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LifestyleGuide for Expats
Getting a Korean driver’s licenseTrials and tribulations of a reporter's journey to drive in the Hermit Kingdom
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승인 2013.08.09  13:44:55
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▲ Darryl Coote holding his freshly minted South Korean driver's license.Photo courtesy The author

[This article was first published in October, 2012, in issue 79.]

For me, this past summer was perfect. Beach days and campfire nights. Evenings playing basketball by the ocean in Tapdong, Jeju City, and mornings sipping coffee while writing copy for the paper. It was perfect, except for one thing. Wheels.

Four years ago I came here armed with my international driver’s license and within my first two weeks on this rock I purchased a motorcycle. A year later my licence expired. Since then my stead was allowed to rot in the elements. That was until this past summer when I realized what was missing from my life and I set out to get my Korean driver’s license. It was a daunting and confusing task to say the least and I enlisted the help of a Korean friend. Wanting to drive a motorcycle, I had to earn a D2 license, which would allow me to drive stick. To do this, I had to pass a written and two driving tests.

The first was the written test. My friend called the DMV to arrange the date and, to my surprise, I was to take the test within the same week. I arrived at the driver’s license office just outside of Shin Jeju, paid my 6,000 won, gave them a passport photo, and then waited for my named to be called. When it was my turn I sat in front of one of the many computers in a large room. The test was offered in several languages. I chose English — at least that is the option I thought I chose. There were 60 multiple-choice questions, most of which were so badly written I often threw up my hands and looked about the room to see if anyone else was as confused as I was. In the end, I finished the test and right away was told that I had passed with 82 out of 100.

This didn’t mean much I am afraid. I couldn’t practice driving yet. That privilege would come with passing the first driving test. With a surplus of 10 years of driving experience I am ashamed to admit that I had never driven stick before, so I enrolled in a driving academy, which set me back almost 200,000 won. It was a day course that included the driving test.

After a morning of classes and watching videos (all in Korean), I was finally behind the wheel in the afternoon. I drove through a course several times and learned all the basics of the car, which turned out to be quite unnecessary for the test. The first oddity of the test was that no instructor was in the car with me; a computer prompted me, in Korean, with instructions. It told me to turn on the car, to use my left and right blinkers, to put the car in first gear, and so on. If I made a mistake, like if I turned on my left blinker instead of the right, points would be deducted. Then the car told me to drive straight for 50 meters. Before I got that far a siren went off in the car and I had to conduct an emergency stop, then continue on to the finish line. That was it.

It was that simple. I passed and was able to drive on the road with a licensed driver. After one week or so of practicing, I enrolled for my final driving test. It was to be at nine in the morning. When I got to the driving facility on the border of Shin Jeju, I was escorted into a classroom with a dozen or so other people where we were shown the same videos as before, plus some new ones.

This was followed by a relatively lengthy class where an instructor went over every aspect of the test. After two hours of lectures I was behind the wheel for my test, but the car was an automatic, not a manual. Confused, I didn’t say anything just incase it was a mistake.

There are two possible driving routes to this test. The one I did consisted of two U-turns, a single right-hand turn, and parallel parking within a white box painted on the ground.

My instructor seemed impressed with my skills and told me the only thing I did wrong was when at a stoplight I should throw the car into neutral. A cultural difference in driving I’m sure, for I have no idea what the purpose of this action is.

I had passed, and now all that was left to do was to drive back to the original driver’s license test building and show the office worker a single piece of paper that had been stamped three times to signify a pass at each exam. They then asked me for another passport size photo, and bam! Laminated.

Though the summer is now long gone, I have followed it up with an even better autumn, tilting at windmills seated upon my trusty Rocinante (that’s what I call my motorcycle).

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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