Are you traveling to South Korea for the first time and would like to stay connected during your trip? However, do you find it challenging to choose between a SIM Card or Pocket Wifi? Worry not, because we will help you make that decision, based on your individual needs.
Saying that you need an internet connection while traveling through Seoul and South Korea would be an understatement. For someone who doesn’t speak or read Korean, apps like Papago and Naver Maps were a lifesaver for us. However, in or those apps, you need to be connected to the internet.
In a country with such a complex transportation system, and so many places to discover, everything presented in Korean, one would find it challenging to get around without a stable internet connection.
The good news is there are plenty of options to choose from, from SIM Cards to Pocket Wifi (or Wifi Eggs) and even eSIM cards. They are all affordable and will make your trip a breeze.
In this post, we will go through all the available options, and look at their advantages and disadvantages, so that you can make an informed choice.
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SIM Card or Pocket Wifi in South Korea: what to choose
On my first trip to Seoul, I had no idea about all the available options and I hadn’t done any research before getting there. Thus, as soon as I landed, since I was waiting for my friend and had a few hours to kill, I found a rental office inside the terminal at Incheon Airport.
As you could see from the picture above, a wifi router would have been cheaper for 3 days (the amount of time I was spending in Seoul), but I chose a SIM card.
Back then, I had an older iPhone model and had no problems using the SIM card, thus you should not worry about it either, especially when you have a newer phone model.
How does it work
Using a SIM card in South Korea works as in any other country. You buy a brand new SIM card, with a local number, that offers certain benefits (such as traffic, minutes, messages etc). Nowadays, SIM cards come in all sizes, suitable for all kinds of phones – nano/micro/standard.
Advantages of choosing a SIM Card
By choosing to get a local Korean SIM Card, you will be able to make and receive local calls and text messages.
You might also need to use the phone number in certain locations such as restaurants or bars (this was the case during the pandemic), but also in order to register for certain local apps.
Also, many of the SIM cards available at the moment are compatible with almost any type of phone. You will only have to carry your phone around and worry about charging one device.
Some SIM cards available come with a public transportation card that you can charge and use to take subways and buses in Korea. This option would really make your trip easier.
Many of the SIM cards you can choose from offer unlimited 4G data, so you won’t have to worry about your data consumption.
While you cannot use a SIM card for more than one phone at the same time, you can still use your phone as a personal hotspot with your friends or family. However, that would eat up your battery when used constantly.
In our opinion, having a local SIM card is vital especially when you are planning to spend a longer time in South Korea.
Disadvantages of choosing a SIM Card
One of the main disadvantages is that you will be using a totally new phone number, and you will thus have to inform your family and friends about it. This won’t matter too much if you communicate via Facebook messenger or other apps that don’t require a change of phone number.
Another disadvantage would be the fact that you would need to change the SIM card inside your phone. This is an extra step that I didn’t necessarily find an issue with.
Before you leave, you must check if your phone is compatible with the Korean mobile network. As mentioned previously, most modern phones shouldn’t have any problems with that, but it is a good check to make.
Make sure you have completely unlocked your phone with your mobile provider before your trip.
Another extra step in getting a SIM card would be the fact that you must pick it up from the location of your choice (most likely inside the airport’s terminal). This could be tricky when your flight doesn’t match the desk’s opening hours.
In many cases, a SIM card with all the benefits is a bit more expensive than getting a portable Wifi device.
SIM Card options and plans
4G LTE Unlimited Data and Optional Voice Call SIM Card – this is a SIM card from one of the major Korean mobile phone providers, the one we used during our stay in Seoul. You get unlimited 4G data for the number of days of your choice, and the possibility of receiving phone calls and messages. Additionally, you can top up an extra amount for the option of making calls.
This option is available for plans of 5 days, 10 days, 20 days or 30 days.
You can pick up the SIM from Incheon Airport, Myeongdong, or Hongdae, just make sure to check the exact location depending on the option booked.
Book online ahead of time since there is limited availability, especially during the peak seasons. Additionally, by booking online you can save on the overall price.
Traveler SIM & T-money Transportation Card – offers you unlimited data traffic, and acts as a public transportation card you can top up and use anywhere in Korea.
You get unlimited 4G data, and the possibility to receive phone calls and messages.
The pick-up point for this SIM is at the Incheon Airport: Terminal 1 between gates 10 and 11 and Terminal 2 between gates 4 and 5.
Number of days available: 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 60 days
SKT 4G SIM Card – This option is similar to the LG U one, but you can get a card for 3 days as well. You can choose to pick it up at Incheon Airport in Terminal 1 or Terminal 2.
How does it work
Everything is done online and you choose the plan and validity time that best suits you, you receive a QR code that you will use to activate your plan. Once activated, your coverage will begin according to your selected duration.
Advantages of eSIM Card
It is a zero-waste option, everything is done on your device without having to switch cards or phones.
You don’t have to worry about opening hours or having to pick up or drop off anything – you receive your QR code via email, whenever and wherever.
