Korean Websites Try Patience of Foreigners

One foreign ambassador in Seoul says he tried hard for a chance to see the epic sci-fi blockbuster "Avatar" but failed. Lacking the time to wait in line for hours at a theater, he gave up after spending an almost equally long time trying to get tickets online. Foreigners who do not have Korean resident registration numbers cannot reserve tickets online even if they happen to be diplomats. The 1.15 million foreigners living in Korea shake their heads in frustration when it comes to dealing with the Internet in Korea, even though it is one of the world's most wired countries.

One English teacher from the U.S. gave up after trying to buy an iPhone on the Internet and walked to the Yongsan Electronics Market instead. The fact that the instruction manual was written only in Korean was the least of his problems. Repeatedly entering his alien registration number led to the message "access denied." The registration numbers given to foreigners start with their birthdates, followed by a series of numbers starting with 5, just as the registration numbers for Koreans come with different starting numbers. But entering the alien registration number leads always to the same answer: "incorrect resident registration number." No wonder foreigners see no reason why they are given registration numbers in the first place.  

American online businesses are open to customers from all over the world. All they need is a valid credit card. A person can subscribe to a European publication by using a laptop in Seoul. All it takes to subscribe to the website of the French daily Le Monde, for example, is an e-mail address, password and credit card number. And subscribers receive via e-mail an online receipt of their monthly subscription fee of six euros.

In 2007, the Korea Internet and Security Agency surveyed the satisfaction among foreigners with services offered by Korean websites and found that 37.3 percent were unable to sign up because they did not have Korean or alien resident registration numbers. And 31.7 percent said they were unable to register even if they had registration numbers, because they could not pass the real-name verification process. Two years ago, a shopping website opened especially for foreigners in Korea, but it sells only household products and home appliances.

Another problem for foreigners is that most websites are designed to handle only Korean words. There is not enough space to input the names of foreigners, whose names are longer than Korean names when written in Hangeul. A survey by the Korea Communications Commission shows that 31.4 percent of foreigners in Korea cited complicated registration processes as the biggest source of discontent in using Korean Internet services. One Chinese resident in Korea even filed a complaint to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission that it took three weeks just to get high-speed Internet connection service. It is high time that Korea found a remedy for the insularity afflicting its Internet businesses, which has ended up making foreigners grow tired of Korea.

By Chosun Ilbo columnist Park Hae-hyun

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 19, 2010 12:46 KST