Last Updated on November 10, 2010 by Christine Kaaloa
Driving in Korea. I never really thought of it until a bunch of expats and myself had to take to the road in order to squeeze a long distance trip into a weekend.
While I hear driving in Seoul is stressful and that drivers can occasionally be a bit speed crazy— in comparison to other countries I’ve been to — driving on the Korean highway isn’t nearly as daunting. Drivers aren’t overtaking cars by hopping into oncoming traffic nor do Korean highways accommodate bicycles, pedicabs or even, cows! In fact, if you’ve ever driven in New York City, then Korea should be a relative breeze.
However, there are things about the Korean highways (and gps devices) that you may want to know about.
On a recent weekend road trip from Daegu to (a 5-6 hour drive), these are some things I discovered…
10 Things to know before driving in Korea
1. Koreans drive like Americans
… on the right side of the road.
2. You should have an “international driver’s permit” or Korean driver’s license to rent or drive.
For foreigners who want to rent or drive a car in Korea, you’ll *need* an international driver’s permit (a kind of paper permit that accompanies your driver’s license). However, this doesn’t automatically guarantee you a car.
Some rental places only accept Korean driver’s licenses!
It’s best to double-check with your car rental dealer in advance.
3. CCTV is watching the roads all the time.
Everywhere you go in Korea you’ll find CCTV‘s (surveillance cameras).
If you’re tempted to speed, you should know that highway surveillance cameras are fairly evenly spaced and in regular intervals.
Gauging from this last trip, I’d guesstimate about 3-5 surveillance cameras per mile!
Also, certain stretches of road are clocked. They time you by the duration you’ve taken to finish the drive.
How they record this, I’m not certain, but if you’ve completed a leg of road under the estimated time, you’re ticketed as speeding.
How can you know what the allotted time is?
Get a Korean GPS! (See #7-10)
4. Highway speed limits are 80-110 km/h.
Before you get to thinking Korean freeways are like the notorious German autobahn, remember the kilometer to mile conversion.
Converted, the speed limit is actually 50-75 mph… just like driving on a Los Angeles freeway!
5. Highway signs are bi-lingual.
Road signs directing you to upcoming exits and off-shoot routes are written in both, Korean and English.
6. When in doubt, hit the hazards!
Koreans have a special sign they use to warn neighboring drivers of caution ahead- they flash their hazard lights.
If Koreans hit a hard break, they flash their hazards, signaling a strong or last-minute stop.
Pros & Cons of using the Korean GPS:
7. Korean cars have entertainment systems
What would Koreans do without TV? I simply don’t know..
Taxis watch them as they drive, buses and trains often have them and every small mom-n-pop shop, salon and restaurant runs them to keep clientele and employees occupied. I can even watch one, even while waiting in the dentist’s chair!
Thus, it’s a feature of the Korean GPS, playing satellite TV, music and movies.
8. Just call me the stealthy Speed Racer.
Korea GPS devices detect speed-tracking surveillance cameras!
A useful feature, they’ll tell you to when to slow down to avoid triggering surveillance. Your screen might even flash a bright alarm to inform you of the speed limit you must slow to.
It’s safe to say this feature warrants #3 and #4 close to null, as speeding drivers simply have to hit the brakes when they see the warning.
9. You can go anywhere the road(s) takes you, with information at your fingertips.
How far are you from Busan, Seoul or Daegu?
What highways can you take to get there?
Where’s the nearest gas station or rest stop?
The coolest feature:
The gps detects upcoming rest stops and highways and offers you alternate destination routes, in the case you’d like to change your destination city to one that’s closer.
The con of this feature :
While universal icons for landmarks are an aid, names (i.e. city names) are in Korean. Furthermore, it’s a little tricky figuring out how to open or close this feature; and if you can’t close it, your screen will be littered with confusing information.
This brings me to the one big *con* to using the Korean gps…
10. Does the Korean gps break the language barrier?
Sorry, it would seem not.
I don’t know if there are any Korean gps’s that currently break the language barrier.
If you rent your car from an international dealer, like Hertz or Avis, your gps might come with optional English settings. Otherwise, be advised you might be getting one that speaks and writes in Korean.
My advice? * Take a road map & occasionally refer to the actual highway signs– it’s the only English you’ll see*
Would you want to be driving in Korea?