In South Korea it is entirely possible to drive with an international drivers license. While each country has different requirements to obtain an international drivers license, it is usually as easy as filling out an application form while still in your home country and getting your international license on the spot. You cannot apply for an international driver’s license in Korea, it has to be done at the vehicle registration centre in your home country.
If you’re planning to move to Seoul permanently, the biggest problem with an international license is that it’s only valid for a year after you enter Korea. If you’re only planning to stay for a year or less, an international license is ideal and is considered valid for any of your driving needs while in Korea. You can renew your international driver’s license if you go back to your home country to renew it, but you cannot renew an international license in Korea.
Exchanging Your License for a Korean License
Another option, if you’re planning on staying in Seoul for more than a year, is to convert your driver’s license from your home country into a Korean driver’s license. To do this, you need to go to the DMV office closest to you in Seoul. You don’t need an appointment. In order to exchange your license, depending on your country of origin, you will have to pass a written test and then take a physical driving test. The following countries are exempt from having to do a written test, but everyone is expected to take a physical driving test if they want to exchange their license:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, East Timor, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Maldives, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, San Tome et Principle, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Unites States of America, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
The following documents are needed in order to change your home drivers license into a Korean drivers license:
- Your alien registration card
- Your former drivers license (they will keep your home country license before presenting you with a Korean license – you can get it back when you leave the country)
- Proof that you got the original license in your home country( usually just your passport will suffice)
- A notarized translation of your original license
- A valid passport
- Three passport size photos
- A confirmation letter from your country’s embassy.
Mostly, the Korean government wants to know that your original license isn’t forged.
You will have to pay a small fee for your receipt and for your driving test. You can expect to pay under 20,000 won for everything. You have to have a full license in order to do this – meaning, if you have a learners permit or any other temporary license you won’t be able to obtain a Korean driver’s license.
Converting your License to a Korean License
If you don’t come from any of these listed countries, you will have to submit a written test as well as a driving test. You can take these tests in Gangnam, Gangso, Dobong, or Seobu in Seoul. For the exact location of a DMV closest to you, please call the Korean Tourist Information Centre at 02-1330, they will tell you which is closest to your area and how to get there from your home.
First Time Drivers
If you are getting a drivers license for the first time, you will have to take the written test, take driving lessons, have two initial driving tests with an instructor, and finally go on a driving test with a police officer in Seoul (you can do this once you have 10 hours of driving practice in Seoul). For all of this, you can expect to pay less than 50,000 won.
All written tests can be taken in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese and for new drivers the theory tests can be taken in French and German as well.The procedure you will use to apply for a Korean driver’s license is the same as any other Korean and is done in three steps.
Step one: A theory test in which you must answer 40 multiple-choice questions on a quiz available in English, French, German, Japanese and Chinese.
Step two: A driving test on a designated croute, at a driving school, or at a driver’s license test site.
You can only take this test after taking 10 basic driving lessons with a driving school instructor (see list of driving schools below). Also, 10 hours of practice on the road in Seoul is required before the next step.
Step three: Have a policeman or someone approved by the police agency sit next to you while driving on an actual road.
The written test is comprised of 40 multiple choice questions regarding driving theory. Most expats have described the English version as being ” weirdly phrased”, which isn’t surprising considering the quality of the English written on most billboards and T-shirts througout the country. unfortunately, there is no longer a practice book to study from printed in English, but the general consensus is that the test is pretty easy. A passing score is 70%. If you are familiar with most of the driving rules in the USA then you will do well on this test, as it is based on the one taken in the states.
Driving Schools around Seoul (websites are in Korean, but you can try the call centres for service in English):
- Nowon-gu: http://www.nowoncar.co.kr/ (02-080-516-8000)
- Mapo-gu: http://www.sungsancar.co.kr/ ( 02-304-7777)
- Gangseo-gu: http://www.gayangcar.co.kr/ (02-3661-8025)
- Seocho-gu: http://www.yangjaecar.co.kr/ ( 02-575-9500)
- Yeongdeungpo-gu: http://www.sdyc.co.kr/ (02-2682-1442)
- Nokchun: http://www.ncdrive.co.kr (02-903-3131)
- Seoul: http://www.seouldriver.co.k (02-2665-6961)
- Donga: http://www.donga-car.co.kr (02-457-0115)
These schools will help you with anything you need to know concerning driving in Korea and obtaining/exchanging your driver’s license. There are, unfortunately, no specific English-speaking driving schools in Seoul. Chances are, though, that there will be an instructor with whom you will be able to communicate.