Airmen shares secrets to PCSing to Korea during pandemic
Airmen shares secrets to PCSing to Korea during pandemic
This post is strictly aimed at my brothers and sisters in arms, but there’s still tons of goodness for folks that are considering a move to Korea in 2021. From navigating immigrations upon arrival at Incheon International Airport to getting your first hot meal or haircut off base once you’re out of quarantine, this guide has it all. Read on for my detailed report!
Disclaimer: Everything in this post is my personal account and reflects only my opinions. This is not an official guide in any way/shape/form. This information may or may not be accurate by the time you read this and get to Korea. I’m not basing any of this of official DoD documents or instructions, I’m just telling you how I navigated these waters. However, with that said, I didn’t just survive getting here, I thrived.
Before You Depart
Make Facebook friends with your sponsor
Your sponsor is the person that’s going to be the physical representation of everything in this list…if they’re good anyway lol. They’re the person that’s assigned to your new unit and was given your arrival process as their responsibility. In the simplest terms, your sponsor will basically hold your hand through the entire process of arriving at the airport and getting through customs correctly, to making sure you’re physically sitting in the right spot at your new assignment after in-processing.
Bottom line (BL): Ensure you have your sponsor added on Facebook so you can contact them for anything at all once you’re overseas.
Papago: A must-have app before landing
I’m sure your friends have given you 10 apps they loveed using when they were in Korea, but for starters, you only need one: Papago. Papago is an incredibly user friendly translator app that not only translates text, but can scan any pictures you take with your phone and translate that way too! This comes in clutch for “reading” signs in the airport or on anything printed that you may want to translate such as a sign, menu, etc.
BL: Download the Papago translator app before departing your current assignment/home base for easy translation services.
Your current phone is totally fine and will be functional
Your friend probably said, “Yea man, just go the BX and get a Korean cell phone so you can call and text!”, but guess what? You’re still in the airport and you need to tell your loved ones you just landed. Easy fix: leave your phone in airplane mode but keep WiFi on. Incheon has free WIFi, so you can still communicate with your sponsor and your family through Facebook, twitter, or however you normally do if it can be done through WiFi.
BL: Leave your phone in airplane mode with WiFi on, and use social media to make calls and texts through social media apps like Facebook or WhatsApp.
Things to consider bringing in your luggage:
You’re not just landing and going to a hotel like the old days–you’re going to be on a 13 hour flight (if it’s from the States), and then you’ll be ordered into quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival.
Of note: this list is written from the perspective of someone who is not vaccinated and was required to do the entire 14 day quarantine in a dorm rooms at Osan Air Base. If you’re vaccinated, it’s a different story–you’re allowed a “working restriction of movement (ROM)” which allows you to visit any US facility on base while you’re in quarantine. More on that later in the post.
If you’re in the non-vaccinated situation, here’s what I recommend you bring in your carryon:
- Headphones that can physically plug into an AUX jack. Planes have lots of movies now, but you can’t connect your fancy Bluetooth headphones to their screens. You’ll require actual plug-in head phones for that.
- A phone charger for charging your phone on the plane.
- A pillow from home for the quarantine dorm beds. This is purely a comfort thing and it helped me sleep better when I was homesick.
- Resistance bands if wanting to work out in the quarantine dorms. If you’re vaccinated, you can use the base gym while in quarantine. Yes, you read that right. If you’re not vaccinated, then you’ll want to bring some resistance bands to workout with. There’s more on what you can/can’t do as a vaccinated person newly arriving to Osan later in this post.
- At least a week’s worth of clothes, but I’d recommend more. If you’re exercising in the dorm rooms, you’re going to be sweating through your clean clothes a lot thanks to the humidity. While there are laundry facility in the quarantine dorms (more about that below), it’s still wise to bring some clothes for exercising in and for navigating the base if you’re vaccinated, or for navigating the base after you’ve been released from quarantine if you’re not vaccinated.
- A laptop/iPad for watching shows and TV. There are no TVs in the quarantine dorms so bring something to watch Netflix or church on.
- Books to read. I brought my bible and other engaging books.
- Cards to play solitaire. In case you’re tired of looking at your computer screen all day, cards can be a great escape from all that screen time.
