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Business Practices and Etiquette

Business Practices and Eti...

First Meetings

  1. When meeting a Korean business person for the first time, it is best to be introduced by a third party, rather than introducing yourself.
  2. Shaking hands is now common even among Koreans. A bow may or may not precede the handshake.
  3. The exchange of business cards is a vital part of a first meeting. It is also important to emphasize one’s title so that, right away, the correct authority, status and rank are established and understood. The recent Western trend toward eliminating titles has created some problems for some companies when dealing with Korean businesses as Koreans generally prefer to deal only with someone of equal rank as opposed to someone of lower rank.
  4. Use both hands if possible when presenting and receiving a business card. If that is not possible, use your right hand and support your right elbow with your left hand.
  5. Business cards should be treated as an extension of the person. Therefore you should read it carefully and then place it on the table in front of you. To put someone’s card in your pocket or to write on it, etc. is to show disrespect to the person.

Business Meetings

  1. It is important to make an appointment a few weeks in advance of a business meeting. Most business meetings are scheduled mid-morning (10 AM to 12 PM) or mid-afternoon (between 2 and 4 PM).
  2. Punctuality is important as it is a sign of respect. If you realize that you may be a little late, it is best to call ahead to say so. That said, don’t be surprised if top Korean executives arrive a few minutes late for appointments due to their extremely busy and pressured schedule.
  3. It is also not unusual for Korean executives to cancel appointments with little or no notice. The cancellation may be due to an unexpected and unavoidable situation. However, if it’s happened before, it may be a signal that they don’t really want to do business or need to delay the process for some reason, and you were expected to have realized that.
  4. Gift-giving is a common practice when doing business in Korea. The gifts given at the first meeting are intended to acquire favours and to build relationships. Wait until your host has presented his gift and use both hands to accept it. The gifts exchanged should be of similar value, with that of greatest value going to the most senior person.
  5. To enhance communication and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding due to language, you may find it helpful to send written materials - brochures, marketing materials, proposals, etc. - in writing to your Korean counterpart some time prior to the meeting.

Contracts are seen as a starting point rather than as the final goals of a business agreement and as the parameter within which the working relationship will be conducted. Koreans prefer that contracts be flexible so that adjustments can be made as the project/work evolves. Even those who are aware of the legal implications regarding the signing of contract, often still view it as less important than the interpersonal relationship between the two companies and find it difficult to understand why, despite the excellent relationship you’ve been having, you are not willing to overlook or change elements of the contract as you go along. It is important that you be aware of how your Korean colleague/partner views the documents in order to avoid misunderstandings while ensuring that he/she is equally aware of your position.


  1. When addressing a Korean, use his/her title along with her/his family name unless you’ve been invited to do otherwise. If there is no title, use Mr/Mrs/Miss with the family name.
  2. More and more Koreans use a Western (usually English) name as a courtesy to foreign colleagues/clients. However, you may want to make sure to also know their Korean name since, for example, Harry Kim may not be known as such among his Korean colleagues and trying to find a Mr. Kim is a Korean corporation is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. It can help if you know his exact title and department.

General Etiquette

  1. Modesty and humility are important in Korean culture and therefore it is best to avoid over-selling yourself or your company’ previous business achievements. When interviewing Koreans, you may want to keep this characteristic in mind ? the interviewee will either understate her/his abilities and achievements in the belief that you will be aware of them and that anything else would be rude or, in an attempt to live up to perceived Western expectation, he/she may exaggerate what would not be stressed normally in a Korean context.
  2. In order to show respect, some Koreans still do not make eye-contact for any length of time when in the presence of an authority figure. However, this is changing and you should make direct eye-contact when addressing business professionals and clients, as doing so is expected and is interpreted as an indication of your honesty and interest.
  3. The decision- making process in Korea is done collectively and up through the hierarchy and therefore does take more time than you may be used to. Try to be patient, and even if you’re not feeling patient, try not to show it.
  4. Avoid criticizing someone in public, even if you have seen a Korean colleague do so. Criticism, especially of colleagues or Korean subordinates, should be conducted in private so as to reduce or prevent loss of face.
  5. You may also want to avoid opposing someone in public as this, too, can mean a loss of face. Try thinking of alternative ways of going about expressing your opinion or concerns.

Business Relationships

  1. Once you have established contact with a Korean business partner or client, it is important to nurture that relationship.
  2. Gift-giving is a common practice when doing business in Korea. The gifts given at the first meeting are intended to acquire favours and to build relationships. Wait until your host has presented his gift and use both hands to accept it. The gifts exchanged should be of similar value, with that of greatest value going to the most senior person.
  3. It is also common to give gifts to your Korean business partners to mark major holidays such as Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and Lunar New Year. Christmas is another time when it is common to give gifts to clients and partner companies.
  4. If you are not based in Korea, do make a point of visiting the client/partner on every business trip here.
  5. Koreans worry that foreign businesses are only here to make a quick profit and run and therefore it is important to demonstrate that you have a long-term commitment to the market and to the relationship.
  6. Koreans business people devote a great deal of time, energy and money in getting to know the people with whom they are dealing in order to build long-term relationships. You willingness to participate is often interpreted as a measure of your sincerity and commitment.
  7. People who went to the same school be it kindergarten, middle-school or university, share a special relationship. The one who graduated first is the ‘senior’ (sonbae), while the one who enrolled later is referred to as ‘my junior’ (hoobae). There will always be a kind of mutual ‘I owe you’ relationship between sonbae and hoobae regardless of whether they attended school at the same time or many years apart.

K4E Editor: tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at

Last Updated on 2021-11-10

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