There are several things to keep in mind when travelling to a different country: housing, exchange rates, transportation, visas, and phone plans to name a few. While it isn’t impossible to figure these things out on your own, a bit of practical information to help guide you along might be helpful.
At 10 Magazine, we’ve created a guide to acquiring a SIM card or phone plan in Korea as a foreigner, whether you’re visiting for a short period of time or planning on staying here long-term.
1. Know Your Options
When figuring out your phone options in Korea, you can go either one of two routes: you can bring a phone from home or buy one in Korea. If you decide to purchase a new device from a phone company in Korea, you will likely be locked into a 2-year contract. Because many people coming to Korea aren’t 100% sure of how long they will be staying in the country, most prefer to bring their own device from home and purchase a SIM card or phone plan when they arrive.
However, if you know for certain that you will be in Korea for two years or longer, you can purchase a device in Korea for a discounted price at any phone store in the country. Most phone contracts will have you pay off the price of the device over the span of 24 months, so that every month you will be paying for both your phone bill as well as your device. If you happen to cancel your plan or leave the country before your 2 years are up, then you will be subject to a cancellation fee and have to pay off the remaining balance off your device in one lump payment.
If you plan on bringing a phone from home, which is what most people opt to do and what we recommend, you can choose to either purchase a prepaid SIM card or sign up for a phone plan that does not have a set time period. Because this is the go-to option for most foreigners who visit or live in Korea, this is what our article will focus on.
2. Unlock Your Phone Before You Arrive
Please note that if you plan on bringing a device from home, you should unlock your device before you arrive in Korea, otherwise your device will only work with a SIM card from your original carrier. You can usually do this by calling your phone carrier at home before travelling.
3. Decide: A Prepaid SIM Card or Monthly Plan?
After you arrive in Korea with your unlocked phone in hand, your next step will be to decide whether you would prefer to purchase a prepaid SIM Card or opt for a monthly plan. If you are staying in Korea for a short period of time (around 3 months or shorter), we recommend purchasing a prepaid SIM card as the process is a little simpler than getting a monthly phone plan. If you’re planning on staying for longer, however, a monthly plan will likely be the better option as you will save money in the long run.
For Short-term Use: Prepaid SIM Cards
In Korea, prepaid SIM cards usually come in data packs (where you recharge your data plan for up to 90-days), or unlimited plans that last for a certain number of days (usually between 5 – 30 days). Purchasing a prepaid SIM card gives you the option of having a phone in Korea without the hassle of creating a Korean bank account or waiting for your Alien Registration Card to come through. When you do go to set up your prepaid SIM card, however, you will need to bring your passport and in some cases your proof of entry into Korea (which you will receive upon arrival at the airport).
Another easy option for those who want to avoid some hassle is paying for a prepaid SIM card through The Arrival Store, which is a service that will have a Korean cell phone or SIM card ready and waiting for you when you arrive. You can also easily purchase a prepaid SIM card at a phone kiosk from Incheon International Airport upon your arrival.
For Long-term Use: Monthly Phone Plans
If you are staying in Korea for a longer period of time, setting up a phone subscription plan might be a more cost-effective option to look into. In order to set up a monthly phone plan, you will need to bring a valid passport, your ARC (Alien Registration Card), as well as proof of a Korean bank account.
The biggest hassle with setting up a long-term phone plan is the necessity of a Korean bank account. You can set up a Korean bank account easily if you have your ARC, though you can also create a bank account with your passport and proof of entry into the country.
Once you arrive in Korea, most people will have to wait around a month for their ARC to arrive after they register for it at the immigrations office. But, if you have your ARC and Korean bank account already handy, a monthly phone plan is extremely easy to set up. For more information on how to register for the ARC, read our article: Your Complete Guide to the Alien Registration Card.
With the monthly plan, your phone bill will be automatically deducted from your bank account each month. Once it’s time for you to leave Korea, contact your provider around a month before you plan to depart and you can cancel your plan right away.
4. Sort Out Your Documents
Once you decide whether you want a prepaid SIM card or a monthly phone plan, the next step is to figure out which documents you need to bring with you to set up your phone. Though the required documents can differ slightly from store to store, they remain largely the same throughout the country. Keep in mind, however, that you will need to bring different documents depending on whether you decide to get a prepaid SIM card or a monthly phone plan.
After you have your documents ready, head over to a phone store in order to set up your phone. Korea has a handful of popular carrier companies that are located all around the country. Your best and most available options are likely SK Telecom, KT (Olleh), or LG U+.
These companies are easily accessible in any major city in Korea, but if you’re planning on visiting a location that is more local it might be best to bring a native Korean speaker with you to help translate.
If you don’t have a native Korean speaker to help you could, you could try stopping by a store in an area with a lot of tourists, such as Myeongdong or Itaewon as those areas will likely have employees who speak some English. If you are travelling outside Seoul or to more a more rural area, keep in mind that prepaid SIM card choices may be limited or not easily available.
Be sure to bring all your required documents when you go to set up your phone. If everything goes smoothly, you should have a phone working in Korea within a half hour! If we missed anything, please feel free to shoot us an email!