Business Customs (Return to top)
U.S. businesses wanting to be successful in this dynamic and fascinating nation of 50 million should take time to learn about, and be cognizant of, some important facts.
Long history: Korea’s over 10 thousand year history is one filled with dozens of rich dynasties and unfortunate conquests by rival Asian nations--Japan and China. Japan first invaded Korea in 1592, followed by a Manchurian invasion in 1636, and another Japanese invasion from 1910 to 1945. The Republic of Korea, founded in 1948 was soon followed by a civil war (1950-1953) which ended, in part, thanks to the arrival of U.S. military forces that have been present on the peninsula for 60 years. This history makes it important to never compare Korea to either Japan or China.
One of the world’s most homogeneous societies, Korea is dominated by Confucian and Buddhist logic and traditions which place great importance on age, rank, hierarchy and the value of one’s community, collective society, or ‘group think’ -- all elements important in understanding how to navigate in business in Korea. As important is the fact that any success, in business, is based upon the creation, establishment and maintenance of a good, solid relationship with your future business partners.
Post-Korean War: Korea in the 50s and 60s was one of the poorest in the world. Determined leaders gave economic/financial power to some privileged families, called chaebols (families that grew into multi-national, multi-sector industrial empires) who effectively and persistently combined their ‘evolving sector expertise,’ and a dense population in a geographically small area, into what is now a highly respected, world-renown, trillion dollar, trade-driven economy.
Today, Korea is known around the world for its popular, attractive white appliances, award-winning cars, smart phones and LED screens. It has top tier ranking in such diverse industries as ship building and the K-Pop/Korean Wave culture called hallyu which has captured fans world-wide who follow its music, TV dramas and attractive youth bands. Korea, hands-down, is also the most wired country in the world.
Korea hosted the Summer Olympics (1988), Soccer World Cup (2002), G-20 leaders (2010) and will host, in 2018, the Winter Olympics. These major events, a source of pride and accomplishment, intensified Korea’s push to have a first rate infrastructure, hospitality and transportation system.
The Han River divides Seoul: Seoul is a modern, bustling, international city with all the first-class culinary, cultural and business amenities, variety and accommodations, of any large metropolitan European or Asian city. The city is divided graciously and elegantly - by the Han River and 27 bridges (all with a different architecture and feel; there were three bridges crossing the Han in the 60s). After you arrive at the award-winning Incheon Airport your hotel will be located either on the north part of the Han (where the airport and U.S. Embassy are located) or, south of the Han. Traffic congestion, persistent and chronic, must be factored into arriving on time for business appointment. In Korea you should never, ever be late. Instead, arrive 20 minutes early. That’s the norm.
Other important business success factoids:
- Last names and titles: Always use Mr., Mrs., or any title, like Director followed by the last name. Also appropriate is: Mr. LEE (last name, followed by the first name) Ji-hoon (two syllables of the first name); in this order.
- Business cards: Your business cards say a lot about you and your business and are extremely important in Asian, and Korean culture. Hand them out using both hands (thumbs at the top corners of your card) while giving a gentle and slight bow and while avoiding too much direct eye-contact. Never put a newly received business card away or in your back pocket. Rather look at it for a moment and place it on the desk or table you are meeting around. Bilingual cards are best.
- Handshakes: Unlike the hard, firm Western-style handshake, a Koreans’ handshake may be a bit more gentle.
- Cold calls, generally are unacceptable, and seen as culturally inappropriate and disrespectful.
- Negotiating: A rigid negotiating style does not work in Korea. Koreans interpret contracts as loosely structured consensus statements broadly defining what has been negotiated/discussed but leaving room to permit flexibility and adjustment. Koreans are subtle and effective negotiators. See Chapter 3 for additional insights into negotiating.
- Gestures: As you progress in your knowledge and familiarity of the people, culture and business style of Korea, you may feel comfortable using a few popular gestures, for example: the one or two handed ‘thumbs up’, the ‘v’ shaped victory sign/salute, or something called ‘fighting’ – done by making a gentle ‘fist’ in the air.
- While you learn Korean, these two important words should serve you:
o Ann-yong-ha-sayo – Hello and good bye
o Gam-sam-hap-nida – Thank you
Travel Advisory (Return to top)
Consult: U.S. State Department http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1018.html
Visa Requirements (Return to top)
Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens
- No visa needed for a stay of up to 90 days.
- A stay of over 90 days requires a visa.
If planning to stay more than 90 days or for any purpose other than tourism or business, U.S. passport holders must obtain a visa prior to entering Korea. Americans coming to Korea for activities such as employment, teaching English, or study must obtain a visa at a Korean embassy or consulate abroad.
For more information about Korean visa and entry requirements, please see the Korean Ministry of Justice's website at http://www.moj.go.kr/HP/ENG/index.do.
For information about visas to Korea, please see the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website at http://www.mofat.go.kr/english/visa/apply/index.jsp
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States should be advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following links.
State Department Visa Website: http://travel.state.gov/visa/
U.S. Embassy Seoul Consular Section Website: http://www.asktheconsul.org
Telecommunications (Return to top)
- Local calls
- Dial 9 or 10 digit local phone number. There is no area code.
- International calls
- Dial 00799 for a service that features: station-to-station calls, collect or reverse charge calls, and calls providing interpretation.
- Rent a mobile phone at kiosks at Incheon International Airport.
- And/or call these providers:
§ SK Telecom: 82-32-743-4011/4042
§ KT: 82-32-743-4018/4078
§ LG Telecom: 82-32-743-4001/4019
- Roaming and wireless internet
- Consult your U.S. service provider to determine if your cell phone and plan will work in Korea. Beware of roaming and affiliated charges.
- Most upscale hotels and coffee shops have wireless internet access.