- Supplements (protein, etc.). Especially if you’re vegetarian like me, you’re going to want a protein supplement. The food rations in quarantine (if you’re opting to receive meals from the DFAC since they’re FREE) are less than adequate for vegetarians/vegans. You will need a protein supplement to get your daily protein values if you’re into working out and maintaining muscle mass like I am. You can also ask your sponsor to make a run to GNC and pick some up for you if can’t find a way to pack it into your checked bags.
- Slippers. Again, purely a comfort thing
- A coffee press. There are no coffee stations in your dorm room (or the building surprisingly) and there’s no way to make coffee even if you found a bag. UNLESS, you’re super smart and get one of these to bring with you. I got my commuter French press years ago and it’s worked like a charm ever since. From there, ask your sponsor to bring you a bag of dunkin donuts coffee from the BX and you’re good to go! If you’re vaccinated, you can easily go to Dunkin or Starbucks in the morning.
- Sponge for washing dishes.
- Towel and washcloth for showering.
- Soap, shampoo, toothpaste etc.–basically and all the cosmetic stuff you would normally bring with you on a vacation or a TDY.
- One bowl and one plate. You’d be surprised at how awesome it is to have a plate to eat off of rather than right out of the plastic packaging the DFAC prepares the food in. The bowl is great for cereal and salads that they give you, and the plate is awesome for reheating anything you’d like in the microwave. Both the DFAC food deliveries and the on-base food deliveries will include silverware, so don’t worry about that.
- Anything else you think you’d need if you had to live out of a suitcase for 2+ weeks.
Notice I didn’t say cash. It might be helpful to pull out a couple (i.e., $50) of Korean Won but honestly, I didn’t use any cash until I was tired of carrying it around and wanted to spend it just to get it out of my wallet. In the past, people arriving in Korea would pull out ~$200USD in Korean Won (KRW) in case the bus shuttle to base wasn’t running and they needed to take a cab to Osan Air Base. With COVID and the strict Korean quarantine rules for anyone arriving in 2021 and the foreseeable future, that is no longer allowed. So bring cash if you’re a cash guy, but other than that you don’t have to worry about it.
BL: Your comfort level for 2 weeks will depend on what you bring with you in your luggage, so plan and pack accordingly.
Flying into Incheon International Airport
If you’re on orders to Korea, you don’t need a passport to get here. If you get here and you still want one however, you can easily apply for a passport on base thanks to a facility on base that handles that.
Required items before departure. Make sure you arrive at your departure airport with a printed, negative COVID test (taken within 72 hours of departure from the US) that includes the name of the testing facility of where it was done. If the Koreans at Incheon cannot verify where you got your test done, they might hold you in quarantine until you can produce a negative result (i.e., they’ll test you in the airport and make you wait until it comes back negative).
Customs forms. Before you arrive at the airport, the flight attendants will pass out immigration forms while you are still in the air. These forms are all very straight forward and are written in English and Korean, so just fill them out as you would any other form.
COVID Symptoms. One of the forms asks if you’ve had COVID symptoms within the last 21 days. If you put yes on that form, you will go into Korean-owned/operated quarantine and there is nothing the US can do about it; United States Forces Korea (USFK) rules. So, with that said, if you’ve had COVID within 21 days of travel and you put that you had those symptoms, be prepared for that. I know from experience dudes lol, watch my video on how to survive that ordeal here.
JPPC. If everything goes smoothly through customs, you’ll be released to US personnel after passing immigrations and you’ll be greeted be a USFK representative who will escort you where you need to go. Your sponsor should have asked you when you were arriving at Incheon and they should have relayed that to the Joint Personal Processing Center (JPPC) at Incheon so they can logistically plan for your arrival and ensure you get to your base.
JPPC Location. If there is no one there to pick you up when you land, no worries. Just collect your checked bags like you normally would, and exit the baggage claim. As you exit baggage claim, you’ll be spit out in Terminal 2 which is the same terminal the JPPC is located. Terminal 2 is like a giant hallway with you at the very end of one side and the JPPC on the very other end, so it’s hard to get lost between where you are and where you need to go–simply start walking (within the roped off area of course) to the other end of the terminal. If you get all the way down or someone stops you, simply say you are a soldier (or type it into the Papago app and translate it) and someone will call JPPC and tell them to come get you. It’s fool-proof!
