Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How an American can get a Driver's License in Korea

First of all I will tell you that driving in Korea is an experience one will never forget. Traffic laws are not always obeyed and buses and taxis think they own the road. It can be quite dangerous and is not for the faint of heart. You MUST always be aware of your surroundings. With that being said, if you still would like to drive, you CAN get a license in Korea.

There are two ways one can accomplish this goal. As of January 1, 2013, this information is accurate as some laws have changed.

Option #1: Trade in your foreign license for a Korean license
This process seems to be the easiest and fastest. However, a new law took effect on January 1, 2013, which requires you to have an Apostille on a copy of your stateside driver's license. Prior to January 1, 2013, you only needed to have it notarized. That is no longer the case. If you choose to go this route, here is the process:

  1. Gather all necessary documents to take with you:
    1. ARC Card
    2. Passport
    3. Valid Stateside License
    4. Copy of valid stateside license with Apostille
    5. Three (3) color passport size photos
  2. Go to your local driver's examination center and find the Foreign Driver's License counter
  3. Present all documents. You will then be instructed to take a written test. It will be in some form of English and you have to read carefully.
  4. Once you pass the written test, they will take your stateside license and issue you a Korean license. Fee for this is 10,000 KRW.
You get your license back when you present a plane ticket showing them you are going back to the States.

Oh, there is one disclaimer to the written test. If you are a resident of the following states, you have a reciprocity agreement and do NOT need to take the written test: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Washington, DC., and West Virginia

Option #2: Take all tests required by Korean law and get your Korean license without giving up your stateside license. Bring ARC card, passport, and three passport sized color photos.

Here is the process and the fees associated with each process:
  1. Complete Safety Education - this is all in Korean and takes one hour. It is mandatory before you can take any tests.
  2. Health Check - very simple eye exam. Be sure to bring your glasses if you wear them for driving. (fee 4,000 KRW)
  3. Apply for Written Exam - request English and complete the exam. If you fail, you may retake it the next day. If you pass, you go on to the next step. (fee 6,000 KRW)
  4. Apply for the Driving Course Test - this is a simple test to see if you can turn on the car, windshield wipers, headlights, turn signals, put car into gear, and react to an accident. You may ask for the instructions to be in English. If you fail, you may retake in 3 days. If you pass, you go on to the next step. (fee 15,000 KRW) After passing this step, you can get your Temporary Driving License which is good for one year (fee 3,000 KRW)
  5. Apply for On-Road Driving Exam - driving road test with instructions in Korean, though the test itself can be requested in English. Be sure to know the laws regarding a U-turn and changing lanes. If you fail, you may retake the test after 3 days. If you pass, you may now get your driver's license. (fee 21,000)
  6. Get Driver's License Issued - take all of your paperwork inside and get your license! (fee: 6,000)
License is good for 10 years.

Once you have a Korean license, if you want to, you may apply for an International Permit. Simply take your Korean license, current passport, and ARC to the International Permit counter and present your documents along with one passport sized color photo. They will issue you an International Permit that is good for one year. (fee: 6,000 KRW)

There is one other option worth mentioning. If you don't plan on driving a car and would like to get a license for a scooter or motorbike, that is entirely possible! Visit your local examination center and find out when they give the test for that because it may not be daily. For this license, you simply need your ARC and passport to start the process. The process is as follows:

  1. Take a one hour Traffic Safety Education course. This is all in Korean, but easy to understand with the video.
  2. Complete the written exam.
  3. Complete a short driving course. 
  4. License is valid for 10 years.
Q: How do I take the driving test without a car?
A: Cars are provided for you. Everyone uses the same type. The same is true for motorbikes; they are provided.

Q: Are the cars automatic or manual?
A: They have both available and you must specify which you prefer. Please note, if you test on an automatic transmission, you may NOT drive a manual car. 

Q: Was the test hard?
A: No, it was not really hard, but confusing at times. 

Q: Do you have to complete all the tests in one day?
A: I completed all the tests in one day because I went to the very first education class in the morning. My son got his motorbike license over the course of two days.

Q: Do the people speak English?
A: Don't count on it! I originally went to the examination center in Gangnam and the information was available in English. I tested in Yongin and the paperwork was all Korean.

Q: If I get a Korean Driver's License, is it also good for my scooter.?
A: According to the clerk I asked in Yongin, yes. He did say to keep an eye on the laws because that could change in the future.

Final Thought:
Don't be afraid to go and try. The people were very kind to me and sometimes ushered me from place to place as there are stations for each part of the process and it can be confusing to try to figure out where to go. They want you to be successful. Give it a go! What have you got to lose?

For additional, up-to-date, accurate information please visit the Koroad Road Traffic Authority by clicking  here. Happy driving and stay safe!!