Want to save money while living in Korea?
This guide walks you through the MVNO (알뜰폰) registration process. It can save you hundreds of dollars a year on your phone plan.
We’ll go over how it works, why you should switch and where to find a plan.
I registered for 알뜰폰 and it’s working out great.
Let’s check it out!
Korea rewards those who dig deeper. There are some great deals that only locals know about.
What is MVNO (알뜰폰)?
It’s a marketing term for inexpensive mobile telecommunication services or Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).
알뜰폰 service providers include:
- 헬로모바일 (Hello Mobile)
- 케이티엠모바일 (KTM Mobile)
- 한국정보통신 (Korea Information & Communications Company)
- LG U+ MVNO
- 우체국 (Post Office)
- 프리트 (Freet)
- CJ Hello
Some companies won’t accept Passport as ID verification online. You might need to visit a store.
How does MVNO (알뜰폰) work?
The three major telecom companies (SK, KT and LG) in South Korea have leftover data every month, so they sell it off in bulk at wholesale rates to MVNO (companies and the post office). These MVNO act as resellers and offer these plans to the public at a massive discount.
Who can sign up for MVNO (알뜰폰)?
Anyone can sign up for a plan including expats! All you need is a bank account in Korea and your ARC.
Why should I switch to MVNO (알뜰폰)?
The base plan for 알뜰폰 includes 150-minute calls, 150 texts and 1.5 gigabytes of data. It costs around 2 dollars (2,200 KRW) a month. If you already have an unlocked phone, you can save about 30 dollars a month on your phone plan, or 360 dollars a year. That’s a lot of samgyupsal and soju money!
There’s no downside as far as I can tell. The quality of service is the same as that of the big three telecom providers.
How do I switch to MVNO (알뜰폰)?
It can be tricky if you don’t speak Korean, so don’t be afraid to ask a local friend for help, or use a translation app.
- Apply for 알뜰폰 online at the post office website or service provider to register.
You can choose between new subscription, if you don’t have a local phone number yet, or phone number port (번호이동), if you have one and wish to only change the carrier.
(If you have a local credit card or 범용공동인증서 to verify yourself, you can finish applying online. If not, visit a local post office to complete the application.)
- Go to a branch that carries 알뜰폰 (I went to a local post office branch). Fill out some forms that include your bank account number for automatic payment, and let them copy your ARC. They’ll fax the documents to the service provider for you.
- The 알뜰폰 company will call you and ask for information like your phone model and verify that you’d like an account. (If there’s an issue such as unpaid bills, they’ll tell you to pay off your existing Korean phone bill.)
- Receive your sim card in the mail in a few days (usually a day) and activate it. You may have to turn your phone off and on again a few times.
- That’s it! Enjoy your massively discounted phone plan.
Is there a difference in service quality between MVNO (알뜰폰) and the big three telecom companies (SK, KT and LG) in Korea?
No, they provide the same level of service. I’ve been using MVNO in Korea for a few months and haven’t noticed any difference.
Can I register for MVNO (알뜰폰) online?
Yes, but it depends on the service provider. It might be easier in the long-run to simply go into a branch with your ARC and bank info.
Can I keep my old phone number if I switch to MVNO (알뜰폰)?
Yes, as long as your current phone plan is still active. You just need to register for Phone Number Port (번호이동). Make sure not to cancel your current plan before you make the switch! Your new service provider will do all that for you.
Where can I buy a smartphone to use with an MVNO (알뜰폰) plan??
MVNO service providers sell phones (자급제), but you can use your current unlocked phone or just buy one at an electronics district like Yongsan Electronics Market.
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알뜰폰 is a great way to save money for fun things like travel.
Let us know your 알뜰폰 tips or questions in the comments below!
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