Friday, December 17, 2010

Getting a Korean Driver's License

homegirl is dangerous. she's a korean driver.
Three things happen within two minutes after you get into a car in Korea:

1. You think "Well, I suppose red lights must mean something different here."
2. You paw furiously at the seat cushion in search of a seatbelt.
3. You swear to God that you will never drive in Korean traffic if he gets you out of here alive.

Whoever coined the moniker "The Land of the Morning Calm" clearly wasn't talking about traffic in Korea. It takes travelers a while to understand the organized chaos that is driving in this not-so-long-ago-underdeveloped country. Eventually, though, after their third hour on an overheated bus they take back their oath to God and decide it's about time to get a Korean driver's license.

In this post I'll walk you through all of the 3 steps necessary to get yours. [Note: Though these instructions are geared more towards Americans, most of them will apply to other nationalities as well. For your own specific licensing requirements, call your local testing site. See the note at the end of this page.]

1. Get your foreign driver's license notarized

getting through the embassy
There are few steps involved in getting your Korean license. For citizens of some countries, however, there is an extra step - a step that is especially aggravating if you chose not to live in Korea's populationally irresponsible capital city. For Americans it involves traveling to Seoul (an $80 and 6-hour round-trip from Pohang), visiting the geriatrically-slow US embassy (appointments on weekday mornings only!), and having your US driver's license notarized (a $50 service).

You could also visit the US embassy outpost in Busan during one of the public notary's visits, which occur, from what I can tell, every third quarter moon in August. [Editor's note: American Citizen Services provides consular services in Busan once a month.]

Once you DO have that special piece of paper with that special embossed seal on it, though, the rest of the process is relatively simple (though still not quite as much of a piece-of-cake as some other sites make it out to be).*

2. Visit your local driver's license office

Find your local driver's license office [운전면허시험관리공단] here.

When you visit your local office, you will need the following:
  • Affidavit affirming the validity of your driver's license (other countries' requirements may differ slightly) [대사관 확인서]. See Step 1.
  • Foreign driver's license
  • Alien Registration Card (ARC) [외국인 등록증]
  • Passport [여권]
  • 3 recent (w/in 6 mos.) passport photos
  • 17,000 won (6,000 for the computerized test; 5,000 for physical exam; 6,000 for printing the actual license).

3. Pass a written test

Once you submit all of the necessary documents and undergo the 5 minute "physical exam" (basically an eye test, performed at the driver's license office), you will need to take a 20 question computerized test, which is administered in English.

For more specifics on the test, read Passing Your Korean Driver's License Test.

If you pass, they will ask you to surrender your foreign driver's license while you are in Korea. I'm not really sure why this is a requirement, since it's easy enough to get it back. The next time you're about to leave the country, go back to the driver's license office, show your passport and an airline ticket and they'll return it.

Even if you're just mulling over the idea of buying a car while you're in Korea, start planning to get your foreign driver's license notarized now. It's cheaper and easier if you don't have to make an extra trip to Seoul at the last minute.

And don't worry about timing. Though you may not buy a car right away, your Korean driver's license will be good for 9 years from the date of issue (compared to 1 year for an International Driving Permit!), regardless of the expiration date on your foreign license.

After that, you're legal to roam Korean streets at will. Just hope that God still has your back.

*Note: The Seoul government's English website states the following: Foreigners with a license issued from the following countries are not required to provide an embassy certificate. (U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Belgium, Poland and Italy). I assume this is referring to that special piece of embossed paper. As any foreigner knows who has lived in Korea more than 2.5 days, every single Korean will give you different information, even if they work for the same department of the same government organization. Even if they sit across from each other at the same desk. Even the same person on two different days. So this may all be changing as I write. Call your own local driver's license office. Again, find and contact your local driver's license office [운전면허시험관리공단]

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