One of the biggest problem in Korea if you’re a foreigner planning to stay for an extended period (e.g. to study like me), is that you might have a hard time getting a phone number. Actually, one of the reason that I haven’t gone out to downtown and roam the city is because I’m afraid that I can’t call anyone in case I got lost (which I’m more than good at -_-). Anyway, in order to get a Korean phone/phone number, you’ll need an ARC (alien registration card) although in some case you can buy a phone using a passport. The bad news is, if you’re waiting for an alien card then you’ll need to wait a couple of weeks until they issue your card. Until then, you’re practically isolated.
Now let’s get to the topic. In Korea, (AFAIK) you can either bring a cell phone from outside Korea or buy a local phone. In case you’re bringing a phone from outside, keep in mind that your phone needs to have a 3G capability. I’m not sure why, but maybe they already took down the GSM network in South Korea?
Now, assuming that you already got your ARC, you can head to your nearest phone shop and buy a phone/number. In my case, I bought a number from Olleh (an operator) for a simple reason: there’s an Olleh shop specializing in serving foreigner near my campus. So there, how a little bit of english can make much difference. At the shop, there are two options:
a. Use your foreign phone
You simply fill out some form and get a SIM card. The shop clerk will register your phone’s IMEI. You can either choose a prepaid or postpaid plan. In my case, I choose a prepaid plan which costs 25,500 Won, including a 20,000 won credit balance. However, this doesn’t include a 3G data plan, because data usage is expensive, and I mean it. An unlimited data plan can be used if you chose postpaid, but it’ll cost around 60,000 won (!). Luckily I’ve encountered many WiFi hotspots during my stay at KAIST.
b. Buy a phone
As for this one, you can either buy a used phone or a new one. You can opt for a two year contract where you need to pay some amount of money each month. As far as I know, even the cheapest smartphone costs around 30000 a month.
So right now, I’m still getting along well with my Nexus S. Although according to my friend human’s basic needs are food, clothing, housing, and smartphone (this comes from a guy who switched high end gadget 2 times in one year), I think right now this is enough.