South Korea received over 15.4 million tourists in 2018. Some of the most magnetizing destinations in this amazing country are the gorgeous demonstrations of environmental consciousness in the architecture of the city of Seoul, the ancient Bulguksa Temple, the jaw-dropping natural phenomenon of the Jindo Sea Parting, and so much more.
Although South Korea is a lovely travel destination, the roaming bill you get from roaming with your provider may not be as nice. In fact, roaming can be expensive. That is why many travelers buy a South Korean SIM card when exploring Korea. In this article, we will analyze all Korean SIM card options so that you can share your travels with friends and family at local rates.
Telecom Providers in South Korea
South Korea has three telecom providers: SK Telecom, KT (Olleh), and LG U+. The first two are accessible to visitors – LG U+’ policies prevent visitors from buying SIM cards. SK is the largest provider with more than 27 million subscribers, while KT has more than 16 million. There are various Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in Korea, and a few of them will be discussed in this article.
South Korea was one of the first countries to launch a 5G network, but it is not accessible for prepaid SIM cardholders.
Coverage with both SK Telecom and KT is great on both their 3G and 4G networks. Korea used to have a CMDA 2G network. KT already shut theirs down, while the one of SK will be shut down soon. For most travelers, you do not have to worry about CDMA. Still, those with a phone from Sprint or Verizon (American providers) may experience weird service in Korea when roaming (or slow service, as you can roam on SK Telecom’s 2G network. 2G is too slow for most data transfers, even for WhatsApp or email).
What SIM card should you buy when visiting South Korea? If you want to buy a SIM card in South Korea, I would recommend going with KT and get a Korea SIM Blue or Korea SIM Red card. Go for SK Telecom's Korea SIM Orange if you would like affordable unlimited internet. For regular SIM cards, KT is cheaper than SK Telecom while providing good coverage throughout the country, making it a good choice for travelers.
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In South Korea, you have to register your device by its IMEI number before you can use your newly bought SIM card. The registration process will be done upon purchase, and it can take up to an hour before the SIM will be activated. As the SIM card will be linked to your phone, you cannot use the card in another device (but you can still tether from it).
SIM cards from both KT and SK Telecom can be bought online, official stores, authorized dealers, and international airports.
In this article, I will mention priced in both USD (in just $) and Korean Won (KRW). When ordering the SIM online, you get a discount compared to buying it at the airport in town. The prices listed on the website are in $. Airport prices are listed in KRW.
Let’s see what Korea has to offer to us.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
As mentioned in the introduction, SK Telecom is the largest provider in South Korea. The Korea SIM Orange card is SK Telecom’s answer to the growing demand of visitors wanting a Korean SIM card. The card comes in various variants, ranging from 1 day to 30 days, and cannot be extended. All cards come with unlimited data at full 4G/LTE speed, which is at max. 150 Mbps, but it could be slower depending on where you are and how many people in the area are using data.
Unlike most providers that offer unlimited data, you can tether with the Korea SIM Orange card. It is also the only SIM card that does not require any registration (meaning that you can use it straight away instead of waiting for max. an hour).
Below are the Korea SIM Orange cards you can buy:
- 1 day: $4.70 online, 6000 KRW at airports
- 3 days: $12 online, 18 000 KRW at airports
- 5 days: $20.60 online, 27 500 KRW at airports
- 10 days: $27.40 online, 38 500 KRW at airports
- 20 days: $48.70 online, 60 500 KRW at airports
- 30 days: $51.60 online, 71 500 KRW at airports
Fancy on getting a regular SIM card? Then the PPS Smartphone plan may be something for you, which allows you to call and text as well. First, you pay 8800 KRW to activate your SIM card and have to load at least 5000 KRW to get started. Then you select a base plan, which is charged per day. Sending an SMS costs 22 KRW/text with each plan:
- General: No daily charge – 4 KRW/second
- Lite: 166 KRW – 3.3 KRW/second
- Plus: 266 KRW – 2.9 KRW/second
- Friends: 300 KRW – 2.2 KRW/second for 3 designated lines and 4.4 KRW/second for other lines
- Regular: 350 KRW – 2.7 KRW/second
- Premium: 500 KRW – 2.3 KRW/second
Finally, you add data to your plan, which are all valid for a year (unless your card expires before that):
- 2000 KRW for 100 MB
- 10 000 KRW for 500 MB
- 15 000 KRW for 1 GB
- 19 000 KRW for 2 GB
- 33 000 KRW for 5 GB
KT Olleh, just KT from now on, is the other telecom provider in South Korea. KT sells two tourist SIM cards called Korea SIM Blue and Korea SIM Red. Regular SIM cards are difficult to get for visitors, as they are marketed to long-term visitors and residents, so I will only cover the tourist SIM cards.
