Driving licences in Korea

There is a lot of confusion here in Korea among foreigners about driving with licences from our home countries.
Most foreigners assume (wrongly) that if you get an international driving permit then you are OK.
Wrong, according to this article. The man was involved in an accident and he learnt the hard way.

The Korea Times : One Good Korean Cop

By Mike Sluchinski

If you are a resident of Korea (meaning you have an alien registration card), you must change your old driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license to a new Korean drivers license within 14 days of arriving in Korea. If you don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t, you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re driving without a license and liable for prosecution.

Recently, I was involved in a minor traffic accident that has led me on a series of adventures resulting in me finding at least one good and honest Korean police officer. The reason for this story? Maybe it will help other foreign drivers avoid the many pitfalls, stress, fear, and frustration I have endured over the past 2 months.

My minor accident occurred about two months ago near Konkuk University. No one was injured?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùa quick service delivery driver on a motorbike happened to fall down behind my car. I guess I must have been driving too slow and he was driving too fast. Initially, the quick service driver just wanted me to pay him some money and settle for the accident on the spot?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùas this is a common and perfectly legal thing to do in Korea in minor accidents, unlike in the rest of the industrialized world. At the time, I refused to pay him as I believed he was trying to scam me. He was driving too quickly, and there was no way I was going to pay for his incompetence.

After the police investigated the situation, they deduced that I was not at fault and they sent the quick service or delivery driver packing after a scolding. But all of that was after hours of wasted time spent at the Dong Bu

Police Station?¢‚Ǩ¬¶waiting endlessly until the overworked police officers tried to wear both the delivery driver and myself down into admitting fault. This is when I first met officer Park.

Officer Park is a very gentle and polite police officer and he treated both parties involved with respect and seriousness?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùuntil he discovered that the delivery driver and the delivery driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s witness were telling two different stories and were in fact misrepresenting the situation for economic benefit (read as ?¢‚ǨÀúscamming me?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢).

After that and after visiting the accident site and taking many photos, he seemed convinced that I was not at fault. But because I had insisted on police intervention in the matter, officer Park was obliged to finish the paperwork and follow all proper investigatory guidelines. This he did without fault and there lies the problem. He did his job too well and had too much common sense for a Korean police officer.

Korean police have an incredible amount of paperwork to complete and if you happen to spend any time in a police station, God forbid, you will see them filling out mountains of paperwork about traffic accidents. So, the paperwork needed to be completed but the problem was that I couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t produce a Korean driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license, nor could I produce an International Driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Permit (IDP). I only had a valid Canadian driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license, which I erroneously believed would be valid in Korea.

Some of you might be wondering how I could have believed something so stupid, but this exact information was posted on the Office of the Investment Ombudsman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s website, which is operated by the Korean government and for which one, Kim Wan-soon is responsible. So, after trying to explain this to Officer Park and other officers at the Dong Bu police station, and after a multitude of phone calls resulting in me actually getting a Korean license, I am currently being investigated and am awaiting judgment for ?¢‚ǨÀúdriving without a license?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢.

With the help of my Korean wife, we informed the website?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s operators of the erroneous information that was part of their ?¢‚Ǩ?ìservice to foreigners.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù We have also both willingly cooperated with the investigation of the license problem and would like to share some useful information with foreigners driving in Korea. But why couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t the Seoul city government or the ?¢‚ǨÀúHelp Center for Foreigners?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ have published this information?

If you are in Korea and are a Korean resident (meaning you have an E2, E7 visa or a similar residents visa and an alien registration card), the IDP or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìInternational drivers license?¢‚Ǩ¬ù issued in your home country is not valid in Korea as you are no longer a resident of the country where you got the permit, you are a resident of Korea. If you get an IDP in Korea, it is also not valid in Korea, as the IDP is not valid in the country that you are a resident of. Also, an IDP is only valid if the driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license from your place of residence is valid, because an IDP is in fact not a driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license; it is simply an internationally accepted ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtranslation?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of your driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license. In short, the IDP is only valid if you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re a tourist or short-term visitor and your original driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license is valid.

If you are a resident of Korea (meaning you have an alien registration card), you must change your old driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license to a new Korean drivers license within 14 days of arriving in Korea. If you don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t, you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re driving without a license and liable for prosecution. Changing your driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license to a Korean one is easy and fast for those foreigners whose country has a treaty with Korea. For some nationalities, for example Australians and Americans, this process is a little more complicated. For more information, check the official driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license agency?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s website at

None of the above information was available on any Korean governmental websites in either Korean or English. So, if you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re a resident of Korea, change your license to a Korean license to avoid hours of wasted time and stress. The police you might encounter also may be ignorant of these rules, the government officials who we contacted surely were.

This whole experience has been even more frustrating because one can legally buy a car, legally register a car, and legally purchase insurance for a car with a Canadian driver?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s license, but you cannot drive a car with one.

On top of this seemingly idiotic and confusing system, my ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcase?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is being held up because the prosecutor involved was suspicious that I had bribed my new friend officer Park. Believe me, my wife and I were also surprised when someone from the prosecutor?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s office called and asked us point blank if the officer Park or other officers had asked for a bribe. The prosecutor?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s twisted reasoning? The police report seemed ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlenient?¢‚Ǩ¬ù or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgenerous?¢‚Ǩ¬ù because it recommended that the case against me be dismissed. As a result of this continuing investigation, Officer Park and I are deepening our relationship and my case file is now almost an inch thick. We seem to be both being punished for following the Korean government?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s chaotic and disorganized ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsystem.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

The writer is a Canadian living in Seoul with his Korean wife.

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