Finally today I got my license. This was no easy feat. Let me rewind a bit and explain. When I was 14 years old (15 years ago!) I got my learners permit in Canada. That required taking a written test. It was quite easy. I cannot even remember if I studied. I did not have to take any classes. I had to do a quick color/eye test and that was it. I could drive as long as I was accompanied by someone over 25 with a full license. I practiced a bit with my parents. Which let me tell you was more horrifying for them and entertaining for me. I will always be reminded of the time I slammed on the brakes when a bee flew in the window and almost gave my step dad a heart attack or learning how to “drift” on ice in the cul-de-sac with my mom. I did not attend drivers ED. As soon as I turned 16, I took the road test and passed. I had a license and drove for almost 10 years almost everyday after that. However, living in Vancouver, I sold my car and mostly walked or took the sky train. Then I spent time traveling working as a model and eventually ended up here in South Korea. When I first came, I did have an active Canadian drivers licence but it soon expired. I never bothered to renew it and then almost 5 years later it became quite impossible to do so.
Most foreigners can come with a license from their home country and exchange it here for a Korean one (sometimes they have to take a written test). However, since I was a non resident of my home country and it had been expired for so long, even when I was in Canada in the fall, they said I would have to start from scratch in Canada if I wanted to renew my licence (written test, road test, wait the year ect). So the only option for me was to go through the process as a Korean citizen with no license before would. And so began my journey.
Step 1: The written test:
Before you can take this, you have to attend a 3 hour class. ALL Korean. I would say I understood about 50% of what they were talking about. My Teacher did make a complaint about how foreigners always come with international licences and never understand really how “Koreans drive” and then when seeing that I understood added “Unless they come to class like Amanda is…” Which I found funny. He also made me read from the text book and asked me a question to make sure I understood. (I got lucky cuz the questions he asked others were way to hard for me to understand). But honestly, you could probably just sit quietly in the back and understand 0 and then just go take the test. However, those of you who know me, know my nerdy style. I made my husband go through the entire text book with me (after I tried myself with a translator app) and took color coded notes before even stepping into the class. The test its self is at a big government drivers testing building and you can take it in English. You need to bring photos (which yes can be photoshopped because EVERYONE does that here or you can just take it at the booth there ;)), cash to pay (sorry I cannot remember the exact amount), the application (which you can get there but not in English), and the information from the drivers school that you attended class at. Before you can take the test, you have to pass the eye exam. Then you can go up to take the test (the one in Incheon is on the 3rd floor with no elevator! Not stroller friendly at all).
Do not get too excited when you hear that the test can be taken in English…I found sooo many ridiculous mistakes in the study book and even on the real test one of the mistake questions was there! So you can find all of the example questions here: Written test study material and they literally make the test from these questions. Therefore, you can just study the answers, granted some do not make sense and there are 1000 possible ones to study from.
Anyways.. you pass, they stamp your application form and you get to bring it back to the drivers school to move on to the next stage…
Step 2: The course test:
Now friends of mine have told me that they found places with instructors that spoke some English. That was unfortunately not the case for me. We choose a place due to location since I would have to attend all my classes in the early morning before my husband went to work so he could watch our daughter. The first day I felt such shame when I couldn’t understand what the instructor was talking about before we even turned on the car. So many words that I had to learn. ALL OF THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF LIGHTS (brights, fog … ect). Luckily the teacher that I had was very kind and patient and helped me slowly understand what he was saying. And once we started actually driving, it was quite easy. I think this system of learning to drive in this safe environment is very smart. Even though I had 10 years of experience driving, I learned lots of new skills for parking!
For the test you are alone in the car with a computer system. You have to drive around the course and park. There are certain skills that you have to pass (u turning, completing a random emergency stop, signaling etc). You lose 10 points for going over any yellow lines (this is even for when you are parking) It is timed and you have to get 80 points or higher to pass. I GOT 100 (yay!)
Step 3: The road test
Finally they trust you to go onto the road and drive. There are 4 possible courses for the test and you pretty much spend the 6 hours of “class” driving those courses with the instructor coaching you. There is a GPS that you can hear that navigates your course. (I am pretty sure there was an English option but I took it in Korean) After you pass this test you get your license!
Did I mention it is crazy expensive 600 000원 approximately… if you pass (more if you fail parts and have to re do it!) and every single Korean citizen that has a license goes through this process. I have noticed since being here that Koreans are really good drivers (except for the crazy middle aged women and men that do strange random things) but have bad habits (always being in a rush and driving aggressively selfish). It is strange to me that this country is one of the highest in the world for the number of accidents. But I guess people are always in a rush and don’t care as much about following the rules here.
What is different?
No shoulder checking! You must use your mirrors and I got made fun of for checking over my shoulder. My teacher said something along the lines of, “You are not driving a motorcycle.” You have to put the car in neutral EVERY TIME you stop. You cannot turn left at a green light unless there is a sign that tells you that you can. Turns are usually allowed based on the pedestrian lights and there are sometimes signs to indicate that. U turns are so common and allowed (there are even lanes and lights for them). Use your hazard lights to say “sorry”. Probably there are more things but this is all I can think of for now.
In the end I realized that I worried more than I needed to and it was easier than I thought. I feel like my Korean improved due to the studying I had to do to get by and that my experience driving in Canada did not actually help me as much as I had thought. I do have one compliant! The waiting for the test…
So you have to schedule your test in advanced. For me that was 9am on Wednesday. The thing is… they schedule about 20 people for that same time and they call you randomly. I was not a happy camper waiting for 2 hours not knowing when it would be my turn. No priority if you are with a baby or foreign. Granted, I should be used to waiting from Canada… but no… not ok.
To sum up, the hardest part for me was the language barrier. Comment if you want to know more details or if you have your own experience with getting your licence as an expat.