So you want to try driving in Korea? Read on to learn a bit about driving academies, international driving permit, and the latest driver’s license in English.
Driving in Korea isn’t really a big necessity especially if you live in a big city.
The Korean public transportation system gives one a lot of options to choose from such as taxi, bus, and train. You can even make reservations online in most cases. Yet, there are times that one may consider driving but you will need proper document for that.
What? As a foreigner, you have three options:
*1. bring and exchange your driver’s license (one that is issued from your home country)
*2. use an international driving permit (issued from your home country)
3. acquire a Korean driver’s license from scratch
*Foreigners are allowed to drive as long as they have the needed documents to do so, depending on what country they are from: AC (Acknowledged Country) or UC (Unacknowledged Country). This would mean taking the computerized written test (for UC) or not (for AC). You can check the Korean Road Traffic Authority website for more details.
If ever that you would want to get a Korean driver’s license in Korea, it is quite possible even if you are a total noob. There are driving schools in most towns as it is illegal (and maybe even fatally dangerous) to learn from an unauthorized instructor or worse, on your own, right? ^^ Go look for a driving academy. Getting that driver’s license in Cheonan is possible with due diligence and patience — plus a bit of wons, that is.
Kinds of Driving Academies
There are five KNPA-authorized driving schools listed in Cheonan as of 2019 (Korean National Police Agency). This list includes driving schools for regular vehicles like cars and buses, as well as heavy equipment vehicles (중장비 자동차).
- Heavy Equipment Operation Academy ( e.g. 중장비운전자동차정비학원)
So has the idea of being able to drive a forklift crossed your mind at all? This is the place to find if that is so. The one that I accidentally found in Cheonan has driving, maintenance, and licensing programs. It has a testing site just across from it and regularly have a test scheduled twice a month.
Training for small equipment (less than 3 tons) takes two days and cost roughly around at least 300,000 KRW. And one would need to have a regular vehicle driving license (Level 1) to qualify for the training.
- Regular Driving Academy for Levels 1 &2 (i.e. 자동차운전문학원)
Most people would start at this kind of driving school and it is the more common one that you can find. Young Koreans would usually flock to these places during school break or when they are getting ready for the job-market. Some driving schools also provide a few hours of “free” driving lectures for multicultural spouses through the local global center office and KNPA.
(Tip:These driving schools are more likely open to foreigners enrolling in their academies if you are not sure which one to choose.)
How? Acquiring a Korean driver’s license would require three sets of tests:
1. Computer-based Written Exam – (Language options available) This can usually be done only at the Yesan testing center after learning the theoretical part of driving in Korea. There is a practice test book for that available in English from the testing center but it’s not easy find. The Yesan Driving Examination Office is an hour drive from Cheonan City Hall but they also provide a mobile testing center on-site at some driving schools. Just check with the driving academy that you plan to enrol in.
|Preparations||application form, color photo x 3 (Standard Specifications for the Attached Color Photo), ID (Valid Identification(ID))|
|Processing Fee||Level 1,2 (regular) : KRW 7,500|
|Motorized vehicle : KRW 5,000|
|Level 2 (small) : KRW 7,500|
|Question Type||40 questions (multiple choice, fill-in the blank, and subjective answer)|
|Exam Topics||Types of driver’s licenses and their management
knowledge basic to the operation and/or driving a vehicle
|Grading System||computerized grading (results are displayed on a display board)
Level 1 : 70 points or higher
Level 2 : 60 points or higher
|Pass/Fail is stamped on the application form and given to the examinee|
2. Driving Course Test – This can be done at either at the testing center but some academies have special arrangements with the Driver’s License Exam Office. You can easily take this and the remaining test at the academy without having to go to the testing center. Be sure to double check with the academy where the testing center will be.
An evaluator, armed with a tablet computer, will sit at the passenger’s side during the whole test. Another test taker or two will be at the backseat. You will have to follow instructions as you hear it from the computer. (Language options available). You have to choose the language before starting the test.
Tip: Learn a bit of the basic Korean driving vocabulary as the English version might be lost in translation. Training and mock tests at the academy are usually done in Korean so better get tested in how you learned it. If the academy was able to provide the English version for the practice, then it will be better. That is not the usual case, though.
|Preparations||application form, ID (Valid Identification(ID))
when a representative applies for you, then the representative’s ID and Power of Attorney
|Processing Fee||Level 1,2 (regular) : KRW 18,500|
|Level 1 (large) and Level 1(special) : KRW 17,000|
|motorized vehicle : KRW 6,000
Level 2 (small) : KRW 7,500
|Grading System||automatic grading by a computerized system using a minus point scale starting from 100|
|Level 1(large) and Level 1,2 (regular) : 80 points or higher|
|Level 1(special) and Level 2(small), motorized vehicles : 90 points or higher|
|Failing Criteria||Level 1(large)||
|Level 1,2 (regular)||
3. On-Road Driving Exam – This is the hardest and dangerous part since you will be out on the real road under specific instructions and time pressure. It’s almost the same set up as the previous test (Driving Course) but has four different routes which will be randomly assigned to the test-taker.
|Preparations and Processing Fee||application form, ID (Valid Identification(ID)),
when a representative applies for you, then the representative’s ID and Power of Attorney
receipt for paying Processing fee : KRW 25,000
|Driving Course||total distance of over 5 km|
|Grading System||70 points or higher|
|the evaluator grades by using minus point system starting from 100|
|Failing Criteria||examinee quits the test or the examinee is unable the start the vehicle after 3 failed tries|
|showing ineptitude in vehicle operations such as the engine stalling and stopping over 5 times due to inexperience in clutch/gear operations or sudden braking over 5 times|
|involved in or the cause of a potential or actual traffic accident|
|ignoring the directions of the evaluator in situations of dangerous traffic environment|
|ignoring the safety and rights of pedestrians, ignoring and violating traffic lights and signs, crossing the center line, or driving dangerously near a school bus|
|not wearing a seat belt from the start to the finish of the exam|
|Other||You must obtain your driver’s license during the valid period of your temporary license
(when your temporary license expires then you must re-take the written exam and driving course test before you can take the on-road driving exam)
|For persons who fail their on-road driving exam (including exams carried out by other driving schools), they must wait 3 days before they can try to take the on-road driving exam again.
Ex) if you fail on the 1st, then you can retake on the 4th
Once you decide to do the whole process through the driving academy, complete it as soon as possible before the initial written test result expires. If not, you might have to start from the beginning again.
And if you are successful in pasing the tests, you might want to have an English version for an additional fee. This can be used locally and internationally if you plan to drive in any of the 33 countries included in the list as of the initial release of this bilingual driver’s license (September 2019).
Otherwise, you might need a South Korea-issued international driving permit to be used in other countries or notarized translation in addition to the Korean license.
How to get the Bilingual Driver’s License:
To get the English version, you can apply for it at the testing center and get it within a day. Another option, if you already have the all-Korean license, is through any main police station (경찰서 not 파철서) which would take at least a week before you receive the card.
If you live in Cheonan, it will be more convenient to do the second one if you can wait for a few days to a week. Simply head to the main police station’s general public service office (중합민원실) and look for the form like the one below.
Fill it up and give it to officer, along with your Korean driver’s license and 10,000 KRW. You may also add a passport-sized photo (3.5*4.5cm) if you wish but you can also choose to use the one on their file. You can pay by cash or card and choose how you would want to receive the new license. It can either be mailed or if you prefer to pick it up, then you will be informed when it will be available.
*Please note that you will have to surrender the old one by then. And that there are only 33 countries included in the list but each might have a different period that allows you to use the Korean bilingual driver’s license so always double check.
We hope that this has been informative enough for you. Do remember to always drive safely wherever you are, not only for your own dear life but for others too. Or better yet, just use the public transportation for your health and for the environment. 😉