- 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.
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…
The easiest choice for foreigners is to get a prepaid phone. It requires no commitment or one year contract. You purchase a phone and a number , then activate it. It works similarly to an unlocked SIM card phone 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.
Con: Often prepaid phones are bought used. Either your Korean co-teacher has one from the last English teacher they got one for or you buy one from an expat or at Itaewon’s used phone shops (aka the black market).
A new phone with a basic phone plan
This is the ideal and cheapest way to go. You can get a free phone just for signing a contract. You are contracted to a one-year plan.
It’s best if you have a Korean speaker with you to help negotiate and vouch for you, because in some shops, only Koreans are allowed to get a new phone. You must bring required documents which show proof of residency and identification, like your bank account info, alien card and passport.
A basic phone 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.
- 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 get a friggin phone!
I did not strive for the easiest solution.
I didn’t settle for the first thing available. Instead, I wanted the cheapest phone plan, because I’m cheap. And because I’m living in Korea, I wanted cool Korean-ized phone; a phone which does something “Korean-special“.
Shop around first and go for the goodies
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.
I paid an initial 30,000W for my first month and 13,000W/month thereafter for the service alone. I had 100 free texts, but no free talk minutes. My rate per minute was .02won per 10 seconds.
Extra goodies included a phone case, protection screens and odd trinkets! I pat myself on the shoulder. Getting a cellphone/plan all by lonesome wasn’t as hard people made it out to be!
Drawbacks of signing phone contracts with language barriers
Three hours later, my victory cheer changed to stress. Questions about my contract formed a little late and my reference sheets was a scribbled paper and a contract written entirely in Korean. The numbers didn’t match the scribbles either and I had paid for a phone (vs gotten it for free with my plan).
Basic phone plans in Korea
One loose thread can unravel an entire outfit. 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 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. Phoning LG direct, I’d be able to change my plan within a month. I was grateful to Soon Hee and to finally have a working phone!
Getting a Korean Phone (your expat options)
Option #1: The Quick & Easy (using independent dealers for expats)
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)
Option #2: The 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.
Con: You need to buy a black market used phone or be given one. Either way, I tried to activate my phone at many cellphone shops . The dealers would 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: Cellphone store with SK or LG plan. MY CHOICE***
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
Con: 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.