Saturday, October 19, 2013

Getting a cell phone in Korea: Part 2

[Here is part 1 of my quest to get cell phone service here in Korea.]

If you don't feel like reading the first half of this journey, I'll catch you up.  At this point in the story I have an iPhone 4 that I bought from a coworker, as well as a sim card for pre-paid service.  The guy at the phone store that Friday couldn't get my phone to work, so I actually put in the card myself and got it to work at home.  Hence, I have a pre-paid card with no money on it.

It was about 6pm on Friday when I decided to fiddle with my phone and got it to work (by turning it off, putting in the new card, and plugging it into my computer via USB).  Unfortunately I couldn't use any apps or make calls because I had no money on the card.  My company is olleh, and my town has two cell phone stores right across the street from each other, and I know I've seen "olleh" on the side of these shops.  I wasn't sure if they'd still be open, but I grabbed my phone and walked that way.

They were open!  I walked in and opened my notebook to where I'd had the guy at the original store write "add credit" or "recharge" or something in Korean, followed by "500 MB - W 11,000" to show that I wanted to put 500 MB of data on the phone.  The guy at this store said a bunch of stuff to me in Korean and I just stared at him blankly.  Although I've been in Korea for just over a month, this was the first time that someone had spoken a ton of Korean to me.  Everyone else just assumes I don't know it, probably based on my white skin, blond hair, confused looks, and terrible accent when I say hello.  Also, hello is all I say to store people. And thank you.  Ok, but anyways, I didn't say anything -- not even in English -- because the guy was saying so much Korean at me and I was taken aback.  I understood that he was telling me he couldn't do it, but I had no idea why.  Why not?  I'm so close!  Somehow, through gestures and pointing, he was able to communicate to me that I was in an SK Telecom store.  I bought my prepaid card at a KT store.  From his motions, it looked like the closest KT was in a neighboring town (ugg) but at least I knew not all hope was lost.

I confused the two because both SK Telecom and KT are associated with olleh, which is a cell phone provider.  Well actually, I'm not sure how they're all related.  All I know is my network is olleh, but I bought my card at a KT.  SK Telecom also has olleh service, but I can't recharge my phone there.  I don't understand how that all works.  Also, SK and KT are both two letters, one of which is K.  Easy to confuse, no?  A further side note: There are SK Telecom stores everywhere!  In my little town there are four within a one-block area.  I don't understand the need for so many, or how they all stay in business.  I also don't understand why there aren't more KT stores around!

So the next day was Saturday, when I'd be going into Seoul for Korean class.  This was good, because I could go to another KT Global store (in Itaewon) before class.  I didn't go to the same one that I went to on Friday because this one was closer to class.  My hopes are high.  I metro to Itaewon.  I find the store.  I go inside.  There's only one man working, and he's talking with a couple.  I think they had to talk some things out, because when I walked in he asked how he could help.

I first explained why I had a new pre-paid card with no money on it, and then said I'd like to put some money on there.  Then he said, "You can only add money Monday through Friday."

What?!!!  Are you kidding me?!

I was in disbelief so I asked again, seriously?

I cannot do that today.  You can only do that Monday through Friday.

What sense does that make?  Once again, I wondered if I was being fooled or taken advantage of because he didn't want to deal with a foreigner and a pre-paid plan.  The rule just seemed too absurd.  He was the only guy working (this store was smaller than the one I went to the previous day) so I couldn't try asking another employee.

I thought about going back to the store I was at on Friday and trying there, but I didn't have time before class -- they were very far apart.  I was frustrated that again, I had made a huge trip for a mere 10 seconds in the store before being turned away.  And then I started to worry.  If there were no KT stores in my town, and I could only add money Monday through Friday, how was I ever going to get credit on my phone?

On Sunday morning I did some more research online.  I did not want to show up to school on Monday without a working phone; my co-teacher had instructed me that this was a top priority.  And I was so close!  Then I discovered a twitter page called "olleh KT in English!" (@ollehexpats).  Whoever worked the twitter account responded quite often to questions (in English!) about olleh KT's phone services.  So I tweeted at the account.

Then, I found online that you can call a number to put money on your prepaid number.  So I called and put W 20,000 on my number (which must be used by February), by punching in my debit card number on the phone and such.  So that worked, but the money didn't go towards the 500 MB prepaid data plan that I had wanted to have.  There was no such option on the phone menu when I added money.  Thus minutes, texts, and data all cost a certain amount each, so using data would eat up that money fast.

Two days later I had a response from @ollehexpats on twitter, which contained a phone number to call (free from my phone) in order to speak with a live person in English.  So later that week I called that number, spoke with a native English speaker, and was able to pay for  the prepaid data plan over the phone.  Success!  The phone's been working great ever since.  And I know when the data is up at the end of the month (you can't carry over any unused data, it expires after 30 days), I can simply call and add more for the next month really easily!

I was impressed with the quick response on twitter, as well as the service when I called the Foreign Language Customer Service Center.  I guess my prior experience with customer service in a foreign country was all in Spain where customer service is practically nonexistent.  So that's about what I was expecting here.  In case anyone needs it, I'll post the contact information below:

olleh KT
Foreign Language Customer Service Center
1583 (toll free from any olleh KT phone)

So, although there were a few bumps and hiccups at the start, I'm now very pleased with my pre-paid phone.  I'll see how much data I use this month.  If I don't need all 500 MB, I can always do 300 MB next month for W 8,800.  Either way, I won't be spending more than $15/month for my phone plan, and that's the kind of plan that fits into Reca's budget!
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