Doing business in Korea

Despite outside influences from its neighbouring countries, South Korea has maintained a distinct and homogeneous identity influenced by its religious beliefs and breathtaking landscapes. The people of Korea share a common pride in the country’s unique cultural and linguistic heritage that has emerged during her long and turbulent history. As a result, Korea boasts an enriched cultural outlook that is reflected in its current business culture.

Text courtesy of Communicaid Group ltd.

Business practices in the Republic of Korea

For both social occasions and business meetings, punctuality is essential. Your Korean counterparts will expect you to arrive on time as a sign of respect; therefore it is advised to call beforehand if you will be delayed. You may find however, that top Korean business executives may arrive a few minutes late to appointments. This is a reflection of their extremely busy and pressured schedule and should not be taken with offence.

IUCN Director General meets President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-Bak at the Blue House, 6 June 2012

When meeting your Korean counterpart for the first time, always wait to be introduced as third party introductions are generally preferred. Today, it is quite common for Koreans to shake hands with foreign colleagues after a bow, encompassing both cultural styles. To show respect during handshaking, you should ensure that you support your right forearm with the left hand. When departing, a bow is usually sufficient.

Business cards
The exchange of business cards in Korea is vital for initiating introductions. Korean’s prefer to know the person they are dealing with. Therefore, it is important to emphasise your title so that the correct authority, status, and rank is established. It is advised to have the reverse side of your card translated into Korean. Cards should be presented and accepted with both hands and must be read and studied with respect and consideration before placing them on the table.



Gift-giving is a common practice within Korean business settings. Generally given at the first business meeting, gifts are often used to acquire favours and build relationships. You should allow the host to present his gift first and be sure to accept the gift with both hands. To avoid loss of face, gifts of similar value should be exchanged and gifts of greater value should be given to the most senior person respectively.

Like most Asian countries, Koreans believe that contracts are a starting point, rather than the final stage of a business agreement and prefer them to be left flexible enough so that adjustments can be made. Although many Koreans now appreciate the legal implications regarding the signing of contracts, they may still be interpreted as less important than the interpersonal relationship established between the two companies. It is vital that you are aware of how your Korean counterparts view these documents in order to avoid any possible misunderstandings.

Business étiquette


  • DO maintain an element of modesty and humility as these aspects are extremely important in Korean culture. With this in mind, you must try to avoid over-selling previous business achievements.
  • DO make direct eye-contact when addressing Korean business professionals, as it is important to indicate your honesty and interest. However, some Koreans do not make eye-contact for any length of time when in the presence of an authority figure as a sign of respect.
  • DO refrain from being overly impatient. The decision making process in Korea is often done collectively and will therefore require more time.


  • DON’T address a Korea by his or her given name as it is considered extremely impolite Korean names begin with the family name and are followed by a two-part given name. The correct way to address a Korean is with Mr, Mrs, or Miss together with their family name. You should address your Korean counterparts using appropriate titles until specifically invited to do otherwise.

  • DON’T display criticism in public. It should be conducted in private where loss of face will be diminished. In a similar vein, opposing someone directly can also cause a Korean to lose face and should be avoided.
  • DON’T use large hand gestures or facial expressions. Talking or laughing loudly is also considered impolite in Korean culture.

© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2007

  • Jongno Tower, which houses the KOC offices in Seoul, Korea
Structure and hierarchy

Influenced by Confucianism, Korean's respect for authority is paramount in their business culture and practices. High-ranking individuals tend to have more power over their subordinates than in the West. Consequently, decision-making in Korea will follow a formal procedure in which senior approval is necessary.