Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Driving in Korea: Obtaining a Korean Driver's License

So you want to stop wasting time waiting in lines for buses, taxis, trains and subways, and have decided to join the world of convenience, high gas prices, perpetual taxi vs. scooter wars, and traffic jams, huh? Well, I hope you're up to the challenge of driving in Korea. The first challenge that presents itself is becoming a legal road warrior. You need to get a driver's license. There are three ways to become a legal driver in Korea:

1.) Obtain an International Driver's License. This can be done online, or in your native country before arriving in Korea. However, it can only be used as a valid Korean Driver's License for 1 year in before you have to convert it to a legitimate Korean Driver's License.

2.) Obtain a Korean Driver's License by using a license issued in your native country. This is the process that I recently went through, and will be writing about getting this done outside of Seoul, specifically in Daejeon. This requires handing over your native country's driver's license (it will be given back upon departure).

3.) Obtain a Korean Driver's License from scratch. This can be done at your city's Driver's License Office (운전면허시험장). You will have to take a written test (in English), a driving test, and attend a safety class. This doesn't require giving up your home country's license.

Still with me? Ok, so if you don't have an international driver's license, and you are willing to hand over your original driver's license, then step 2 is the way to go. In order to complete step 2 you will need the following:

1.) Your passport. No explanation needed.
2.) A current, valid driver's license. Can't be expired or suspended, obviously.
3.) Your ARC card. Still not sure why you need both your ARC and your passport when you needed your passport to get your ARC card in the first place, but I digress.
4.) Three passport sized photos. (3cm by 4cm) You can get these done at almost any photo studio. I personally happened to be at the Daejeon Immigration Office (대전출입국관리사무소), right across from Sun Hospital, and got 5 of them for 6,000 won. I just paid the cashier, and she gave me a little token that I used in a nearby photo booth. The only challenge was stooping while sitting in the booth to get face in the correct position.
5.) Obtain a notarized affidavit from your home countries embassy in Seoul. Ok, up until now, everything required for the Korean Driver's license you should have already had, or had easy access to in your own city. However, as of February 1st, 2010, the Korean government has required foreign citizens to get this affidavit. After-all, we ARE in Korea, and Koreans LOVE their paperwork. There are some things to be noted about this last step:

  1. As an American citizen, the cost is 50 dollars or the equivalent in won. They DO NOT accept Korean bank cards--don't ask me why--so be sure to bring cash, or your American bank card.
  2. As of June 15th, 2011, the American embassy requires you to make an appointment for notarial and all other routine services. Their hours are ridiculously meager, especially for those people not living in Seoul. They are open from 8:45 - 11:45 am Monday to Friday, and 1:00 - 3:00 pm Monday to Friday except Wednesdays. Yep, you read that right. The US embassy is only open 5 hours a day. To make it even more difficult, they are closed for all Korean AND US holidays. Anyways, if you can find time off work, here are the directions to the US embassy. ***Note that the appointment slots tend to fill up quickly, and often need to be made at least a week in advance.***
  3. Once you have made your appointment, be sure to print off the appointment details page. You won't be let in without it. Also, don't forget your passport...you also won't be in without that!
  4. The embassy recommends you print off and fill out a blank affidavit form to speed up the process. I had done this, but my wording was inadequate, so they had me fill out another form. I was only at the embassy for about 15 minutes total, so this didn't seem to speed up the process a ton. However, the wording for the affidavit should be as follows: I, (Name on Driver's License), being duly sworn according to law, declare that: I have a valid driver's license # (DL #) in (State) issued on (Issue Date) that expires on (Expiration Date).
  5. From the train station, the easiest way to the Embassy is probably by taxi. It'll only cost you 4,000 to 5,000 won, depending on traffic. Just tell the taxi driver 미국 대사관Once you're at the embassy, the process goes fairly quickly and the folks running the place are friendly, which preventing me from venting my frustrations about having to make this side trip to see them. My appointment was scheduled for 2:15, so I arrived at 2:00. I was finished and out of there by 2:15, the time my original appointment was supposed to begin. This was a huge blessing for me because I made the appointment for the Friday before Chuseok, and failed to reserve a return train ticket to Daejeon. The speed of this appointment allowed me to return to the train station and still buy a ticket before Seoul emptied out for the holidays.
Whew! Okay...maybe I should have made this a two part blog. I've already started tho, so I'm gonna keep pushing through, so instead I'll make a nice big header. Yep, that ought to do.


