Through September 2017 we drove thru South Korea.
Here some practical information about the journey. For more ample details and pics see our respective blogs.
Kindly note all information given is based on our personal perceptions and observations. Of course you might experience it in a different way.
Procurement of Visa:
For most countries very easy: not needed. You get 3 months stamped in at arrival. This also applies to the Donghae Ferry Terminal.
We have the impression nobody outside Seoul, and to a limited extend Busan, has ever learned a single word of English. That makes it a little difficult to communicate with Koreans. Especially because they are not used to any translation app at all. You can communicate with Google Translator, but Koreans can’t answer on this because their script is different. Contrary to Chinese they normally don’t have their own translation apps. Nevertheless, Google translator or a similar app is essential, especially for taking pictures of menus and having them translated.
Entered by Donghae Ferry Terminal. Very easy. DBS Ferries take care of you. Passports stamped within minutes. All car documents already prepared. Note that you pay a pretty hefty customs deposit ($ 150) for your car, which generally is not refundable for non-residents. In addition you pay quite an amount for the car insurance ($ 130 for 1 month). DBS provides you with all the papers once a customs officer has verified the car’s VIN (10 minutes) and you have paid the full amount. You get a TIP and a yellow sticker (insurance) to be fixed on the windscreen. 30′ later you’re out.
On the road, navigation:
The good news: all road signs are also in English. Koreans are among the more “civilized” and careful drivers. Astonishingly, our experience as drivers and pedestrians is exactly the opposite of Lonely Planet’s statements on this issue.
A little worse: Google Maps is not routable in South Korea. Probably they’re afraid the Northy invaders would use this to hijack the nicest Southy-girls. But OSM and MapsMe work. Difficult to find locations due to uncertain transcription of names.
– the roads are generally very good, distances short. However, South Korea is densely populated, meaning: driving overland mostly means driving thru endless towns and villages;
– quite a number of speed traps;
– highways are expensive: more than 0.10$/km;
– no experience with traffic police; they show a rather low profile.
Other bureaucratic highlights:
Only 1: getting a local SIM Card:
You cannot buy a SIM card just anywhere in a cellphone shop – as in any other country.
Nevertheless, a local SIM card is absolutely essential to translate Korean menus in restaurants with Google Translator’s photo function and for a minimalistic communication with locals.
1st of all you need a cellphone supporting 2100MHz on 3G.
Korea Telecom’s olleh is ok as provider.
The problem is just to find 1 of their offices without speaking Korean. A cellphone shop may help you finding the guys.
In their office you may need to communicate with Google Translator (except in a few international stores in Seoul). For more sophisticated questions concerning your SIM Card they have an English speaking call center mediating between you and the office staff. Helps a lot, office staff will call them whenever Google Translator gets to its limits. So far perfect. At least a little bit.
Of course you need your passport. The cellphone guys also need to find your registration in a list of Korean immigration. Note that it takes a day or 2 after arrival to be registered. So no optimism needed to get the card immediately after arrival.
This automated registration listing may work, or not. If not a lot of mediation with the English speaking call center is necessary. Just keep arguing, don’t despair.
Finally after half a day’s hard work you’ll get the card.
Cost: some 30$ for all, included 5GB data, excluded international calls; 1 month valid.
And it works quite well.
Very few imported cars in Korea. Many car repair shop for local makes. Unfortunately to our experience they even don’t think about touching a car of another make.
A few independent garages. Normally they have no spares at all and show little enthusiasm to find them. So better avoid any problem with your vehicle.
Weather in Korea was definitely not too nice. So we often had to look for some “roofed” accommodation. Luckily there’s an institution typically Korean: Love Motels.
Nomens est Omen. Most of them have soundproof rooms, are quite well equipped and are pretty competitive to any other form of accommodation. And finally, are used by everybody just staying a night or 2. So no obligation to find a new girl or boyfriend before going there. Simply accept all kind of couples frequenting these places.
Finally your vehicle is always well protected: they have curtains in front of the parking to ensure the necessary discretion of their respectable clients.
