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4 Aspects of Korean Business Etiquette You Really Need to Know

statue-seoul

When working abroad, it’s crucial to make a good impression.

Presenting yourself well and demonstrating good manners make all the difference.

In some countries, the business culture may be relaxed and quite easy to navigate for foreigners; however, there are plenty where this is not the case.

South Korea is one such country.

The culture is one of many factors in making it more of a challenge.

Korean culture is very formal and ritualized, meaning etiquette is very important.

Here, we’re going to look at 4 aspects of Korean etiquette that foreigners can sometimes get very wrong.


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At the end of the page is a link to a free guide to Korean culture and etiquette!


1. Dress

Koreans take appearances seriously. What you wear is very important.

Historically Koreans wore clothing that identified them as being from a particular class or strata of society.

We can still see a sense of this today.

In the business world, suits, shirts and ties are a must. Women also dress in business attire.

You can not be casual with your dress in South Korea – it will be taken badly.


Seoul at night

According to the Business Culture Complexity Index™, South Korea has the 30th most difficult country to do business in for foreigners!

Photo by Sava Bobov on Unsplash


2. Business cards

Exchanging business cards is still a big deal in South Korea.

Turning up to meetings or engagements without your cards looks sloppy, so always make sure you have a good supply physically on you.

It’s good etiquette to have your cards in Korean as well as English.

Make sure when you present and receive cards not to use your left hand. Using both hands is common; some people may just use the right hand.

Never write on someone’s card.


3. First names

Koreans tend not to use first names with one another.

Although you may work with some Koreans who are comfortable with it, you’ll find that when in the company of others, it’s not the done thing. Refer to them formally.

Never jump to using someone’s first name; wait until you’re invited to do so, or just keep addressing them formally.

This may be with their official title, or simply using Mr. and Mrs.


Statue in Seoul korea

Korean business culture is traditional & hierarchical.

Learn more about the Korean Management Style here

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash


4. Standing Up

Showing respect is important in Korean culture.

As a result, when someone more senior or important walks into a room, Koreans will stand up.

This may be when a boss enters a room or even if guests enter a room.

They will usually then wait for the person to be seated before themselves doing so.

If you notice a Korean not standing, this may be a sign that they don’t want to see the person in front of them!


Learning Summary

So, in answer to the question "What etiquette should I know about before doing business with Koreans"? you know understand that...

  1. It's important to dress well
  2. It's vital to pay attention to business cards
  3. It's crucial not to jump to first names
  4. It's essential to stand up when seniors enter a room

Expert Training on Korean Business Culture

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When doing business in another country or with another culture, it’s always a good idea to do your homework!

 

For business professionals looking for more tailored support, we offer live training webinars with our South Korea experts who can give practical advice.

 



Blog image by Pedro Cambra (CC BY 2.0)


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