SIHEUNG, South Korea, April 3 Chinese shoppers
already have a seemingly insatiable appetite for South Korean
pop music, TV dramas, cosmetics and fashion. Now they're after
another must-have item: a driver's licence.
In China, would-be drivers can wait up to a year for a
licence and pay double the $420 that one costs in South Korea.
That has fuelled a boom in Chinese visitors taking South Korean
driving tests and converting the licences when they get home.
At a driving school in the suburbs of Seoul, a buzzing
operation which sees some 200 Chinese applicants a month, half
of the class listens to a Korean-speaking teacher while the
Chinese visitors fix their eyes on a TV screen showing sample
questions for written tests in Mandarin.
"It is easy to get a driver's licence in South Korea.
Although I feel nervous, it is fast and easy to convert into a
Chinese one," said Wang Yingfang, a 46-year-old Chinese
applicant on her first drive in Korea.
South Korea has eased rules for licences, cutting the hours
of training to 13, including six hours of driving time. That has
led nearly 70,000 Chinese nationals to become holders of South
Korean driving licences in the past three years.
It takes only a week to get a licence at state-appointed
driving schools. Applicants can even do their driving tests on
rooftop tracks, meaning they have little experience in dealing
with actual traffic.
Wang travelled to South Korea by ferry with four other
hopefuls. If she gets her licence, she can convert it to a
Chinese one by sitting a written test back at home.
On her first day behind the wheel, the school's part-time
translator was absent and the driving instructor had to
communicate using body language.
But these are minor obstacles for Chinese applicants who are
determined to get a South Korean licence.
"I will tell my friends to come here," Gao Yiai, a
35-year-old housewife from China's Shandong province, said as
she proudly held up her new licence.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Seongbin Kang; Editing by David
Chance and John O'Callaghan)