South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel. 

Last published date: 2021-08-25

Business Customs

PLEASE NOTE: Effective January 26, 2021, all airline passengers to the United States ages two years and older must provide a negative COVID-19 viral test taken within three calendar days of travel.  Alternatively, travelers to the U.S. may provide documentation from a licensed health care provider of having recovered from COVID-19 in the 90 days preceding travel. To learn more, please check the US Embassy website.

Knowledge of Korean history and culture is essential for U.S. businesses hoping to succeed in the country.

Korean history is characterized by a series of rich dynasties and conquests by neighboring East Asian countries, particularly Japan and China. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and established a 35-year long period of colonial rule lasting until the surrender of Japan at the end of World War II. Following Japan’s surrender in 1945, the Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel into two occupation zones, with the U.S. in the South and the Soviet Union in the North. Despite initial hopes for reunification, the northern Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Republic of Korea in the south soon became engulfed in a civil war (1950-1953), and the Peninsula has remained divided since.

Following the Korean War, Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. However, due to the expertise of chaebols (conglomerates) and development of heavy industry, Korea was able to achieve significant growth and transform into what is now one of the world’s largest modern economies.

Today, Korea boasts significant strengths across multiple industries. While Korea’s historic heavy industries remain strong, the country is now known for being home to world-acclaimed electronic appliances, award-winning cars, healthcare and smart phones. Korean popular culture, including idol bands and television dramas, has captured the hearts of fans worldwide in a phenomenon known as Hallyu, or the “Korean Wave.” Korea has also hosted numerous global events such as the Summer Olympics (1988), the Soccer World Cup (2002; along with Japan), the G-20 Leaders Summit (2010), and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.  These major events, a source of pride and accomplishment, have intensified Korea’s push to have a first-rate infrastructure, hospitality, and transportation system.

Seoul, the capital of Korea, is a lively cosmopolitan city. The city is divided by the Han River, which is spanned by 27 bridges. Most international flights arrive at the award-winning Incheon Airport, which is located about one hour from the city center where the U.S. Embassy is located on the north side of the Han River. Traffic congestion, a persistent problem in Seoul, must be factored into arriving on-time for business appointments. Punctuality is critical when conducting business in Korea, so you should plan to arrive at least 20 minutes early to any meetings or appointments.

Other important business success factoids:

  • Last names and titles: Always use Mr., Mrs., or any title (like Director) followed by the last name. Also appropriate is: Mr. LEE (last name, followed by the first name) Ji-hoon (two syllables of the first name); in this order.
  • Business cards: Your business cards say a lot about you and your business and are extremely important in Asian and Korean cultures. Hand them out using both hands (thumbs at the top corners of your card) while giving a gentle and slight bow, while avoiding too much direct eye contact. Never put a newly received business card away or in your back pocket. Rather, look at it for a moment and place it on the desk or table where you are meeting. Bilingual cards are best.
  • Handshakes: Unlike the firm Western-style handshake, Korean handshakes are typically gentler.
  • Cold calls are generally unacceptable and seen as culturally inappropriate and disrespectful.
  • Negotiating: A rigid negotiating style does not work in Korea. Koreans interpret contracts as loosely structured consensus statements, broadly defining what has been negotiated/discussed, but leaving room to permit flexibility and adjustment. Koreans are subtle and effective negotiators.
  • See Chapter 3 of this guide for additional insights into negotiating.
  • Two phrases that you should know in Korean are: 
    • Ann-yong-ha-sayo – Hello
    • Gam-sa-ham-nida – Thank you

Travel Advisory

Starting September 1, 2021, visa-free foreign visitors need Korea Electronic Travel Authorization website > K-ETA approval in order to obtain the boarding pass and to enter the Republic of Korea. 

Visitors may find the latest travel updates related to COVID-19 by visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) website

U.S. travelers may also consult the U.S. Department of State regarding travel to South Korea

U.S. citizens visiting Korea for employment or profit-making purposes, English teaching positions, or stays of more than 90 days must obtain a visa at a Korean embassy or consulate abroad. Individuals staying in Korea for longer than 90 days must also apply for an Alien Registration Card, once in Korea.  For country specific travel guides please consult the U.S. Embassy & Consulate in the Republic of Korea

Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens

  • Starting September 1, 2021, the Korean government is implementing Korea Electronic Travel Authorization website  K-ETA for foreign nationals entering Korea. K-ETA is a mandatory pre-travel requirement that must be applied for in advance by visitors who otherwise do not have a Korean visa (similar to U.S.’s ESTA program). K-ETA is valid for multiple trips over a period of 2 years and the application fee is 10,000 KRW/person. K-ETA is mandatory for nationals or citizens of 66 visa-waiver countries (including the U.S.) and 46 designated visa-free countries who plan to travel to the Republic of Korea

If planning to stay more than 90 days or for any purpose other than tourism or business, U.S. passport holders must obtain a visa prior to entering Korea. For U.S. citizens, a five-year valid multiple entry F-4 visa is issued. This visa holder can stay up to two years each time he/she visits the Republic of Korea, until their visa expires. 

Americans coming to Korea for activities such as employment, teaching English, or study must obtain a visa at a Korean embassy or consulate abroad.

For information about visas to Korea, please also see the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at: http://overseas.mofa.go.kr/us-en/index.do.

