South Korea had one of the world’s fastest growing economies from the early 1960s to the late 1990s, and remains one of the fastest growing developed countries over the past decade. As the economy is increasing the number of investors and businessmen from foreign countries has also been largely increasing day by day.
Doing business in a foreign country for an international business person can be challenging though. Therefore an understanding of a country’s business culture, attitudes and etiquette is always a useful way of establishing good interpersonal relationships which ease the business process.
Here are some do’s and dont’s on business practices and etiquette:
1. Meeting & Greeting
1.1 When meeting for the first time men will greet each other with a slight bow sometimes accompanied with a handshake while maintaining eye contact. In South Korean business culture, women will also shake hands.
1.2 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. (First names can be used once a relationship has been well established but wait for your Korean counterpart to initiate this change).
2. Business cards
2.1 Before doing business here make sure to bring a lot of your business cards as it is essential to bring them when having a meeting. If business cards are not presented it may be perceived as an insult. The business cards are presented after a handshake or small bows.
2.2 When presenting or receiving a card, use both hands.
2.3 Treat business cards with utmost respect. When receiving it, examine it closely and don’t write on it. Also store business cards carefully.
2.4 It’s advantageous to have one side of your business card translated into Korean.
3.1 Gift exchanging is also a part of doing business in Korea. It’s done to build and secure relationships. Make sure to bring some items with you from your native country, but avoid overly expensive gifts.
3.2 When offered a gift. it’s good etiquette to offer some initial resistance, however after the giver insists for the second or third time feel free to accept. Gifts are usually not opened in front of the giver.
4.1 The best time for doing business is between 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
4.2 Being punctual is very important.
4.3 When entering a meeting room, the most senior member of your delegation should enter the room first and should sit at the middle of the table.
4.4 Don’t expect much business to be done in the first meeting, as the first meeting will primarily be to get to know each other.
5. General etiquette
5.1 Modesty and humility are important in Korean culture and therefore it is best to avoid over-selling yourself.
5.2 South Koreans are direct, so be direct in return.
5.3 The decision making process in Korea is done collectively and up through the hierarchy and therefore takes 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.
At first the Korean business culture might seem a little bit overwhelming, but you will catch on it quickly! Just be open minded and polite. We wish you lots of success!