For those traveling in areas with limited access to public transportation, renting a car may be the best option. Here's a look at the country’s car-sharing and rental system.
For most companies, foreigners who have a driver’s license issued by local authorities can rent a car under the same conditions as South Koreans, which is that one must be at least 21 years old and have obtained a driving permit over one year ago to rent a car that has up to nine seats. Other requirements may be applied, depending on the type of vehicle.
The person renting the car is obligated to pay any traffic fines incurred, and only individuals who registered with the rental company may drive the car.
Some companies require foreign drivers to present their identification -- a passport or residence card.
Those holding an International Driving Permit of Grade B or up -- must meet additional criteria. For Lotte and SK Car Rental, the two largest car rental firms in the country, drivers on an international permit can only rent a car within their first year of entering South Korea.
Both companies demand that the user presents their identification, while SK also requires the person to present his or her home country driver’s license.
The rental car companies here only accept the IDP, and not others like the European Union International Driver’s License. Also keep in mind that some companies only accept credit cards as payment, including Lotte.
Unlike rental cars, drivers with only an IDP cannot use car-sharing services and must get a locally issued license. In addition to being 21 or older, most car sharing firms require that drivers need to have acquired the driving permit at least a year before using the service.
In South Korea, the minimum age for obtaining a driver’s license is 18.
Depending on the firm, however, the IDP may not be completely useless when it comes to car sharing.
For example, GreenCar does not recognize the IDP at all. But SoCar, another car-sharing service provider, requires drivers to have a combined driving experience of one year and present both the Korean license and the IDP.
As most car-sharing services are used via mobile applications, they require a credit card and a phone registered under the user’s name that is operated by a local carrier. For example, a foreigner using a company phone cannot use services like SoCar.
Survive & Thrive is a series offering a guide to living in South Korea for those outside of the country. – Ed.