Always check with Korean authorities about the most up-to-date procedures before applying. This information was accurate as of 3/28/13
If you’re a resident in Korea for more than 1 year and you want to drive, you’ll eventually have to pay a visit to the local Korean DMV to obtain a Korean license (don’t worry, it’s not as painful as it sounds).
There are 2 options for obtaining a driver’s license in Korea:
A- Convert your original, valid U.S. drivers license into a Korean driver’s license, or
B- Apply and obtain a Korean license from scratch
On the surface, option A seems a bit easier. However, option A requires you to submit an apostilled copy of your U.S. license and we’ve recently heard from some of you that obtaining the apostille from the U.S. can be difficult and time consuming. So, we specifically wanted to check out option B during this visit. For the record, option A will cost you either 16,000 won or 10,000 won depending on which state you hail from and if your state has a reciprocity agreement with Korea. More information on option A can be found here.
Option B basically requires you to attend a safety training, check your eyes, take a written test, a driving course test, and then a road test. I know, it sounds like a lot, but the DMV assured us that if scheduling permits, you could complete the entire process in as little as one day. Some folks might have to return a second day if the driving test schedule is full when they apply. The total cost is only 55,000 won and don’t worry, the training and tests are all in English and they provide the car. A few tidbits of insider information we gathered during this visit are: Mondays, Fridays, and the days after Korean Holidays are the busiest; if you have a certificate from a Korean hospital/doctor indicating that your eyes are in good shape, then you can skip the eye test at the DMV; and almost all Americans who have already driven in the U.S. pass the tests (for those of you who have never driven before, it may be slightly difficult). They offer the safety training, the first step in the entire process) at 9:30, 11:20, and 15:20, so you may want to time your visit based on these courses since you have to start with this. Detailed information about option B is here. Overall we found the DMV process to be easy to navigate. There’s a bit of going up and down to the various floors of the building and a fair amount of “taking a number”, but it’s all totally manageable. The customer service staff that guide you through the process spoke excellent English and all the staff we encountered were courteous and kind.
We’re in constant contact with the authorities in the Korean Government who manage foreigner licensing and are always exploring options to make this process as simple as possible for U.S. citizens. For those of you struggling to obtain the apostille from your state, we hope this write-up encourages you to consider option B and just take the regular driving test. You could be on your way in your vehicle in as little as 1 or 2 days.