Carriers ease limits on expats
KT lifts contract restrictions on some visas, while SKT ditches country lock
Expats in Korea have certainly experienced some degree of discrimination when it comes to their mobile phone service.
That might change soon, though not as much as expats had hoped.
With the number of foreigners residing in Korea on the rise, Korean mobile service operators are putting more energy into becoming more foreigner-friendly than before.
KT, Korea’s No. 2 mobile carrier and exclusive seller of the iPhone, appears to be the most aggressive. At KT’s headquarters in Gwanghawmun, a big sign reads “iPhone 4 Pre-order for foreigners.” This is a change from when KT began selling the iPhone 3GS in November last year, when there was no help center for foreigners.
In May, KT announced a host of measures aimed at helping foreigners enjoy its service exactly the way Koreans do.
KT has a good reason to go “foreigner friendly” because it was condemned by the expat community in the past for foreigner-unfriendly policies.
KT recently allowed foreigners with A-1, A-2, E-1, E-3, E-4 and E-5 visas to buy mobile phones on installment plans. KT is also expanding the number of stores specifically designed for foreigners.
“It’s not easy to find the exact terminology as telecommunications and payment policies differ by country,” said Yu Jung-wuk, the manager at KT’s Itaewon store. “Sometimes it takes at least 30 minutes to help just one foreign customer.”
SK Telecom, the nation’s No. 1 mobile carrier, also announced this year that it will get rid of the “country lock” in all of its foreign handsets, meaning those who buy a phone in Korea can use it when moving to other countries. SKT currently markets the BlackBerry, Desire, and the Motoroi.
“Preferably, I wanted a Galaxy S or a Blackberry, both of which are available from SKT,” said a foreign resident who works as a PR specialist.“In order to get a Galaxy S, I was told I had to sign up for a two-year contract, which I couldn’t because I was a foreigner. I could get a BlackBerry [without such contract], but I was told I have to pay 810,000 won.”
Kim Yeong-beom, a SKT publicist, said the reason for denying foreigners two-year contracts is because some foreigners have visas that have to be renewed annually.
LG U+ was the only one among the three carriers that had a figure with the number of foreign subscribers readily available.
“We believe our foreigner-friendly service has become popular among expats through word of mouth,” said Ju Ho-chan, an LG U+ public relations official. “Today we have more than 350,000 foreign subscribers.”
According to data released in February by the Korea Communications Commission, 78 percent of foreign residents use mobile services.
By Kim Hyung-eun, Park Hye-min [email@example.com]