So, you’re thinking about driving in South Korea. While traveling in cities like Seoul or Busan usually doesn’t require you to drive – the public transport system is usually efficient enough to get you to most places quickly – those who are looking for other ways to explore the country should definitely consider driving.
As well as letting you discover exciting new cities away from the usual tourist spots, it also gives you the freedom to move in places you never thought you’d be, thanks in part to shorter travel times and the Greater convenience in moving luggage from one place to another.
We recently took a week-long road trip in South Korea, and to help beginners fully prepare for their road adventure, we’ve put together this guide with everything you need to know.
What to Rent a Car and How to Rent a Car
As a tourist, you will most likely rent a car (more on that later) for your road trip. Even so, there are certain requirements you must check before entering.
In order to apply for a Malaysia International Driving Permit (IDP), you will need:
A valid Class B2 or D driver’s license and a photocopy of the above license (both sides). Original and photocopy of ID card (both sides), with 2 passport-sized photos attached. Be sure to fill out the JPJ L1 form and pay RM150 per annum. To apply, you can go to any JPJ and AAM (Automobile Association of Malaysia) offices to submit your application.
- A valid local driver’s license.
- You must be over 21 years old and have held a local driver’s license for one year. Drivers under the age of 25 may be charged a surcharge.
- Passport for identification.
- A credit card in the driver’s name.
Rent a car in South Korea
Now, talk about car rental. No matter how free your schedule is, some form of travel planning is important. It’s especially important that you can book a car online in advance so you can be sure there’s a car waiting for you – in popular areas like Jeju Island, cars tend to run out during the holidays.
Navigation systems in English are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. If you haven’t, don’t worry. Just plug your phone into your car while using the Naver Maps app, and you’re good to go. This is a must-have app when you’re there because Google Maps doesn’t work as well as Naver Maps in Korea.
Collision damage waivers (aka rental car insurance) have different coverage levels to choose from, but trust us when we say get full coverage. We’ve experienced firsthand how useful this feature can be when driving abroad, and it can really take the stress out of driving in the event of potential damage.
Most booking sites are in English and include a very comprehensive FAQ section on their site in case you have any questions.
driving on the road
Unlike Malaysia, where the driver sits on the left side of the car, this means you have to mirror everything you know about driving on the right: your controls are (usually) switched, and the fastest lane on the right is now the far left driveway. If you are not an experienced driver, we recommend that you proceed with caution and pause when entering or exiting lanes, speeding and rear-ending.
Right turns are usually permitted on red lights, but only if there is no traffic on the left and no pedestrians are crossing the road. If you see a sign with an arrow pointing right and a cross offsetting it, well, well, you should not turn.
Cars here will usually give way when you put your lights on, so make sure you get in the habit of doing them if you haven’t already.
through the toll booth
Driving in South Korea needs to go through toll booths. There are two types of toll booths. Express lanes and normal lanes. The fast lanes are designed for local cars and drivers with Hi-Pass devices and Hi-Pass cards – your rental car is unlikely to have both, so avoid these lanes.
Instead, look out for signs that say “현금,” which means “cash” in English. If you come across a toll booth with a red cross under the sign, go to another 현금 toll booth with a green arrow at the bottom. If you can’t tell the gate apart or can’t find the 현금 sign, don’t feel stressed — the Hi-Pass lanes have electronic arches looming over them, and there are clear blue lines painted on the road before you approach, so be careful to avoid them.
What happens if you don’t pay at a tollbooth, or forget to pick up your ticket at the previous tollbooth? What if you find yourself accidentally crossing a Hi-Pass lane and the alarm goes off? Don’t panic; there won’t be a police car coming after you and you won’t be arrested, so keep going – it’s a freeway after all.
All you have to do is simply tell the booth lady Next Tollbooth Whichever tollbooth you accidentally pass, she will let you pay there without additional fines. Your navigation system will also tell you how much to pay based on your route, so just have your money ready in advance and get going.
How to refuel at a gas station
How much is natural gas in South Korea? We spent an average of about 30,000-35,000 won (RM98-114) at gas stations at regular gas stations and rest stops for a half tank or so of a Hyundai Avante. Prices vary slightly depending on the provider, but are generally around this price (accurate as of this writing).
Now, start filling. Since most stations are unmanned (safe for someone sitting in a side office), you’ll have to do most of the legwork yourself. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy. There are only two pumps to choose from: petrol and diesel.
After selecting gasoline (휘발유) on the screen, it will ask you to choose the amount you want to add and then ask for payment. If you want to fill up, be prepared to spend at least 60,000 won (RM196). They also refund the difference when you’re done if your tank doesn’t need that much.
If you want to pay by cash, please choose 현금; if you want to pay by bank card, please choose 신용카드.