Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Licensed Driver in Korea


After a long and annoying process, I am a proud possessor of a Korean license. Let the Lunar New Year road trip planning begin. It only took three days being awake before 8am spread across a five day stretch of time. With many mistakes made and a whole lot of luck, the time spend was well worth while.

We went to the US Embassy on friday morning. To get there on time for our 8:45 appointments, we had to depart from Suwon at 7am. These early days always start off a bit rocky. Calvin and Erik (the other two going through this process with me) had been out late drinking late the night before, so my phone call was a wake-up call for them. We finally made it out the door and down to the bus stop, and surprise surprise, the bus was full. We had wonderful standing seats on our 30 minute bus ride. This was extra enjoyable, because Erik is 195 centimeters tall, and I'm pretty sure the buses are maxed out in height at 190cm. This super tall white man was hunched over on the bus with both arms sprawled across the width of the bus, clinging to the luggage racks on both sides. He was speaking very loudly about how all of the sleeping Koreans were waking up and staring at him. Calvin made the best remark ever, "Maybe it's because you're the only person speaking on the bus, and you're speaking very loudly." I added as usual, "Plus, you are a huge American dude." Goodness, Korea is a fun place.

When we finally arrived at the US Embassy, we found out we were early, and I had forgotten my appointment confirmation at work the previous day. I was really worried, and had basically convinced myself that I could do nothing this day. We went over to Dunkin' Donuts for some coffee and breakfast, where we stayed for too long. I realized that my appointment was a mere 2 minutes away. UGH. We ran over to the Embassy, and I was able to convince the man to let me enter even though I forgot my print out. Lucky breaks 1 & 2 (tardiness, forgetfulness). We filled out papers and swore that our licenses were real; step one complete! We took the subway and bus home, and managed to make it back in plenty of time for work.

The very next day, we headed out to the DMV testing location. This was a bit of a journey. It should have taken about an hour to get there, but of course, once again, in typical "us" fashion, it took about two and a half hours. We started late, we stopped at Suwon Station to get license photos, we took a wrong bus, then eventually admitted defeat and took a cab. Once there, we filled out all of the paper work and had our heath check. We looked at the clock and realized that we were right on time, with a whopping 45 minutes left over to take our tests before the DMV closed up shop. We eagerly went to the International desk, where the lady had been incredibly helpful, to say we were ready to finish the thing off. She regretfully told us that we had missed the testing. It had ended an hour before. Apparently, they only have Saturday testing once a month, so that meant that we would have to take our test on a school day. We left disappointed.

Today, we returned to complete the process. The same nice DMV lady was working, and she sent us up to the testing room with the paperwork she had kept safe for us over the weekend. We went up and began testing. It was all pretty much common sense, but it was still pretty tricky. Erik finished first and left the room muttering that he had failed. I naturally assumed that he was just being pessimistic. I completed the test, and it instantly popped up that I had received a 90%. It was at this point that I realized that Erik had not, in fact, passed. He knew his results. I went downstairs to where Erik was fuming. The nice DMV lady was talking with him, and while he was in the background venting to himself, I motioned to the woman that Erik was sad, rubbing my eyes, as though I was saying cry baby. I was just trying to inform her that she was unhappy, but she didn't know exactly how to react, so she looked at Erik making the same exact gesture and facial expression. It looked like she was trying to say, "Poor baby! Better luck next time. Stop crying!" Pretty hilarious. Calvin emerged shortly after to inform us that he had received a 65%, which is passing. We then left with our licenses, and decided to return again on Thursday to give Erik a second try. He'll definitely be successful then.

If you're curious about how it's done. Here you go. (note: this is for Americans) Follow these steps closely, and you should have an easier time than us.

Step 1: Online Embassy Appointment
-Go online to the Seoul US Embassy website and schedule an appointment for notarial services. You can walk in and request the document, but it takes longer and the walk-in hours don't begin until 1pm on weekdays. I'm assuming that most of you work jobs where this isn't an option. The appointment hours begin at 8:45am. I would do this! Make sure that when you register your appointment, you print the confirmation document; this is required to get into the Embassy during appointment hours.

Step 2: Your Embassy Visit
-To get to the US Embassy in Seoul, you will need to take the subway to Gwanghwamun on Line 5. If you use exit 2, just walk straight out of the exit and cross the street. You will most likely walk right past an armored vehicle that looks a lot like the new Batmobile. This tank/car is parked on the street next to a tall barbed wire fence that is surrounding the US Embassy. Continue across the street, passed about 6 Korean guards, and you will find the US citizen's entrance on the right. After a security check, they will send you to the area where you need to be. Make sure you have the following documents prepared for you Embassy visit:
-Alien Registration Card (You will leave this at the security check point.)
-Driver's License (the document you are proving is real)
-Appointment confirmation page (required for admittance)
-50 USD or an American credit card (They only accept US currency.)

You will need to get a notarized affidavit that states that you have a valid US driver's license. This really is just a silly formality, but it is something that needs to be done. They don't even check for validity; they just ask you to raise your right hand swear that everything you stated on the affidavit is true. Pay your 50 USD, fill out a form, swear it's the truth, get a notarization, and you're done. It takes about 20 mintues.

Step 3: Getting Your License
Now that you have your affidavit, you need to figure out what Driver's License Examination Office is closest to you. Here is a link that lists all of the locations. I used google maps and the help of one of my Korean co-teachers to determine the best way to get to my testing sight. Make sure to prepare the following six things:
1. Original Foreign License (This will be exchanged for your Korean license.)
2. Notarized Affidavid (to prove your license is real [steps 1 & 2])
3. Passport
4. Alien Registration Card
5. 3 color photographs. (Passport size or License size both work fine)
6. At most 30,000 won. I can't remember the exact amount, but that will definitely cover it.

Here is what you will encounter at the Driver's License Examination Office.
1. Goto the International counter. (note: they only do testing on weekdays)
2. Fill out paperwork.
3. Take a physical exam (it is really only an eye exam & a color-blindness test)
4. Take a 20 question test in English.
This may sound intimidating, but it is really simple. Just use your best judgement and common sense. Don't stress about studying road signs; three of us took the test, and I was the only one who saw a sign on his test. They are all multiple choice questions, and they ask for 1, 2 or 3 answers each. You'll be fine, but make sure to use up the whole 30 minutes you have to take the test to make sure that you get at least 12 correct. That's right, to pass, all you need is a 60% (12/20).
5. After you pass the test, it takes about twenty minutes for them to make your new license and get you on your way.
6. (worse case scenario) If you fail the test, you can come back the next day and retake it. You DO NOT have to redo anything else. You only have to take the test.



  1. I came across this post when I googled "eye-exam Seoul English" (I think I need glasses and tryin to find out where I can get an exam where we can understand each other).

    Anyway I just thought it was funny because I just moved from Dallas to here in Korea like last week and have also been obsessing all last night over how I want to create a blog and I've been getting it all togther in my head like what do I talk about and how many people will care of find it useful to them blah blah blah. I'm rambling, but I basically just wanted to say that I'm glad I stumbled upon this post, it was a great example for me :D

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