Locked Out Of My Apartment With An Automated Door Lock

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It was only a matter of time before it happened.

Technology has a way of coming back to bite you in the arse. I’m not sure why anyone decided to do away with the old lock and key system; I mean, it has worked for centuries, but here in Korea things are a bit more technologically advanced and that means doors with automated locks. You can see where this is going…

Locked Out Of My Apartment With An Automated Door
Locked Out Of My Apartment With An Automated Door

It was a Friday night and I had just finished work. Now on an average night I would head out for food and a beer, but on this particular day I decided to call it an early evening and head home.

You can imagine my surprise when I reached my door and found that it wouldn’t unlock. Had I stumbled onto the wrong floor? No, this was in fact the 10th. Did I key in the wrong number? No, I had not. I stubbornly tried my pin again and again, and nada! I had been left out in the cold. This isn’t the first time I’ve had troubles in my apartment building; remember the time they put up ‘wanted’ posters after I disposed of my garbage the wrong way?

Seeing as this oh-so-modern building I live in doesn’t have a reception, or a maintenance guy, or some kind of handy-man I can contact in case of an emergency (like this one!), I was left to fend for myself. So I did the most sensible thing – I raced back to work. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned during my time here, it’s that Koreans work well past the end of their shift, and that was exactly the case when I got there.

I explained the issue to the  HR guy that deals with the foreign teachers (and their problems). He came back to the building and tried punching in the same numbers, using a card key, and even re-setting the machine. Nothing.

He then started walking away on his cell phone, on what I assumed was a personal call. Not that I could have eavesdropped since the conversation was in Korean, but I let him have his space. I waited anxiously in the dark corridor for him to get off the phone – 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes… What could possibly be taking him so long?

I decided to go investigate only to find that the man had left without saying a single word to me!

My only chance for help had vanished.

I sat there bemused by the absurdity of the situation and weighed my options.

And then, after 20 minutes or so, he reappeared! I stared at him waiting for some kind of explanation. Why had he left me all alone during this time of need? Huh? Why? I got no explanation. My attempts at getting any answers out of him proved fruitless.

This wasn’t looking very positive so I began to offer suggestions: What if we call the building manager? Certainly, there must be a manager somewhere. What if we call the number on the door? Maybe the lock company can help us. What if we get a locksmith? I bet someone’s awake at this hour…

Mildly annoyed by my chatter he offered me a glimmer of hope, “Help is on the way.” Oh, that was hard. Those were some of the last English words spoken my way.

We sat another 15 minutes outside my door in silence until I was told I needed to go find new batteries for the door.

By the time I got back from the supermarket (which was just about to close as I bolted in there!) there was a rough looking man hacking at my door. He had a tool belt strapped around his waist, reeked of smoke, and either had tattoos or large bruises on his arms. It was hard to tell with the poor lighting…but he sure looked tough.

I was completely ignored the whole time until it came time to pay the locksmith. That’s when they turned to me.

That’ll be 50,000 won. About $45 USD. And by the way, the school won’t be paying for it. Huh?

When they say free apartment, am I not entitled to a working door?

The following day I learned the whole ordeal could have been much simpler and A LOT cheaper.


Buy yourself a 9 volt square battery. The automated door has two small prongs on the exterior. Hold the battery up against these; this will give the automated door lock enough juice for you to type in your code and get in. Once you are in your apartment you can open the lock from the inside and replace the old batteries with new double AAs (or whatever your door takes). You’ll hardly break a sweat, oh and it won’t cost you a small fortune. BOOM!

Join the Conversation


      1. says: Sybil Highdale

        Did you learn how to change your combination? We’re living in South Korea now and we found out our combination lock is the basic one when you move in. So everyone in the complex knows it. We were told to change it but the realtor doesn’t know how and our neighbors don’t speak English and I’m just learning hangul. Since we’re at a remote base most guys live on base we know and don’t have remote door locks.

        So if you learned how to change the combo while the guy was trying to open your door before getting help. Will you please share?

        1. says: Audrey Bergner

          Hi Sybil, to be honest, I have no idea how to reset the pin on the door lock. I’m pretty sure I was using the same # the previous tenant had. I just did a quick Google search and they have some videos in English on how to reset door locks, but I don’t know if the model on these videos will match the one on your door, though it might be worth trying. I wish I could be of more help!

  1. says: Zhu

    Actually, $45 isn’t that bad although it is painful (and expensive by Korean standards maybe?). I know in France, where most doors lock automatically, it can cost as much as 800 euro (no kidding!) to get in. Famous scam, especially when it happens on a Sunday or late at night and people have no choice but paying.

    We lock ourselves out of the car last year… luckily we had a spare set of keys at home, but we were in a far far away suburb and the “adventure” kept us busy for the entire day!

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Whoaaa, that would be a lot of money to pay to get back into your own apartment! That’s more than your average plane ticket! Hmmm, maybe if that ever happens you can leave the apartment behind and go on a vacation instead. πŸ˜‰

      1. says: Sybil Highdale

        I’d like a plane ticket for $45 please. A lock smith in the states is at least $60. The thing is now I know how to get into our apartment in South Korea if it happens to me.

