<AFFORDABLE PHONES FOR FOREIGNERS IN KOREA>
Cell phones are an indispensable object in modern society. There is a cheap way to use cell phones in Korea, which is using “알뜰폰” (MVNO, Mobile Value Network Operator system). “알뜰폰” is the combination of “알뜰” which means frugal, and “폰” meaning phone. Companies that make “알뜰폰'' borrow the telecommunication networks of the three major mobile carriers to provide low-cost plans for customers. Because these phones are affordable than normal cellphones and the cancellation charge is very cheap, it is suitable for short-term stay students who come to Korea for study purposes.
Q1. What are the advantages of “알뜰폰”?
A. As you might have guessed from above, 알뜰폰’s biggest and most important merit is its cheap price. The price of ‘알뜰폰’ is half the price of Korea's three major companies. This is because network management and maintenance expenses don’t incur.
In fact, the reason why it can be used so cheaply is that the Korean government wanted to prevent Korea's three major mobile networks from monopolizing the market. Making it easy for new carriers to enter the mobile communication service market without having to have a limited frequency of resources can bring competitors to the market so that carriers can compete with each other for price, thus preventing any kind of monopolization. Therefore, at the national level, the three mobile carriers will provide spectrum and facilities at wholesale prices, making it easier for new operators to enter the market and allow consumers to purchase them at lower prices.
Another reason why using this phone is beneficial for foreigners is because it utilizes a USIM card, thus operating by a USIM payment system. To open a general cell phone (sign up for a phone plan), normally you would have to visit a local phone agency and consult as to which phone plan you’re thinking of, sign several documents, and be on standby until everything is confirmed. What makes this problematic is that most of the time this whole process takes place in Korean. On the other hand, if you use an 알뜰폰, opening a phone can be done through self-service, which can save you from pressuring situations of having to confront your Korean skills, save time, and grant you convenience. All you need to do is fill out paperwork on the online homepage for the phone plan you wish to use, wait for the USIM card to be delivered to you, and stick the USIM chip into your phone to start using it.
The variety of phone plans that customers can choose from is another advantage that 알뜰폰 possesses. Depending on what you need the most, whether it’s the number of minutes for calling, the number of text messages you need to send, or the amount of data you need, you can focus on specific functions of the phone that are most important to you. “Unlimited Talk & Text plan”, “3,300 won Payment Plan”, or “Three Month Contract plan” are some of the examples that customers can choose from.
Last but not least, this type of cell phone is ideal for foreigners who plan to temporarily stay in Korea because there isn’t any specific agreement period. Most of the other phone plan contracts in Korea have a two-year period. Canceling the contract before the agreement period passes will lead to having to pay a cancellation charge. However, most of the time 알뜰폰s don’t have cancellation charges or charges only a very small amount. Thus, foreigners who only need to use a phone for a short period of time will not have to worry about any of these problems related to expensive cancellation fees.
Q2. How can I get an 알뜰폰? (What should we do in order to buy 알뜰폰?)
A. The process for non-Koreans to open an 알뜰폰 is not as easy as it is for Koreans. It is because identifying yourself is difficult without a domestic ID card. Don’t worry though. That doesn’t mean it’s extremely complicated either. Let me break down the process for you.
1. Step One: Go to the website
You should search for 알뜰폰 개통, meaning “Opening an 알뜰폰”, on your search engine. There are mainly three different companies you can choose from. Access to one of the companies' websites to get started.
2. Step Two: Call the company
Koreans can go with a self-registration option with their own ID. Sadly, it is not an option for foreigners. What you guys have to do is to scroll down to the very bottom of the website where it specifies the contact numbers. You have to call them to identify yourself and start registering. Don’t forget to prepare your passport or documents you can use to prove your identification. They will ask you some questions over and tell you the options. Based on my personal experience, due to the excessive amount of calls, it takes a while for them to answer. Keep this in mind and be patient.
3. Step Three: Follow the instruction booklet
Once you finish registering, they will send you a package with all the stuff you need. There will be an instruction booklet that you can follow to finish the process. That was easy, right?
Q3. What are the misconceptions about affordable phones?
When buying these ‘알뜰폰’, some people hesitate because of various misunderstandings and prejudices! Shall we take a look at the misunderstandings and solve them?
1. Isn’t the phone quality good because it’s cheap?
A. Usually, if the price gets cheaper, there are some questions about whether you can't use additional services. It's reasonable to a certain extent, but it's not that you can't use additional services because it's ‘알뜰폰’. When we use common plan(일반요금제) we can't use certain additional services from other mobile carriers that we don’t use. Like this, not because of the network of ‘알뜰폰’, but because the operators and the mobile carriers of ‘알뜰폰’ are different, certain additional services are not available!
Also, there is NO difference in Internet speed and call quality because they lend networks and facilities of the three major mobile carriers and provide their own independent mobile communication services. In addition, Loyalty cardholders and various promotional events make it reasonable to purchase items with additional discounts at an originally low price.
2. Does ‘알뜰폰’ have cell phone insurance and roaming service?
A. In the past, insurance policies did not exist separately. Now, there are some inexpensive insurance products that you can purchase after checking carefully! Furthermore, basic additional services such as roaming and international phone call options were not provided in the early days of ‘알뜰폰’, but these basic additional services are mostly included in ‘알뜰폰’ now! In addition, depending on the products, there may be differences in the services like the composition of the mobile, membership benefits, and customer centers, so you should keep this in mind!
3. Is ‘알뜰폰’ the best?
A. It may depend on individuals. Like all plans, the pros and cons of ‘알뜰폰’ coexist! However, since ‘알뜰폰’ has its own advantages, such as using existing services at a lower price, after reading this why don't you give ‘알뜰폰’ a try?
We talked about some basic facts about 알뜰폰 so far and hope it became clear about how to use this device. 알뜰폰 will be beneficial if you use it right, but make sure you double-check some drawbacks you might face. Have a great say in Korea!