Exporting to South Korea

South Korea is a high-growth market for UK exports. In the 4 quarters to the end of Q3 2018, the UK exported £10 billion of goods and services to the country, up 17% on the previous year. In 2017, almost 7,000 British companies exported to South Korea.

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

President Moon’s focus on emerging technologies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents opportunities in sectors of UK strength.

Foreign direct investment (FDI)

FDI from the UK in South Korea was around £7 billion in 2017, 14% higher than in 2016. The South Korean government is keen to encourage foreign investors, making efforts to ease regulations and provide incentives for direct investment.

Ease of doing business

5th

out of 190 countries, World Bank 2019

Currency

South Korean won

Business languages

Korean

You may need a translator

GDP per capita

$31,346

IMF, UK is $42,558

Economic growth

2.7%

IMF, 2018

Time zone

GMT +9

Opportunities for exporters

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

Doing business in South Korea

South Korea ranks high for ease of doing business, but it is a good idea to take note of local regulations.

Tax and customs

VAT

South Korea has a Value Added Tax (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, see InvestKorea.org.

Standards and regulations

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

KATS is referenced in government regulations and technical specifications, and implemented by public agencies in procurement. They work to align South Korean standards with international ones.

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 by Harmonized System Code number (an international classification system managed by the World Customs Organisation).

Protecting your business

Intellectual property

As a first step, we advise you to speak to an intellectual property lawyer if you think you need patent protection when exporting.

You should register your patents and trademarks with the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) before you commit to deals with South Korean companies. Read guidance on protecting your intellectual property in South Korea.

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.