  2. says: Tom @ Waegook Tom

    Hahahaha oh dear! One of those head-scratching moments for sure. Was your battery not beeping more than usual when you were coming and going before it finally ran out? My bf’s was beeping for a good month or so.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      It sure was, but I thought nothing of it! I’ve never lived in an apartment with an automatic door lock so I figured maybe it was just a new jingle…haha. I should have seen it coming!

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Haha, yeah, he has a habit of leaving people hanging there… Apparently I’m not the first to experience that kind of behaviour. πŸ˜‰

  3. says: Suzy

    $45! My friend actually has one of these key pad type locks for his apartment in the U.S. He hates it because he says if when the battery starts to go, he is usually out of luck. I don’t know why anyone would abandon the simple key and lock combination!

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      I agree, the old lock and key combo certainly had its benefits. Korea is just really high-tech that way, and I’m sure many countries in Asia are the same way.

  4. says: Charles McCool

    Wow, that seems harsh that the school will not reimburse you. Great solution but I hope BYOB (bring your own battery) is not the newest travel necessity.

  5. says: Chris

    I loved my time in Korea (all bit it short) but damn did they have weird setups all over the place and this just adds to the stories. Glad you got it sorted mate but man you’d think the locals would know how to open their technologically advanced doors.

  6. says: Sheryll

    Ohh I have heard ALL about this nightmare. A couple of my other friends have had this happen to them too. I feel like I should just replace my batteries every few months to avoid the problem…because I’m super paranoid! Thanks for the tip about the battery, I’m definitely going to stock up on some.

  7. Uh oh. It must have been frightening and anxious at the same time to be in that situation. At least now you know what to do next time.

    One of the boo-boo’s of automated stuff. I have a love and hate relationship with technology. Toinks.

  8. says: Rhonda

    Lol, this was too funny. I had to laugh because it’s something that would totally happen to me. Glad you got the issue resolved! I too think the school should pay for it though.

  9. says: Colleen Brynn

    I’m not going to lie. I would have probably had a private cry when the man walked away without saying anything. *single tear*

  10. says: Ceri

    Oh my god, what? You had to pay that much for a locksmith when the dude could have told you what to do with the battery in the first place? How frustrating.

  11. says: Jill

    Awe man! I locked myself out so many times in Abu Dhabi… it only took about 3 minutes for the maintenance/housekeepers to let me in. No tough looking locksmiths required!

    But now you have another great story to look back on! πŸ™‚

  12. says: Grace

    Technology can really be a pain in the butt sometimes eh? I just saw an invention on tv where your door would just unlock when you were near it because of an object you would be holding. It’s crazy.

  13. says: ashree

    God this is definitely like nightmare! Technological nightmare. It’s silly and relieve at the same time when we finally know the drill, in your case the battery-thing. Good post! Now I get some technological insight in Korea.


  14. says: bryan flake

    Oh, I am so sorry of the nightmare that this locksmith experience was for you. I have always thought that a key pad door lock would be super convenient. Apparently the trick is to always keep a set of batteries with you. I’m sure it is no consolation, but at least you didn’t break the key in the lock. That would have been bad.

  15. says: Katie

    Oh boy, that sounds like a nightmare. Something very similar happened to me while I was on exchange in Seoul! After a long night of studying *cough* drinking/partying *cough* I came back to my dorm room at around 3am to find out that my door wouldn’t open! I tried everything. Eventually, I had to call the RA on duty who then called a maintenance guy. He spent a good 30 minutes trying to open the door, used the battery technique that you mentioned and but still to no avail. He became pretty frustrated (as we all did) and began literally thrashing the door and keypad. My poor neighbour awoke to the sound of banging and yelling. The maintenance guy ended up asking my neighbour if he could walk through her room onto the balcony and climb over the railing onto mine so he could unlock the door that way! Mind you this was on the 6th floor and I am certain he was at least late 50’s-60s! Crazy, eventful night. At first the idea of not needed to carry around a key sounded brilliant but maybe not so much after this…

  16. says: Brittany

    Hello! So tonight ( June 17, 2018) this happened to us at 7 o’clock on a Sunday night! Our director is awesome and he tried to reach the landlord with no success :(. I was starting to freak out because we have our two cats in the apartment and we had been gone all day. I found your blog and the buttery tricked worked! Thank you thank you! Your blog saved our day!

  17. says: Aldrin

    Great post, Audrey. This is definitely like nightmare! Technological nightmare. It’s silly and relieve at the same time when we finally know the drill, in your case the battery-thing. Thanks for sharing your experience Audrey!

  18. To begin, make a small hole at the bottom of your door lock with a drill. When you’re done drilling, put a pick in the hole and press it down. The lock will open on its own without causing any damage to the mechanism. This approach can be used to open a schlage keypad lock or a kwikset keypad door lock without a key. If you are locked out of your house, you can utilize this lesson to avoid having to call a locksmith.

  19. I am glad you could get into the apartment in the end even if it was a bit of a headache. Most smart locks are equipped with a way of powering it externally, some have a micro USB port and others have the contacts for a battery.

    This can be the challenge with these new locks though as they don’t give you any feedback when the lock is dead so it’s hard to know what the issue is.

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