Big advantage in Korea: Motels principally have safe parking. With a high car in a few cases it may be difficult to enter them.
Eat Korean or die. Simple as that – and don’t forget the picture app of your Google Translator to translate the menu.
Ro-Ro Ferry to the US:
The big question: from Korea to the US or Canada? Importing a car to Canada is definitely easier and cheaper than to the US.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find 1 single car insurance valid for the US if the car arrives in Canada. Additionally, there’s no Ro-Ro between Korea and Canada; only container.
Thus our decision for the US.
On the Korean side:
There’s only 1 Ro-Ro ferry between Masan (near Busan) to Tacoma (near Seattle), operated by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. It runs 1-3 times per month on this route. Shipment takes about 2 weeks. All other vessels are container only.
Customs brokerage Korea: we used the service of Wendy Choi (email@example.com) as most overlanders do. We contacted her some months in advance to confirm her service.
A month before arriving in Korea we sent her the documents she requires (scans of car registration, passport,IDL). We learned that we have to find ourselves a customs broker in the US. Note that the process in the US cannot be done entirely by you (see below).
Once in Korea we agreed with Wendy on the date. About 10 days before shipping we received the exact date when to release the car at the port (1-3 days before departure) and the place to meet in Busan: in our case it was Masan 1 Car Port : Dream bay-daero 201, Masanhappo-gu, Changwon-si, Gyeongsangnam-do.
We couldn’t find the place, so a local agent had to escort us to the port (no extra charge).
You leave the car in the port. Open, keys in the car – as far as we could state so far nothing got stolen. Together with the local agent you go to the customs, return the TIP and the Yellow Sticker – and 5′ later you’re off – as backpacker.
Wendy will send you the original Bill of Loading after payment by mail.
Car – 115$/m3; for a Landcruiser we paid 2550$.
Customs brokerage with all fees (Wendy Choi’s work) – 250$.
You need quite a few papers to import a car to the US. All this stuff can easily be consulted at this US Website on eternal bureaucrazy . There you find that you’re allowed to temporary import your vehicle for 1 year, provided you have:
- the EPA exemption. EPA, the US Environmental Protection Agency, reserves the right to agree on each non-US-regulation-conform car entering the US. We applied the EPA Exemption about 2 months before shipping. A simple letter to explain why the hell you’re crazy enough to import a vehicle to the US. Some 10 days letter you get a beautiful confirmation that your car is more than welcome. So no problem, you can do it yourself.
- the ISF 10+2 Filing . What the hell? It’s just a few information the US Government needs to know prior to the vessel’s departure. It seems they consider these data the ultimate weapon to fight worldwide terrorism. So tell the US the name of yours grandpa’s 2nd girlfriend he kissed behind the big tree in the garden – and all Jidhies or Alqaidies will disappear immediately. Unfortunately, this ISF 10+2 Filing can only be done by certified US Customs Brokers.
- the dot reporting: no idea what it is, nevertheless very important.
- the Entry Surety Bond if your car values more than 2500$ – no idea how to manage this.
- maybe some more unknown 1s.
Finally the clear statement of US customs that they expect everybody to know exactly the procedures and they’re not willing to help.
To avoid all these crazy issues we simply googled “Customs Broker Tacoma” to have a few addresses. Finally we decided for Sound Brokerage, Gwen Salisbury (firstname.lastname@example.org). Another option would eventually be Leroi from TCB Clearences (LBerven@TCBClearances.com). We decided for Gwen because she replied faster. She got all the documents she required and we’re ready to import Prado to the US.
A word about costs: about 600$, including the brokers fees (pretty cheap) and some doubtful ramp fees of the shipper.
For this fee you get the vehicle imported within 2 days normally. For us it took 4. No idea why; but the customs officers knew every detail of our car – including all stickers on it – when we met them later.
Maybe one of the explanations why it took a little longer was that some of the items in the car were closed in with the keys remaining with us. However, we handed them in right after enquiry – why the hell should we leave everything open in an open car?
Well, the whole issue somehow reminds us to some administration talents in deepest Central African.