While in Quarantine
Working ROM. A “working ROM” is allowed for fully-vaccinated individuals. If you’re fully-vaccinated, you’ll be allowed to go to any of the US facilities on base (even the gym) and will only be required to return to the quarantine dorms at night. Basically you cannot leave the base, but you can live a relatively normal life. You can even go to your in-processing briefs, housing briefs, etc. while in “working ROM”.
Non-working ROM. If you’re not vaccinated, you’ll still be allowed to go outside every day and I encourage it for your sanity lol! However, non-vaccinated personnel are required to live in quarantine dorms for 14 days. You can talk with the dorm leader and ask them to let you stay outside for a good while if nobody else is taking advantage of their “yard time” though. I never saw more than 2 people outside at any given time in my quarantine, so it was rather peaceful every time I went outside.
The grass is mowed weekly and there aren’t any stickers in it, so I would constantly take my shoes off and ground myself in the grass when I was outside. There’s even a way that you can run laps if you want, too! I measured my quarantine yard and found that one time around the weird, triangle shaped quarantine zone is 0.10 miles.
Facebook group to get in. As you’re getting checked in, join the Osan quarantine support Facebook page here, trust me. Everyone in the group is extremely helpful and they tend to answer any questions you ask on their page almost immediately.
WiFi. It’s public…so there’s that lol. If you’re just doing some Netflix surfing or facetime-ing with the family, you’ll be fine. However, the WiFi in the dorms is spotty at best, so to get around this, find 3 or 4 routers in the dorms and switch between them when the connection gets bad. If you absolutely need to have reliable WiFi, it might be wise to buy a WiFi egg from the BX upon arrival and pay for a monthly subscription for a while. The website for the Osan BX is here, and can deliver to your dorm room.
Rely on your sponsor. Ensure that you’re relying on your sponsor to bring you the items you need—don’t feel like a nuisance or a bother! You are literally relying on them to bring you things you need, so use them.
Food/eating. Food will be delivered to your quarantine dorm once a day around 1200 and you don’t have to do anything for that upon arrival. I say once a day but it’s three meals in one bag (e.g. lunch and dinner for the current day, and breakfast for tomorrow). I highly recommend this option because it’s free. With that said though, the food rations in quarantine are less than adequate for vegetarians/vegans interested in maintaining muscle mass, so if you’re like me, you might want to consider ordering food online here or calling in food for delivery. How do you call in Korea with an American phone in airplane mode? Great question, keep reading.
Ordering food. If you don’t have a Korean cell phone yet, that’s ok! You can still call restaurants and order food if you want. Each dorm has a public use landline phone that can call DSN numbers which all the restaurants on base have. The phone is located near the entrance and where the dorm leaders hang out. Go down and use that phone to order food! There’s a Chilis, a subway, a pizza hut, and a bunch more.
BL: Join the Osan Quarantine support Facebook group for tons of resources on thriving in quarantine, be prepared to either eat DFAC food, pay for dining out (vaccinated peeps) or have food delivered (non-vaccinated peeps), and get outside daily for your sanity!
My PCS/Korean Quarantine - June2021 (Fast forward to ~11:00 to see how the dorm is laid out and what is inside!)
The basic layout of the dorm:
If you want to see what the dorm room will look like, fast forward to ~11:00 in the video above to see that! Basically, the basic dorm will include:
- A twin or full bed–dealer’s choice as to what you get. Sheets are included and are required to be washed by the last person checking out of that dorm. However, they may/may not fit. Be prepared to ask your sponsor for a fresh set of sheets if yours don’t fit, or you’re grossed out by the idea of sleeping on someone else’s sheets.
- A sink
- A fridge
- A microwave
- Your own bathroom in the room (i.e. you’re not going to be sharing one–huge win!)
- A couch
- A lazy-boy recliner
- A coffee table, and some end tables.
- A dining table and chairs
- Cupboard storage
There isn’t a stovetop in the dorms for cooking your own food, but you can reheat things in the microwave. You can also get creative with your food (e.g. overnight oats, rice in the microwave, etc.) with ideas on Pinterest or Google.
Laundry. There are also free laundry facilities on-site in the quarantine dorms, but no soap/dryer sheets, so you’ll have buy some from BX or have your sponsor deliver you some.
BL: Quarantine dorms are basically what you had in college except with a small kitchenette and your own bathroom.
