Please select your language
|My Driving Dream and Tips on How to Achieve Yours Too!
My Driving Dream
Getting my license in Korea has been the culmination of a journey that began when I was 14 years old.
I have been excited to drive my own car ever since I was a child. The idea of being able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, was thrilling. Windows down, a gentle breeze flowing through, music beating and friends laughing.
To me, having your own car symbolised freedom and adventure.
When I was 14, the opportunity to own my very own car arose. My aunt and uncle decided to take their children on a once in a lifetime vacation to America. They planned to hit all the major cities and enjoy all the tourist attractions. My cousins were especially excited and ecstatic about going to Disney World.
As my eldest cousin was 19 and working full-time at the time of this trip, my aunt and uncle said they would pay for his flights but they expected him to provide his own spending money.
My cousin looked at his meagre savings and quickly realised he needed more money fast if he wanted to have the best time of his life. At that moment, he could only afford a mediocre time of his life.
So, he announced that he would sell his old beat up, scratched and dented to hell and back, 3rd hand compact car for the unbeatable price of $2,000 AUD.
I had been working part time for a year at that point and had saved every paycheck. In my bank account I had……. just over $2,000!
Looking back, I really wish an adult had talked me out of it.
I was still two years away from being able to get my learners license. My cousin had NOT been kind to that car and it was probably not even worth the $2,000 he wanted. There would be even more opportunities to buy a car in the future. One that I could shop around for and think about before buying. I could have spent the next two years saving even more money and bought a better 2nd hand car.
Instead, my cousin told me it was a great idea. My aunt told me, it was a good deal, we’d all save on sales fees and other things.
My mum told me it was a fantastic idea on one condition. I had to let her borrow it for the next two years. Her old car was about to die and she didn’t have enough money saved to take out a loan on a new one.
The deal was she’d put everything in her name, borrow it for two years while she saved up a deposit on a new car then give it back once I had my learner’s license with the added bonus of teaching me to drive whenever I wanted.
In Australia, you need more than 100 hours driving with an instructor or adult with a full license before you can take the next test to drive solo.
Most teens have to resort to nagging parents every weekend and begging aunts, uncles, grandparents, anyone they know to take them so they can get enough hours up.
The temptation of being a car owner, all that encouragement and now this added extra deal of being able to get my hours up as quickly as I wanted was too much.
I bought the car.
Like I said, I really wish an adult had sat down and talked me out of it.
I was so proud of that car. Over the next two years, I would go out and wash it every week. I would polish it until it shined. I bought car fresheners and little decorations for it. I had people take pictures of me next to it and sitting in the driver’s seat so that I could show my friends at school.
Sometimes I would sit in the driver’s seat and just imagine all the places I could go once I finally had my license.
The day I turned 16 I went to take the written test to get my learner’s license. I passed of course and was so thrilled to finally be able to start learning how to drive my car.
I took my brand new, fresh off the printer and still hot learner’s license and ran home.
I informed my mum that I was ready to start driving that day and ready to take my car back.
She countered with an angry rant that I was selfish and didn’t understand how busy she was, she couldn’t drop everything and take me right then and anyway I couldn’t drive solo yet plus she hadn’t bought a new car so there was no point giving the car back straight away.
I remember feeling so upset and angry as I just walked to my room. I felt like my birthday was ruined.
Over the next few months, with constant begging and pleading, she took me out a total of two times for less than an hour each.
I was also getting more and more angry that she wasn’t making any moves to buy her own car and return mine. Unbeknownst to me, she had not saved any money over the last two years and could not afford to buy another car.
Eventually, after I had brought up getting my car back yet again, she turned on me in a rage and snarled that the car did not belong to me, everything was in her name and she was never going to give it to me. I could consider it payment for her letting me live in the house rent-free.
I was crushed and gave up on getting my license before the time I was 18. I realised I would have to save up and pay for lessons and at $30 an hour minimum per lesson, that would be impossible without a full-time job.
By the time I was 17, I was living on my own and had moved to another city. Rent, bills, money for food and saving for emergencies came first. I had no extra money for driving lessons.
At 18 I decided to take my life savings and move to Asia “for a year or two” on a working holiday.
Time passed. A year or two turned into three or four and going to university overseas.
I met my husband, we graduated, got married, found jobs, had a child.
Ten years flew past and although getting my license was always a nagging thought in the back of my mind, we lived in a big city with great transportation and an overly complex and difficult legal system for non-natives to get licenses. We talked about it and decided we would not get a car until back in one of our home countries.
Then 2020 arrived.
Covid-19 struck and by sheer chance we ended up stuck here in South Korea with my husband’s family.
It is at this time in July, still highly unlikely we are going to go back home this year. We had to make the best of our circumstances.
Decisions were made and one of them was for us to buy a car and for both of us to get our licenses.
I was ecstatic, thrilled and incredibly nervous.
This was a lifelong dream and I had this dread that once again it would be snatched from me.
I knew I had to prepare carefully and ensure I didn’t lose yet another opportunity to get my license.
I passed all my tests and finally got my license but not without some bumps along the way.
I was and still am so grateful for Korea to provide me with this opportunity.
With all that said, let me walk you through how I prepared to get my license and the tips and tricks I learnt along the way.
A lot of the questions are common sense questions and general knowledge. That being said, using the practice tests in the official driver license textbook provided by the Korean government is still invaluable. Particularly since many of Korea’s laws may be different from your own country’s laws.
The textbook also allows you to check your wrong answers and see why you are wrong.
I found that while using an app to practice for my written test gave me more confidence I would be able to finish in time and with a high enough score, it didn’t however tell me which answers I got wrong and why.
During the written test if you have trouble remembering the right answer to the question, I found looking for the “suspiciously specific” answer, that is answers that were very specific and precisely worded helped me narrow down my choices.
