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Starbucks’ foreigner-friendly policy on WiFi upsets Koreans

Starbucks store near Sookmyeong University in Seoul Photo by Lee Tae-hoon
Starbucks store near Sookmyeong University in Seoul Photo by Lee Tae-hoon
Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon

Starbucks mulls asking foreigners to enter their passport number due to reverse discrimination claims from Koreans

Starbucks in Korea has come under criticism from Koreans who have discovered that the coffee giant has been demanding more personal information from Korean customers than foreigners to use its free WiFi service.

“Do they think all Korean customers are stupid?” a Korean netizen with the screen name “Real” asked?

“It drives me really crazy.”

Real is one of many Koreans who have recently discovered that Starbucks shops require Korean nationals to enter extra personal information to use WiFi such as their phone number and mobile service provider whereas foreigners only need to enter their name and email.

Some Korean newspapers have also picked up the much heated issue and started to run stories with such titles as “Korean Customers Duped? This is the Easy Way to Use WiFi.”

The Korean Section requires you to enter your mobile phone number and choose the phone's service provider.

The Korean Section requires you to enter your mobile phone number and choose your phone’s service provider.

“Once you press the ‘English’ button on the top, which redirects you to the foreigner section, you will only need to enter your name and email to use Wifi,” an article posted Friday on the Kukmin Daily website pointed out.

Cecilia Song, a spokeswoman for Starbucks Korea, claims that it was inevitable to have a double standard because the Korean law mandates the Korean nationals to enter more personal information than foreigners in order to use WiFi at a public place.

The English sections requires you to enter only the name and email address.

The English sections requires you to enter only the name and email address.

“Due to concerns about cyber crimes, everyone residing in Korea must verify their personal information to access to a public WiFi,” she told The Korea Observer.

“But the law doesn’t apply to foreigners.”

She added that Starbucks asked foreigners to enter a phone number, their passport number or alien residential number to treat customers fairly until early this year. Another official pointed out that other coffee chains are opening their WiFi to everyone without a user verification process but Starbucks Korea is not following the practice because it is illegal.

starbucks korea foreigner complaint

Screenshot from Facebook

Until a year ago, expats and travelers were furious about Starbucks’ policy to require such information and they were the ones who felt discriminated by Starbucks.

Starbucks eased requirements for foreigners early this year after receiving many complaints from foreigners and realizing that the law is softer for non-Koreans. It also learned that it takes as many as two weeks for a foreigner to get an alien registration card, prepaid phones are useless in user verification and not all tourists carry their passport to visit their stores.

Now Starbucks has to deal with complaints from Korean customers, from whom the majority of revenues come from, and those who have find a loophole in the Korean legal system.

“We are in a dilemma as we cannot ask phone numbers from people like short-term travelers who are not mandated to enter such information,” Suh Kyu-ouk, head of the PR team, said.

He noted that Starbucks Korea is under pressure from people who think they are suffering from reverse discrimination and it is mulling asking foreigners to enter additional information once again so that Koreans do not feel offended.

“It would be wrong to say that we have a foreigner friendly policy,” he said, adding that Starbucks wants to treat everyone equally.

“We are now discussing with our WiFi service provider KT on the possibility of requiring foreigners to enter their passport number or ease requirements to Koreans in an effort to treat everyone fairly.”

Share your thoughts or leave comments to Starbucks Korea.  


About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at

  • Philip

    I am not sure this is a Korean vs. Non-Korean schism, but rather a Korean language vs.English language one. I register with starbucks in Korean language and input the info required there.

  • dnogitsune

    I have an olleh egg. I don’t use their wifi. Never worked for me.

  • AC

    The only reason for firms to collect this data is to sell your phone number to the telesales call idiots who bother you with automated calls every few days… Starbucks, do everyone – Korean and foreigner – a favour and just open up your wifi for free access like in most other countries!

  • Harold Antonio Molina

    LOL Classic Korean issues. Don’t hate just hit the English. give your email. Problem solved.

    • Shcho74

      Typical response but this isn’t the solution. The Korean government has to sort this out.

