Do’s And Don’t For Conducting Business In South Korea

The plethora of differences in the Eastern and Western cultures approach business has been the source of anxiety (as well as some hilarious cinematic moments) for both parties involved. Going into formal business interaction with clients or colleagues can be nerve-racking but with the right mindset and preparation, the meeting and hopeful subsequent deal can go off without a hitch.

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One of the most central elements of South Korean society is its emphasis on respect. Some of the behaviors and customs that may look strange to an outsider are usually cultural mechanisms that display respect for the person being interacted with. Things to keep in mind when concerning yourself with showing respect are:

  1. Handshakes are common, though a bow at the waste may come before hand
  2. Allow other people to introduce you when meeting new people and clients (introducing yourself is not as common)
  3. Address people you are not very close with using their title followed by their last name
  4. Prolonger eye contact is not typically received well
  5. Criticism (even very gentle input) should be given one-on-one and never in public. Public image and reputation are very important


Regardless of language, actions speak louder than words. On top of making sure an effort is being made to show respect to the people you are doing business with – there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Punctuality is no joke in South Korea. Showing up on time is expected and failure to do so is a clear sign of lack of respect for the other person’s time. If you are unlucky enough to be running late for a meeting make sure you call and notify the waiting party.
  • Gifts. Sounds fun right? Well it can be, but giving gifts serves a much more utilitarian purpose in this context. Giving a small gift is standard when you first meet people and is thought to help establish trust between the two people meeting. You should expect to get a gift back and should be mindful to be thankful. The whole process of gift giving is a nuanced component to South Korean culture, so feel free to ask local team members or friends for input for how much the gift should cost and when it should be given.
  • Business cards – Handing out business cards takes on a greater importance here. When receiving a business card take a moment to look at it and if in a meeting place it neatly in front of you or put it in a place that demonstrates you value the information being given to you. Also giving and receiving business cards should be done with both hands if at all possible.

The last bit of advice would be to not be a wallflower. Participation is valued on a real level in South Korea and signals the participant’s wiliness to work with the group and that they value the relationships being fostered. Participation is made easier if you have some language under your belt. If you’d like some help with building up your language skills check out our Enquiry Centre.  You can also see where you place on Korean Language Level Test.