So, you are coming to Korea as a tourist and want to avoid paying data roaming fees, since in this age of smartphones, a phone without a data connection is next to useless. Sure, it can make calls (roaming, thus expensive) and maybe send text messages (roaming and expensive, but not as expensive as calling). Maybe text messages? Well, earlier it wasn’t such a given that you could send text messages to Korean numbers from abroad (see previous post) so text messages were a maybe, but these days with a 3G phone they should be ok.
Based on what I’ve seen and know, the options are:
- Use your own phone as usual, but you’ll be paying roaming fees which for data are generally nothing short of extortionate.
- Rent a smartphone from a Korean operator and use that. I don’t know the fees for data usage, but they won’t be cheap, although they might be cheaper than roaming data. The handset rental also won’t be cheap. You can easily rent these from the airport.
- Get a WiFi hotspot pass. These are sold by operators, convenience stores, etc., all around the city and you can choose different prices for different validities. I seem to recall the ollehWiFi web page asking for about 3-4000 KRW per 24 hours, but could be wrong. At least in central Seoul, the hotspots are all over the place, even in the subway, so if you’re in those areas, this is an option. You can of course use these on your laptop as well, but be prepared to needing Internet Explorer on Windows (more on that later).
- Get a prepaid SIM from a Korean operator and suffer the high data prices. The downsides of this are having to wait and the high prices, but if you’re going away from the cities and hotspots, this might still be cheaper than roaming data.
- Mooch off free WiFi. There are also open access points, not as widely spread as commercial hotspots, but rather widely. One such network is iptime, which is actually the name of the SSID used by the home access points of some Korean operator. Generally these are probably ok, but obviously you are trusting your data to an unencrypted network going via a box you know nothing about. It could be someone setting up a honeypot, but most likely it’s just a home user with an open access point and no bad stuff going on. VPN should help here, though. There are also other such networks, google for them.
Essentially, the options are the same as pretty much everywhere else, with some local caveats on the required bureaucracy. The nice bonus in Korea are the WiFi hotspots which alleviate some of the pain.
Bottomline: Being a smartphone tourist in a foreign country is not easy and if you want to make it easy, it will cost you a lot. For longer stays, Korea seems pretty reasonable and the prepaid plans are actually better value for money than post-paid plans (for my pattern of usage).