Exporting guide to South Korea

Overview

South Korea is one of the largest economies in the world and has strong trade links with the UK. The UK has a Continuity Free Trade Agreement in place with South Korea which came into effect in January 2020.

Trade statistics

£9.6 billion total UK exports to South Korea for the four quarters to the end of Q1 2022

(Source: ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: July 2022)

17th largest UK export market

(Source: ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: July 2022)

1.5% of total UK exports for the four quarters to the end of Q1 2022

(Source: ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: July 2022)

Demand for UK goods

The South Korean public has a taste for British culture and a respect for UK goods. Many well-known UK brands like Standard Chartered, Jaguar Land Rover, British Airways, Lush, Boots and Burberry are already selling in South Korea.

Government policy

The Korean New Deal, announced in 2020, plans to invest approximately £100 billion to create 1.9 million jobs by 2025 based on two main policies, the Digital New Deal and Green New Deal. This presents opportunities in sectors of UK strength (Ministry of Economy and Finance)

UK-South Korea trade agreement

The UK has signed a trade agreement with South Korea. Read our latest updates for more information on the status of this agreement and how it may benefit your business.

Top five UK goods exported to South Korea, in the four quarters to the end of Q1 2022

Goods Value (£billion)
Crude oil 3.2
Non-ferrous metals 0.5
Clothing 0.4
Cars 0.4
Mechanical power generators (intermediate) 0.3

Source: ONS Trade in goods: country-by-commodity exports
Last updated: July 2022
Download the latest trade and investment factsheet for South Korea.

Top five UK services exported to South Korea, in the four quarters to the end of Q1 2022

Service Value (£million)
Other Business Services 713.0
Financial 528.0
Transportation 435.0
Intellectual property 192.0
Insurance and Pension 133.0

Source: ONS UK trade in services: service type by partner country, non-seasonally adjusted
Last updated: July 2022
Download the latest trade and investment factsheet for South Korea.

South Korea: at a glance

Economic growth

4.0%

Actual figure (IMF, 2021)
The UK is 7.4% (IMF, 2021, projected figure)

GDP per capita

$31,638

Actual figure (IMF, 2020)
The UK is $41,127 (IMF, 2020, projected figure)

Currency

South Korean won

Business languages

Korean

You may need a translator

Time zone

GMT +9

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Opportunities for exporters

There are export opportunities in a range of areas including technology, automotive, fintech, offshore wind and life sciences.

Check for trade barriers

Trade barriers, such as tariffs or taxes, can raise costs, cause delays, or even stop you from exporting. Check for any issues that may impact your business when exporting.

See current trade barriers

See resolved trade barriers

Check duties and customs

Find information on how to export goods from the UK. View the duties, rules, restrictions, and the documents you need for your products.

See current duties and customs procedures

Doing business in South Korea

Preparing to export

VAT

South Korea has a VAT rate of 10%. Cultural items like newspapers, books and magazines may be exempt.

There are special tax exemptions under the FDI incentives scheme. For more information visit the Invest KOREA website.

Standards and regulations

The Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) administers and monitors Korea’s industrial standards.

Packaging and labelling

Country of origin labelling is needed for commercial shipments entering South Korea.

The Korean Customs Service publishes a list of the country of origin labelling requirements.

Intellectual property (IP)

Intellectual property (IP) rights are territorial and rights granted in the UK do not provide protection elsewhere. You should consider getting IP protection abroad if you want to trade overseas or sell to overseas customers via the internet.

The Intellectual Property Office provides practical information to help you protect, manage and enforce your IP abroad. Further support for British businesses can be found through a network of IP attachés, based in key UK export markets.

Trade barriers

Check for any reported barriers to trading with South Korea.

Report any trade barriers that are affecting your business so we can help fix them.

Protecting your business

Routes to market

A long-term commitment to the market will pay dividends here. Successful market entry strategies include relationship building, adaptation of your offer to Korean tastes and commitment to visiting and exhibiting in the market.

Routes to market which may work well for you are:

  • e-commerce - South Korea is a technologically advanced consumer economy. It is the leading market in the world for e-commerce sales, so selling via an online marketplace or website could be an excellent way into the market. DIT can suggest online marketplaces to help you get started. DIT’s E-Exporting Programme can also help
  • using agents and distributors - appointing an agent or distributor can overcome language and cultural barriers. You should support your local representative with frequent visits and regular updates, particularly in the first 12 months.
  • establishing a local office – it’s recommended that you trial the agent or distributor route before establishing a local office. Once you’re operating successfully, a local office may be an effective way to gain greater control over your operations.

The website of Invest KOREA, the national investment promotion agency, is a good source of further information. It supports the establishment of foreign businesses in South Korea, and has a London office.

Business culture

South Korea is modern and business-friendly, but there are some cultural differences to be aware of:

  • The numerical system counts differently from the UK. Make sure all numbers are written down and fully understood in negotiations
  • South Korea has a culture of dynamic, rapid action. Be prepared for expectations of fast delivery and last-minute alterations
  • The preferred greeting style in business is a slight bow followed by a handshake

Next steps

DIT can advise you on doing business abroad, and help put you in touch with other people who can help such as lawyers and distributors.