Okay, now that you've gathered all your documents and you're back in Daejeon, you have to make you're way to the Daejeon Driver's License Office (대전운전면허시험장). This place would have to try hard to be further out of the way. It's in the Southeast corner of Daejeon, outside of the ring of expressways. Here's a map. Buses are on the map, but I just took a taxi from Daejeon Station for about 6,000 won.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: The office is open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, but you have to be there before 4:00 pm to take the written test, again making it difficult for a public school teacher to make it there on time. I found this out the hard way. However, about once a month they are open on Saturday morning from 9:00 to 11:30.
The next Saturday they are open is October 8th, 2011.***
Along with all your documents, you will also need 17,000 won. I don't think you can use a bank card, so I would recommend bringing cash. It doesn't have to be exact, they can make change for you. You will pay three small fees:

  • 4,000 won for an eye test
  • 6,000 won for the written test
  • 7,000 won for the driver's license
Once you're at the Driver's License Office, walk up to the main counter and show them your documents, or mime driving. They'll get the idea. I had been to the office a few times, so I knew who to talk to, and she guided me through the whole process. She helped me fill out an application form, then directed me to the eye test. You can just follow the blue arrows on the ground.

The eye test was simple enough. Pay. Stand here. Cover one eye. Read the numbers she points at. Simple. Then I followed the arrows out, and went back to my lady. She then directed me to the computer lab to take the written test. The computer lab is in the next building, just follow the signs that say PC on them. The written test is by far the most difficult part of this process. The test in English and multiple choice, but it's not as clear as it could be. If you want to study for the test a bit (I didn't), there is a little book at the main desk with the title "Easy and Useful--Driver Handbook, Handy for the Pocket". The test is 20 questions, and you need a 70% to pass, which is exactly the score I achieved!!--so maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to glance through the handbook.

Most of the questions on the written test were scenario based--here's the scenario, what do you do? My advice for these questions would be to answer based on how you would drive most safely your home country--NOT based on how you see Koreans driving. For example, honking your horn to alert other driver's and pedestrians of your presence is not the safest way of driving. Other sample questions:

  1. What is the drink driving limit? a.) 0.05% b.)0.1% c.)0.15% d.)0.2%
  2. What does this sign mean? a.) Motorcycles and bicycles are prohibited. b.) Two-wheeled vehicles and motorcycles are prohibited. c.) All vehicles except motorcycles and bicycles are allowed. d.) All vehicles except two-wheeled vehicles and motorcycles are allowed.
I'm not really sure which answer was correct for that one, but I think I answered b. It could have been one of the ones I got wrong tho...who knows? Anyways, I just wanted to show that the questions can be very specific, and the English --while better than a lot of English you'll encounter in Korea-- can sound a little funny, or at least imprecise.

After you've taken your written test, and the lab technicians have marked that you passed. Take your application and all your documents back to the main office. This is where you will pay the 7,000 won for the driver's license. They print it out right there for you--no temporary paper licenses-- and TADA! You have a Korean Driver's License and are free to join the madness on the roadways of sparkling Korea!

*** Whew! I realize this post was pretty long. I tried to answer everything I could think of, but if you have any questions, be sure to ask them in the comment section, and I'll do my best to answer them. ***


Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike. I have 2 photos so I'm going hold off until I can get 3 printed. You saved me an angry trip home. - Garrett

Mike said...

No problem! If you can stop by the Daejeon Immigration Office you can get them done super quickly. Plus, it's only about 10 minutes out of the way if you go strait through the city.

Bose said...

I am new to korea and was looking for some good info on getting a driving license here, i really thank you so much for the detailed information. Blank Affidavit Form

lanae rivers-woods said...

If you need more information about taking your drivers license from scratch. I've written a few posts on the process. It's easy and a good idea if you need to keep your license for driving in the states on return trips:
How To Take the Driving Exam From Scratch

Anonymous said...

Where can you do it online?


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