Korea, being one of the most wired countries in the world, unsurprisingly also has some of the best communications services. While walking down the street one always comes across several shops selling cellphones and cellphone payment plans. Landline bills can easily be paid at your bank’s ATM machine, and there is a great selection of phones and payment styles so you’re bound to find the right telephone service to suit your lifestyle.
While most expats rely solely on their cellphone, many still have a landline in their apartment. If you are coming to Korea for work and are already employed when you arrive, usually your boss or coworkers will be there to help you set up your phone plan (or they will set it up for you). If this isn’t the case, you can do it on your own, but it is much easier if you have the help of a Korean friend or coworker.
To have a landline installed, you need to know your apartment’s address and you need to have your alien registration number (you can find your registration number on your alien card). Call your local KT phone office and arrange to have someone install your landline at a time when you will be home. The installation itself costs around 60,000 won and your monthly bill is a mere 5200 won. The bill will be mailed to your apartment and you can pay at your bank.
When you want to pay a bill at your bank, you use the special ATM for paying bills and access it with your bank book or ATM card. At every bank branch, there is a teller who can speak some English and will teach you how to use this ATM.
To reach your local phone office, you can call them by dialing 100 if you’re calling from a landline, or 02 100 if you’re calling from a cellphone. Alternatively, you can visit your nearest KT phone service centre and apply for installation at the counter with the above information. If you can’t speak Korean, it is better to call as they have an English option at their call centre.
If you need to move after your phone is installed, you can keep your phone number by applying for a retention service from the phone company. There will be a small fee of under 5000 won, but this is only for those moving to a new area of Seoul – outside the city will require a new phone number.
If you have questions or problems with your phone service, you can call the service number or visit the nearest service centre to you. You can check out their website at: http://www.kt.com/eng/index.jsp
Probably the most common sight in Seoul is of people walking down the street with a cell phone attached to their ear. Or maybe they’re watching TV on their cellphone while on the subway. Or maybe they’re listening to music. Or, playing games. It seems that cellphones can do just about anything in Korea and are a constant source of entertainment – many come with a Korean-English dictionary as well!
You simply cannot come to Korea and not get a cellphone. It is a necessity. Maybe you don’t need a phone as fancy as some that are on the market these days, but if you live in Seoul, a cellphone is the only surefire way to get in contact with your friends, coworkers, spouse or children. Yes, landlines come in handy when making international calls and they’re nice to have in your home, but you will definitely make more use of a cellphone on a day to day basis in Seoul.
So where can you get a decent cellphone? The main answer to this is “anywhere” since cellphone stores are as common in Seoul as convenience stores. The following, however, are known for having good deals and are helpful in choosing the right phone plan for an expat’s busy lifestyle.
Yongsan Digital Complex (Junja Land): At Yongsan you will find the largest selection of new and used cellphones as well as vendors who will set up a phone plan for you. You can get a used cellphone for as low as 50,000 won or a brand new, state of the art cellphone for more than 500,000 won. The best part about buying your cellphone at Yongsan is that bargaining is acceptable. There are so many vendors selling the same thing that they are willing to give you a lower price if you buy from them. The hardest part is deciding who to buy from!
The downside of buying your phone at Yongsan, or in any electronics market, is that the vendor may not speak English, so it could be difficult to set up a good phone plan. It is always a good idea, if at all possible, to bring a Korean friend along with you to help with the set up and bargaining process. Again, in order to set up a cellphone plan you will need to give them your apartment (or work) address as well as your alien registration number.
To get to Yongsan, take subway line number one to Yongsan station.
At the International Electronics Complex in Gangnam, you will find a similar scene to that of Yongsan with similar deals. Take subway line number three to Nambu Bus Terminal and leave from exit three. It is a massive building and hard to miss. Bargaining for electronics is also common here.
Technomart in Gwangjin has a variety of cellphones in their electronics department, among other things. Like Yongsan and the International Electronics Complex, it is possible to get a bargain if you’re willing to shop around the many kiosks. To get there, take subway line number two to Gangbyeon station. Leave at exit one or two.
One can also buy brand new (and sometimes used) cellphones at any cellphone outlet or department store. Also you can just walk into any cellphone shop, as they almost always have new as well as used phones. The shops in itaewon, Kyungridun, and Haebongchon all speak English.
There are several payment plans deciding which one best suits you depends on how much you want to use your cellphone.
A popular option for many expats is the pre-paid, or “pay as you go” option. With this option, you pay for the cellphone and then add money for credit to your phone. You can do this with the vendor selling you your phone, or you can usually get credit from a cellphone shop of the same brand (for example, if your phone is SK brand, go to the nearest SK shop to add credit). Basically, you add credit to your phone, and when your credit runs out you go back and add more. Sometimes you need to add credit to your phone by making a bank transfer, which is also easily done over an ATM. For the average expat, this will cost about 20-30,000 won a month.
Another option is a monthly billing plan. You create your account and, once a month, your billed amount will be taken from a bank account for you to reimburse. With this phone plan, you will pay a base monthly fee as well as lower minute/text charges. It usually sums up to between 20-50,000 won a month, depending on the particular payment plan and how much you use your phone.
You can get either a pay-as-you-go or a monthly option, it realy just depends on your own usage needs and style. However, to get either you wil need an ARC card with at least 6 months left on it before it expires.
Also, it should be noted that Korean phones do not come with SIM cards. This means that you can not use your phone outside of Korea. If you are traveling for a few days then it is possible to use it via roaming, but expect to pay extremely high fees. Once you plan to leave Korea it is better to sell your phone back to the place where you bought it, or to another expat as it will be useless to you without a Korean cell phone plan.
For more information, visit the three main cellphone company websites:
- LG telecom: http://www.lgtelecom.com Telephone: 1544-0010 (# for English)
- SK Telecom: http://www.sktelecom.com/eng Telephone: 080-2525-0111
- KTF: http://www.ktf.com Telephone: 02-2190-1180
It is also possible to use calling cards, as they are readily available all over the Iteawon area, but if you get a landline in your home through your digital cable the international calling rates will be as cheap as a card.
Many expats use Skype to call internationally as the internet speed in Seoul is incredibly fast and you can get a wireless connection almost anywhere in the city. If you have an IPhone, or some other smart phone, and have a 3 gig connection directly to your phone, then you will be surprised to learn that you can even use Skype in the subway. You can also use your regular cell phone in the subway as well. There are satellites all over that enable full service even when deep underground.