driving in Korea
Last Updated: May 19, 2021

Driving In Korea: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re planning on a trip to South Korea then there is quite a bit to know about driving in Korea and its requirements.

You can get around South Korea without a car, especially if you only plan on visiting the cities, but some of the most spectacular things to see in South Korea lurk in the countryside and the best way to see them is by driving in Korea. 

Driving in Korea is also far more efficient time-wise and cost-wise than using public transport, plus it’s far more convenient too. So let’s dig into everything you need to know about driving in Korea. 

Rules & Regulations 

Most of the driving laws in South Korea are similar to other counties in the world which makes following them and driving in Korea quite easy for most people. Here are the main ones to look out for and link to the government website

  • In South Korea, you drive on the right-hand side of the road. 
  • The legal age for driving a car is 18 years or, and 16 years old for motorbikes 
  • Anyone sitting in the front seats must wear a seatbelt at all times 
  • Passengers in the backseat have to wear a seat belt at all times too 
  • Any kids under the age of 7 years old need to be in a car seat in the back 
  • You can only use mobile phones in cars with a hands-free system
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and the limit is 0.5 grams of alcohol per liter of blood
  • Your vehicle must be insured when on the road 
  • Vehicle inspections are required every two years – so you know all cars are in ok conditions 
  • You must carry your driving license, insurance certificate, and vehicle registration documents while driving
  • Drivers must have a Korean license or a license from their home country with an accompanying International Drivers License. 
  • Left-hand turns are often prohibited except where a green arrow indicates otherwise
  • You may turn right on a red light after coming to a complete stop 

As you can see, all the rules are pretty normal except for the need to have an international driving license as a foreigner. Make sure to apply for one and receive it before arriving in the country. 

Speed Limits When Driving In Korea 

In most parts of South Korea, you’ll find ample signage indicating exactly what the speed limit in the area is. But, it’s always worth knowing the general speed limits so you can always drive cautiously and avoid any speeding fines. 

  • In towns and cities, the speed limits vary between 60-80 km/h
  • On open roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h 
  • On motorways or highways, the speed limit ranges between 100 – 120 km/h 

Always follow the speed limits and be careful of speed cameras. There are quite a few in South Korea, especially on the motorways, so don’t break the limits and get a fine.

Parking In South Korea

When driving in Korea, you’re going to have to find somewhere to park. If you’re driving around the countryside, then you won’t have a problem parking anywhere.

When looking for parking in big cities, make sure to find parking lots next to your hotel or near a shopping mall. Do not just park anywhere on the street that isn’t obviously a parking space. The traffic wardens in South Korea are very efficient and you will end up with a fine in most cases. 

Gas Stations In South Korea 

You will never be too far away from a gas station in South Korea, so there is never any need to carry any extra fuel in your car. The gas stations offer a full service, so much so, you don’t even have to get out of your car. 

The attendant comes to the window, fills up, and you pay him, job done. Gas is not cheap though and on average is goes for around $5.38 per gallon, so drive efficiently. 

Toll Roads 

If you’re driving long distances, which is highly likely if you’re exploring South Korea fully, then you will end up using the toll expressways. Luckily, they aren’t too expensive and you can pay your tolls using cash, a major credit card, or with a Hi-pass card. 

When approaching the toll gates, you will have two lanes to choose from. One is blue and is the express lane which only works if you have an On-Board Unit (OBU). An OBU automatically charges your tolls without you having to stop. Chances are, you won’t have one but if you do, use the express lane. 

The other lane is for a car paying without an OBU where a machine or attendant will take your money for your tolls. 

Road Conditions 

When driving in Korea, you’ll be happy to know that the road conditions are pretty good. All the roads are paved, there are minimal potholes and you should have a smooth ride all around. Traffic lights are also functional and are usually followed too. 

Local Laws & Things To Know 

While the written rules of the road are there, as we all know, they are not always obeyed to the letter in a lot of countries, one of which is South Korea. Here is what you need to know… 

Motorbikes Follow No Rules 

When driving in Korea you are going to have to deal with a lot of motorbikes and they do not obey the rules. They will overtake you from both sides without a flinch, they often drive on sidewalks (watch out when you’re walking too), and then weave in and out of lanes without any kind of caution, so keep your eyes peeled and leave them some room if you can. 

