All people wishing to drive in Korea need a driver’s license. There are several ways to do this; if you have a license in your home country and prepared an international permit, you are covered until the permit expires. If you have a license from overseas but no international permit before coming you Korea, you have two options; temporary exchange or get a new license. A number of countries’ licenses can be exchanged for a Korean license while you are living in Korea. The last option is to get tested and hopefully gain a Korean license.
An international permit (국제운전면허, 國際運轉免許, gukje unjeon myeonheo) and a valid driver’s license from a signatory country of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic are legal for driving in Korea. As Korea can only give international permits for Korean driver’s licenses, you must obtain the international permit for your license in the country that issued the license before you come to Korea. This booklet states your license is valid, what restrictions exist for it, and is valid for up to one year. Once the permit expires, despite the expiration date on the license itself, you cannot legally drive in Korea. Upon expiration, international permits cannot be renewed.
Valid driver’s licenses from a number of different countries can be exchanged for a Korean driver’s license. This is a temporary exchange as your license is held and can be returned to you before you leave Korea. To get your original license back, you must return your Korean license and show your passport and airline ticket. For full information on this and other driving topics, visit the Road Traffic Authority Driver’s License Examination Office’s website at http://dl.koroad.or.kr (K, E).
Exchange is only valid for full licenses acquired outside of Korea. Individuals who possess temporary, provisional, probationary, permit, certificate, or a motorcycle license cannot exchange them for Korean licenses. If you do not have a full license or have a motorcycle license, you must complete the application process for new license in Korea.
This exchange program is designed for international residents living in Korea and not for people visiting on a short trip. This is proven by showing your Alien Registration Card (ARC). This identification card is only obtainable from Immigration for visa classes valid over 90 days. More information on this process in the Visa and Immigration section. If you do not have this card yet, you must wait until you get the ARC before you can apply for the driver’s license exchange.
As Korea cannot confirm which licenses are official and which are not, your embassy needs to provide a certificate declaring your license is valid. You will also need to get a certificate of entry and exit (출입국사실증명서, 出入國事實證明書, churipguk sasil jeungmyeongseo) showing your stays in Korea. This document will be available at a Korean local government office.
The day you are applying for the exchange, you will need to bring your passport and three photos (3.5 cm x 4.5 cm) taken within the last six months. You’ll also need to undergo a basic physical, which will cost 6,000 won, and need to pay a 7,500-won fee for the new license to be created.
If your overseas license cannot be exchanged, you’ll need to take a simple written exam and 7,500 won to take the exam. The written test consists of 20 multiple-choice questions. The test is available in English, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Mongolian, Filipino, Cambodian, and Korean.
If you do not have an international permit or do not have a valid license to exchange, you need to go through the testing procedure to manually obtain a license. Driver’s License Test Centers (전국면허시험장, 全國免許試驗場, jeonguk myeonheo siheomjang) are located in 26 locations. Unlike licensing in the United States, Korea operates their licensing system on a federal level. This means it doesn’t matter where you take the exam as it is unified. You can also move to a different province and still use the same license; it is valid no matter where you live in Korea. For detailed information, please visit the website http://dl.koroad.or.kr or call 1577-1120.
If you need some practice behind the wheel of a car, you can attend a driving school. Called 운전학원 (運轉學院, unjeon hagwon) or 자동차학원 (自動車學院, jadongcha hagwon), they will teach you the rules and how to drive a car. One drawback of driving schools is that they often do not provide sufficient number of instructors who speak foreign languages fluently. Ask admin staff at your Center to contact local driving centers to see if they have an instructor who can speak your language.
The content on this page has been taken from the 2019 edition of Living in Korea. The book was created in support of our international researchers and has been completely rewritten. The book is available as a 6 MB download here and in paperback form in IBS Centers.