How to get a Motorcycle License in South Korea

from a guest writer, check out the blog here 

A common theme on the K-message boards I frequent when it comes to motoring or motorbiking in Korea is how one is supposed to, as an expat, legally drive or ride in the ROK. A number of people talk about to-dos and not-to-dos when it comes to this. This gets even more difficult when different bureaus of the gov’t are constantly moving the goalposts. I’ll try to give instructions and summarize the situation here.

Getting Your Vehicle Registered

deregestration

Don’t buy a bike without the seller giving you one of these babies

So the first step is to actually buy the machine you’ve been jonesing for. In doing this you should have received a de-registration certificate(사용폐지 증명서), a photocopy of the previous owners ID card (front and back), insurance documents for the vehicle in your name, and a bill of sale (not entirely necessary, but I always feel good having one). Now, I have heard that the de-registration certificate isn’t needed if you are able to accompany the seller to the Gu office and transfer ownership in person, I however have never done this.

 So first of all you have to buy that bike/car. Some bikes sold by waygook or unscrupulous Koreans might not come with registration papers, or the papers they come with are insufficient for registering the bike. This is due to laws which until recently have been quite lax in Korea. A decade ago scooters or bikes 50cc or less didn’t have to be registered. On top of that many people had bikes bigger than 50cc that they wouldn’t register because it was usually enough of a pain for the police to enforce that they wouldn’t even bother. As a result there are quite a few vehicles that are eternally in limbo with their credentials being lost to time as they passed from owner to owner.I have tried(unsuccessfully) to get one such machine legal again. If you know an appropriate way to get papers re-issued please drop me a line.

In any case… When you are purchasing your vehicle, be sure the seller gives you a photocopy of the previous owners ID card, and the de-reg certificate (or is willing to go with you to the Gu). In addition be cautious of any bike that has a de-reg certificate that is suspiciously old. I have heard of the Gu Office charging backed taxes or penalties on bikes they suspect were being ridden illegally for a period of time without being registered. If you don’t get these documents from the seller at the time of sale, it may be very difficult to get them later on(One time when I bought a bike the previous owner fled the country making it impossible to get a picture of his ID, and thus impossible to register).

Insurance is available from a variety of providers. As a rule the amount will vary depending on the type of vehicle you have, and how long you have been insured in Korea without an accident. As you might imagine, older smaller bikes are an advantage here, but expect to pay in the range of 200,000 KRW to 500,000 KRW. It used to be much cheaper, before Korea began importing foreign speed machines, and bikers started dying in droves.

Now, once you have all this taken care of get to the Gu Office, and prepare to run around getting all the administrative red tape taken care of. You will have to pay tax on your sweet new ride depending on purchase price (massage the facts here at your own risk). Add a 6,000 KRW fee for the plate and off you go! The whole process is actually pretty painless, if you get the steps right, but expect some sign language shenanigans if your Korean isn’t fluent. After your plate is issued you get a weird set of special safety bolts to attach your plate that cannot be removed without cutting them off after they are affixed. There is usually an ajusshi there that will use these to get the new plate on your ride for you.

Getting Licensed

Perhaps the most contentious issue amongst the foreign riding crowd is the issue around getting licensed to legally drive in Korea. At its worst, it is a horribly translated written test followed by a tricky and tedious road exam on a derelict bike that you get no practice for, but there are some provisions that may make it easier.

If you are from a select few countries (U.S. & Canada, & a few others I’m sure, please inform me) you can “trade” your original license in your home country for a license in Korea. They will still want you to take the written test and eye examination however, and when I did it (2010) they charged 50,000 KRW for this. Sounds great right?… well not so fast. First off the license you receive is the most basic Korean license which is only suitable for automatic cars (used to work for low displacement bikes up to 125cc, but this may have changed) On top of that you need to get the license from your home country certified as authentic with an apostille (remember these from when you applied for your visa?) and the US embassy has stopped issuing these (Canadians still have some luck here, and others may as well). Also, as a warning I recently heard that they will dispose of your original license after a certain period of time.

So clearly this method isn’t suitable for many would-be motorists in Korea. If you want to do it the old fashioned way then you will have to take a practical driving exam in addition to the requirements listed above. Well that doesn’t sound too difficult either right? Well… maybe. As I have neither taken these tests nor do I know your driving skill; any opinions I give here will be entirely subjective. That said, I am under the impression that the driving practical is relatively easy(even thught I have heard of people paying to have someone else take the test for them), while the motorcycle test is difficult due to equal parts poor test bike, and the tedium of the test itself. If you fail the practical however, you can re-take it as many times as you want. Riding/driving hagwons exist, but they are entirely in Korean.

international drivers liscece

 One last method is using an International Drivers PermitThese are somewhat poorly understood documents, and a lot of this involves the vagueness of international law. Essentially the IDP is a passport-sized document that is a translation of a foreign license you currently possess. The AAA issues these documents in the US. Other countries will have different methods. While you can get this document to certify your license for endorsements it does not have (i.e. motorcycle), this is bad mojo and may come back to bite you. Speaking of which, I have seen it worded in vague terms in Korean law (and heard it repeated by other sources) that an IDP is invalid for anyone in Korea with a foreigner card. Basically, it’s for tourists only. That said, none of the translations supplied in the permit are in Korean, and the vast majority of cops in Korea are totally unaware of the regulations involving these documents. Seriously, unless you wind up in court the legitimacy of the IDP is unlikely to come into question.

While we’re on the topic of the law. Do yourself and other expats in this country a favor and get legal. We generally get a pretty bad rep around here as it is, and there already is a stereotype of foreigners riding illegally in Korea. Please don’t contribute to it. That said, it is true that the law is generally pretty lax around here so the occasional infraction often gets a blind eye turned to it. This may be needed if you find yourself in possession of an unregisterable bike as mentioned earlier. So don’t be too paranoid if you find yourself ridin’ dirty occasionally, but for the love of god be careful.

by a guest writer, check the blog here 

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