Traveling to South Korea with mobile devices is easier to share your travel story and, more importantly, keep in touch with friends and family back home. To ease the hassle, here are 6 solutions to help you better pick up what suits your need when it comes to getting online in South Korea.
1. Bring your phone and get a prepaid SIM card
Though the only inconvenience is informing your contacts of your new number, this remains a very economical way to use your own phone to surf the Internet or make calls in South Korea for a temporary stay. To make a local SIM card work, your device must satisfy these requirements:
l Be unlocked/SIM-free before coming. Many GSM phones have SIM lock or network lock built into by manufacturers to restrict the use of them to specific network providers. If you can’t make sure whether your phone is unlocked, call your home service provider and let them know you need it be SIM-free because you are traveling.
l SIM card slot available. Very much like the reason of locking a phone, certain phones of unique versions using CDMA networks in the US and Canada don’t have SIM card slot.
l Support WCDMA 2100 MHz frequencies. WCDMA (also referred to UTMS) is a third-generation (3G) technology used in most newer models of smartphones and all iPhones 3G and up. Find out more about your phone’s specifications at phonearena.com.
l Support Windows, Android and iOS.
There are numerous types of SIM card providers in the Korean market. Based on reviews and experience I would personally recommend EG (Evergreen) SIM card, which aims mostly to tourists and visitors so helpful English-speaking staff are always available.
Recommended to those who want to: Use their own phone; stay connected all the time; share Internet connection with the hotspot of the phone to use a Wi-Fi-support tablet or other mobile devices.
How to get an EG SIM card: To save the efforts of going through registration process, it’s advised purchase a prepaid SIM card online, then pick it up at the collection places in Incheon International Airport and Seoul city with your passport as well as a printed copy of your order confirmation email in case of wrong passport number.
Pricing: A hybrid SIM charges 25,500 KRW (approx.21 USD) while a Nano SIM 29,900 KRW (approx.24 USD) set to use for 30 days from the day of activation. With the SIM card value, which is 20,000 KRW, you are able to dial or check into Facebook after you have chosen a date plan as follows.
- EG SIM card is not transferable to others, according to the Telecommunication Business Act. Service will stop working when the user and device information is changed.
- Voice credit and data credit must have certain amount of balance to use data.
- Balance is non-refundable nor will be carried forward to next month.
- Users can top up the SIM card online, through apps or at local convenient stores. For longer use, you have to exchange to a long-term SIM card at EG office in Seoul city.
2. Rent a portable Wi-Fi
It is true that South Korea is blanketed with free Wi-Fi, but if you want to have guaranteed connection then a portal device would be the way to go. Any kinds of pocket Wi-Fi router or pocket modem are called “egg”, which is pretty small in size and convenient to carry in your pocket. The cost for an egg remains inexpensive - some Wi-Fi renters claim that price is cheaper than a cup of coffee. Depending on the specific version of eggs, battery hours vary from 5~9 hours on a single full charge, and normally 3~5 people can use an egg simultaneously, except that it will drain battery life quicker, thus a power bank would come in handy. WiFi Korea, Pocket WiFi Korea, KT WiFi router and LTE router are the most popular egg amongst travelers.
Recommended to those who: Want a lot of daily data; have travel buddies to share the cost; stay longer than 20 days in South Korea.
How to rent a portable Wi-Fi: Rent on the spot or make pre-booking online then collect the egg/return at a specific service counter located in major International airports, including those in Incheon and Busan, or demand a free delivery at the hotel when you process the booking.
Pricing: From 5,900 KRW (5 USD)/day with or without some refundable deposit. In most cases, the longer you rent, the cheaper the cost is.
- Not every Wi-Fi provider accepts return of the egg at hotels. Read through conditions on how to drop off the device very carefully before confirming a booking.
- Eggs of lower rate may have very poor connection outside the city center. Invest a bit more in eggs that have nationwide coverage.
- Connection issue may occur in a metro, an underground and a bullet train.
3. Buy a prepaid Wi-Fi ID
The alternative to an egg is to buy a prepaid Wi-Fi ID: it’s cheaper and more flexible. Buy the account whenever you feel like using at convenience stores and ditch the receipt after your trip is finished. Olleh Wi-Fi hotspots can be found at shopping centers, attractions, universities and many other places across the country. To visualize the coverage, here is a map showing Olleh hotspot zones in Seoul city.
Recommended to those who: Look for temporary Wi-Fi access; stay in main city places.
How to use a prepaid Wi-Fi ID: buy at convenience stores such as 7-11, GS25, Buy the Way and CU, then connect your phone to the Wi-Fi provider and register through a web browser with the password on the card/receipt.
Pricing: 3 USD/day (including VAT).
4. Rent a local phone
If you want to skip all the trouble and don’t mind using a second-hand phone, rent a smartphone from SK Telecom or KT Global Roaming. Itself a highly tech-savvy country, South Korea produces some of world’s best mobile phones, widely famous for whose excellent call quality and the convenient service. The two companies offer both feature phones and smartphones to meet different demands. For smartphones, daily rates offered by the two companies include free domestic incoming calls, call charge, SMS and at least 1 GB of 3G data.
Recommend to those who: Need to have a high call usage at a lower cost.
How to rent a local phone: Rent instantly by visiting service center located at main airports or book online 3 days ahead. Passport is mandatory for collecting the phone.
Pricing: From 3,000 KRW/day, 10% VAT not included. Long-term use enjoys the benefit of discounted rental fees. Payment can be settled with cash or a major credit card when you return the phone.
5. Leech off of ubiquitous free Wi-Fi
Just as praised all the time, South Korea is not called the super-wired nation on earth for nothing. The moment when you land in Incheon Airport, you are well connected. In public areas, many telecom giants offer free Wi-Fi hotspots: SK, myLGnet, Olleh, to name a few. Cafes, malls, accommodations, buses are equipped with Wi-Fi, everywhere you go, you are able to get online easily. Technically there would be no problem updating your travel path or chatting on instant message apps, but you will have very poor or zero connection in the countryside as it is out of coverage of free Wi-Fi. That said, I’d suggest picking up a SIM card beforehand if your itinerary includes a rural visit. Fancy hotels, however, is another story. Wired Internet access is available in the rooms, but there may be situations that you have to pay for wireless access. It’s not just happening in South Korea.
Recommend to those who: Travel on a shoestring; occasionally need internet access; not have a cyber addiction.
How to get free Wi-Fi: Literally every public area in the city.
Pricing: FREE. Except for a small amount of money spent on some coffee, maybe.
6. Activate International roaming plan
Your phone or mobile devices must use 3G technology to roam in South Korea. This method tops the most expensive in terms of charge, according to many service providers in the US and Europe. There might be exceptions though.
Recommend to those who: are frequent international travelers with high budget; need to handle business on the go.
How to activate international roaming plan: Ask your service provider for relevant plan and the best solution.
Pricing: Take AT&T for example, from 2.5 USD/min per calls placed/received, 0.0195 USD/KB of data use.
Share and spread the ways to let people know how they can enjoy guaranteed connection in South Korea! You’re welcome to contact me at should you have any questions regarding South Korea travel or want to tailor-make an itinerary.