Disclaimer: This information is based on our experience gathered during our trip to Korea starting in March 2016. Things tend to change and may also be handled differently at different ports of entry. Check with your customs broker and / or your shipping company for the latest updates on guidelines and regulations.
Shipping to South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Shipping Process & Customs: Due to the size of our Rouletout the only option for us was to use a RoRo (roll-on / roll-off) carrier. There are more companies out there than you might think that offer RoRo as the business of transporting new cars and trucks seems to be very lucrative. In the end we decided to use Wallenius Wilhemsen as they offered what we needed, get our truck and motorcycle from Bangkok (Laem Chabang) to Korea (Masan in that case).
The price is based on volume and was offered at USD 35.82 per cubic meter for the ocean freight plus a small fee for Bill of Lading (B/L or BoL), the most important document for your shipment. Wallenius sent us a set of guidelines for the preparation of our Rouletout (e.g. must be reasonably cleaned, no personal belongings in the front cabin) and we had to bring it two days before the actual voyage to the car dock in Laem Chabang. We ran through the customs process by ourselves (same as at the border for temporarily imported vehicles) and just had to pay terminal handling charges of about USD 50.- to the forwarder and left the key and instructions on how to drive with them. A few days after the ship left (and we had paid the ocean freight) we collected the original Bill of Lading in Bangkok. Only with this document you can receive the cargo at the port of destination so you better hold on to it!
The ship sailed via Singapore and Jakarta to Masan which made it a 12 day voyage. During that time we started to organize the receiving process at Masan and were warned for the first time, that the customs procedure in Masan might not be that simple, as this port has little (no) experience with temporary import of any kind! Wallenius was very supportive during that phase and recommended a customs broker and a stevedoring company.
Once we arrived in Masan (a day before the ship arrived which was unfortunately a Saturday when customs were closed) we brought our BoL to the company representing Wallenius Wilhemsen and got the Delivery Order. This is needed so that the stevedoring company is actually unloading the vehicle and put it on storage at their facilities (which means the dock). We also visited the customs broker who initiated all paperwork for the temporary import on Friday, also warning us about the port of Masan. The port authority in Masan is actually very kind and so we were able to observe the unloading of the M/V Don Juan and have a look at our home again, even if it meant waiting for Monday to begin the paperwork.
On Monday we first heard bad news. Masan customs refused to process temporary import of a vehicle as they have no experience and are not connected to the required IT-systems. It took a lot of phone calls by the customs broker and Wallenius Wilhemsen in Seoul (yes, they were still helping us!) to convince customs in Busan (which has lot of experience with temporary import) and Masan (which is a different region) to work together on this. Finally the import papers were cleared in Busan and Masan did the inspection and on Tuesday we were allowed to drive out of the harbour and begin our journey through Korea. Of course we had to get insurance and the famous “sticker” (which is a form of road tax I guess) somewhere in the process before the papers were handed over.
All in all the process is pretty straightforward. The only problem was, that we arrived at a port of entry with no experience with temporary import which made it a little bit complicated and impossible to handle without broker. The language barrier is just too big. If you ship to Korea, be sure to either arrive in Busan or in Incheon. We were told that all other ports don’t process temporary import (on a regular basis).
A remark on German registered vehicles: It is true that German registered cars are not allowed for circulation in Korea and can not be imported! The reason is as follows: There are two international conventions on the mutual recognition of car registrations and driving licenses, one from 1949 (Geneva) and one from 1968 (Vienna). Germany had not joined the one in 1949 (Korea did), Korea didn't join the one from 1968 which means there is no common agreement between these two countries. Switzerland had joined both and thus Swiss registered vehicles are allowed (this also applies to the international driving licenses by the way). The same applies for Austria and Austrian registrations, Austria ratified both treaties the one from 1949 and the one from 1968 (Vienna).
Rumor has it that some German registered cars got lucky as not all custom officials are aware of this fact and were allowed to enter Korea - so either try your luck or get a different registration....
Driving licenses: For Korea you need an international driving license (even to rent a car). Be sure to have a valid one before entering Korea!