U.S. companies that require the travel of foreign business representatives to the United States should be advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link: https://kr.usembassy.gov/visas/nonimmigrant-visas/.

Currency

  • Cards with the Visa, Mastercard, Plus and Cirrus logos are the most widely accepted in Korea.
  • CDs (Cash Dispenser Machines) only offer cash withdrawal services.
  • CD machines located in: subway stations, bus terminals, and department stores.
  • ATMs offer withdrawals, deposits, and fund transfers.
  • ATM transactions require an account with a Korean bank.
  • Paying via credit card on a Korean website generally requires credit cards issued by Korean banks.
  • Prominent Korean banks include: Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), Shinhan Bank, and Citibank.
  • Questions about ATM/CD machines while in Korea: call 1330.
  • The symbol for Korean currency (won) is written using “W” or “KRW.”

Telecommunications/Electric

· Local calls

  • Dial the 7 or 8-digit local phone number within the same province or city.  
  • Dial the 9 or 11-digit local phone number, including the area code, to a different province or city. 
  • There are 17 area codes as follows:

Seoul

02

Busan

051

Daegu

053

Incheon

032

Gwangju

062

Daejeon

042

Ulsan

052

Sejong

044

Gyeonggi

031

Gangwon

033

Chungbuk

043

Chungnam

041

Jeonbuk

063

Jeonnam

061

Kyungbuk

054

Kyungnam

055

Jeju

061

 

International calls

  • Dial 00799 for a service that features: station-to-station calls, collect or reverse charge calls, and calls providing interpretation.
  • For direct calls dial 001/002/00700 and country code, area code then subscriber’s number.

 Rent a mobile phone at kiosk, Incheon International Airport and/or contact numbers of these providers are: 

 

SK Telecom

KT Olleh

LG U+

Wide Mobile

Kiosk

Terminal 1

Exit 5-6, 1F

Exit 6-7, 1F

Exit 6-7, 1F

Exit 7, 1F

Terminal 2

Exit 3, 1F

Exit 2-3, 1F

Exit 4-5, 1F

 

Contact number

82-2-6343-9000

82-2-2190-0901

82-2-6343-9000

82-2-775-1401

 Roaming and wireless internet

  • Consult your U.S. service provider to determine if your cell phone and plan will work in Korea. Beware of roaming and affiliated charges.
  • Prepaid data SIM is available at Incheon Airport or outlets run by major mobile service providers
  • Portable Wi-Fi, a router that acts as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, is also available for rent.  Consult Korean mobile phone kiosk at Incheon Airport for more details.
  • Wi-Fi service is accessible in most of areas including subway, hotels, shopping areas, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.

Transportation

  • From Incheon International Airport (Terminal 1 and Terminal 2) to Downtown Seoul:

Train (AREX)

  • Direct railway links from the Incheon Airport to Seoul Station.
  • Takes 51 minutes (from Incheon Airport Terminal 2), and 43 minutes (from Incheon Airport Terminal 1), to Seoul Station. For departure and arrival timetable, please refer to: https://www.arex.or.kr
  • Express Train Cost: W9,000 (approx. $8.00).
  • Effective April 1st, 2020, Express Train and Seoul Station City Airport Terminal is temporarily restricted for passengers entering Korea from overseas, until further notice. Please check for updates at: https://www.arex.or.kr
  • Take the subway (inexpensive option) or taxi to your hotel from Seoul Station.

Airport Buses

Taxis

Other Transportation Recommendations

Subway: Excellent, very clean and safe

TX (Korea Train Express)

Language

Korean (Hangul) is the official and accepted business language.
Many Koreans in tourism and first-tier retail sales speak some English.

Health 

  • For updates on Covid-19 status in Korea, visit the U.S. Embassy  in Seoul website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/south-korea-travel-advisory.html
  • Dial 1339 for the Emergency Medical Information Center; trained medical personnel are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Most hotels will assist you if you are sick. Call the front desk.
  • You can purchase simple medications, such as Tylenol, Band-Aids, ointments, and cold medication in pharmacies or in any general or “24-hour stores.” For other medications, you will need a prescription from a doctor.
  • International clinics at large prominent hospitals in Seoul include:
  • Severance Hospital (02-2228-5800):134, Sinchong-dong, Seodaemun-gu
  • Asan Medical Center (02-3010-5001): 388-1, Pungnap-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
  • Samsung Medical Center (02-3410-0200): 50, Irwon-dong, Gangnam-gu
  • For international health advisories related to Korea, please visit the CDC website at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/south-korea.htm

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

Local Time Zone

Business Hours and Lunch Hours

  • Offices and organizations: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.; closed weekends and national holidays
  • Banks: 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; closed weekends and national holidays
  • Department stores: 10:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
  • Koreans typically eat lunch from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m., requiring luncheon reservations even for the smallest restaurants. You can avoid lines and crowds by taking lunch before or after this period.

Holidays

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Prohibited Items

  • Narcotics/illegal drugs of any kind
  • Pornography and subversive material
  • Products originating from Communist countries
  • Explosives, ammunitions, and weapons
  • Rifles/sport guns (require permission from Korean Police prior to import, declaration upon arrival)
  • Counterfeit money and coins

Articles in Excess of Duty-Free Allowance:

Coming into Korea

Returning to the U.S: http://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens and http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information