The Cost of Cell Phones in Korea: The Arrival Store vs Local Korean Cell Phone Providers

The cell phone landscape is constantly changing in Korea. Prices, offerings, and availability are all very dynamic.Breaking down the cost of cell phones in Korea is a difficult task, so we got The Arrival Store’s Nate Finch to give you all the details and compare The Arrival Store’s offerings with typical prices on the street.

Whatever your situation, The Arrival Store offers long-term SIM Cards and Smart Phones, as well as short term SIM and phone rentals – all waiting for you when you arrive. Find the right solution for you here.

The Arrival Store - Nate and Megan FinchNate is our very own on-the-spot guru for all things Arrival Store. In this post, he shares his insights into the Korean cell phone market, gleaned from years dealing with customers and service providers alike. When he’s not fielding calls at all hours of the day, he enjoys living in Itaewon, exploring Korea, and experimenting in the kitchen.

From time to time, we get questions from our customers about the prices we charge for our products and service. We’re always happy to chat about pricing and, for me personally, questions of pricing and “what’s behind the price tag” have become topics into which I have put a lot of thought.

Before I go further Check out this blog by a teacher that has used our services, and any of these testimonials. We have helped thousands of expats remain connected to their families and friends while they create a life in to Korea.

I LOVE the feeling of being at the airport, meeting expats, handing them their phone, and watching them call their family to say “I made it just fine.” We’re very proud to be able to offer the shortest contract in Korea that is available the day you arrive, no paperwork or waiting necessary. We are here to help you launch and love your life abroad. [/note]To skip the obvious sales-pitch (we don’t mind if you do) and get straight to the nitty-gritty, click here to jump down to the numbers.

Question: “Why are your monthly phone contracts more expensive than what local providers typically offer?”

This is the main question we get from teachers who have been in Korea for more than two weeks, are starting to settle in, and have begun to talk about phone contracts with their Korean and expat coworkers.

Our answer is that they’re really not, once you take into account the many factors involved. 

With that said, lets deal with the expenses. In order to address the comparison between your coworkers’ plans and our phone plans, there are a lot of factors to consider, specifically:

  • What is the base fee they are paying for their services?
  • How many minutes and texts do they get?
  • Is the data 3G, LTE, or a combination of those?
  • How long is their contract? rental, 2 years, or month-to-month?
  • What network are they on (different networks provide different services at different prices)?
  • Did they get a new phone or did they bring their phone onto the network?
  • Is billing and customer service available in English? 
  • Was their phone delivered to them, already set up in English, or did they go to the store?
  • What are their registration and guarantee fees?
  • What is the base fee they pay for service? What is the total they pay for service (Korean providers often hide some fairly significant fees)?

Your Korean coworkers have many advantages over an expat newly arrived in Korea when it comes to getting a phone. Some of these include:

  • They can speak Korean and easily understand and negotiate the various competing contracts
  • They don’t require customer service in English (even in Seoul, English-speaking customer service representatives are hard to find)
  • They may already own a phone that works on one of Korea’s unusual frequency ranges, and so only need to pay for service
  • As Korean nationals, they have access to discounts expats don’t
  • They don’t need to wait up to 6 weeks to get an ARC card before being able to sign a phone contract
  • They have the freedom to sign a two-year contract without fearing cancellation fees if they leave the country after one year (these fees can be hundreds of dollars)
  • Typically, when phone situations are compared, Korean consumers have unlimited 4G data (as opposed to more expensive LTE) and aren’t paying for the phone price themselves, because they either brought their own phone to the network (new or used), or they got a really good deal on a “free” phone with the purchase of a 24-month or 30-month plan (as opposed to our 6-month plan).

    It is important to note that we have never claimed to be the cheapest option, nor the best option for everyone. What we offer is a service specifically designed for expats looking for:

    • A phone that is immediately available on arrival in Korea – no paperwork, no activation fees, and no need to wait 6 weeks for an ARC card
    • A short-term contract, whether for 6 months or one year
    • No hidden costs or fees (all our fees are advertised up front)
    • Low-stress, easy-to-understand contracts and billing – all in English
    • Personable and friendly customer service from a company who knows what you’re going through – again, all in English!
    • No fees to upgrade your phone (from a rental, SIM Card, or simple (like a flip phone) to a smart phone)
    • With our 6-Month Contract, after it’s done, you simply go to month-to-month until you’re ready to cancel (no termination fee!)

    Actually, we now offer the entire range of services: SIM Cards, Rental Phones, Simple and Smart Phones on Lease, and Two Year Phone plans through KT. This is pretty amazing, considering that we’re a small company of less than ten people spread between three countries, and not some big box retailer or mega corporation. We offer these products and services because this is what our customers have asked us to provide them, and we’re happy to serve them as best we can.

    To find the right service for you, click here

    Of course, some expats find themselves loving Korea and spending many years here, learning the language and how to find all the best deals. For those people, it will probably be better for them in the long to sign a long-term contract with a Korean service provider (again, a service we provide). We totally understand that! We try to make up what difference in price there may be by offering the shortest cell phone contracts in Korea, the ability to use a phone immediately as soon as you land, and exceptional English-language customer service. If it turns our you are going to stay longer than a year, and you want to reduce your phone bill and keep the number, you can actually take over the contract on that particular phone. This will reduce your monthly bills and give you complete control over your plan.

    Finally, please note two things about our prices, and particularly our phone prices:

    1. We are not a phone company and we do not hold a cellular license to open phone lines (like phone shops do). We have a bunch of phones that are in our name that we lease out to people (we are the largest provider of this in Korea!).
    2. On that note, we are a service business that is focused on serving a particular group: expats in Korea. We provide both products and a service (I would say a premium, one of a kind service). All businesses and non-profits have expenses to cover. When you are paying for your monthly bill, you’re not only paying for simple service to your phone, you are paying for:
      1. The shortest contracts in Korea (and therefore the peace of mind knowing that you won’t need to pay a $400 – $600 cancellation fee)
      2. The convenience of having a phone on the day of your arrival (or shortly thereafter) with no need for ARCs or even a passport.
      3. Contracts and Billing in English
      4. Customer service in English (that is more than happy to chat with you on the phone outside of business hours)
      5. Mindy (or one of our or any of our transition experts) calling you before you leave for Korea to answer any last-minute questions you might have, and soothe some of the stress of moving to a new country

    Question: “So, what’s the bottom line?”

    Sky Vega Racer 2 LTE phone

    Sky Vega Racer 2 LTE

    To run the numbers we’ll use one of our popular Sky Vega Racer 2 LTE phones on the KT as an example. These phone plans reflect what was available in the summer of 2013. (UPDATE – As of October 2015 our phone offerings have improved, but the plan comparison itself remains substantially accurate).

    If you were to get the same phone with the same service plan at a KT shop, you’d be paying about 72,000KRW (approx. $68.00USD) a month for a 24-month plan and about 66,000KRW (approx. $62.00) for a 36-month plan (after registration and guarantee fees). Note: this doesn’t include extra fees for going over your usage plan!

    With us, your costs (after those same fees) will be 82,000KRW (approx. $77.00) a month for a six-month contract. If you keep our phone for a year, you’d pay 984,000 KRW (approx. $930.00). If you were to keep a 30-month contract phone by a local provider for a year, you’d pay 792,000 KRW (approx. $728.00 USD), plus whatever is left on the original factory phone price, which in this case would be around 300,000 KRW (approx. $284.00 USD). So, you’d save about 100,000 KRW going with us (approx. $95.00), and you don’t have to worry about contract cancellations.

    You could try to find someone to take over your phone contract before you leave the country, and if you did you’d save about 200,000 KRW ($189.00 USD) by NOT going with us. This is a genuine option, but carries a fair share of risks and inconveniences – you have to find someone wanting to take over your contract just before you leave, when most expats arrive immediately after most of their predecessors leave. Also, you may not know the state of the phone and if it has any damages to it.We are always open to talking about our prices, and why we charge what we charge.  If you ever have any questions, feel free to contact us at +82.31.625.2258 (Korea) or 720.432.9357 (US/Canada). I love chatting about all this (as crazy as that sounds), and I genuinely welcome any constructive criticism or praise you have for our products and services.

    We offer short-term and long-term SIM cards and smart phones. To find the right service for you, click here

    Is something incorrect? Do you want more information? Feel free to reach out to us!