Additionally, this is a great option for those that plan to travel to more than one country around Asia. That’s because you can upgrade your plan to include 9 additional countries – China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This option offers more flexible plans, depending on the time you plan to spend in South Korea, but also on the amount of data you know or think you will need.
You can have multiple eSIM plans for one device.
Disadvantages of the eSIM Card
It is not compatible with all types of phones and you will need to check that before making your purchase. All iPhones after iPhone XS can support eSIM, while for Android phones you will need to check with the guideline photo on their website for eligibility.
This might not be an option suitable for people not technologically inclined.
You need to have internet access to activate the plan, thus you will need to be connected to wifi.
Pocket Wifi / Wifi Egg
What is a Wifi Egg/ Pocket Wifi
The pocket wifi is a small device, that can fit in your pocket, and acts as a mobile hotspot offering you internet access wherever you are.
In South Korea, it also goes by the name “WIFI Egg” because of its original look – a white device shaped like an egg.
Advantages of renting a Pocket Wifi
This is the perfect option when you are traveling with your family or a group of friends and want to split the cost. That’s because, depending on the device, between 3 and 15 simultaneous connections can be made. However, most pocket wifi’s will offer the possibility to connect 3 devices simultaneously.
Another advantage is that you won’t have to change your phone number while traveling. Thus, you won’t have to worry whether or not the SIM card will fit into your device, or if the eSIM is actually compatible with your phone.
Also, connecting to the wifi device and setting it up is easy, and you won’t have to worry about the settings of your phone or having to make sure your device is not blocked by your mobile provider.
The price is very affordable, especially when you take into consideration the fact that you can split it with your friends. Moreover, the system works on a pay-per-day basis, thus you can easily customize it depending on the number of days you plan to spend in South Korea.
Disadvantages of a pocket Wifi
The main disadvantage in my opinion is that you will have to pick it up AND drop it off. That means that you must organize your schedule depending on this. However, in most cases the office will be set at the airport, so you won’t have to go too much out of your way for this.
Also, it would mean you have to carry another device around, on top of your phone, camera, and anything else you might have with you. You can find a solution for this when you are traveling in a group, and you can take turns in carrying the device. However, it is worth knowing that pocket wifi’s are not too large, and they weigh roughly between 100 to 250 grams.
On top of that, you will also have to worry about charging it every day, since most devices have a battery life of up to 8 hours.
Another major factor to take into consideration is the extra fees you might be required to pay in case of loss or breakage. Anything could happen and the battery, the charger, or the device could break and you will have to pay up to 200 USD in fees.
WIFI Egg/ Pocket WIFI Options and plans
4G Pocket WiFi from KT Olleh – offers high-speed internet, on a pay-per-day basis – if your trip gets longer, you won’t have to worry about it, because you will pay the difference when you drop off the device.
This option offers the possibility to connect 3 devices, and the pickup desk is at Incheon Airport (choose between T1 and T2). It is also the fastest and offers unlimited data.
LG U Pocket Wifi with pickup from Gimpo Airport – a great option for when you are traveling to Gimpo instead of Incheon Airport, with a 24/7 pickup and drop-off availability.
With this device, you get 4GB each day at a 4G speed.
What about using public free wifi in South Korea?
While South Korea is a high-tech country, the home of Samsung, LG, and other internationally famous companies, I found it difficult to connect to public WiFi.
I didn’t have any problems on public buses, and you can find posters with instructions on every bus. Even if they are written in Korean, you will manage. That being said, I could never connect to WiFi on the subway.
On top of that, most restaurants and cafes will offer free WiFi if you ask for the password.
While you can rely on public hotspots, it won’t be a breeze since you cannot really trust their security. On top of that, you won’t know if you can connect to a hotspot whenever you will need internet, and constantly searching for one and trying to connect won’t be too much fun.
Another issue you might encounter is the language barrier. In South Korea, even for touristic things (such as renting a bike), forms are mainly in Korean. Sometimes, even if you select the page to be in English, once you press next you will be directed to a Korean page.
Useful apps you will need while traveling in South Korea
It is worth knowing that South Korea makes most things differently than the rest of the world, that’s why you will need to install certain apps before you go.
Since you won’t be able to use Google Maps, you will need Naver Maps (for IOS | for Android) or Kakao maps (for IOS | for Android). I found Naver easier to use and have it installed on my phone.
For translations, Papago is your savior. Use it on pictures or copy and paste the text. (for IOS | for Android)
Subway is another great app you will find handy when you travel by subway in Seoul. (for IOS | for Android)
The same is valid if you plan to travel more by bus – you must have the KakaoBus app (for IOS | for Android) which will show you bus maps but also arrival/departure times.
If you are planning to travel by taxi, in South Korea is easy and safe to get a cab off the street. However, it will be much better to book it through a dedicated app like KakaoTaxi (for IOS | for Android), especially when you don’t speak Korean (chances are the taxi driver will not understand your destination address in English).
Other South Korea useful travel information
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