Driving Guide

South Korea Driving Guide

South Korea is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

2021-04-09 · 9min read

Get your International Driving Permit and experience the beauty of South Korea's historic temples, dynamic cities, and scenic landscapes.

South Korea is renowned for its excellent public transportation system, including the KTX high-speed trains, buses, and taxis. However, there's more to explore beyond the bustling streets of Seoul. Indeed, Seoul is home to numerous popular attractions and some of the best restaurants in Korea. It offers a kaleidoscope of urban experience that leaves a lasting impression on travelers.

However, if you're truly looking to immerse yourself in the beauty of South Korea, consider venturing into the countryside. From the picturesque villages and serene coastal areas to the lush mountains and historical sites, driving allows you to explore at your own pace.

Checklist for driving in Korea

Before you can drive in South Korea, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

Age Requirement: Rental companies typically require drivers to be at least 21. You might pay a Young Driver Fee if you’re 21-25.

Valid Driver's License: You must hold a valid native driver's license.

International Driving Permit (IDP): An IDP is required for foreigners to drive in South Korea. This permit must accompany your home country’s driver's license.

Visa Status: Make sure your visa status permits driving in South Korea.

Vehicle Requirements

Registration and Insurance: Ensure your driving vehicle is registered and insured in South Korea.

Inspection: Verify that the vehicle has passed all required inspections and is in good working condition.

Emergency Equipment: The vehicle should have an emergency triangle, fire extinguisher, and first-aid kit.

International Driving Permit (IDP)

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is valuable for anyone planning to drive in South Korea. It translates your driver's license into multiple languages and is recognized in over 150 countries, including South Korea.

How to obtain an IDP

Before traveling to South Korea, obtaining an IDP from your home country is advisable. The process and requirements for obtaining an International Driving Permit for South Korea vary. However, the International Drivers Association makes it more convenient.

Step 1: Navigate to the International Driver’s Association website. To start the application process, click the “Get Started” button.

Step 2: Complete the online application form with accurate personal information, driver’s license details, and planned travel dates. Make sure all details are correct to avoid any issues with your application.

Step 3: Upload the Required Documents

You will need to upload scanned copies or photos of the following:

  • A valid and up-to-date driver’s license
  • Passport-size photos that are recent and clearly show your face
  • Valid and up-to-date passport

Step 4: Pay the application fee using the online payment options provided. Fees start at just $49 with the IDA. Various payment methods are available, including credit cards and PayPal.

Step 5: Once you have completed all the necessary details and uploaded your documents, submit your application. With the IDA, you can receive a digital copy of your IDP in as quick as 8 minutes.

Essentials to remember

  • Validity: An IDP is typically valid for one year from the issue date. However, with IDA, it can be valid for three years.
  • Renewal: You must renew your IDP annually if you continue to need it to drive abroad.
  • Multiple Applications: You can apply for multiple copies if traveling to different countries within the year.

Renting a car in South Korea

Assess your needs

Consider the vehicle's size, the rental duration, and any additional features such as GPS, child seats, or Wi-Fi devices you might need.

Choose a reputable rental company

Look for reputable car rental companies that operate in South Korea. Check online reviews and compare prices to find the best deals. Some of the best car rental companies in South Korea include:

  • Lotte Rent-a-Car
  • Hertz
  • Avis
  • Sixt

Book your car

Online Booking: Most rental companies offer online booking services. Visit the company’s website, select your desired vehicle, and fill in the necessary details, such as pick-up and drop-off locations, dates, and any additional options you require.

Reservation Confirmation: After booking, you will receive a reservation confirmation email with details about your rental.

Review the rental agreement

Carefully read the rental agreement, including the terms and conditions, mileage limits, fuel policy, and insurance coverage. Make sure you understand the responsibilities and restrictions.

Insurance coverage

Opt for the best car insurance in South Korea to ensure comprehensive coverage. Standard options include Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), Theft Protection, and Personal Accident Insurance (PAI).

Costs to consider

When renting a car in South Korea, it's essential to budget for various costs. Here are some of the main expenses to keep in mind:

Rental Rates: The cost of renting a car varies depending on the type of vehicle, duration, and rental company.

  • Economy Car: $40-60 USD per day (45,000-67,000 KRW)
  • Mid-size Car: $60-80 USD per day (67,000-90,000 KRW)
  • SUV: $80-120 USD per day (90,000-135,000 KRW)

Insurance: Insurance costs can vary depending on the coverage level.