What is the difference between the Korea SIM Blue and the Korea SIM Red? Korea SIM Blue comes with “unlimited” high-speed (4G/LTE – first 10 GB) data starting from 5 days to 30 days and can be used to call and text as well. It allows you to use the KT WIFI network too. Korea SIM Red comes with either 1 GB or 2 GB of high-speed data (4G/LTE) or voice and text allowance for 30 days.
I put unlimited in quotation marks for the Korean Blue SIM because after using 10 GB, your speed gets throttled to 400 kbps, which makes it not really unlimited data. Then again, I can see people use their phone as a hotspot for 15 laptops, which makes it understandable why there is a Fair-Use Policy.
Anyway, besides data, you get 100 minutes and 100 SMS. Receiving calls, even overseas calls, and SMS is free.
It is recommended to buy the SIM card online and pick it up at the KT desk at Incheon International Airport (terminal 1 & 2) because you will pay a premium if you buy the cards in convenience stores. Moreover, you do not get that much choice when buying your SIM cards in the store (only the 7 days and 15 days version). If you want, you can use the free delivery service where KT will ship you SIM to your ho(s)tel, Airbnb, or any local address.
When you order your SIM online before arrival, the SIM will have been registered, meaning that you can use it instantly upon arrival. The following Korean SIM Blue options are available:
- 5 days: $22.90
- 7 days: $27.90 (or 34900 KRW in convenience stores)
- 10 days: $31.90
- 15 days: $40.30 (or 49900 KRW in convenience stores)
- 30 days: 58.90
The Korea SIM Red cards are all valid for 30 days, which will get you 1 GB for $26.90 or 2 GB for $38.90 at 4G/LTE speeds. The SIM card cannot be extended, but you can recharge it if you need more data (at 500 MB increments up to 5 GB).
NeoKOSIM has partnered up with KT to offer SIM cards with unlimited data (at max. 5 Mbps) for visitors. Data-only SIM cards can be paid for online and pick up at major Korean airports. The same counts for the voice and data SIM cards, but they are for rental, meaning they have to be given back before leaving South Korea (Incheon Airport only – that is why you are required to pay a 100000 KRW deposit).
The following data passes are available:
- 5 days for 27500 KRW
- 10 days for 28500 KRW
- 30 days for 71500 KRW
Link Korea works on the same principle as NeoKOSIM, except for the fact that you have to book your card at least 2 days before going to Korea. They will contact you by main to get your personal information. After that, you will get pick-up instructions (for Incheon Airport only). You pay 100000 KRW in deposit or $100 if preferred. You can call and text as much as you want, and your usage will be calculated when giving the card back. It will be subtracted from your deposit before you get your deposit back. If you go for the data-only SIM, you can keep the card (no need to return it).
FreeT is a subsidiary of KT using the KT network. You can order your card online with international delivery and registration. The card comes with 50 minutes and 2 GB for $35 valid for 90, which can be extended for another 90 days by topping it up.
The following data packages are available:
- 500 MB for $8.80
- 1 GB for $14.30
- 2 Gb for $19.80
EG SIM, SIMCARD-KOREA, Play WiFI, and The Arrival Store
You can buy or rent SIM cards from any of these companies. EG SIM is an MVNO using the KT network but is more expensive than using a KT SIM card, which is why I did not cover them in-depth in this article.
Play WiFi rents SIM cards for 35000 KRW, which gets you 1 GB and 20 minutes. Other companies give you much better value for the same or less.
The Arrival store rents SIM cards and phones for short-term and long-term purposes. Visitors like us can get a SIM card for $15 and get unlimited calling, texting, and data for $5 a day. I believe other providers have better value.
SIMCARD-KOREA has expensive packages, in my opinion. The cheapest SIM costs 10 Euro (not USD) and comes with 1000 KRW in voice credit. If you want data, you have to pay 8800 KRW for 500 MB, 14300 KRW for 1 GB, and 19800 KRW for 2 GB.
If you go for their more expensive SIM cards, like the 20 Euro or 30 Euro ones, you get 1000 KRW in voice credit and 500 MB or 11000 KRW in voice credit and 1 GB, respectively.
Their most expensive SIM, for 65 EUR, gets you 5000 KRW in international voice credit, and unlimited minutes and data. The Korean SIM Orange, with unlimited data, would be much cheaper.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in South Korea
Besides getting a Korean SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring South Korea, such as using an international SIM card, roaming with your provider, using pocket WIFI, or WIFI networks.
