Although many foreigners may be ambivalent about the idea of entering the sea of traffic and oblivious pedestrians with a motor vehicle, some may find it to be advantageous or even desirable to obtain a Korean driver’s license. Here is your guide to getting a driver’s license in South Korea so you too can sit in traffic and watch people jaywalk.
Note: All courses and tests are offered in English, but that does not necessarily mean that the staff will speak English. Be sure to contact your local examination office for more information.
There are three main ways of legally driving in South Korea:
If you have a valid driver’s license from another country, you may exchange it for a Korean driver’s license. This means that they physically take away your foreign driver’s license and give you a Korean driver’s license. If you want your original driver’s license returned to you, you must return your Korean driver’s license to them.
You will need to prepare several documents in order to begin this application process:
W12,500 if your country is on THIS list or W20,000 if it is not.
*As of January 1, 2013 the US Embassy no longer notarizes driver’s licenses. If your license is from the US, you must apply for an apostille from the issuing state office. As of March 1, 2013 the UK Embassy in Korea no longer provides notarization. If your license is from the UK, you must submit an apostille instead.
2. Aptitude Test
The Aptitude Test is basically a medical check and a written exam. What you need:
If you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) from a country that is a part of (or recognizes) the Geneva Convention on Motor Traffic, then you may legally drive a motor vehicle in South Korea. However, the IDP is only good for 1 year. After that you must obtain a Korean driver’s license in order to continue to drive legally. The same rules apply for using your IDP in South Korea as with anywhere else:
You must have your valid passport and original driver’s license on you while you operate a motor vehicle.
If your original driver’s is suspended or expired, your IDP is no longer usable.
To see a list of the countries that issue and recognize the International Driving Permit, click here.
Direct Application for Korean Driver’s License (7 steps)
This is a much longer and more complicated process that involves multiple steps.
1. Traffic Safety Education
The first step is passing the traffic safety education course. You may register for the class online or on-site and you will be assigned a time and date where the class will be held (must have a valid government issued ID like an Alien Registration Card). The class lasts approximately 1 hour and is free of charge. What you need:
2. Health Check
You must receive a clean bill of health before continuing on. Most of the regional examination offices can perform the health check on-site. The fee is W6000 but you may also do a health check at any designated hospital. What you need:
The written exam is a 40 question, pass/fail test with no time limit. If you fail, you may re-take the exam the following day. You must pass the exam within 1 year of your first attempt otherwise you must re-apply. What you need:
3 color photo headshots (3cm x 4cm)
W7500 (processing fee)
4. Driving Course Test
You must pass a driving test on a set course with a driving instructor. Part of this test is judged by a digital grading system, so you must make sure to follow the timing exactly or the system could fail you. The test includes basic use of the vehicle (operation of turn signals, windshield wiper, etc) and responding to emergency situations while driving). If you fail the test, you may re-take it 3 days after the date on which you failed. You must have passed the Written Exam and must pass the Driving Course Test within 1 year of passing the Written Exam. What you need:
W18,000 (processing fee)
5. Obtain Temporary Driver’s License
Once you successfully pass the Driving Course Test, you will be issued a Temporary Driver’s License. This license is valid for 1 year. What you need:
W3500 (processing fee)
6. On-Road Driving Exam
The final step will be to take the On-Road Driving Exam where you will be tested in the various operations of the motor vehicle by an examiner and will have to demonstrate full competence in safe driving (this includes driving, parking, changing lanes, etc). If you fail the exam, you may re-take it 3 days after the date on which you failed. You must pass the On-Road Driving Exam during the period of time when you Temporary Driver’s License is still valid. What you need:
Temporary Driver’s License
W25,000 (processing fee)
7. Receive Driver’s License!
Total cost: ~W60,000 (not including cost of photos)
A number of countries have a reciprocity agreement where the Korean government to accept certain aspects of the license from your home country. Basically, if your country is on this list, you do not have to take the written exam. There may also be a slight difference in processing fees as well.
Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Cook Islands, East Timor, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kiribati, Laos, Malaysia, Mongol, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Palau, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu, Vietnam
Antigua Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Commonwealth of Dominique, Rep. of Dominique, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Granada, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent Grenadines, Uruguay, USA(Maryland, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Oregon, Michigan, Idaho, Alabama, West Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Georgia) ※For Oregon and Idaho, you must take a simple written exam.