Are you planning a South Korea road trip? You came to the right place.
We would encourage you to explore South Korea by car.
There’s nothing wrong with the public transit system in cities like Seoul, it’s actually much better than what we’re used to at home.
Korea Train Express ( KTX) operated by Korail, offers reasonably good connections across South Korea.
But still, there’s nothing that can beat the freedom of having your own car.
You’re the master of your own schedule and you just need to load your bags into your trunk.
Taking the train often means that you will be dragging your bags up and down several flights of stairs. Yes, there’re elevators but they’re not always very easy to find.
So here we will share what you need to know about driving in Korea and how to do the perfect South Korean road trip.
- If you want to score cheap flights to Seoul, click here.
- Here is an overview of all our South Korea articles.
- Since foreign credit and debit cards don’t always work, we advise you to bring some extra cash.
- Don’t lose time upon arrival at the airport and order your Korea travel SIM or portable WIFI device in advance so that it’s ready and waiting for you at the airport when you arrive.
- The most comfortable way to travel around Korea is by renting a car. However, if you plan to travel around by train, preorder your discounted Korea Rail Pass here.
- We found it easy to travel independently around South Korea. However, if you are looking to join an organized tour, take a look at Tourradar or read our post on how to choose the best Korea tour package.
- We prefer to stay in hotels while we are traveling. In this Korean travel blog post, we share a lot of nice hotels. However, South Korea has a lot of nice Airbnb’s and vacation rentals too. If this is the first time you will be staying in an Airbnb, you can enjoy a great discount by signing up through this link.
- Be sure to become a member of our brand new Korea Travel Planning and Tips Facebook group. The purpose of this group is to help you plan an amazing vacation to Korea. You can ask questions and exchange tips with fellow travelers.
- Last but not least, make sure you have travel insurance.
South Korea Travel Tips
Here we will share some more South Korean travel tips.
What’s The Best Time To Visit South Korea?
May, September, and October are the best months to visit South Korea.
June, July, and August are rainier and hotter with temperatures reaching 25 to 30 degrees. Moreover, the risk of typhoons is also greater.
In May everything starts to bloom and in September and October, the autumn colors make the landscapes very photogenic.
Money In South Korea
Cash is king for visitors. Koreans can swipe their cards everywhere but foreign cards are not always accepted.
There were many ATMs at Incheon airport but it took us at least an hour to find one where we could withdraw cash.
Most tourists were helping each other by pointing out other ATMs to their fellow tourists.
It seems all foreigners were having the same problems.
Once we had left the airport things didn’t get better. It was always a hit or miss with the ATMs we tried.
Most wouldn’t accept our cards, but some did. Usually, we never suggest bringing cash but it looks like it may be a good idea to bring some cash to South Korea.
Book Attractions Online
It’s almost always cheaper to book your tickets for attractions online in South Korea. Most attractions offer discounts from 10% to 50% for tickets that have been bought online.
Here is an overview of the best-organized tours in Korea.
An organized tour saves you time and, moreover, the tour guide will enlighten you about the different sights you visit.
We partnered up with GetYourGuide, Klook, and Trazy for these activities.
We love GetYourGuide because they’re flexible. Sometimes your plans change last minute and then you want to be able to cancel your tickets and get your money back.
It’s also good to know that GetYourGuide has your back when the local tour operator doesn’t show up or cancels your trip.
GetYourGuide is a reliable platform where you can book thousands of tours anywhere in the world.
Check tours and tickets on GetYourGuide:
Tours in Korea
Klook is a trustworthy travel company headquartered in Hong Kong that teams up with local operators to offer all kinds of travel experiences.
Check tours and activities on Klook:
Trazy is another reliable and easy-to-use website for tours and activities in South Korea.
Check tours and activities on Trazy:
Safety In South Korea
We didn’t encounter any problems whatsoever (except getting cash :-)) during our 7 days in Korea but if you would you can call the travel hotline in 4 languages (Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese) 24/7.