This test is the most nerve wracking if you do not understand how the machine that tests you works.
If you look up passing the Korean driving test online, you’ll find many stories of people that have confidently gotten in their assigned car only to be thrown for a loop when the machine starts beeping at them, taking away points and even automatically failing them for things like turning on the car.
The key to passing this test is knowing how the machine works and remaining calm.
First things first, the machine runs on a precise timer and you must complete the instructions given within the time limit. Where a lot of people go awry is starting an action immediately after the machine has stopped talking or even before the machine has stopped talking.
I’ll teach you a foolproof way to avoid this pitfall.
During your practice drives, look at the machine display board. There will be two timers displayed. One is timing the amount of time you take the complete the whole test. The other is the mission timer, it is timing how long you take to complete each instruction.
The mission timer is the one you need to keep your eye on.
Listen to the instructions given by the machine but do not lift a finger until the mission timer reads 00:01. Sometimes there is a slight delay between when the machine stops speaking and when the timer starts, this is where a lot of people lose points for “moving too fast”.
The next thing you need to understand about the machine is how to complete each instruction.
You need to move in the way it thinks you should, not in the way that you actually do.
As an example, the machine may ask you to turn on the headlights. Most people would quickly turn on the headlights to complete the instruction given. However, your movements would likely end up being too fast and the machine might fail to register one or two movements and therefore take away points.
You should move in a slow, exact, and robotic fashion. When the machine asks you to turn on the headlights, you should slowly click the handle through each individual setting pausing for a millisecond before continuing. This allows the machine to correctly register each movement you made.
Another thing to remember is to follow each instruction exactly as given.
For example, during my practice drive I lost points when I was told to turn the windscreen wiper on. I flicked it on and then off. The next instruction given was to turn the windscreen wiper off but of course since it was already in the off position the machine immediately took away points.
The last thing I would say for this test is to remain calm.
Since this is a timed test, it is easy to feel nervous and harried. Remind yourself that you have more than enough time to finish. It is better to complete each step slowly so that the machine can correctly register everything than begin to hurry and lose points because you are now too fast for the machine.
A final small tip:
Don’t forget your indicators!
Before you start driving, you must turn on the left blinker to "signal that you are entering traffic" even though there is no left turn. You should wait to turn off the signal until you hear the test system beep, or you will lose points.
As you end the test, you must also turn on the right blinker to "signal that you are leaving traffic" even though there is no right turn.
When you approach the finish line, you will feel a wave of relief wash over you. Do not let that feeling make you forget your final indicator right before you cross the finish line!
The road test can certainly be intimidating. My biggest tip for this part would be to not overthink things and get ahead of yourself.
I ended up failing this test the first time around by thinking too much and attempting to do everything too perfectly.
I was so scared of failing.
I had wanted my license for so long and now I was so close.
I desperately wanted to get a perfect score and worried a simple thing like turning on the indicator a fraction too late would fail me.
During the test, I was visualising about three or four steps ahead of what I was actually doing. “Okay and after that light, I need to indicate to switch lanes and after I switch lanes, I turn off the indicator and then I drive forward until I reach the end of the bridge, after that I indicate to turn right and I start to turn the wheel when I see…..”
Long story short, I ended up making a turn too early because I wasn’t listening to the navigation and was too distracted by my own thoughts and perfect timing.
So my advice would be to stop thinking and just do.
Listen to the navigation. Turn on the indicator when it tells you to. Make a turn you are told to and need to. Don’t worry about exact timing and perfect turns at the right moment.
Your level of skill or precision is not important. You only need to follow and obey the rules of the test.
My other advice for the road test would be to find visual aids or landmarks near where you need to turn or U-turn on each course. Seeing these landmarks will help reassure yourself that you are on the right path and can also help you double check you are turning at the right place.
If I had paid more attention to landmarks the first time around, I might have caught myself before I made that turn too early.
Another tip for this test would be:
On your practice drives quickly get into the habit of putting your gearstick in neutral literally every single time you stop.
And I mean every time.
The light may be green, but traffic isn’t moving for some reason? Put it in neutral.
You roll to a stop behind another car right as the light turns green? Put it in neutral.
You briefly stopped because X reason and not sure whether it should be in neutral? Put it in neutral.
This is because on the actual test, every time you forget to put the car in neutral you lose some points.
If you forget to do this 5 or 6 times throughout the test, it is extremely easy to accidentally fail despite everything else going smoothly.
A final couple of small tips:
If you are moving over multiple lanes at once, you need to turn the signal off and back on for each lane you move over.
Left turn signal must be on when starting. Right turn signal must be on when ending. Same as the machine course exam.
How getting my license changed my life:
First off, I just want to thank Korea again for providing me with this opportunity to gain my license easily, quickly, and mostly painlessly.
It is a fulfilment of a lifelong childhood dream.
How has it impacted my day to day life? Well, it has given me more independence and freedom.
As I am still in the process of learning Korean, trying to take public transportation by myself or with my small child can sometimes be an anxiety inducing nightmare.
With my license I can drive to exactly where I need to go. It is much less stressful and more enjoyable for the both of us.
I’m also more willing to try and bumble my way through awkward interactions to take my daughter to places like kids cafes rather than waiting for my husband to have time to take us.
Now both my husband and I can divide errands up and gain more free time each for our personal projects.
As an example, we have decided I take our daughter to preschool in the morning which allows him to start working from home earlier and since I work mostly afternoons, he picks her up meaning I don’t need to rush out of the door as soon as work finishes.
Although as a child I dreamt of driving to exciting and exotic places with loud music blasting, I find myself driving to fun kid friendly destinations with my daughter in the back singing along to baby shark.
Somehow it is even better and sweeter than I had dreamt possible.