International SIM Cards
There are many international SIM cards out there, such as OneSimCard and SIM cards from SimOptions. These SIM cards with the same as roaming with your provider, but the charges are often way less than actually roaming because they have been set up for international travel.
International SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. As in, not having to get numerous SIM cards, you will not use again, and being reachable on one number instead of multiple. In most cases, you can use your international SIM when back home, but their rates will be high compared to using your carrier.
Do note that using an international SIM card is often more expensive than using a local SIM card but cheaper than roaming with your provider. International SIM cards are appealing for those who travel frequently and cannot be bothered with the hassle of purchasing a SIM card each time they arrive at a new destination. Additionally, constantly having to switch SIM cards and using different phone numbers may discourage seasoned travelers from buying local SIM cards.
If you are visiting only one destination for a short period, get a local SIM card (or roam with your provider if they have attractive roaming rates or plans). If you travel often and want to be able to be contacted on one phone number when visiting multiple destinations, international SIM cards could be attractive. Check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyzed the top 10 leading international SIM cards out there.
Roaming with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. If you use your phone in South Korea without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Korea.
You have probably read numerous horror stories of travelers who went abroad for a while and came back home to a phone bill in the thousands because they were roaming. An example of such a story is this individual who received a bill of £8,348.41 for data roaming for 40 minutes. I also found the reason why roaming is so expensive.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Roaming can be convenient because you do not have to wait in line to get a local SIM card, go through the whole SIM card registration process, and can easily be reached when friends and family who are in your home country want to call or text you.
However, this convenience comes at a cost – a high cost if you do not watch out. But this does not always have to be the case.
Some carriers allow you to roam for free in select countries, such as Sprint (Canadian provider). They have a program called Sprint Global Roam, which allows its customers to roam in 205 destinations, including South Korea, for free at reduced speeds.
Other carriers allow you to use your plan's allowance if you pay a fixed daily fee. For example, Koodo, a Canadian provider, allows you to use your plan's allowance with their program called Koodo Easy Roam International for $12 a day, which can be used in South Korea as well. This means that if you get 10 GB a month, you can use those 10 GB in Korea as well.
However, you should take caution with such plans. They are convenient and inexpensive when done for a few days, but not when going abroad for a week or more. I often argue that one can use these plans if you are staying abroad for a maximum of three days. If longer, than you are better off with a local SIM card, which will give you more bang for your buck. Check out my articles to see if your provider offers roaming bundles.
Finally, you can roam on Pay As You Go roaming rates. With standard roaming rates, you get charged per action on the go. In other words, you get charged per minute, SMS, or KB/MB. Often, Pay As You Go roaming rates are insanely high (which leads to those stories where people got charged into the thousands), and should be avoided in most cases. However, some providers do have reasonable standard roaming rates, especially to neighboring countries.
In general, I would discourage you from roaming on Pay As You Go roaming rates when visiting South Korea, but it is still an option to explore. If you want to see what your carrier would charge you, check out my roaming with your provider articles with my analysis and verdicts.
If you do not want to get a local SIM card or an international SIM card and do not feel like roaming either, then you can get pocket WIFI. A portable hotspot is a device that acts as your personal router that you can take with you. This hotspot connects to the cellular networks of your destination – just like your phone would do but without the roaming costs.
There are many portable hotspots out there. Two reputable pocket WIFI companies I know are Skyroam (use coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ) and Vision Global Wireless. WIFI access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day. Using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
A pocket WIFI device is ideal for those who are traveling with families or multiple individuals. This way, everyone can connect to the device and enjoy the WIFI network on the go. Some companies will charge you per GB while others will give you unlimited data. Be aware of the data restrictions of your device so that you will not receive a high bill after your travels.
Using Free WIFI Connections
If you do not want to pay anything extra for staying connected while in South Korea, then you can choose to connect to WIFI networks instead of cellular networks.
Although using WIFI hotspots may save you money, it may not be convenient as using a SIM card. First, you would have to find WIFI hotspots, which is relatively easy in Korea, especially in the cities.
Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. I would recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to an unfamiliar network. The VPN will encrypt your data and will keep your data private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get yours today or find out more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in South Korea
Getting a Korea SIM (Red, Blue, or Orange) from KT or SK Telecom would do you well when considering a Korean SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in East Asia? Check out my East Asian SIM card buying guide, covering other East Asia countries, such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, and Taiwan. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for South Korea
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to South Korea. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to South Korea drop.
Book Your Accommodation for South Korea
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in South Korea. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Korean hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for South Korea
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in South Korea, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the local currency for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!