Cars are EVERYWHERE in America. And, cars are pretty much everywhere in Korea too at this point.

One thing we’re constantly confronted by being in the U.S. right now is car culture. As I write this, I am in Florida, possibly one of the most necessary areas in the country to own one. I’ve been driving with my father everywhere….. well, mostly to the beach, and we’ve been taking his car. Richard, Maki and I drove a car to get down here as well.

Obviously Korea is not the same. And while we both own vehicles in Korea, I did not for the first year and a few months. In fact I may not have ever purchased a car if I hadn’t being hired at a good college position somewhat out in the country side while already sharing a house with Richard. Part of the reason I bought it was because of the long hours I was scheduled to work.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again right here: From our home to my old job at Suwon Science College by public transport took roughly an hour to hour and a half one way. The same trip by car? About 20 minutes or so. The reason for this was because there was no direct route to the college other than by a car, and public transport ran out that way, but not directly from our home. It’s easy to do the math and see why an inexpensive car might make my life a whole lot easier.

As an American, the first obstacle to tackle was getting my Korean drivers license. That requires going to the American embassy to get your license apostilled to determine whether it’s authentic or not. After that, I needed to go to the actual Korean DMV, take an easy physical exam, taking a written exam, passing it, paying some money, and turning in your American drivers license in exchange for a Korean one.

Once all that is done, I was free to drive in Korea.

It was really scary at first. Korean traffic can be intimidating. Not everyone in Korea drives. As much of a collective society Korea is, they are very pushy and aggressive when it comes to driving, and overwhelmingly, drivers are male.

Personally, I use my car only for a couple of trips a week, and usually it’s only to go to school and back. I also drive to the grocery store, but almost always I’ll stop there on my way home. I would almost never driver from home to the grocery store and back. If I needed an item on a day off, I would simply walk to a closer market by our home, or have Richard grab it. Oh, did I mention parking around our home is no walk in the park? I never really want to give up a good spot if I can help it, and space is very limited in most places. Countryside of Korea not so much, and if you drive in such an area, your experience could very well be quite different.

I’ve heard many a foreigner in the country say ‘I would NEVER want to drive’. Some of them have even said it inside my car. Seeing accidents is a pretty common thing, too. While it might not be as chaotic as some other countries, it could be considered by some as EXTREMELY chaotic in certain areas. I suppose it depends on who is doing the judging.

Regardless if you drive alert and smart, I don’t think it’s an impossible endeavor. It’s actually not all that bad. That’s just my opinion.

This blog post hardly scratches the surface when it comes to the real world of driving in Korea. We actually realized once we began filming that there’d be no way to explain and compare it all properly in the ten or so minutes we usually make our videos. We might actually have to do a part 2 on this one.☺

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  • Deidre Crummitt

    I’m an auto claims adjuster and your accident would’ve definitely been 100% the other guy’s fault since you had the green turn arrow. :) Also, Korean liability laws seem insane!