***UPDATE: all 50cc scooters must have license plates AND insurance by July 1st. I initially thought only license plates were required but insurance is now also required. Again, failure to do so is a 500,000 won fine.
Since I'm on my fourth motorcycle now in Korea, I was hoping this topic could help some of you out concerning scooters and/or motorcycles in Korea. This is up to date as of March/April, 2012.
I am fluent in Korean so all information is accurate and comes from the Korean Department of Motor Vehicles. I've kind of gotten annoyed of other foreigners telling me what you can and can't do so I thought this thread could help some people. So whatever you're hearing from other foreigners contrary to this thread, is wrong.
Q: I heard that under 50cc/100cc scooters don't require a Korean license?
A: A Korean license is required for ALL two wheeled vehicles exceeding 25km/h which includes 50cc scooters. So yes, you do need a Korean driver's license to legally operate a 50cc scooter. Failure to do so is a 1,000,000 fine and a one year suspension of operating a motor vehicle in Korea.
Q: Do I need to wear a helmet?
A: Yes, I've been pulled over (that's right, I got pulled over!) for not wearing one once. He saw whitey spoke no Korean (so he thought) and he let me go. 40,000 won fine for those who don't AND they will check to see if you have a license.
Q: I heard that a 50cc scooter doesn't need to be registerd or insurance is not needed.
A: Insurance will be needed! Starting Jan 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012, all 50cc scooters must be registered at your 구청 (district office). These 50cc scooters will also require license plates. All those who fail to do this by July 1 will be fined 500,000 won.
It will now be easy for police to spot you as ALL scooters will have license plates. Before it was tough to judge which bikes were over 50cc so they just didn't bother. Please see the photo attached below for information.
Q: Ok. So I would like to legally ride a scooter/motorcycle in Korea, what steps should I take?
1. You need to get your Korean driver's license. For Canadians this is as simple as swapping your home license out for a Korean one. For Americans, you must visit the Embassy post to receive a stamp(apostille) showing your license from home to be valid (50,000 won). Then take this form to the DMV where you swap this form and your home license for a valid Korean one. Brits/Aussies/etc. I don't know how it works for you guys, but I'm sure you can find it on google.
2. After obtaining your license, make sure your scooter comes with all appropriate papers to transfer ownership. 50cc and under may not have papers, which is OK. Anything above 50cc needs papers to register. If the seller does not provide these, it means the bike is either stolen, was in an accident or could have simply been lost. Either way, you need the papers.
NOTE: If you buy a NEW bike or one that was never registered, you must pay 2% tax on the original cost of the bike. So, although I bought a used bike, it was never registered by the original owner (cuz he was too cheap to pay tax) so I had to pay 2% on the cost (2.8 million). I lied and said it was only worth 1 million new. They have no idea about what bike is worth what new so they accepted it and I paid 20,000 for the tax. Your results may vary.
3. Get an insurance quote for your bike. This can be done at any scooter/motorcycle shop. My 125cc 2008 Daelim costs me 294,000 won per year (the days of 100,000 won per year are over as motorcycle accidents/deaths are at an all time high). This covers medical and auto for whoever I hit as well as myself. If you do not have this and you hit someone J walking or someone hits you, regardless of if its your fault or not, you will pay. It's the same back home and it's the same in Korea. Don't be foolish to think if it's not your fault, you're off free. Purchase insurance!
4. After you pick your insurance plan,take your insurance certificate and bike registration papers to your district office. Here they will ready your documents (3,000 won) and issue you your license plate (4,900 won). Takes about 45 minutes.
5. Get a bike shop (the one you got the insurance from) to install the license plate and keep your registration papers with you at all times.
6. Have fun riding.
Get License > Buy scooter/bike WITH papers > Purchase insurance > Take bike papers and insurance certificate to your district office > Receive license plate and new ownership papers
(for 50cc you don't need the papers, but they're nice to have)
Q: I have a friend who has a bike and he never registered it nor has a valid Korean license and he said it's a waste of time and money to get that stuff done.
A: Ok, well I have a friend who did that and hit an adjumma illegally J-walking. He paid her 2,000,000 won and can now never drive in Korea. I also had a friend T-Bone an EQUUS of which is was not his fault either. He paid 8,000,000 in car damages. So make your own educated decision.
Q: I want a motorcycle above 125cc. Is it the same process?
A: No, anything above 125cc requires a Korean MOTORCYCLE license. Anything below 125cc just requires a regular driver's license. Also, to get a motorcycle license in Korea, you must take xx hours of classes as well as pass a written and driving test. I've heard the course is pretty easy but taking the classes is a pain since it's time consuming and costs a few hundred thousand won.
So please, do the right thing. I'm getting tired of foreigners not taking responsibility for their actions. The foreigner card is being played out and the locals are getting sick of it. You see it on the news everyday and you see it at KSU every weekend. Take responsibility and don't be another reason that Koreans despise us.
Hope this helps. Any questions, please feel free to ask. I will answer the best I can. Drive safe!