Do I Need Travel Insurance For Korea?
Travel Insurance is something that can be overlooked when you prepare for your vacation. Certainly when you’re traveling to a safe and civilized country.
We didn’t get travel insurance for our first vacations.
A few years later we both took out new credit cards that came with travel insurance and relied on those. We know better now…
Overall, chances are slim that you will encounter any problems while traveling through a civilized country such as Korea. But when things go wrong in civilized countries, the medical costs can be high.
We learned it the hard way when we once had to visit a hospital in the United States.
The medical care was excellent but we had high out-of-pocket expenses as it turned out the insurance that came without credit cards didn’t cover these costs. It turned out we were underinsured.
Drawing up a travel insurance policy may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee.
Good travel insurance, such as the one from World Nomads, covers things like medical expenses, trip cancellation, overseas medical costs, evacuation, baggage damage or loss, and theft.
Get a free quote now:
Our Road Trip In Korea
Here we share the best tips for your South Korean road trip.
Our Korea Road Trip Itinerary
Here you can find our 7 days Korea road trip itinerary.
As mentioned above you don’t need a car in Seoul.
- Day 1-2: Seoul
- Day 3-4 Gyeongju
- Day 5-6: Busan
- Day 7: Seoul
Read more about our South Korea self-drive itinerary here.
Driving In South Korea
Driving in South Korea may look like quite a challenge for foreigners but it’s actually a lot easier than we had expected.
South Korean roads are well maintained, often better than in Belgium.
The language may seem an obstacle at first but knowledge of Korean is not required to do a self-drive around South Korea.
Car Rental In South Korea
Renting a car in South Korea won’t be a problem for most tourists but there are some restrictions.
The most important thing to take care of before you leave for South Korea is your driving permit.
Here’s more important information about the rules to rent a car in South Korea.
South Korean car companies
Many international brands are present in the Korean market but there’re some local players as well. Hertz, which in South Korea is affiliated with Lotte rent-a-car, has the most locations.
We rented our car with Avis which is affiliated with AJ Rent-a-car.
Jeju has only one location on Jeju Island and as their website is in Korean only it’s best to book with them through Rentalcars.com.
It’s easy to compare rates and car models on rentalcars.com.
You’re often able to find some good deals and all bookings come with instant confirmation and free cancellation.
We picked up our car in a location in the center of Seoul and the language barrier turned out to be challenging when we got offered a rate that was more than 10% of the rate that we had booked.
We finally resolved this by calling the Avis location at the airport who mastered English better and acted as an intermediary.
International Driver’s License Korea
An International Driving Permit is required if you want to rent a car in South Korea.
You need to present your driving license together with your international driving permit and your passport when you pick up your car and the driving license and international driving permit need to be issued by the same country.
We read that in the confirmation mail we got from Avis and this confused us initially.
Don’t worry too much about this and just follow the steps that are valid in your home country.
In Belgium, you will be able to get the international driving permit at your local town hall.
Other Qualifications For Renting A Car In Korea
Most car rental agencies will require that the driver is 21 years or older and has at least 1 full year of driving experience.
This is not required by law and by comparing various rental agencies you may find some that are not as strict about age.
Picking Up Your car
Don’t forget to bring the following items when picking up your car:
- Make sure to bring both your international driving permit and your regular driving license. Both must have been issued by the same country.
- A credit card. This credit card must be in the name of the driver.
South Korea is officially still at war with North Korea.
Don’t worry, you won’t notice anything about this, but as a consequence, Google Maps and Waze are mostly useless.
Some people report that Waze works for them, we tested this and it worked smoothly initially until about halfway when Waze urged us to turn around and started guiding us back to where we came from.
The Naver maps website is available in Korean only but the app is available in English and works perfectly (we used the Android version).
Local SIM card
A local SIM card comes in handy when you want to use the Naver app.
We initially thought this was the only reason we needed it but once we got the SIM we discovered other useful apps like the Seoul Metro app ( Android and iPhone) and Mangoplate to find delicious restaurants.
