13 Business Etiquette & Culture in South Korea

Business Etiquette in South Korea
South Korean business etiquette and culture mimic the Japanese style. Koreans value politeness, respect, and formality in business interactions. South Korean culture puts a lot of emphasis on hierarchy and age. Koreans will go out of their way to avoid embarrassing anyone or causing conflict.

1. Mind The Clock

South Koreans are known to be punctual, so business meetings are often scheduled to start precisely on time. If you’re running late, it’s best to call ahead rather than arrive late without warning. Lack of punctuality is disrespectful and unprofessional.

2. Business Dress Code

The business dress code in South Korea focuses on conformity to international standards, with a general rule of being conservative and formal. Men wear dark-colored suits with a white shirt and tie. Leather shoes, preferably black or brown, are appropriate. For jewelry, a watch and a wedding ring are enough.

Women wear conservative clothing like pantsuits and skirt suits in less vibrant colors.  The social dress code is relaxed; short-sleeved shirts and colored clothes are standard.

3. Bow And Shake Hands

In South Korea, greetings include bowing and shaking hands. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s customary to bow. Men usually bow with their hands at their sides, while women may bow with their hands clasped in front of them.

Male vs Female bowing down in South Korea
Male vs. Female bowing down in South Korea

Check if the other person is inviting you for a handshake when bowing. Shake hands lightly with the right hand, break eye contact, and greet senior people first. Address people with their titles followed by surname. 

4. Build Rapport in Business meetings

Business meetings start with social conversations and the exchange of business cards. Business relationships in South Korea are built on personal relationships and trust, similar to what you’d see in Japanese, Russian and Brazilian business etiquette.

You can discuss general topics such as sports, entertainment, and family. Once you’ve established rapport, proceed with the meeting agenda and discuss business. Remember to maintain eye contact when presenting.

If offered tea, accept it. Don’t crack jokes with the senior executives. Don’t interrupt others; wait for your turn to speak. If your Korean counterparts are silent, they’re processing what you’ve said. Avoid the temptation to fill the silence with more words.

5. Business Card Exchanges

Business cards are exchanged after the initial greeting. Use both hands when exchanging the cards. Present your card with the Korean language facing up. After accepting a card, read and study it before keeping it away.

Always carry a cardholder to safekeep them. Don’t write on business card, as this is considered rude. Don’t put a it in your back pocket; it’s seen as sitting on the face of the card owner.

6. Strict Authority Hierarchy

This is reflected in how employees greet each other and address their superiors. Treat senior executives respectfully and maintain a formal tone when speaking to them.

7. Slow paced Negotiation

Befor making a decision, they go through lengthy and formal processes which involve different levels of hierarchy. For a successful negotiation, follow these tips:

  • Don’t be late for meetings
  • Dress in business attire
  • Build personal relationships first

8. Business Contracts 

Business contracts in South Korea outline the rules and regulations governing the relationship between parties. Contracts are not legally binding and should be flexible to accommodate the ever-changing business environment.

9. Social Gathering Etiquette

Koreans value relationships, so be prepared to get invitations for drinks or dinner. Drinking together can be a great way to build bond and develop relationships. But, Koreans have different drinking and eating customs than Westerners.

Here are some tips for social gatherings:

  • Never pour your own drink; always let someone else do it for you
  • Don’t empty your glass if you don’t want more
  • Maintain silence when eating
  • Don’t eat before your host initiates the meal
  • Don’t eat with your hands

10. Gender Equality in Business

Gender equality is still a challenge in South Korea. Women are often seen as second-class citizens, and many Korean men don’t value their opinions. This is especially true in business settings, where women are rarely given the same respect as their male counterparts.

11. Giving Gifts

Gift-giving is common in social settings. Bringing a small gift like flowers or candy is customary when you visit someone’s home. Accept and give gifts with both hands. Don’t open a gift in front of the giver.

12. Bonding and Building Relationships

Relationships in South Korea are the first step to building a successful business. The best place to bond and build relationships with your South Korean associates is over food and drinks.

Learning the cultural norms of South Korea is also essential, as it can help you to figure out the do’s and don’ts from the get-go.

13. Indirect Communicators

They prefer to save face and avoid confrontation. If you want to get an answer from them, ask open-ended questions and be patient.

Don’t expect a no or yes response from a South Korean. Although they’re indirect communicators, they use fewer facial expressions and gestures. Physical contact is rare among the opposite gender.

The official language of South Korea is Korean. However, English is also widely understood and spoken in major metropolitan areas such as Seoul.

What is the work culture like in South Korea?

The average workweek in Korea is 40 regular hours. Overtime should be 10 hours on weekdays and 16 hours on weekends. Most businesses operate from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm, with a one-hour break for lunch.

There are 15 paid national holidays in a year. Employees who have worked with a company for over 80% of annual working days are entitled to 15 days of paid leave.

The work ethic in Korea is similar to that of other Asian countries. Employees are expected to demonstrate respect for their superiors and coworkers.

Understanding Chaebol

A chaebol is a large family-owned conglomerate that often monopolizes certain industries. The Samsung chaebol, for example, has a monopoly in the electronics industry. The Hyundai chaebol has a monopoly in the automobile industry. Because of their size and power, chaebols often have a lot of influence in the South Korean government.

What is Kibun?

Kibun is how Korean people express their feelings or how they feel about themselves and others. It is similar to the concept of “face” in China or Japan. The idea behind kibun is that people should always maintain a positive attitude. Always suppress negative emotions such as anger or sadness, and be polite and considerate.

What are the most important points to keep in mind when entering a Korean company?

As you get ready to enter the Korean workforce, here are some tips that might help:

  • Respect the hierarchy
  • Be punctual
  • Work hard and be patient
  • Practice your Korean

What is the punishment for breaking the business etiquette in Korea?

Breaking business etiquette in Korea can be costly. It can cost you your job, and it can even cost you a business deal. The punishment for breaking business etiquette depends on how severe the infraction is.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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