Buying a car in Korea has been one of the best decisions we have ever made as it has freed us up to travel and explore so much more of the country without having to worry about bus schedules. As we live in a small town, we were very much at the mercy of the last (usually very early) bus that returns to our town from all destinations. Having a car means we never have to worry about that anymore and can on a whim decide to make travel plans. Also, as we have a dog here, having a car has made life so much easier especially as he isn't small and can't be popped in my handbag or in a pet carrier. Now that the weather is so mild, camping has been a dream with a car (click here to see more posts on camping in Korea).
There are two ways for South Africans to go about getting a Korean drivers license; either doing the whole test like you would have done in South Africa when first getting your drivers license, or exchanging your current license for a Korean one. This post is all about exchanging your current South African License for a Korean license.
You are also able to drive in Korea with an International Driving Permit (we got ours from the AA in South Africa, I was able to write a letter and have my mom apply for it for me in South Africa) but I had read conflicting information on how long it would be valid here and our insurance required us to both possess full Korean licenses in order to be fully covered.
Getting a Drivers License in Korea
As mentioned above there are two ways to obtain a Korean license. The first is the long and arduous process of taking the actual Korean licensing test. I simply didn't have time during my work hours to go to the nearest station and do the tests. The second, and easiest way of getting a Korean licence is to exchange your South African one for a Korean one.
What this means is you go to your nearest licensing station (click here for a list of all of them in Korea as well as their contact details). You basically hand over your current South African license and they give you a Korean license, which is then valid for 10 years. In this time your SA license will probably expire. If this happens, when you are next in SA take your expired license, copies of your ARC card and Korean license as well as proof of being abroad and you should have no problems renewing it (please note I have no first hand experience with an expired license but this is the information I have found online).
The License Office here in Korea will then keep your South African license on record, until you return to South Africa (either for a holiday or permanently). If you are going back to SA on holiday, you simply go to the same Licensing Office with a copy of your airline ticket and then they will give you back your SA license AND you keep your Korean license. You then will have both licenses.
You need to get your current SA license certified by the South African embassy in Seoul. You can do this in person, or you can send it via express mail. If sending it by post you need to send your original drivers license, as well as a return envelope with paid postage to the following address:
남아프리카공화국대사관 (South African Embassy)
1-37 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
I sent both mine and my husbands licences and got back the certified copies within 5 days.
What you need to take to the Licensing Office
- Original South African Driver’s License
- Original passport (with the stamp for most recent entry into Korea)
- Original Foreigner Registration card (ARC card) or equivalent (issued from Korean government)
- Colour photo x 3 (we had these taken at the Licensing Office for W7000 pp person for a set of 8 photos)
- Confirmation letter or such from the South African Embassy stating the validity of the Foreign Driver’s License (this is the certified copy of your license)
- Processing Fee : KRW 12,500
Then simply stand in the queue, look a little lost (this always helps!) but with big smile on your face so someone feels compelled to come up to you and offer you assistance. Then hand over all your documents to the teller. You will need to fill in a few forms and then do a test of sorts. We were only asked to do an eye test (done right there at the office) but I have heard some people being asked to do a written test. It seems to depend on the office. We did our test in Jeonju. I have even heard of people having to do very strange 'physical' tests; squats, jumping, raiding their hands in the air (I am not kidding! So be prepared for a few squats). Click here to find out more information on the aptitude tests sometimes required.
Some Useful Info on Buying a Car in Korea
We bought our car second hand from a private seller on Facebook through one of the many Facebook groups for foreigners here in Korea. We paid W1 million (about $1000) and it was the best $1000 we've ever spent. Cherry, or Cheryl when she's struggling up hills, is a very old little Matiz, but she gets us safely from A to B and her fuel consumption is so good that we barely notice the cost of fuel. Also, as she is a small car (under 1000cc's) we are charged half price on all tolls and ferries #cherryforthewin!
Some Useful Info on Car Insurance
Insurance is something else to budget for when getting a car, and ours costs about W650 000 ($650) per year. If you are looking for an insurance agent I highly recommend Sami from Car Insurance in Korea (click here for his Facebook group) who offers a free price comparison of all major Insurance companies in Korea and is always such a pleasure to deal with. He helped us get our car registered in my name and sorted out all the hiccups we came across when it comes to insurance.
Have you got a Korean license here before? Did you have any problems getting it? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment here and I'll get back to you asap.