Doing Business in South Korea

by InterNations, 05/12/2013


South Korea has a strong, growing economy, and is quickly developing into a major hub for business within East Asia. It is a high-tech, industrialized country, and is home to many international and multinational companies. After an economic crisis in 1998, the government responded with the establishment of free economic zones in order to attract foreign companies, investments and expertise. These measures have been very successful, and unlike in other countries, the recent global financial crisis proved to be only a minor setback for South Korea’s economy.

Finding a job in Korea as an expat can be difficult, as the job market is fairly closed and competition from native Koreans is fierce in the major industries. Unless you work for an international company, it will be difficult for you to get a job in South Korea without proficiency in the Korean language.

Teaching English and other foreign languages is strongly supported by the government, so you may be able to find a job in South Korea in this field. Job placements in big cities are harder to find than those in rural areas.

If you are lucky enough to find a job in South Korea, the chances are that you will be working in the country’s capital. Almost half of the population of South Korea lives in the urban area around Seoul and the industries here account for 21% of the country’s GDP. If you like big, bustling cities, then you will love life in Seoul.

You may find yourself working in Seoul’s Digital Media City, a project launched in 2002 to give a home to the city’s advanced IT, digital media and entertainment industries. Alternatively, your company may be based in Gangnam-gu, the most affluent of Seoul’s 25 districts and home to many IT and telecommunication companies.

The South Korean business world is characterized by close-knit social ties, making it difficult for expats to gain a foothold. Although the country is very progressive in terms of technological achievements, traditional ethics still dominate the business culture. Your Korean business associates will want to develop a relationship with you to determine whether or not you are trustworthy and honorable before making any decisions.

Even then, the style of negotiation may be different than what you were used to in your home country. When making a decision, the harmony of the collective and showing respect for authority are two key factors that will be taken into consideration. The decision-making process in South Korea may thus take considerably longer than you are accustomed to, and it is important to be patient.

When deciphering the Korean communication style, it is important to know that expressing disagreement with an outright “no” is considered to be very bad etiquette. This is important for you to know so that you can adjust your communication style accordingly, but also important to keep in mind when interpreting what your Korean business partner says. As disagreement may be expressed vaguely, it is important to pay close attention and read between the lines. In the same vein, “yes” does not always signify agreement, but rather that your comment has been heard and will be taken into consideration.

InterNations is the largest expatriate network worldwide. It was created to help members meet other high-profile expatriates from around the world living in their city and connect with them, both online and offline through events and activities. InterNations also offers its members the know-how and support to make moving abroad more manageable. InterNations was founded in 2007 and now has over 1 million members in more than 390 Local Communities around the world.

InterNations is represented in Seoul and organises monthly networking activities.

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