- Download our Moving to South Korea Guide (PDF)
One of the four Asian Tigers along with Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea is unique in that it's globally recognised as both an advanced and emerging market. The fourth-largest economy in Asia, South Korea is home to a multitude of companies of international stature.
Although South Korea is known for being one of the world's largest exporters of cars, smartphones and ships, most expats working in South Korea do so as English teachers. Newly arrived English teachers will likely work in one of the country's public schools or private institutions, known as hagwons.
Most expat job opportunities can be found in major cities and industrial zones such as Seoul, Busan and Incheon. While speaking Korean isn't required for teaching English, expats interested in higher-level corporate jobs will have an advantage if they can speak the local language or other Asian languages, particularly Mandarin or Japanese.
Most companies in South Korea offer good relocation packages to their employees. Benefits often include a furnished apartment or a generous housing allowance, flights home each year and a thirteenth cheque. Expats hired from overseas can generally expect airfare reimbursements, but those hired from within the country may not get this benefit.
Job market in South Korea
With massive local brands such as Hyundai, Kia, LG and Samsung, it's easy to understand why such a small country has such a large economy. Aside from teaching English, many expats also work for the US Armed Forces, with a growing number of foreigners in high-level management, information and communications technology, and engineering.
Some of the largest employers in South Korea are in fields such as electronics, biotechnology, microchip production, shipbuilding, chemical production, steelmaking and automobile manufacturing. It also has a respectable financial services industry, with the Shinhan Financial Group especially prominent among these.
Working in rural South Korea
With stiff competition in the larger cities, the Korean countryside attracts many an expat looking for employment, especially in the teaching industry. This usually proves to be a wildly different experience from, for instance, working in Seoul.
While the countryside is often more beautiful and less congested, amenities aren't as widely available, and the language barrier tends to be more pronounced for non-Korean speakers.
Finding a job in South Korea
Most expats find a job before relocating. Finding employment through the many job portals available online is the most common way of doing this.
The high number of expats wanting to teach in Korea has resulted in many recruitment companies that organise placements on behalf of schools. This means that expats may not be aware of exactly who they will be employed by, which may be an issue as some schools are more reputable than others.
Otherwise, expats can search through job listings in English-language newspapers such as the Korea Herald and The Korea Times.
Expats should also be warned that work permit regulations can and frequently do change, meaning that information sources should be carefully considered and compared to the latest official information. Finding a job from inside South Korea often becomes complicated, so expats should note that visa runs, despite happening often, remain illegal in South Korea.
- PeopleNJob is among the best job portals for foreigners looking to work in South Korea.
- The job listing and networking site LinkedIn is one of the best places to start the job hunt.
Work culture in South Korea
Traditional social practices and etiquette still have an important role in South Korean business. Personal relationships, hierarchy and saving face are all major factors in the Korean work environment. If expatriate businesspeople want to be accepted by their colleagues, they need to display an awareness of these and a willingness to engage in the social codes at the foundation of business culture in South Korea.
While South Korea's place in the global business circuit has changed the way business is conducted in the country, there is still an elaborate hierarchy system based on position, age, prestige and, to an extent, gender that imbues business culture.
Koreans need to be able to trust the people they are doing business with, and social relationships are directly linked to business success. For this reason, prospective business partners spend a lot of time getting to know each other. Dinner invitations, after-dinner drinks and karaoke will also likely feature at some point and should not be turned down.
►Teaching English in South Korea is essential for expats considering moving to the country to teach
"We would describe the work-life balance here as WORK HARD - PLAY HARD! South Koreans work really hard but also know how to have fun after work. Guillaume had so much fun with his colleagues after work. For him, he said it was actually one of the best working environments. People are so committed to delivering good results and also want to have fun together. Although not everywhere is like that, we heard quite a lot of different stories. Our recommendations would be to build strong connections with the employees to fully embrace the working culture in South Korea." Learn more about French and Hong Kong expats Guillaume and Hammer's experiences in South Korea.
"Everyone calls each other by their title at work, rather than by their name. This is because the society in South Korea is very hierarchical. By knowing your title, people know the level of respect they need to apply. As Guillaume was a Director in South Korea, his colleagues called him "Sajang Nim", which would roughly translate to "Dear Director". Guillaume and Hammer's experiences in South Korea.
Are you an expat living in South Korea?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Korea. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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