Using T-money on an iPhone in Korea

Just a quick post about my recent experience trying to use T-money on an iPhone here in Korea. 

Tmoney Pay app open on an iPhone with a Ryan Kakao Friends Tmoney sticker card. Image: Tmoney

T-money iPhone sticker card

T-Money sort of works on iPhones here, but for practical purposes, it really only works by one method: using an add-on sticker card. This is a miniature version of a T-money card that literally sticks to the back of your phone. It looks like this:

Tmoney Sticker Card (티머니 스티커카드) attached to iPhones. Image: Tmoney

There are a few different designs available and they are all currently priced at 12,900 won for the sticker card itself, which then needs to be charged with funds. They can be purchased online from 11st, Coupang, or the official T-money website. 


Example of the sticker cards available on 11st

What makes it better than just carrying around a physical card in your wallet is that it can interact with the T-money Pay app for iOS, allowing you to connect it to your bank account to be automatically recharged when necessary. 

Here's a link to an English blog post by someone who bought this iPhone T-money sticker card and used it

🔗 T-money Sticker Card for iPhone Users - Wander with Jin

Of course this isn't ideal, since rather than being a "sticker" exactly, it's more just a sticky cutout of a credit card, so it does add a bit of a bump to the back of the phone, more noticeable if you have a case surrounding it, as you can kind of see here:


Sticker Card bulged in a case. Image: Kepper

If you do decide to stick it on, be aware that the Tmoney guide states that the iPhone 13 Pro has too large cameras to properly fit the sticker.  UPDATE: See below.

It seems important where you stick this - I wonder if the app can't communicate well with the sticker if it's in an alternate location, like on the case itself or at the bottom. 

iPhone 13 update:

They've come out with a smaller version of the sticker card specially designed for the iPhone 13 and other iPhone models (like the mini) that feature large camera housings. 

There are also special phone cases you can purchase too that help make the card more flush with the overall body of the phone.

Comparison of standard T-Money sticker cards and newer smaller models. Images: Wadiz

These will be available at the end of August 2022.

Rail+ sticker card for Korail trains

Similar to the T-money sticker card, there is also a sticker card produced by Korail called "Rail+". This is a similar nationwide transportation card that will also work for real trains (long-distance type trains, not just subway trains). So if you are a frequent commuter on KTX or other trains, you might consider this. 

As usual, Android users don't need this. 

Cashbee sticker card

It turns out that Cashbee also has a similar sticker card for iPhone users. If you prefer their cards, give this a try. Cashbee has essentially the same functionality as T-money, just provided by a different company. 

The Cashbee sticker card for iPhone users

T Money USIM payment (not for iPhone)

Rather than attaching a sticker to my phone, I was hopeful that I could somehow make use of the Tmoney NFC functionality built into my USIM card. I had been using Tmoney via the branded SIM card in my other Samsung Galaxy phone just fine, and had been hopeful that this functionality would carry over to the iPhone. I knew that iPhones themselves do not offer the type of NFC implementation most often used here, but I was hopeful that maybe somehow the SIM card itself could function in this regard by itself. 

I was wrong. 

After loading up the Tmoney Pay app on the iPhone and registering my number and identity, I was greeted with this unfortunate message.

Of interest is the message at the bottom:

Transportation payment function cannot be used on this device. 

Digging into the settings, I found the preferences for initiating the connection to the sticker card, but nothing for connecting to the Tmoney portion of the USIM. This seems to be limited to Android only. 

I can see now why the Sticker Card method was so highly publicized and highlighted by Tmoney as "finally" a way for iPhone users to use their phone to pay. You're not really using the phone at all I suppose. Just the sticker, activated/managed by the app. 

One side effect of this realization is that, if you are setting up a new phone service here in Korea and are given the option of a regular SIM card or a slightly more expensive USIM with Tmoney or CashBee functionality, just skip the premium option and go with a basic SIM. iPhone users won't be able to make use of those extra features anyway.

TMoney Pay via QR code

iPhone users can still pay via Tmoney using the Tmoney Pay app by QR code at places like convenience stores or cafes that accept Tmoney.

But if you ask me, you're better off just using KakaoPay or Naver Pay for that, since all the same places will accept it and Tmoney is hardly used for online shopping. The benefit of having Tmoney on the phone is the transportation payments, pure and simple. I might use it too in the shops on my commute, but without a reliable build-in transportation payment method, I doubt I'll use this at all. 

I might get the sticker card at some point, but I'd rather hope Korea at some point in the next few years will have the infrastructure to support Apple Pay. I won't hold my breath

Apple Pay update (2023)

As of Q1 2023, Apple Pay has officially launched in South Korea. Technically, you were sort of always able to use Apple Pay at offline stores here, assuming they had an NFC payment terminal. Years ago I used Apple Pay at a McDonalds order kiosk to pay. But that was only with foreign-issued credit cards. Today, with the official presence of Apple Pay, you can now add Korean payment cards to an Apple Wallet (well, technically only Hyundai Cards for the moment, but this should open to more banking cards soon).

So people are wondering: can we just use Apple Pay to "beep" onto the subways/busses? 

Sadly, no. At least for now. 

According to [애플페이 도입돼도 '교통카드' 제한된다 - 전자신문], there are systemic differences between the way T-money and Apple Pay work at the card readers. Overcoming this would require compromises and equipment upgrades that don't seem likely to be justified for now. So although in some countries you can just tap your iPhone or Apple Watch to the bus/subway payment pad, that won't be possible in Korea, at least for now. 

So the T-money sticker card is still your best choice for that.

Final thoughts

Anyway, just hoped this post might save some time and headache for iPhone users who can't seem to figure out why they can't just tap their phones and pay like their Android counterparts do. You're a little crazy to go non-Android in the Land of Samsung anyway. Be grateful you at least get a sticker card!

Happy tapping.