Business Etiquette in South Korea

Are you planning on joining us in Seoul for CPhI Korea? Whether you’re a visitor or an exhibitor, it’s likely – if you’re using your International Meetings account – that you’ll have plenty of meetings with potential partners to attend onsite. To help you make the most out of each of your meetings and smoothly navigate your way through any cultural differences, we have compiled some business etiquette tips below.

1. What to Wear?
Not too dissimilar to Western business dress, South Koreans opt for formal attire for business meetings: think suits worn over neutral coloured shirts and muted block colour ties – this isn’t the time nor place for a Hawaiian print. Women usually wear knee length skirts, and subdued hues such as black, grey and navy are the colours of choice.

2. Be Punctual
When scheduling your meeting, it's a good idea to keep in mind that most meetings in South Korea take place between the hours of 10:00-12:00 and 14:00 -16:00. Like anyone, South Koreans appreciate punctuality, so don't arrive to your meeting more than a few minutes early and definitely don’t be late. If you think there’s a chance you might be late, let your meeting know ASAP and apologise for the inconvenience.

3. The Initial Meeting
Greet your business partners with a handshake or traditional Korean bow. In order to prevent any awkward moments, it’s probably best to follow your business partner’s lead to see which approach they feel more comfortable with. South Korean’s prefer a softer handshake and you should support your right elbow with your left hand when shaking hands as this is a sign of respect.

4. Topics of Conversation
In South Korea, building a solid personal relationship with a potential business partner is considered crucial, so you can expect your first meeting to be one where you both invest some time in getting to know each other on a personal level. Keep up conversation with topics such as your impressions of Korea and its culture, sports, family and any hobbies. Avoid topics such as the North-South Korean divide, communism, the Korean war and its history with Japan to get things off to a solid start.

5.  How to Address Your Partner
South Korean people tend to be partial to the more formal side, so when addressing a potential partner, it is best to call them by their title and surname. If they do not have a title, stick to Mr or Mrs and their family name. In time, should the business relationship develop, you may be invited to call your partner by their first name.

6. Business Cards
At the first meeting, business cards are always exchanged and treated with the utmost respect - almost as if they are an extension of the person giving them. When receiving a business card, accept with both hands and take a moment to examine it – stuffing it unceremoniously into your pocket or business card holder is a sign of disrespect – and never write on a business card.  Offer your card similarly, with both hands and ensure that you have one side translated and printed in Korean.