South Korea flag South Korea: Business Environment

Business Practices in South Korea

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Blog of Korean Business Culture
Doing Business in Korea
Soft Landing Korea
Commisceo Global, Korean business culture as per Commisceo Global
Opening Hours and Days
Business hours are typically 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Monday through Friday) and 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (Saturday). Public offices and many private offices are closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Lunar New Year's Day February
Independence Movement Day 1 March
Labour Day 1 May
Children's Day 5 May
Buddha's Birthday May
Memorial Day 6 June
Constitution Day 17 July
Liberation Day 15 August
Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) September
Nation Foundation Day 3 October
Christmas 25 December

Periods When Companies Usually Close

Lunar New Year's Day 1 January of Lunar calendar
Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) 15 August of Lunar calendar
Summer Vacation Season July or Aug, depending on the company
Winter Vacation Season Typically between Chirstmas and New Year's Day, depending on the company

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
Korean culture is profoundly influenced by Confucian principles. Confucianism supports group harmony, respect for elders and authority, the importance of family, friendship and ancestors and, also, tradition. Maintaining their “kibun” (face, honour, personal dignity) is generally highly important for Koreans. Confrontation is to be avoided at all cost as once “kibun” is lost it cannot be regained. South Koreans also value education and innovation and company loyalty.

High-ranking individuals tend to have more power over their subordinates. Decision-making in Korea will follow a formal procedure in which senior approval is necessary but uses input from subordinates. Status is important, and respected in workplace and society.

Koreans tend to prefer doing business with people they know, and building trust and personal relationship is essential to establishing a successful business relationship. Business relations are above all personal relations that are maintained with the help of greetings cards, gifts and shared meals.

First Contact
Finding a local intermediary is recommended since cold calls rarely work in South Korea. Meetings should be scheduled a few weeks in advance. The most suitable time to arrange a business meeting is between 10am-12pm or 2pm-4pm.
Time Management
Punctuality is essential as arriving on time is a sign of respect. However, top Korean business executives may arrive a few minutes late to appointments because of their extremely busy and pressured schedule. Cancellations are normal, but recurring cancellations may suggest the other party is not interested in doing business with us.
Greetings and Titles
A 15º bow is used when meeting someone of the same age while a 30-45º bow is preferred when meeting someone new, a boss or an elderly person. If a superior (in age or status) initiates a handshake, take it with both hands without stadning straight. It is common to use the expression "Hello!" (안녕하세요! – an-nyeong-ha-se-yo!) or "Nice to meet you!" (반갑습니다! – ban-gab-seub-ni-da!) and to state your name during greetings. It is usual to address a counterpart by his surname followed by his title and “Nim”, as for example “Kim Director Nim”. Koreans usually use titles, rather than personal names. At work, co-workers are addressed with a combination of title and family name.
Gift Policy
Small gifts are an accepted and recommended practice, must be given with both hands and respect ranks and hierarchies if done in public. It is a Korean custom to refuse a gift several times before accepting it, to show it is of less importance than the relationship itself, and should be opened in private to avoid comparisons.
Dress Code
The Korean business dress code is formal: dark suit, white shirt and dark tie for men and suits, dresses or skirts for women. Also consider it is customary to take off one's shoes (at home, at a restaurant, etc.) meaning one must have clean, conservative socks.
Business Cards
Since business cards are important in introductions, you should emphasise your title so that the correct authority, status and rank is established. Cards should be presented and accepted with both hands, as well as read and studied with respect before being placed on the table.
Meetings Management
Before talking business, it is common to have small talk to build rapport. You should expect to be asked about your family and personal life in your first meeting.

It is recommended to send proposals, company brochures and marketing materials in both Korean and English before the meeting. Make sure your presentation has been tailored to the counterpart business; placing your logo with theirs in the first and last slides is a simple but effective way to do so. You should avoid excessive text, opting instead for visually engaging and high-quality graphics. Emphasise competitor analysis. It is advised to spend no more than 10 minutes in your presentation and leave the remaining time for discussion. In general, Koreans tend to believe that contracts are a starting point, rather than the final state of a business agreement. Flexible contracts are preferred so that adjustments can be made.

It is advised to be modest and humble. At the end of a meeting, a low, deep bow from our Korean partners indicates a successful meeting. On the contrary, a quick, short parting bow could express dissatisfaction. It is recommended not to contradict someone in public, formulating opposite views as smoothly as possible and finding creative ways to say "no". Also avoid dominating a conversation, especially if the other party is not fluent in English.

Refreshments are offered at the beginning of meetings; accept tea if it is offered. Leaders sit on opposite sides of a table. Slurping when eating noodles or soup is a sign of appreciation and enjoyment of the meal. Blowing your nose is public is considered rude. As for who pays the bill, tradition dictates the oldest person pays; other options include one side paying the bill with the latter doing the same during the next meal.

Sources for Further Information
Business presentations in South Korea Korean Culture 101 - Who pays for the meal?

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Latest Update: July 2024