Renting a Car as a Foreigner in South Korea: How To Get a Rental

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No matter where you are in the world, if you need to travel outside of a main metropolitan area, it’s often much more convenient to have a car. When visiting a new place and don’t have your car to hand, your main option is to use a car rental company to borrow a vehicle on a temporary basis.

But what happens when you’re in a country that speaks a different language to you? Or if that country has different driving rules and road laws? How do you go about getting a car rental for your own trip?

That’s why I want to assist with this article, giving you tips on how to be prepared both before leaving your home country and also advising you on what you can expect at pickup.

Want to stay in Korea for longer than a tourist? You can apply for a working holiday visa for Korea and stay for 1 year. Check out this post to get set up as an expat after arrival.

Country:South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Currency:South Korean Won / KRW
Do you need a visa to visit as tourists?Check here

Don’t forget to get travel insurance to cover you if something bad happens. One company I have personal experience with is Safety Wing. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you and your trip plans.

When you need to transfer money or check exchange rates during your overseas trip, consider using Wise. They have competitive rates and make exchanging foreign funds easy. I’ve been using them since 2015.

Renting a car in Korea: you’ll need an IDP

In order to drive or rent a car in Korea as a foreigner you will need to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). This is in addition to your regular driving license from your home country (in my case, the UK).

You must get one before you arrive in Korea as there is no way to apply for one once you’re here. It’s really straightforward to get your IDP though, so I’ll walk you through it below.

Please note: There are some countries around the world that do not require an IDP but instead another document. Please research what you need ahead of time so you can have it before arrival.

a card international driving permit for South Korea - I needed this for getting a car rental
My international driving permit for Korea

How to Apply for Your International Driving Permit

You will need:

  • £5.50 in cash or on a card
  • A recent passport-sized photo
  • Your full driving licence

In the UK, the easiest way to apply is to go to the Post Office (preferably one of the large ones) and you can apply in person.

There are different types of IDP depending on the destination you are travelling to.

In Korea, you will need the “International Driving Permit 1949”. It lasts one year.

At the Post Office counter, you can simply ask for the IDP you want, they will check the document number for the country and start the application.

The whole process takes under 5 minutes. They will get a small cardboard and paper booklet with official print inside. They will stick in your photo and stamp the inside in each of the required boxes and that’s pretty much it.

If you are from a different country, the process might be slightly different. This is just the general process for UK licence holders.

Renting a car in Korea: Needed Documents

  • FULL driving licence from your home country
  • International Driving Permit (IDP)
  • A credit card in the driver’s name
  • Your passport

When collecting a car rental in South Korea, you’ll notice that much of the process is the same as in other countries. The biggest difference is that you will also need to provide your IDP which we spoke about above.

Please note: If you only have a learners or provisional licence, you will NOT be allowed to get an IDP.

As expected, the documents you fill in at the car rental offices in South Korea will be in the Korean language. If you have a friend with you that speaks the language they can help you translate, however, in my experience renting cars in Korea, the staff have made it easy to understand each section of the form.

If in doubt and you are served by an agent who doesn’t speak much English, use the Papago translation app. This is one of the most useful apps for life in Korea. If you need to stay connected to a data plan throughout your trip, consider getting an eSIM so you can navigate easily without WIFI.

Before finalising all documents you will need to decide if you want to include the insurance coverage. I personally always opt for the full coverage because as confident as I am in my own driving, I don’t know how trustworthy the drivers around me are.

Plus, by paying a little for insurance, you won’t need to pay much if something happens. Unlike having a problem happen without coverage which could cost you thousands! Always take the insurance!

Car Rental Options in South Korea

So now you know what you will need in order to rent a car, but where can you actually find rental cars to book? Generally speaking, I stick to the same few companies worldwide as they have a huge collection and they’ve always provided a good experience. The two companies I’ve personally used are:

The reason I recommend 2 car rental companies is because like many places, if you book a car rental too last minute or over a busy time period, they can often be sold out. By having a second or backup company you’ll be more likely to find a car rental for your required dates.

The best way to get a car rental in Korea without missing out is to try and book as far in advance as possible. What’s great about these rental companies is you can often book the car rental online and you often have the chance to cancel for free (with a full refund) up to 48 hours before the pick-up date.

Most places won’t rent to you if you are under 25 years of age. It then becomes cheaper if you are over 30.

The car I got when renting a vehicle on Jeju Island in South Korea
The SUV I rented while visiting Jeju Island

It’s more expensive to rent a car as a foreigner

Generally speaking, if you have a foreign driving licence (ie. not one issued in Korea) you will be charged anywhere from 3-6x more than a local renting car in Korea for the same length of time.

It’s criminal.

It’s known as the “foreigner discount”.

I tried to visit Jirisan National Park with some friends in March and the price difference between me, a Brit, renting a car, or a Korean national was about $270 USD difference. This doesn’t sound like much to some people, but to others, that’s a pretty significant difference.

So, if you want to save money, I suggest convincing your Korean friends to come with you and rent the car in their name and share the driving! Road trips are more fun with the company anyway.

Renting a car in Korea: You’ll be driving on the right

When you get a car rental in South Korea you’ll notice they drive on the right-hand side of the road. This is the opposite side of the UK.

One thing that makes driving on the opposite side a little easier is knowing that most cars in the country are automatic transmissions. This means you don’t have to worry about using the gear stick with your right hand.

It can take some getting used to being on the opposite side but as long as you focus it can be easy to pick up. Just make sure to tuck your left foot away so you’re not subconsciously looking for the clutch pedal. Otherwise, you might accidentally use your left foot to break which will not end well.

Please Note: In Korea, driving laws are rarely enforced which means you will likely come across aggressive drivers who like to honk their horns and cut across multi-lane highways.

Tolls are everywhere

When driving in Korea – especially long distances you likely go through at least one toll booth. If you do this you will receive a toll letter in the mail between 1 and 3 months later. You will need to pay this toll fee online before the deadline to avoid more fees.

Need help planning your trip?

Check out how to plan a trip abroad & see my travel resources for more.

WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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