      • Harold Antonio Molina

        What’s the problem again? Koreans can’t get WIFI access. No, that’s not it. Koreans want foreigners to be forced to provide the same information, even if it means foreigners do not possess that information and will be denied WIFI access. If Koreans really want to effect a change in policy then boycott Starbucks.

        • Harold Antonio Molina

          Starbucks obviously made their WIFI access more foreign friendly because they forsaw the loss of business.

  • MasterofYou

    The Starbucks response is total bullshit. If that is the case, the Gangnam government is violating the law by offering free wifi internet that does not require verification.

    • flyingsword

      Well they probably are, Koreans have a real problem following any law, just look how they drive….

      • TheGirl FromIpanema

        That’s because they all got their licenses from Kellogs K..

        • Brad Evans

          Good job on not being totally racist yourself.

  • Jessica

    It’s OK for Koreans to discriminate against foreigners because they are superior. Duh.

    I’d like to see what would happen if a foreign shop owner opens a shop and posts “No Koreans allowed” on a sign. It’s infuriating that they get away with so much and then complain about something as tiny as this.

    • Sam

      Have you seen a shop saying no foreigners allowed? Night clubs yeah, but never seen a shop.

    • doc

      Koreans constantly discriminate, especially against people with darker skin color. People speak about America as a racist place; Korea sometimes reminds me of what the USA must have been like 50-60 years ago. I have seen the signs as well. They see no problem with such policies. Its infuriating.

      • John

        Well, apparently you don’t understand the cultural aspects of the country. You’re basically comparing apples and oranges. Faulty comparison. I feel like we westerners tend to judge another culture solely based on our experience and culture. Think outside the box for once.

    • Guest

      They exist. Ever been to some of the bars in Okpo on Geoje-do?

    • Guest

      To actually answer your question as to what would happen?

      Things would be the same way they are now, because such places exist. How’s that?

    • TheGirl FromIpanema

      They are racist

  • Sam

    This is classic. Can’t blame foreigners for the fact we don’t put up with all that BS shitware on the internet. Yes, it’s your fault Koreans that you put up with this shit.

  • Sam

    Koreans can moan when they start issuing foreigners with passports instead of one year E2s where your employer owns your ass.

  • Andrew

    There are so many choices here that I never return to any cafe where there is any wifi issue – hence I don’t go to Starbucks. Any kind of logging in is unnecessary – the multitude of cafe’s out there with the wifi password on a blackboard by the counter are the places I go to, usually better coffee as well.

    • Standardmjolk

      WORD. I can’t see why Starbucks has reached the level of popularity and success that it has; I almost avoid it in Korea unless it’s very convenient to go in and sit there for whatever primary task I might have, such as waiting for someone.
      How about whining more upwards instead of at Starbucks or at foreigners? The problem is more about Korea oppressing its Korean nationals. Personal ID numbers are required to do anything of value on Korean websites anyway.
      Oh wait, I have a solution for letting Starbucks Korea know how you feel, Koreans: DON’T GO THERE, especially if you’re paranoid about your personal information being logged. Big brother must not know what deals on shoes or what selfie-loving people’s profiles you looked at while sipping your vanilla latte? Change the system, or take your business elsewhere. I’m already doing the latter, but then again I’m Swedish.

      • leaponover

        Absolutely this is about the Korean government being far reaching and oppressive. I can’t believe Koreans would freak out about this policy because of how it relates to foreigners rather than just freak out about how invasive it is against their own citizens. That’s what they should be up in arms about.

  • Justin

    I am a foreigner but I still don’t have access to Starbucks, Cafe Bene or any ‘free Wifi’ because I do not have a phone from a Korean company (SK, LG or the T-phone company) I only have a Wifi compatible device. I am not complaining.

    • Harold Antonio Molina

      Keep looking some places only require the passkey.

  • t

    You’re bullshit conglomerate telecom companies are the ones who screw you. Don’t blame Starbucks for you’re government’s problems.

  • Alex Tribec

    Koreans are just ethnocentric and have an inferiority complex. In addition, if they aren’t bitching or protesting about something they aren’t happy. Just hit English and move on.

