U.S. businesses aiming 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, soon experienced 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 never to 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 business in Korea. As important is the fact that any success in business is based upon the creation, establishment and maintenance of a solid relationship with your future business partners.
Post-Korean War: Korea in the 1950s and 1960s was one of the poorest countries 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). The chaebols effectively and persistently combined their ‘evolving sector expertise,’ helped by a dense population in a geographically small area, into what is now a highly-respected and world-renown trillion-dollar economy driven by trade.
Today, Korea is known around the world for its popular and attractive white appliances, award-winning cars, smart phones and LED screens. It has a top-tier ranking in such diverse industries as ship building and the K-Pop “Korean Wave” culture called hallyu, which has captured fans worldwide, TV dramas, and attractive youth bands. Korea, hands-down, is also the most wired country in the world.
Korea hosted the Summer Olympics (1988), the Soccer World Cup (2002; along with Japan), the G-20 Leaders Summit (2010), and will host (2018) the Winter Olympics. These major events, a source of pride and accomplishment, have 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 only 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 side 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 appointments. In Korea, you should never 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 cultures. Hand them out using both hands (thumbs at the top corners of your card) while giving a gentle and slight bow, 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 where you are meeting. Bilingual cards are best.
- Handshakes: Unlike the hard, firm Western-style handshake, a Korean’s handshake may be a bit gentler.
- Cold calls are generally 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 of this guide for additional insights into negotiating.
- While you learn Korean, these two important words should serve you:
o Ann-yong-ha-sayo – Hello and goodbye
o Gam-sam-hap-nida – Thank you
Consult: U.S. State Department http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1018.html
Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens
- No visa is 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.mofa.go.kr/ENG/visa/application/index.jsp?menu=m_40_10
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
- 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.
From Incheon International Airport to Downtown Seoul
- Train (AREX)
- Direct railway links from the Incheon Airport to Seoul Station
- Takes 43 minutes and runs every 30 minutes with no stops
- Cost: KRW 14,300 (approx. USD 13)
- Take the 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 Recommendations
- Subway: Excellent, extremely clean and safe (nine 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 pass and KRW 59,500 for a week
(plus a KRW 4,500 refundable deposit and KRW 500 non-refundable service charge)
Banking and Money
- Cards with the Plus and Cirrus logos are the 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, Conrad, 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.
- Korean (Hangul) is the official and accepted business language
- Many Koreans in tourism and first-tier retail sales speak some English
- 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-Aids, ointments and cold medication in pharmacies or in any general or “24-hour stores.” For other medications, you will need a prescription from a doctor.
- 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
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 essentially the same time, requiring luncheon reservations even for the smallest restaurants. You can avoid lines and crowds by taking lunch before 12:00 p.m. or after 1:00 p.m.
Observed Korean Holidays – 2013
New Year’s Day: January 1st
Memorial Day: June 6th
Lunar New Year’s Day: February 9th – 11th
Liberation Day: August 15th
Independence Movement Day: March 1st
Chuseok Days: September 18th – 20th
Children’s Day: May 5th
National Foundation Day: October 3rd
Buddha’s Birthday: May 17th
Christmas Day: December 25th
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
- 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)
- Counterfeit 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:
http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/ and http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information
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.kr/eng/
Korean Emb. in U.S.: http://usa.mofa.go.kr/english/am/usa/main/index.jsp
Korean Railroad: http://www.korail.com/
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/
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: http://www.asktheconsul.org