Seems not to be as easy as some say, though I’m not sure it’s quite as impossible as others claim.
In short: I tried yesterday. I wasted a good bit of time. First, I called the Frisbee shop, which I was recommended to do by the KT Foreign Service call center.The long and the short of it was, according to the Frisbee shop, they get a lot of foreign people sent their way, but a lot of the accounts they set up for people end up being auto-rejected by KT, so the buyers have to go to KT straight away anyhow.
This was after a discussion with the Frisbee employee on the fact that, yes, my visa expires at the end of January. That, yes, a one-year contract would go beyond the end of that period. That, duh, what do you expect, people come into country and make their first stop the iPhone shop? I suppose if I had thought to go to the iPhone store in December, when I had 14 months on my visa, I could have gotten a one-year contract… but I’m not even sure they were giving those to Westerners then, and I’ve got 11.3 months on my contract and good credit. The shop guy agreed it was crazy, the requirement of more time, but that it was the requirement and he couldn’t do anything about it.
(In fact, with even 3 months on your visa you can sign a one-year contract, but as per usual, different people have different stories about what the requirements and rules are. It seems the policy memo or the business of faxing information out to affiliated branches has not yet been discovered in Korea.)
So I went to the local shop, in Yeokgok, which was probably a mistake. The number of Westerners buying iPhones there is undoubtedly smaller than any number of shops in, say, Yongsan. To give credit where due, the guy who served me at least made an attempt. Like almost every KT employee I’ve encountered in this little quest, including several of the call center people, he had no idea how to set up this kind of account for a foreign customer, but at least he didn’t say no. (However, had I not had the phone number for the call center — which, if you’re in need of it, is 02-2190-1180 — then I’m sure we’d have gotten nowhere sooner.)
After talking to the call center, he said, “Okay, but here’s the problem… we cannot set you up with a one-tear contract/iPlan because you have a problem with your credit.” My eyes went wide. Granted, I may not have the best credit back in Canada — a long story — but in Korea, I have not had a single credit issue. Not one. I’ve paid every bill, never even paid anything late except some ₩7,000 bill at an apartment which I didn’t know about until months after I’d moved away believing I’d paid off everything, and which was squared away ages ago. (Which, by the way, is odd. I’ve had the same phone number for five years now, and they never called me about that bill. Hmmm.)
So I said, “Who can I talk to about this?” They gave me a phone number, and I called, and someone promised they’d have an English-speaker call me in a little while. While I probably could hack my way through such a conversation in Korea, I see little point when they have an English-speaker on hand.
(I do think it’s odd that they say, “Press 1 for Korean-language help. Press 2 for English-language help,” or something like that, but no matter what you push, the calls seem to get routed exactly the same way, with a Korean saying, “Sorry, I don’t speak English, one moment please.” Still, it’s preferable to how most call centers respond, which is to hang up, even when a foreigner is trying to explain the problem in Korean. People were trained to explain they can’t do the English, and to get someone on who can, and that itself is a huge step forward.)
An English-speaker at the Credit Insurance company called me back about five or ten minutes later, and I gave her my information. She said she couldn’t find any problem, but that she’d look more closely and call me back.
So anyway, I took the subway into Seoul, thinking, hey, maybe I can get one in Itaewon. I hate the neighborhood, but it’s got the highest concentration of Westerners in Korea, so you’d think whichever KT shop is around there would be the best equipped to sell an iPhone to a Westerner, right?
Along the way, I got the call back from the Credit Insurance Company, and informed me that there is absolutely no problem with my credit [in Korea]. Not at all, nothing, nada. I asked her why the people at KT thought there was, and she said something about KT having “their own standard” but that it still didn’t make sense. She advised that I return to the KT shop and while there, have them call.
In Itaewon, I said. “I figure there’s no point in trying to get it done in Bucheon when it might take half the time in Itaewon.”
Well… if only there were a KT shop there. Remember how I hate the neighborhood? It means I also never go there. There simply isn’t such a shop there. I saw a couple of tiny SK shops, but not one KT outlet stands along that main strip. Not one. Tells you something about how interested KT is in our business, huh? I walked and walked, and finally was told there was one up the long side street leading up from the Hamilton Hotel, across from the “Polytechnic University.” Well, it’s a tiny little store, no more useful than the others.I didn’t even bother to go in, because they didn’t even have iPhones on display.
Cue the call center. I called once more, to ask if there was a location in the area I’d missed. The first time I called, I was told all the English speakers had gone home for the night. I called back, lucked out, and was given an English-speaker to talk to. Ain’t that just the way.
So finally, I asked, and no, the best place to go, according to the woman I talked to, is Yongsan. If you can speak a little Korean, she said, a lot of shops there have done this before. She also said I should try again on a weekday, since sorting this mess out will involve talking to someone at the Credit Insurance company. And then she added that it’s better not to try on Monday because the call centers are all always too busy… or at least, to try in the afternoon. Which means I won’t likely be trying till 4pm on Monday.
Trying, I say. I’m not sure I’ll actually be getting a phone.
Miss Jiwaku pointed out, rightly, that as a non-citizen in Canada she’d probably have as much trouble getting a phone account. I pointed out, rightly, that after eight years resident there, she’d have accumulated enough credit that it wouldn’t be a problem — just as my accumulated credit should make it not-a-problem here too — and that she probably would be on some kind of long-term residency visa by that point as well. And frankly, that’s what irks me: it’s just that in my eighth year here, it’s still just as if I just arrived last month.
But I am told that ity is possible, so contrary to my Twitter posts, I am going to try get this on my own, before breaking down and asking a Korean to let me piggyback an account, like I had to do back in 2003 with a friend who, lovely as he was, was chronically broke and unemployed… but less of a credit risk than a salaried foreigner.
It’s enough to make me want to check out the Android phone market, though I don’t think they perform as I’d like in terms of music-player functionality. Do they?