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Doing Business in South Korea

Business Etiquette koreaFor the international business person, doing business in foreign countries brings with it cross cultural challenges. An understanding of a country's business culture, attitudes and etiquette is a useful way of establishing good interpersonal relationships which ease the business process.

This short guide to doing business in South Korea is presented as an introductory guide to some of the more important areas of business culture and etiquette. It is not meant to be a comprehensive summary of 'doing business tips'. Rather it offers some key insights into the cross cultural differences you may face when doing business in South Korea.


Doing Business - Meeting & Greeting Etiquette

When doing business in South Korea men greet each other with a slight bow sometimes accompanied with a handshake. When handshaking, the right forearm is often propped up by the left hand. Maintaining eye contact is good etiquette.  In South Korean business culture, women also shake hands. Western women doing business there will need to instigate a handshake with Korean men, as out of politeness, a hand will not be forthcoming.


Address people by their title or by their title and family name. First names can be used once a relationship has been established but wait for your Korean counterpart to initiate this change. 


Doing Business - Business Card Etiquette


Prior to doing business in South Korea bring a plentiful supply of business cards. They will be exchanged frequently. Try and have one side of the card translated into Korean. Mention your title on the card along with any qualifications - this helps convey your rank.
When presenting or receiving a card, use both hands. After receiving a card, read it and comment on it before putting it into a card case or pocket. Do not shove it into a pocket as this will be viewed as disrespectful.

Doing Business - Gift Giving Etiquette


A part of doing business in South Korea is the exchanging of gifts. It is done to secure favours and build relationships. 
Gifts are always reciprocated so bring be sure to bring some with you from your native country. Good gifts for a first visit are office items, maybe with your logo on them. After this try and bring items of beauty and craftsmanship. Foodstuffs will also be appreciated. Avoid overly expensive gifts as this will require the recipient to match the value when they reciprocate.


If offered a gift, it is good etiquette to offer some initial resistance.  However, after the giver insists for the second or third time feel free to accept. Gifts are usually not opened in front of the giver, although it may be a good idea to ask if they would like you to do so.

Doing Business - Meetings


Prior to doing business in South Korean ensure you book any meetings well in advance. The most convenient times for doing business are between 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Times of the year to avoid include holidays like the Lunar New Year (around January/February) and the Moon Festival (around September/October).


Punctuality is important in South Korea and being on time is recommended. However, business people are busy and have hectic schedules which may cause them to be late occasionally. Be courteous and do not display any negative emotions if someone is late to meet you.


When entering a meeting room, the most senior member of your delegation should enter the room first and should sit at the middle of the table.


Before doing business in South Korea understand that personal relationships generally take precedence over business. A first meeting is a 'get to know' affair rather than focusing on business matters. It could take many business trips to South Korea to reach an agreement or close a deal.

Doing Business in South Korea

The tips above point to a few considerations one must make prior to doing business in South Korea. Cross cultural awareness in areas such as meeting etiquette and business protocol are ways of enhancing your business trip and maximizing your potential by minimising misunderstandings and promoting clear lines of communication.

Business Culture Guides

We offer free guides to doing business in many countries. Please visit Business Culture Guides for a full list.

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