Transportation (Return to top)
From Incheon International Airport to Downtown Seoul
- Train (AREX)
- Direct railway links Incheon Airport to Seoul Station.
- Takes 43 minutes and runs every 30 minutes with no stops.
- Cost: KRW 13,300 (approx. USD 13)
- Take a subway (inexpensive option) or taxi to your hotel from Seoul Station.
- Airport Buses
- Widely available to/from major cities in, and around Seoul.
- Located at the passenger arrival terminal level ‘1F’.
- Cost: KRW 10,000-15,000 (approx. USD 10-15) depending on destination.
- Consult: http://www.airport.kr/airport/traffic/bus/busList.iia?flag=E
- Located at the passenger arrival terminal level ‘1F’ between platforms 4D and 8C.
- Cost: KRW 60,000~80,000 (approx. USD 60-80). If overcharged, contact the airport authority (032-741-2422).
Other Transportation Recommended and Available During Your Visit
- Consult: www.koreapass.or.kr/en, or dial 1330 once in Korea
- Subway: excellent, extremely clean and safe with 9 lines.
- Consult: seoulmetro.co.kr
- Widely available to/from Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.
- Highly recommend M-Pass (only for foreigners)
§ Covers large area around Seoul, other subway systems, and airport railroads.
§ Purchase passes at tourism information centers at Incheon Airport.
§ Cost: KRW10,000 for a one-day ticket and KRW 59,500 for week-long
(plus, a KRW 5,000 non-refundable deposit).
§ “Take me to (your destination), please.”
Banking and Money
- Cards with the Plus and Cirrus logos are most widely accepted in Korea.
- CDs (Cash Dispenser Machines) only offer cash withdrawal services.
- CD machines located in: subway stations, bus terminals, and department stores.
- ATMs offer withdrawals, deposits, and fund transfers.
- ATM transactions require an account with a Korean bank.
- Prominent Korean banks include: Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), Shinhan Bank, and Citibank
- Questions about ATM/CD machines: call 1330.
- The Korean currency the ‘won’ is written with a large ’W’ with a line through it or ‘KRW.’
- Popular first tier hotels in Seoul include: Hyatt, Hilton, JW Marriott, Plaza, and Westin Chosun, although numerous other excellent hotels exist.
- Street crime is almost non-existent due to thousands of CCTV cameras and police present 24/7.
- For affordable hotels consult: www.benikea.co.kr
- For Korea’s weather consult: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AK/AK_EN_1_1_2.jsp
- For Korea’s currency consult: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AK/AK_EN_1_5_4.jsp
- Korea electrical current operates at 220 volts.
- Smoking is banned in thousands of parks, bus stops, subways, both indoors and outdoors. Personnel monitor and will fine violators USD80-100.
Language (Return to top)
- Korean (Hangeul) is the official and accepted business language.
- Many Koreans in tourism and first-tier retail sales speak some English.
Health (Return to top)
- Dial 1339 for the Emergency Medical Information Center; trained medical personnel are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Most hotels will assist you if you are sick. Call the front desk.
- You can purchase simple medications, such as Tylenol, Band-Aid, and ointments in pharmacies. Other medications need a prescription from a doctor
- 약 is the Korean/Hangeul word for ‘pharmacy’
- International clinics at large prominent hospitals in Seoul include:
- Severance Hospital (☎ 2-2228-5800):134, Sinchong-dong, Seodaemun-gu
- Asan Medical center (☎2-3010-5001): 388-1, Pungnap-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
- Samsung Medical Center (☎2-3410-0200): 50, Irwon-dong, Gangnam-gu
For international health advisories related to Korea, please visit the CDC website at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/south-korea.htm
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays (Return to top)
Local Time Zone
Business hours and Lunch hours
- Offices and organizations: 9:00 am-6:00 pm; closed weekends and national holidays.
- Banks: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm; closed weekends and national holidays.
- Department Stores: 10:30 am - 8:00 pm
- Koreans take lunch at the same time requiring luncheon reservations even for the smallest restaurants. You can avoid lines and crowds by taking lunch after 1:00 p.m.
Observed Korean Holidays – 2012
New Year’s Day: January 1st
Memorial Day: June 6th
Lunar New Year’s Day: February 22nd-24th
Liberation Day: August 5th
Independence Movement Day: March 1st
Chuseok Day: September 29th- October 1st
Budda’s Birthday: April 28th
National Foundation Day: October 3rd
Children’s Day: May 5th
Christmas Day: December 25th
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings (Return to top)
- Narcotics/illegal drugs of any kind
- Pornography and subversive material
- Products originating from communist countries
- Explosives, ammunitions and weapons
- Rifles/sport guns (require permission from Korean Police prior to import, declaration upon arrival
- Counterfeited money and coins
Articles in Excess of Duty Free Allowance
Coming into Korea consult: http://www.airport.kr/iiacms/pageWork.iia?_scode=C1202010500
Returning to the U.S consult:
Web Resources (Return to top)
Affordable hotels: www.benikea.co.kr
Airport Bus: http://www.airport.kr/airport/traffic/bus/busList.iia?flag=E
Coming to Korea: http://www.airport.kr/iiacms/pageWork.iia?_scode=C1202010500
Incheon Int’l Airport: http://www.airport.or.kr/eng/airport/
Information on Visas:
Korean Emb/Cons in U.S.: http://www.koreaembassyusa.org
Korean Railroad: http://ktx.korail.go.kr/eng/
M Pass: http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/TR/TR_EN_5_1_4.jsp#Subway07
Returning to the U.S: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/
Subway Map: http://traffic.visitkorea.or.kr/Lang/en/
Time Zone: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html
U.S. State Dept.: http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html,
U.S. Customs: http://www.cbp.gov
U.S. Embassy Seoul Consular Section: