Will my phone work in Korea? Check out this list for general phone requirements, as well as a list of which phones work in Korea – and which ones don’t
This post has been updated with our best information as of October 2016.
Around 2010, the phone industry in Korea changed. Before that it was impossible for people moving to Korea to bring their own phone and use it on the Korean networks, but then the iPhone arrived and suddenly everyone was playing catch-up. That led to an explosion of smart phones from Samsung, LG, and Sky, all of which needed the smooth network speeds that only 3G technology could provide and, hey presto, 3G and now LTE phones can now be brought into Korea and used on the Korean networks!
There are still some limitations and specific requirements, though, so read on to make sure your phone will work in Korea.
CDMA and WCDMA are not the same, nor are they even slightly compatible. WCDMA is a 3rd generation (hence 3G) GSM technology, whereas CDMA is a 2nd gen. alternative to GSM. HSDPA and UMTS, on the other hand, are versions of WCDMA. For a phone to work in Korea, it needs to satisfy these requirements:
- Be unlocked – some companies sell phones with software that prevents them from recognizing another company’s SIM card
- Have a SIM card slot – certain US and Canadian providers, running CDMA networks, sell unique versions of certain phones that have no SIM card slot to prevent customers from taking their phones to other networks
- Support WCDMA 2100 MHz frequencies – this is most important, as this is the frequency band that most Korean networks run their 3G networks on; this capability is inherent to the phone
- [OPTIONAL] Most newer phones nowadays support LTE data, which operates on bands 3, 8, and 26 in Korea. If your phone doesn’t support one of these bands, however, it should still connect at 3G speeds using the WCDMA 2100 MHz frequency.
If your phone is not currently unlocked, or you’re not sure whether it’s unlocked, call your provider. If you are out of contract they should be willing to unlock it for you, although they sometimes charge a $40-50 fee for the service. If you let them know you need it unlocked because you are moving or traveling abroad they should also be more cooperative than if they assume you’re just trying to move to a new provider. Here is a great resource to check if your phone will work in Korea.
For more details on SIM unlocking, including a discussion of its practice and legality in specific countries, check out this detailed Wikipedia article.
Getting a SIM Card for your phone
If you are traveling or moving to Korea there are several different ways to get a SIM card. For all-inclusive rentals and simple, unlimited plans, check out our options on this page.
List of phones that do/do not work in Korea
As mentioned above, certain North American providers running CDMA networks sell neutered versions of the phones listed below either without SIM slots or GSM capabilities. Verizon and Sprint are two of these. Even though the list below might indicate that your phone is supported, we still strongly recommend that you check the specifications of your specific model number to determine whether it supports the correct frequency, and inspect the phone personally for a SIM card slot. A good place to research your phone’s specifications is here.
This article in no way guarantees coverage.
Update (10/14/2015): All Apple phones released since the iPhone 5c are compatible with Korea’s network.
Update (10/14/2015): All Samsung Galaxy phones released subsequent to those listed are compatible with Korean networks.
Google Nexus Phones:
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