

      As for Listerine– try Costco or Olive Young. They only have flavored brands vs. the original but it’s something.

  5. Laura Cancun says:

    Wow! You guys sure have to jump through a lot of hoops in Korea!

    Getting a plan in Mexico was sooo easy. Cancelling it, however, was hell on Earth. (I’ll probably blog about it eventually.)

    “Pissedly” is an awesome word haha.

    • @Laura: Oh no… I don’t want to think about how cancelling a phone can be hell. Although “from what I’ve been told” cancelling shouldn’t be too hard but it will require a small fee, which is less than what the U.S. charges. So do many Mexican people have mobile phones?

      @SoloFriendly: Thanks Gray but I wouldn’t say “long-term stay” just yet (my romantic notions of a 2year plan just got cut down- I’ll be glad if I can even make one). LOL. Frustrating is one way of putting it. Right now, I wish I had chosen a RTW trip instead.

  6. Gray says:

    Good lord. Talk about pushing a boulder uphill. I’ve got to say, Christine, while I’m sure everything you’re going through is enormously frustrating, you are developing some excellent survival skills and quickly building a fantastic guide for future travelers on how to survive a long-term stay in Korea.

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