What to do in quarantine to speed up in processing and pass time
Don’t waste your time. Don’t fall to the urge to play video games or watch Netflix all day. You’ve always wanted 2 weeks off from work to do “X”, so now’s the time to do it! I took basic Korean language lessons, created a lot of content for my blog, learned how to do video editing with a program called Filmora so I could create a YouTube channel, read the bible, worked out twice a day; do not waste this time!
Start in-processing. Find out when the base in-processing brief is and get scheduled to attend it (especially if you’re in “working ROM” status). I did a walk in, but their website says to have your CSS register you. You likely don’t know who your CSS is, so ask your sponsor to give you their e-mail, and e-mail them saying you’d like to be registered for the in-processing brief on ‘insert the date you want here’.
If you need to contact finance, you’ll need to be VPN’d into your work domain to access their site since they are no longer doing in-person services unless it’s absolutely required. For whatever reason, if you try to access their portal from your computer over regular internet, the website functionality fails. Regardless, their website is here, but they’ll be at the in-processing brief to get you squared away as well.
Create a budget. Create a budge for how much you’ll be making while in Korea/Osan. If you’ve never set up a budget before, you now have 2 weeks to learn how to do it! There’s no excuse not to have your finances in order. Better to have money left over at the end of the month than to have month left over at the end of the money, right? I created a very basic one that works perfect, so I know exactly how much I’ll be making per month. It’s right below this paragraph. Use it!
First, your money should be split into two piles: taxable and non-taxable.
- Base pay – find this on your LES. This amount shouldn’t be any different from your last base unless you’re promoting soon in which case, congrats! Mo money
- Utilities – this is factored by going here and plugging in your information. Use the calculator and it’ll tell you just how much you’ll be getting for utilities. Of note, you will only get utilities paid to you AFTER you’ve signed a lease for a place to stay.
- Hardship duty pay – this is a set amount for everyone, and it's $50 of Osan peeps. This is paid to you as you arrive on Osan. If you don’t see it on your first paycheck, contact finance here.
- OHA – this amount can be found at here, and your Locality Code (for Osan at least) is KR025. If you’re elsewhere, just drop the menu down and look for your location, starting with “Korea” as the first word.
- COLA – this can be found at here. Ensure you double check that you put in the correct information (e.g. pay grade, # of dependents, etc.). COLA is and is paid twice a month, so double the value that is spit out on the calculator for your monthly COLA amount.
- BAS – A fixed, non-taxable amount of $266.18 for officers, $371.71 for enlisted. Paid monthly.
Second, add your base pay, utilities, and hardship duty pay to get your total BEFORE taxes.
Third, let’s figure out how to determine how much money you actually get to see go into your bank account each month. To get your take home pay, you have to take taxes out first. Go here to find out what percentage you’re being taxed by the IRS and use this formula to figure out how much money you get after tax (i.e., your take home pay):
- Base pay + utilities + hardship duty = SUM1.
- SUM1 x (tax bracket in decimal form, so 22% would be 0.22) = SUM2
- If you are contributing to savings (which you better be), add that percentage value to the tax bracket percentage you’re being taxed. For example, I am taxed at 22% by the federal government, and I put 8% of my base pay into savings, so now I'm up to 30% or 0.30.
- If you’re paying state tax, add that value also. Colorado taxes me at 4.5%, so now my total tax percentage is 34.5% or 0.345.
- SUM1 – SUM 2 = SUM3, your take home pay.
- Be sure to subtract any miscellaneous debts within your LES. For example, remember when the IRS gave us all our social security pay and said they wanted it back in 2021? Don't forget to subtract that from your SUM3, take home pay. Additionally, you're paying in to SGLI, and that amount can be found on your LES as well. Subtract that from your take home pay.
It's that easy. It just takes a little work.
Begin finding a place to live. Thanks to COVID, you’ll be living off-base if you’re E4 or higher (if you want to at least). Contact the housing office (email@example.com) and get registered for the off-base housing brief as soon as you’re out of quarantine (non-vaccinated personnel) or while in “working ROM” status (vaccinated personnel). The housing office can provide you with a list of approved realtors–I recommend you start pinging each and every one of them with a template message (below) to start getting an idea of what’s available, where you’d like to live, and what you’d like to have (keep reading for how to navigate the realtor world from my perspective).
Template message: Hi! I’m active duty military (insert rank and # of dependents), looking for a apartment/villa/house to rent around (OHA amount), washer and dryer included, unfurnished, within 30 minutes of Osan Air Base, available between ___ and ____. Do you have anything available? I don’t have a Korean phone number yet, so please respond to my via Facebook at __________ or email at __________. Thank you!
