Week #4 is a big one in the year of the lives of foreign teachers living abroad. Mine began when I obtained my ARC – or Alien Registration Card. This is essentially an I.D. that means you no longer have to keep your passport on you at all times (nobody keeps their passport on them at all times). It is a government-issued, wallet sized, “You are legally allowed to be here,” Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card. Okay so I made that last part up. But for all intents and purposes, this is the card you need when you’re planning to live in Korea longer than 90 days.
The process was very simple.
First, while at home in the States, I submitted my fingerprints to get a FBI Federal Criminal Background Check (twice). Then I obtained a job in Korea and signed the contract. Next I sent the contract, background check (which had to be apostilled in Washington D.C. at the State Department), 6 copies of passport style photos, and notarized copies of my Bachelor’s Degree across the Pacific to Korea, after which I was given a Visa Issuance Number. Once I had that number, I had to take my passport , VIN, college transcripts, and application fee and mail them up to the Korean Consulate in New York City so that they could stamp my passport with the appropriate Visa. Please keep in mind, I’m still in the US at this point. When I arrived in Korea and went through customs (they checked my passport and took additional photos and fingerprints and made sure to tell me keep my passport on me at all times), I had to get a health check to ensure I wasn’t an avid drug user, another background check (that’s now 3 for those of you keeping score), open a bank account for paycheck deposits from the school, pay a security deposit on my apartment, pay a few more fees, and wait a month for more processing. Then I finally got my Alien Registration Card.
Once you have your ARC, the world – or at least Korea – is your oyster. Now you are able to make purchases, travel, go to the hospital, and do other things that you normally wouldn’t be able to do… without your ARC (…or your passport).
So this week I was able to finally get my cell phone. Asking some other teachers about the process they told me to go to this bright neon corner store (it looks like a chop shop to me – and I wonder how he obtains his inventory). According to them, these are their rates (compared to what I’m used to):
- US Smart Phone Price (w/ a 2 year contract): $50-$200
- Korean Smart Phone Price (w/ a 1 or 2 year contract): Free
- US Monthly Plan: $80-$120
- Korean Monthly Plan: $25-45
I found these numbers very attractive so I did some of my own market research around town. Now I don’t speak much Korean yet and while everyone tells me that most Koreans under 30 are pretty well versed in English, the majority that I’ve met either really suck at English or are amazing liars – seriously they should audition for some acting roles cause they sure as hell fooled me! Basically what I gathered from these stores is:
- Actual Korean Smart Phone Price (w/ a 2 or 3 year contract – they don’t offer 1 year contracts): $500-$900
- Actual Korean Monthly Plan: $60-90
The truth seems a bit more plausible doesn’t it? Either that or my colleagues had found a proverbial mobile phone gold mine and were the only ones who knew about it (you know how resourceful English teachers can be). Given the two options, I decided to try the ‘chop-shop’ out for myself. And my friends were right about the prices they’re paying for phone plans. I got the brand new Samsung Galaxy s III (with AMOLED screen) for FREE and a plan that amounts to $49 a month (unlimited data) after signing about 4 pages of contracts… in Korean.
Sound too good to be true? You’re way ahead of me.
Here’s what I discovered with a Korean friend upon further inspection of my contract:
- $49 a month for 24 months with an early termination fee (pretty standard) and so far I’m not to worried.
But here’s the breakdown:
- $37 for the plan with a $16 discount for something (doesn’t say what the discount is for)
- $22 and change added magically from another column to reach a $43 total (plus some additional small fees).
Okay no big deal…. what am I missing? I turn the page…
But I didn’t pay that, did I? I notice a small fine print “5.9%” in the corner just next to the number 36. Guess what that equals? $22 (and change) per month for 3 years to get to what will eventually be $790 plus interest. And I wondered how this guy made any money… The Price is Wrong, Bitch.
The contract stipulates two periods of time:
- 24 months for the service plan with the telecom company
- 36 months for repayment of what Koreans call ‘instrument’ fee (the instrument is the phone).
What I failed to realize is that most (if not all) Koreans get the price of their phone worked into their monthly payment plan. I still can’t imagine paying that much money for a phone though… The kicker is that if I choose to not renew at the end of my two year contract, I owe the remaining balance on the phone – roughly 1/3rd of the total price! Guess who will be leaving before then? But until then, the bottom line is (for at least a year or two), I’m paying roughly HALF of what I was paying in the States for the luxury of having a cell phone. So did my coworkers get their phones for free? Nope. But they also didn’t get the top of the line phones and I don’t hear them complaining – at least not yet.
The moral of the story: Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered. Oh and keep your passport on you at all times.
Tune in next week when I try to make a dentist appointment!