  • CDW: $10-20 USD per day (11,000-22,000 KRW)
  • PAI: $5-10 USD per day (5,500-11,000 KRW)
  • Theft Protection: $5-15 USD per day (5,500-17,000 KRW)

Fuel: The price of gasoline in South Korea is approximately $1.30-1.50 USD per liter (1,450-1,700 KRW).

Tolls: South Korea has several toll roads, so budget for toll fees.

  • Typical tolls: $1-5 USD (1,100-5,500 KRW) per toll booth.

Parking: Parking fees can vary widely depending on the location.

  • Urban areas: $1-3 USD per hour (1,100-3,300 KRW)
  • Rural areas: Often free or minimal cost

Extra features to consider

When renting a car in South Korea, consider additional features that can enhance your driving experience:

  • GPS Navigation: Renting a GPS device can help you navigate unfamiliar roads and reach your destinations without hassle. Some rental companies offer GPS devices as part of the package or for an additional fee.
  • One-Way Rentals: If you plan to travel from one city to another without returning to your starting point, look for car rental companies that offer one-way rentals. This option provides flexibility in planning your itinerary.
  • Child Seats: If you're traveling with children, ensure that child seats are available and properly installed.
  • Wi-Fi Hotspots: Some rental companies offer portable Wi-Fi devices, which can be very useful for staying connected on the go.
  • Additional Drivers: If you plan to share driving responsibilities, check if the rental company allows additional drivers and the requirements.

Essential road rules in South Korea

Before driving behind the wheel, here are the essential things you need to know before traveling to Korea:

Driving side

In South Korea, vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road. The minimum driving age is 18. However, most car rental companies require drivers to be at least 21, sometimes 25, for certain vehicle categories.

Speed limits

Speed limits in South Korea are strictly enforced, and exceeding them can result in hefty fines. The general speed limits are as follows:

  • Urban Areas: 50 km/h (31 mph)
  • Residential Areas: 30 km/h (19 mph)
  • Highways: 100-110 km/h (62-68 mph)
  • Expressways: 80-100 km/h (50-62 mph)

Drunk driving laws

South Korea has stringent drunk driving laws. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.03%, which is lower than in many other countries. Penalties for drunk driving are severe and can include:

  • Fines: Up to 20 million KRW (approximately $18,000)
  • License Suspension: For a BAC between 0.03% and 0.08%
  • License Revocation: For a BAC over 0.08% or in the case of repeat offenses
  • Imprisonment: In severe cases or repeated violations

Seatbelt Regulations

Seatbelt use is mandatory for all passengers in a vehicle, both in the front and back seats. Failure to wear a seatbelt can result in fines:

  • Driver and Front Passenger: 30,000 KRW (approximately $27)
  • Rear Passengers: 30,000 KRW (approximately $27) per person


South Korea has an extensive network of toll roads, especially on highways and expressways. Tolls can be paid using cash, credit card, or the Hi-Pass system, which is an electronic toll collection system. Hi-Pass is convenient for frequent travelers, allowing you to pass through toll gates without stopping.

Parking in Seoul

Parking in Seoul can be challenging due to the high density of vehicles. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Street Parking: Limited and usually paid. Look for marked parking spots.
  • Parking Garages: Available throughout the city, often attached to shopping centers or commercial buildings.
  • Illegal Parking: Strictly enforced with fines and potential towing.
  • Residential Areas: A permit may be required.

Additional tips

When planning your trip, consider the best time to visit Korea to ensure a pleasant driving experience. Each season offers unique attractions and conditions:

  • Spring (April to June): One of the best times to visit South Korea, with mild weather and beautiful cherry blossoms.
  • Summer (July to August): Warm and humid but perfect for beach destinations.
  • Autumn (September to November): Another ideal time to visit, with stunning fall foliage and comfortable temperatures.
  • Winter (December to February): Cold and snowy, making it great for winter sports enthusiasts

Navigation: Use a GPS device or a reliable map app for navigation.

Fuel: Be aware of fuel stations along your route. Most stations accept cash and credit cards.

Language: While many signs are in Korean and English, a basic understanding of Korean phrases can be helpful.

Dealing with breakdowns

  • Move the vehicle to a safe location if possible.
  • Turn on hazard lights and place an emergency triangle behind the vehicle.
  • Contact your car rental company or roadside assistance service.