You can order your sim cards upfront online or you can buy them upon arrival at the airport.
The possibilities to buy SIM cards once you have left the airport are limited.
KT has a SIM card office nearby Hongik University Station Exit 2 and you should be able to buy them in the 7-eleven stores in Myeoung-dong, Hongdae, Dongdaemun, Jongno or Haeundae.
If you want to go online with multiple devices you can use your local SIM card together with a mobile WIFI device:
All major highways are turnpikes.
The good news is that the rates are on the low side.
We took local roads in some instances where we only had to cover small distances but for long trips, like Seoul to Busan, it is much faster to take the turnpikes.
South Korea is mountainous. Highways sometimes seem like an endless chain of tunnels and bridges while the local roads meander around every hill.
Toll fees can be paid using credit cards, cash or the hi-pass system.
We initially tried to pay with our credit card but both our American Express and our Mastercard were denied.
How It Works
You could verify if your rental car comes with a hi-pass device.
Don’t just trust the hi-pass logo on eg. your rearview mirror.
There needs to be a card in the device for it to work. We had driven through several hi-pass lanes before we finally discovered that there was no card in the device.
We didn’t think of it when we picked up our car but I would suggest that you ask them if you can use the hi-pass lanes or not.
If you can use the hi-pass lanes all you need to do is follow the blue lanes and slow down near the toll gates. Your toll will be registered and your car rental agency will send you the bill for the toll afterward.
If you don’t have the hi-pass device you should avoid the blue lanes and pick any of the other toll booths where you will either get a card that shows where you entered the highway or will have to pay using cash or credit card.
Make sure you have cash as foreign credit cards will most often not work.
What Can Go Wrong
What they fail to notice is that your hi-pass system does not contain a card.
That’s how we once ended up without a card to prove where we entered the highway.
What you can do in this case is to write down the name of the entry gate together with the amount you should have to pay that you can find on your GPS.
We were getting ready to provide this information on exit but we didn’t even need to do so as we were automatically charged the correct price.
Not sure how this works so I suggest taking note of the entry gate just in case.
If you accidentally used the blue lane on entry you can correct your fault on exit and just provide them the name of the entry gate you used.
If you accidentally used the blue lane on the exit and missed a payment you shouldn’t worry too much.
3 days in a row we were using the blue lane convinced as we were that we had the hi-pass device.
We contacted Avis about this and they advised us to use the other lanes from now on.
We didn’t need to take any action to correct our error, they would just send the bill for these fees afterward.
And so it happened that a few weeks after our holiday we got a bill for € 9 in our mailbox.
This was the exact toll amount we had to pay, with no additional fines, and no extra handling fee from Avis.
The quality of the highways is excellent but don’t think about speeding because speed limits in Korea are usually 100 km/h or less and all roads in Korea are literally littered with speed cameras and CCTV.
Luckily most GPS systems will inform you of upcoming cameras and even if you don’t have a GPS of your own you can follow the Koreans who seem to make a sport of driving too fast to hit the break last-minute at every speed camera.
In addition to the cameras, you will also come across average speed zones, the only highway sections where nobody speeds.
Overall, I found the Korean driving style to be courteous and relaxed.
Based on older articles I read when I was preparing for my Korean road trip this used to be different but has improved significantly over the last years due to the strict enforcement and omnipresent CCTV coverage.
Still, there’re some things you should be aware of.
If you stick to the speed limit, like I tried to do most of the time, you will have a long line of vehicles behind you.
Not fun at all and certainly not as some Koreans tend to be impatient.
Don’t let this scare you. Most of the time you will be driving on highways with little traffic that have 4-lanes.
Some Important Traffic Rules
So we hope these tips will encourage you to do a road trip to South Korea.
Don’t be scared by the stories you find on the internet. Renting a car and driving in South Korea is fun and easy with these tips.
Did you ever drive in South Korea and do you have other tips? Please share them in the comments.
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