Get certified to drive in Korea. Take your Korean drivers license test (~2 hours). See below for instructions on how to do that. Then, go here and sign up for the next available appointment to get your USFK driver’s license. Trust me, they’re very backed up so do it sooner than later lol. There are details on how to get your license later in the post.
Join Facebook groups and get involved! Did you used to be a part of a running group or practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at home? There’s a Facebook group for that! Did you just realize that your blender in your households goods isn’t going to get there for 2 months but you’re dying for a smoothie? Join the Osan Flea Market on Facebook to buy one for dirt cheap from someone leaving for their next assignment! Need a beater car or scooter to get around base? Osan flea market on Facebook! There’s a whole section below for buying a car if you’re interested in that.
BL: Don’t waste your time in quarantine rather, be as productive as you possibly can by beginning the in-processing process, working on or finding new hobbies/skills, creating a budget, and contacting realtors.
Once Out of Quarantine
House hunting. First thing you should do is submit Permissive TDY Leave on LeaveWeb so that your supervisor is tracking where you’re at and you’re not expected to work during that time. Work with your supervisor for the exact dates, but typically you’ll take these days immediately after quarantine.
Realtors. Realtors in Korea are not like they are in the states—realtors in the states work to sell houses whereas realtors in Korea work to rent them out. Weird, but that’s how it works lol. Your realtor is your proxy for dealing with the landlord. Realtors will pick you up in their cars and spend the day with you, showing you what they have available and if they’re good, they’ll even take you out to lunch. Take advantage of that free meal and ask them lots of questions about the area! Now’s your time to get an insider’s perspective of the area you’re about to spend a year or two in.
Furnished v. unfurnished. Almost every apartment will come furnished. That’s just the way it is out here. If you’re like me and you’re bringing all your stuff from home with you, don’t worry! If you find a place you want unfurnished, work with your realtor to ask the landlord if they’re willing to move the furniture out. It’s not impossible at all and your realtor will definitely work with you on this! Same with unfurnished places–ask your realtor to ask the landlord to get furniture moved in if you need. You can also rent furniture from base for free during the time between you move in to your new place and when you household goods get there. That’s all explained at the off-base housing brief you’ll need to attend.
Apartments, Villas, and Homes. If you’re single, you’ll likely be shown apartments or villas, not houses. Apartments are in high-rises and they are everywhere around the base. Some are not very spacious but they will do the job if you’re only there for a year and don’t have much stuff with you. Villas are what I would call small apartment buildings—3-4 stories high and much more spacious than apartments. Single houses start at 2 million won per month and go up from there in the Osan area. If you’re dead set on having a house, you’ll almost certainly be driving up from Camp Humphreys (about 35 minutes south of Osan).
Go-to locations. If you want to live near base, ask your realtor to show you places in the “SED”, or the Songtan Entertainment District. This is also the area right near the Pyeongtaek International Central Market if they’re not familiar with what the SED is. Apartments in the SED are ½ renovated, ½ older models, so look at a lot before you make your decision.
If you’re not opposed to driving a few minutes, there is an AWESOME area about 15 minutes from base in the Godeok area. Apartments here are extremely new (like, still-being-built new) and modern. Below them on the street level, there are tons of little cafes and restaurants for storefronts. It was an incredible spot that I wanted to live in so badly but I decided to stay near base just out of convenience (i.e., I can walk to work every day lol).
If you don’t want the hustle and bustle of the SED or the Godeok area, consider the Masan area. Houses and villas here are much quieter, they’re not surrounded by high-rises rather, they’re surrounded by agricultural fields. There’s more houses for families, and quieter neighborhoods in this part of town, too.
Dietary restrictions. I should note that Koreans do not respect the concept of dietary restrictions so if you have an allergy or you’re vegan or something, you need to take special precautions before eating off base. Learn some basic Korean for saying things like, “no meat” or use the Papago app to translate your request to have options with no meat, dairy, etc.
On base dining. There’s a dozen or so restaurants on base if you’re looking for a taste of home: pizza hut, subway, Chilis. You can also get breakfast at anytime at Checkertails and if you’re a health nut like me, you can go to Jamba Juice and get a protein smoothie! Every place I’ve been to has staff that speak excellent English, so the language barrier won’t be a problem for you on base.