Speeding Is Quite Normal 

Beware when driving on the roads as South Korean drivers like to speed and this speeding causes a huge amount of accidents. When you brake, brake early and slowly to give the car behind you enough time to notice and overtake if they want to. 

Lane Changes Can Happen Anytime 

South Korean drivers are very loose with their lane rules, and they chop and change lanes as they please whenever they fancy it. Make sure to look in both of your wing mirrors often as they could come at you from either side. 

Running Red Lights Happens 

Red lights don’t have the same effect they have in the UK or the US and quite often you’ll find vehicles running through them without question. Yellow lights are also more of a signal to speed up and beat the red than slow down, so when approaching traffic lights, make sure you slow down early to give the drivers behind you enough time to break too or to go around you if they want to risk it. 

Bus Drivers Can Be Aggressive 

When driving in Korea you should look out for any bus drivers on the road near you. They drive very aggressively and believe they own the road. This means you don’t exist in their eyes and they will drive as if you’re not there, so be careful and give them loads of room. 

Pedestrian Crossings Are Not Followed 

No vehicle types at all give way to pedestrian crossings, they are not followed and if you brake when approaching one, you are likely to be rear-ended. The pedestrians know this and would never cross when a car is coming, so don’t feel bad and make sure to keep moving over the pedestrian crossing so you don’t get bumped in the behind. 

Hazard Lights Mean A Few Things 

When you see someone flashing their hazard lights in front of you it can mean a lot of different things. Most of the time, hazard lights mean that there is something ahead like an accident, a truck stopped ahead, or when having to brake hard. 

Hazard lights can also mean the below, and as you can see, you might have to interpret it based on the situation at hand. 

  • Thank you 
  • Sorry 
  • Be careful 
  • Brake hard 
  • Emergency vehicle moving ahead 
  • Emergency patient on board 

CCTV Is Everywhere

When driving in Korea, you will be on CCTV most of the time while driving in the city and if you do break any traffic laws, the cameras will pick it up and you will be sent a fine. So, make sure to follow the rules as best you can, even if everyone else around you is breaking them. 

Locals Are Helpful With Directions 

Driving around Korea is quite easy when it comes to directions but if you do get lost, then asking for local advice is a good idea. Locals are very helpful and clear with directions, despite the language barrier so don’t hesitate to ask, it will be a pleasurable experience that will get you where you need to go. 

Car Rental In South Korea 

Renting a car in South Korea is easy, reliable, and very much available. Here are the rules and how to go about it. 

Age & Licenses 

In order to rent a car in South Korea, you’ll need to have a few things with you and be of proper age. 

  • You must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Korea 
  • You will need to have a driving license from your home country 
  • You need an International Driving License to accompany your home license 
  • Your passport is required for an ID 
  • You’ll also need a credit card in the driver’s name 

The rules are pretty much the same as in most countries, but be aware that anyone under the age of 25 might have to pay a surcharge. 

Costs 

On average, you’re looking at spending around $33 US per day which is a pretty normal price the world over. You can find deals and it’s best to get them by booking in advance online. 

Availability

You should always be able to rent a car in advance but if you take too long, you might miss out, especially in busy tourist areas.

One Way Rentals 

One-way rentals are available in South Korea but they do come at a cost and are best avoided if possible, but they can be super convenient, so don’t avoid them if they are going to make a difference. 

Insurance 

You can choose to rent a car with just third-party insurance or you can add a CDW and an SCDW for an extra cost to have full peace of mind when on the road. All of these are available from your car rental company and are easy to buy. 

Navigation & Useful Apps 

When navigating around South Korea, you’ll want to have some kind of GPS with you. You can choose to get a SatNav as an add-on with your car rental or use navigation apps on your smartphone. 

Apps that work well in South Korea are Waze, Google Maps, and Naver Maps but to use them you will need to get a South Korean Sim card which can be found at either the airport or at a phone shop in town. 

Driving In Korea 

There you have it, everything you need to know about driving in Korea. It’s a piece of cake once you get on the road, especially if you plan on driving around the countryside and outside of the cities. The only thing you should remember is to make sure you arrive with your home countries driving license and an international license, or you will not be driving anywhere. 

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

follow me on:

Leave a Comment: