I wanted to talk a little bit about a thing called your Alien Registration Card, or ARC, which seemed to be the golden ticket for accomplishing anything in the first month in Korea. By that, I mean, we couldn’t establish any vital pieces of our life until we had our alien registration number and card. We couldn’t open a bank account (or at least we thought, but we found out later you can use a passport), purchase a car, or get our shipments approved through customs without an alien registration number.
As with a lot of paperwork and immigration issues, the applications for and issuance of our ARCs were handled by J-Mar’s company, so I can’t attest to the actual process to get this taken care of. Essentially, you must register as a foreign resident in order to function as a local and not just a long-term visitor. It is almost like getting a U.S. driver license.
We provided any information necessary to the administrative assistants who took care of this business for us, and once we received our cards, we were in business. We went to the KEB at HomePlus with a Korean to help us set up bank accounts to be able to use local currency, particularly because the Korean won is strong against the USD at the moment (thanks, economy!). When we initially set up our accounts did this by providing our passport which had our work visas to prove we are current residents. This has proved an interesting decision later on, because whenever I need to do anything like change my PIN [[which will happen to you given technology and your lack of Korean language skills]] or get help with anything major on my account, I have to bring my passport because that’s what my account is listed under.
Anyhow, having a Korean go with us was extremely helpful to ensure we put appropriate withdrawal limits on our accounts as well as accurate pin numbers. She also helped us to understand our ability to do online banking, which comes with extra security over here, in the form a small plastic card with combinations of numbers you must use to access your account.
Once we received our ARCs, we were also able to purchase a car, our Kia Morning, Mac. My agency representative took us to a couple of car dealers in Buk-gu, where we browsed lots for all sorts of pre-owned vehicles. We know others who have purchased new cars from dealer show rooms around Ulsan, but we went a different route and are happy with our decision. Once we chose a car on the lot, we negotiated a price. Discounts and haggling are not common here, but the tread on one of our tires was running thin and we asked if they could replace the tires before handing over the car, and they responded by offering a discount instead.
We had to make a bank transfer from our bank in the States to pay in cash for our car. This was a little difficult and required a couple phone calls and long explanations to customer service agents but we figured it out without too much pain in the end.
Again, having a Korean to help you, especially one that works for a relocation agency, is extremely valuable, as we had no idea what the paperwork said (all in Korean), and we needed to obtain car insurance. Since the insurance system is different here in Korea than the U.S., it was also helpful to have someone explain the pricing structure of insurance and how to get the best deal. Car insurance is more regulated by the Korean government, which means that prices are not drastically different between companies. Korean driving laws also have different mandates with regards to liability and fault, which influences insurance prices as well. Interestingly enough, my age affected the insurance rates as well, but in a way you might not expect. In Korea, they count your age differently than the “international” standard of age: you are 1 year old at birth, and each Lunar New Year, everyone turns the next age older. So I’m currently 26, and as of the Lunar New Year on January 31, 2015, I will be considered 28 instead of 26. All of that actually affects my insurance rates and who to register the car under, since J is a little older and can get a better rate as the primary driver.
Lastly, if you are moving here with a company that provides you a shipment of goods (air or sea), it will be necessary to get your ARC information for the moving company or relocation agency so that they can process your shipment through customs. Only then will it be released to you (or the moving company who will bring it to you).