Off base dining. Once you’re finally off base, try your hand at any one of the hundreds of restaurants in the SED. From Korean BBQ to an American-themed tap house, just about every cuisine can be found in the SED. See my note at the top of this section for advice on dietary restrictions. I’m slowly working my way down each restarutant to put together a comprehensive review of the best foods in the SED but here’s what I have so far:
- Lanna Thai Food – amazing Thai food right near the main/walk-in gate by the 7-11. Vegetarian options galore!
- Suwon Galbi – I’ve heard has great Korean BBQ from a few foodies I know over here
- New York Restaurant – known for their chicken and waffles
- Counting stars café – amazing coffee and cookies
- Cosmic cat – good donuts on the SED, but they sell out quickly. Located in one of the side streets near the northeast portion of the SED.
- Sasquatch pizza – very American lol
- Effes does really good Turkish Food
- There’s good Pho at the end of the SED (north end) on the right hand side of the railroad tracks
- Blue opera (for drinks, not so much the food). Cool vibe, right on the main street of the SED
Buying groceries. If you’re looking to cook your own food, buy your groceries on base at the commissary near the High School. Convenient, good selection, and tax free.
Farmer’s Market. Alternatively, if you’re a farmer’s market kind of guy and prefer local produce like I do, check out the 4-9 market right outside the walk-in/main gate in the Songtan Entertainment District (SED). This market is held on every day that ends in a 4 and a 9, pretty cool concept if you ask me! Meat, seafood, produce—all kinds of good stuff in a farmer’s market format.
Getting your license to drive in Korea
Take the online test first. Per USFK.mil, “USFK’s online driver’s training and test are mandatory. This change allows sponsors to assist authorized troops and families and set them up for success before they arrive”. To get your USFK license, go here for the course, the test, ad general FAQs. Of note, You must be on a CAC-enabled computer or have a CAC reader to take the course since it’s through JKO.
Getting the physical license. Once you have passed the test, print a copy at either the library or the USO. From there, you can go to the 51 LRS in Bldg 1333 (just across the street from the Base gym, walk through the large gate opening that has “GOVs only” and “no hat, no salute” signs on it, continue straight until you cross a very small bridge, turn left, and it’s the first building on your left) and get your license printed. You can either schedule an appointment here OR go to their walk-in hours between 1300-1500 M, W, and F. I recommend the latter.
You’ll need to bring: For the USFK driver’s license at least…
- A printed copy of your JKO test (the one you did online saying you passed)
- Your stateside driver’s license
- Your CAC
- A copy of your orders.
Motorcycles. If you’re a motorcycle rider, ensure everything is updated in MUSTT and that you have a copy of your MSF card on you, along with everything in the list above.
Getting a haircut
Pull up a photo. The best way I’ve found to get what you want done to your hair is to bring a picture of the style you’re looking for. If you have a picture of yourself with the hair you want, that’ll be even better. Personally, I always use a picture of Brad Pitt from Fury if I don’t want anything off the top but a clean fade on the sides lol.
My barber. KC’s Barbershop is excellent, about $15 USD for a cut, shampoo, massage, and even a little neck adjustment which feels amazing. She’s located to the east of the SED and there’s curb parking just outside of her building across the street
Buying a car
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert or an attorney and what I’m saying here should not be treated as gospel. This was just my account of how I got a car and everything worked out just fine. Additionally, if you brought your car from your last duty assignment, this section only moderately applies to you.
Find the car you want. There’s dozens of cars being put up for sale on many Facebook pages around Osan and Camp Humphreys (about 30 minutes south), but to keep it simple, check the most popular ones here:
Message the seller. Seems simple, but message the seller and ask if it’s still available. Chances are the car has 3-4 people viewing it at any given time so it might be sold by the time you find it.
Test drive it. Now that you’ve gotten your USFK license, you’re no longer riding dirty! Take the car for a spin and pay special attention to how it handles (e.g. does it pull to the right? How stiff/soft are the brakes? Does the A/C work? What about the heater? Is it stick shift or manual?).
