11 Things I’ve Learned From Getting a Korean Driver’s License as a California Licensed Driver in 2020

1. Foreign Driver’s Licenses can be exchanged to Korean Driver’s Licenses, but California is not included on that list.

Only 14 out of 50 US states have a reciprocity agreement.

Photo by Julieann Ragojo on Unsplash

2. You need 3 identical colored photos for the entire process until getting the license.

You could get ID photos for cheap at almost any subway station photo booth, but I just got it done at the basement of the Driver’s License Examination Office. It was a little more expensive (10,000 KRW for 6 photos), but a person was controlling the camera so I got to retake it until it met the requirements.

Photo by Julien Dumas on Unsplash

3. My medical check up results from almost two years ago was still valid for the required health check.

I thought that I would have to pay for the health check at the examination center, but the workers at the information desk were able to find my health check-up records through my ID number, and they wrote it on my application form.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

4. The mandatory Traffic Safety Education video is actually kind of entertaining and is similar to Korean talk shows.

I was not bored with the short drama-type videos of “a typical example of a bad driver” and comments from the MC and guests. These videos should have English subtitles as long as you ask for them. When you watch it, try to remember the numbers about penalties and statistics because they could be on your written exam!

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5. You could study for the written exam through an app.

It seems like the English version is not updated yet, but it is still helpful for you to get an idea of what kind of questions there could be. Some were exactly the same as the ones in the exam.

Smart Exam for Korean Driver’s License

6. You can make reservations for your exams online, but you might not be able to do that if your name is too long.

Thankfully my name was short enough, but a friend with a longer name could not get the reservation done online. The payment options were also very limited so I had to download an extra app just to pay for the exam in advance.

Another thing that should be noted is that you still have to go to the reservation desk a few minutes before the exam because you need the reservation sticker printed and glued on your exam records sheet. I did not know that for the road test and had to run back to the office to get the sticker.

7. There is a strict time-limit for the all 3 exams (written, driving course, and road test).

The written exam has 40 multiple choice questions that should be answered within 40 minutes. The first time I took the exam without studying for it, the English wording was a bit awkward for some questions and I had to re-read it a few times, and I didn’t know anything about the exact penalty fees for each type of offense. The second time I took the exam, I didn’t get any of those questions and passed easily.

The most difficult part of the driving course exam was the 2 minute time limit for the T-shaped parking. I got 10 points taken for going over a few seconds, and another 10 points taken for getting too close to the curb, but still passed with 80/100.

The road test was 15 minutes, and it seemed long from the YouTube videos that I saw, but as a driver, it went by very quickly. I highly recommend watching videos from POLLYSSAM to go over the possible road test courses.

8. The car always has to be in neutral (N) when the red lights are longer than a few seconds.

As a driver from California, I never knew that was a thing and no one had taught me that. (Maybe it’s just me?) But in Korean driver’s exams, you could lose points if you don’t switch to neutral at red lights.

Photo by Alex King on Unsplash

9. The road test examiner sits next to you, but when you drive, you just listen to the GPS for directions.

The examiner had a tablet computer that randomly chose one of the 4 courses, entered the course on the GPS, and the rest of the time we were pretty quiet. The GPS can be in English although the examiners are not always fluent in English.

Photo by takahiro taguchi on Unsplash

10. The road test examiner will joke around and say that you failed when you actually passed?

When the examiner said “fail…” my heart almost stopped and the things that I would have to do to re-take the exam flashed through my mind. As I was about to ask “Why…?” he quickly took it back and said “Just kidding; you pass.” When I told this to my Korean husband, he said that he had the same experience. Is this a thing? Let me know in the comments if you’ve experienced as well.

Photo by Joe Green on Unsplash

11. You can get an English translation on the back of your Driver’s License for an extra 10,000 KRW.


Good luck with your Korean Driver’s License Exam and leave a comment if you’ve had similar or different experiences! Details for the License Application Process are available here.

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