  • Simon

    A discussion on equality in Korea is interesting.. Waiting for LGBT right’s and age equality.. Yet people more motivated to complain about free internet..

    • Kyle

      I didn’t even think about that! well said!

  • gunno

    Yesterday I needed a staff member to enter his personal info on my phone so I could use their wi-fi. “Foreigner-friendly” it certainly is not. While other cafes offer simple-to-use free wi-fi services, Starbucks’ service is ridiculously over-complicated

  • Nancie (Ladyexpat)

    I would never give my passport details to a coffee shop.

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  • Marisa

    I think it is a storm in a coffee cup.

  • Bryan Cheron

    This “those evil foreigners are taking advantage of us!” attitude reminds me of this: I once had a class who were expressing outrage that Starbucks Korea is more expensive than in many other countries, that they were being ripped off by evil foreigners. When I told them that prices are set by Shinsegae, they didn’t quite know how to feel about it! Haha

  • flyingsword

    They have no right to any of this information!

  • Stacey Tewes

    Businesses are supposed to make their processes SIMPLER

  • Kyle

    I picture a foreign entrepreneur weeping while reading this, after just paying over six figures USD to the Korean government, just to be allowed to open a business here.

  • TheGirl FromIpanema

    South Koreans are stupid.. It’s your own LAW… Deal with it – you racist people.

    • Brad Evans

      Yes, because only law-makers drink their coffee at Starbucks. And thank you, I’m sure it didn’t even occur to them to think about changing the law until your wisdom (of the entire country being called stupid and racist) was bestowed upon them.

  • Queen Maja

    I’m a bit confused. What if I’m a traveler who doesn’t have a Korean phone number or provider; I shouldn’t be able to use wifi in starbucks?

    • Brad Evans

      If you are going to Starbucks on your vacation in a foreign country, I’m sorry, but you aren’t really travelling and seeing everything there is to see there. Just my two cents.

      • Queen Maja

        When i first arrived I didn’t have services on my phone and needed to catch up with the Korean friend I was meeting with because I was lost.

        Also, just because you travel differently doesn’t mean everyone else does…

      • dirtyD

        the only time i go to starbucks is when im travelling in another country cause i can use their wifi an look up info like directions and phone numbers and what not.

  • Brad Evans

    여기 악플러들이 심하네. 인터넷에서 외국인에 관련한 소식이 나올 때마다 한국 친구가 있더라도 갑자기 모든 한국사람과 문화가 똑같고 인종 차별주의자라는 공격적인 총괄하네. 인정하건데, 한국에 인종 차별은 존재하지만 다른 나라와 비해 약하다.
    예를 들면,
    한국에서 인종 차별 = 가끔 와이파이 못 쓰거나 어떤 나이트클럽 사장이 들어오면 안 된다고 한다.
    미국에서 인종 차별 = 피부가 거무스름한다면 아무것도 안하고 제포하게 되거나 총으로 사망을 당한다.
    유럽에서 = 로마니(Romani)사람들이 시민권을 갖더라도 제대로 인권을 갖지 못 하거나 일반적으로 폭려적인 범죄를 당한다.

    골라보자 😉

    아니면 차별을 당한다면 차별하는 말로 반박하지말라.

  • Don Luis Obispo

    I agree: just take out the password re

  • Don Luis Obispo

    requirement like every other coffee shop has done. Why is this only a Starbucks thing? It took Starbucks over 5 years to fix the “foreigner” issue, and now, foreigners cannot use the starbucks wifi on mobile unless they have KT – and it’s only in Korean. I remember not too long ago we too had to fill out all that crap on the login. Koreans shouldn’t have to either.
    And Starbucks reaction? To reinstitute the personal information for foreigners. Why not make it simple – only a passcode.

  • Shad Schroeder

    This drives me crazy. A few months ago I was able to access the internet relatively easily. No I have to ask a barista to log me on. (I don’t have a cellphone even though I am long time resident -don’t like them, find their use obnoxious – so it’s even more difficult.) I have a saying about life in Korea – it’s rarely easy.

  • Korea

    Koreans love Starbucks. Starbucks blends well in Korea.

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