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Doing Business in Korea

Business Meetings

Appointments for business meetings should be made a few weeks in advance. Good times for the meetings are from 10 am to noon or from 2 to 4 pm. The business hours for Korean companies are 9 to 5 from Monday to Friday. Some offices are open on Saturdays.  Prior to the meeting, it is recommended that you submit any proposals, company brochures, and marketing material, written in both Korean and English, as a preview for your Korean contacts. Punctuality is crucial and you should arrive slightly earlier for the meeting as a sign of respect. However, you should not be offended by late arrival of your Korean counterpart due to their extremely busy schedule and the bad traffic in Korea.

Structure and hierarchy in Korean companies

Koreans have a great respect for anyone senior in age, influenced by Confucianism. They naturally establish their hierarchical position relative to others based on age and social status. Additionally, the organisational arrangement of Korean companies is highly centralised with authority concentrated in senior levels. In business meetings, the senior individuals are always introduced first, followed by younger and lower ranked participants. After the introduction, bow lightly and shake hands. When shaking hands, the right arm can be supported by the left hand to show respect to the senior member. Personal ties such as kinship, schools, birthplaces etc, are considered as very important in Korea. They even take precedence over job seniority, rank or other factors, and have significant influence over the structure and management of Korean companies.

General business practices

Business cards should have the Korean translation on the reverse side of the card. Cards should be presented and accepted with both hands and must be read and studied with respect before placing them in a briefcase or card holder. Giving gifts is common in the Korean business world. Prepare a gift that is from your own country as it will be most impressive regardless of the price. When the host presents his gift, you should accept the gift with both hands as well as when you are giving it. Koreans think of contracts as 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 afterwards. Koreans believe interpersonal relationship established between the two companies is far more important than the contracts themselves. Although Koreans now understand the legal bindings of contracts, it is vital that you are aware of how your Korean counterparts view these documents in order to avoid any possible misunderstandings. Personal questions such as age, marital status, education, etc. are commonly asked. Koreans do not see this as intrusive, but rather to help them to establish the appropriate societal hierarchy of the person they are dealing with. Korean names are usually three syllables long, with the surname preceding given names. In addressing Koreans, you should use surnames (e.g. Mr Kim, Mrs Lee) and add formal titles if possible (e.g. Dr Park, President Kim). Never refer to a Korean by their first name, particularly in front of other business people or their colleagues. Dress code in office is conservative and women should avoid sleeveless tops or very short skirts.


All Koreans speak and write the same language, which has been a significant factor in building their strong national identity. The Korean Alphabet, Hangeul, was created by King Sejong the Great during the 15th century. Before its creation, only a relatively small percentage of the population was literate; few could master the difficult Chinese characters used by the upper class.

Hangeul, which consists of 10 vowels and 14 consonants, can be combined to form numerous syllabic groupings. It is simple, yet systematic and comprehensive, and is considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world. Hangeul is easy to learn and write which has greatly contributed to Korea's high literacy rate and advanced publication industry.


In 1962, a five-year plan for economic development was started in Korea. Korea has shown enormous growth and has become a newly rising industrial nation. Korea's economic scale has made its way within the 10th ranking of the GNP and trade scale. The GNP, which was $87 in 1962, has reached $10,000 in 1995, exports from 55 million to over 120 billion. The industrial structure has become advanced and the rate of agriculture and fishery industry has been reduced whereas the rate of service and manufacturing industry has increased.

Today, Korea is rapidly stepping forward in branching out in foreign countries. The electronic and automobile industry is taking place in USA, Europe, and Mexico etc. Construction industry is active in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa etc.

Korea joined OECO in 1996 and has opened doors to the world in fields such as commodities and finance. In 1997, there was financial crisis due to the aggravated world economic condition and shortage on foreign exchange. But Korea was able to overcome the crisis, through labour and management cooperation, aid for the unemployed, and increases in exports. Now Korea is trying for a second Miracle.

Korea is located between China and Japan. The northern border of Korea is formed by the Amnokgang (Yalu) and Dumangang (Tumen) rivers, which separate it from China. A 16 kilometre segment of the Dumangang to the east also serves as a natural border with Russia. The west coast of the Korean Peninsula is bounded by the Korean Bay to the north and the West Sea to the south; the east coast faces the East Sea. The capital of South Korea is Seoul.

Climate and Weather

The climate of Korea is characterized by four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. During the winter, from December to January, it is cold and dry under the dominant influence of the Siberian air mass. Meanwhile, the summer, from June to August, is hot and humid with frequent heavy rainfalls associated with the East-Asian Monsoon, locally called "Changma". The weather in Korea is mild and serene during spring and fall, with fairly periodic passages of the transient high and low pressure systems.

People and Population

Koreans are primarily one ethnic family and speak one language. Sharing distinct physical characteristics, they are believed to be descendants of several Mongol tribes that migrated onto the Korean Peninsula from Central Asia. As of the end of 2005, Korea's total population was estimated at 48,294,000 with a density of 474 people per square kilometre. The population of North Korea is estimated to be 22,928,040.


The most famous foods that represent Korea are kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish, and bulgogi, a marinated meat dish. Whereas kimchi is a staple dish that is eaten at every meal, bulgogi is more like a party food in that it is generally eaten on special occasions and when dining out or entertaining guests. Koreans tend to favour beef when entertaining or eating out, and bulgogi is one of the most popular beef dishes and one that even non-Koreans find very tasty.

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