Dealing with accidents

  • Check for injuries and call for medical help if needed.
  • Move vehicles out of traffic if possible.
  • Call the police (dial 1330) to report the accident.
  • Exchange contact and insurance information with the other party involved.
  • Document the scene with photos and contact your insurance company.

Planning your routes in South Korea

The best places to visit in Korea are often found off the beaten path, where driving can provide a more personalized and memorable experience. South Korea boasts well-connected national roads, making navigating the scenic landscapes and hidden gems the countryside offers easier than you might think.

Here are some of the best road trips and routes that we recommend when exploring South Korea:

Seoul to Gyeongju

Starting in Seoul, this road trip takes you southeast to the historical city of Gyeongju. Known as the "museum without walls," Gyeongju is home to numerous historical sites and cultural treasures.

Key Attractions

  • Seoul: Begin your trip by exploring the vibrant capital, visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, and the bustling Myeongdong shopping district.
  • Gyeongju: Discover South Korea's rich history by visiting Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, and the ancient burial mounds in Tumuli Park.

Busan to Jeju Island

This road trip combines a drive through the coastal city of Busan with a ferry ride to the picturesque Jeju Island. Jeju Island is a must-visit destination for its stunning beaches, volcanic landscapes, and unique culture. It is also home to some of the best hotels in South Korea, making it a popular destination for honeymooners.

  • Distance: Approximately 120 kilometers to the ferry terminal in Wando, followed by a ferry ride to Jeju Island.
  • Travel Time: Around 3-4 hours of driving and a 2-hour ferry ride.
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer (June to August) for beach activities and Winter (December to February) for a quieter experience.

Key Attractions

  • Busan: Explore Haeundae Beach, Jagalchi Fish Market, and the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village.
  • Jeju Island: Visit Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), Manjanggul Cave, and the beautiful beaches of Hamdeok and Hyeopjae.

Seoul to Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park

Head northeast from Seoul to the coastal city of Sokcho, the gateway to Seoraksan National Park. This route offers a mix of coastal beauty and mountainous landscapes.

  • Distance: Approximately 200 kilometers.
  • Travel Time: Around 2-3 hours.
  • Best Time to Visit: Autumn (September to November) for spectacular fall colors and Spring (April to June) for blooming flowers.

Key Attractions

  • Sokcho: Enjoy Sokcho Beach, Abai Village, and fresh seafood at the Sokcho Fish Market.
  • Seoraksan National Park: Hike to the Ulsanbawi Rock, visit Sinheungsa Temple, and enjoy the stunning fall foliage.

Jeonju to Boseong Green Tea Fields and Suncheon Bay

This southern route starts in Jeonju, famous for its traditional Hanok Village, and takes you to the lush Boseong Green Tea Fields and the ecological paradise of Suncheon Bay.

  • Distance: Approximately 150 kilometers.
  • Travel Time: Around 2-3 hours.
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring (March to May) and Summer (June to August) for lush greenery and tea harvesting.

Key Attractions

  • Jeonju: Explore the Jeonju Hanok Village, sample traditional bibimbap, and visit the Jeonju National Museum.
  • Boseong: Wander through the picturesque green tea plantations and visit the Boseong Tea Museum.
  • Suncheon Bay: Experience the Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve, Suncheonman Bay Ecological Park, and the beautiful Suncheon Bay Garden.

Andong to Hahoe Folk Village and Jirisan National Park

Starting in the cultural city of Andong, this route takes you to the UNESCO-listed Hahoe Folk Village and the scenic Jirisan National Park, known for its beautiful hiking trails.

  • Distance: Approximately 200 kilometers.
  • Travel Time: Around 3-4 hours.
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring (April to June) for blooming flowers and Autumn (September to November) for colorful foliage.

Key Attractions

  • Andong: Visit the Andong Hahoe Folk Village, Andong Soju Museum, and the traditional Andong Mask Dance Festival.
  • Hahoe Folk Village: Explore this well-preserved village, experiencing traditional Korean houses (Hanok) and cultural performances.
  • Jirisan National Park: Hike the Jirisan Mountain, visit the Ssanggyesa Temple, and enjoy the natural hot springs.
South Korea Driving Guide
Road in Korea
Korean Folk Village
Play Village
Hwaseong Fortress


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