Inspection and Purchase. In order to register a car at Osan you must be assigned to Osan AB, and the car must pass a safety inspection conducted at the Auto Hobby inspection garage on base called Sam’s Garage. It’s directly behind the gas station near the main/walk-in gate. The process takes about 10-15 minutes and they accept walk-ins. If the seller tells you that it passed inspection somewhere else (e.g. off base, another base, etc.), that’s a good sign, but security forces on Osan require it to have an inspection done at Sam’s Garage on base. If you have that, go ahead and buy the car if you like it!
Insure it. You have to have insurance to drive a car in Korea, period dot. You’ll need to do this before you can register it also. If your vehicle insurance is through USAA, Call USAA’s international number at 008-800-5318-7220 with the vehicle details in hand (e.g. the VIN, features, etc.) and they’ll get you taken care of any time of day!
Register your car at the Korean DMV. Vehicles must be registered with a United States Forces Korea (USFK) Vehicle Recorder within 10 days of date of purchase or arrival in Korea. Be sure to keep the contact info of your buyer! If there are any tickets associated with the vehicle’s VIN/previous registration when you go to register it, they’ll need to be paid first. If you get stuck with that bill, I strongly recommend reaching out to the seller to ask them to Zelle you the cash to cover the cost; it was their mistake after all!
Here are the forms you NEED to have before you can register a car in Korea at the DMV (as well as images below to ensure you’ve got the right ones). The Korean DMV nearest Osan is at 13-9 Doiryutong-gil, Doil-dong, Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do.
- Identification Card – Easy enough, just bring your CAC
- Proof of ownership – An example of this form is below
- Proof of insurance – USAA insurance MUST have “South Korea” annotated as location. See my note above for contacting USAA to have it insured.
- USFK Customs Import Document (3702-55B) – this ONLY applies to people bringing their car over from their last duty assignment other than Korea. If you bought your car in Korea, forget this bullet.
- Valid USFK driver’s license – see my note above for getting your USFK driver’s license.
- Copy of orders authorizing shipment or DD Form 788 (Private Vehicle Document.) – this ONLY applies to people bringing their car over from their last duty assignment. If you just bought your car in Korea, forget this bullet.
- Vehicle Safety Inspection certificate within the past 90 days – see my note above about inspections.
- Bill of sale – not required by Pass and ID but a good legal move to show you paid for the car and that you now own it.
- Proof of previous owner’s cancellation of owning the car – again, not required by Pass and ID but a good legal move to show the previous owner does not own the car any longer.
Power of attorney? Let’s say the car you want is owned by someone who has already PCS’d. Not to fret! If that person was smart, they gave power of attorney to someone who is still physically located in Korea (e.g. their friend, a spouse, etc.), and that person can sell you the car and sign it over to you. Again, I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take that as gospel, but that’s what my situation boiled down to and it worked out just fine.
Register your car with the base. Yes, you have to register your car with the Korean DMV as well as the base. For Osan, that’s done at the Pass and ID building, bldg 765. Tedious, I know, but a must-do. All the forms you’ll need to do that are the ones given to you after you register the car with the Korean DMV.
BL: If you’re buying a car, ensure you give it the once over for mechanical issues, get the above forms signed from your seller, insure the vehicle, and register it with Pass and ID within 10 days of purchase.
Now get out and explore!
Ok, if you’ve done all this, then you are out of quarantine, you’re either living in or on your way to living in an apartment in Korea, you have a car, you’ve got food in your belly, and you are looking fine with a fresh fade. Stop reading this post and get out and explore already! Go check out the Baedari Eco Park in Pyeongtaek just 30 minutes away from Osan, visit Osan (like the actual town) and get a coffee from one of the local cafes, or drive down to Humphreys and use their gym that is WAY better than Osan’s!
I’m actually posting this entire article from a café in Osan, South Korea called Thumb Coffee. Never been here before, but the sign outside said “Free WiFi and dessert”, so here I am lol.
A word of appreciation
If this list helps you at all, please share it with your friends who are PCS’ing soon or know someone who is. The reason for this post is because I had to learn some of these basic things the hard way, thousands of miles from home, in a foreign country, with massive amounts of anxiety, stress, and fear of the unknown.
If there are suggestions you’d like to see or find something in this list that needs updated/fixed, please write me on Facebook or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get on it right away. Additionally, if this sort of thing helped you in the slightest, please show me some love and head over to my Facebook page and give me a follow. I promise I’ll post only awesome content that helps you experience places you get stationed to the fullest.
Thank you for reading and enjoy your time in South Korea!
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