Understanding Korean Business Culture: What You Need To Know

One of the most important aspects of any business venture is culture. After all, no matter how well-intentioned you are or how hard you work together, it’t always possible to anticipate another person’s behavior or thought process. Business culture is a set of values, beliefs, and behavioral norms that people associate with a given society or group. Because every culture is different, working with a Korean business partner can be challenging for many people. Even if this isn’t your first time working with someone from Korea, there are still some things you should know about their business culture before diving in headfirst. Understanding the Korean business culture will help avoid misunderstandings and make communication easier no matter where you and your partner meet to discuss new projects.

Always Be on Time

If you want to make a good first impression on your Korean business partner, be on time for all of your meetings, appointments, and calls. Koreans thrive on rules, and even a simple one like this can help you build a great relationship with your Korean counterparts. Koreans are known for their punctuality, so if you’re even a few minutes late to the meeting, it can be seen as disrespectful by your Korean business partners. Koreans will assume that you are late because you don’t value their time, which can lead to strained relationships with your partners and other business associates.

Business Cards Are Very Important

Korean business cards are much more than a name and contact information—they are a sign of respect and a way of building relationships. Therefore, it is especially important to present your business card with two hands when meeting someone for the first time. If you receive a business card, don’t just put it in your pocket or bag. Make sure to put it somewhere where it is visible and easily accessible, like your wallet. This is a small gesture that shows respect for the other person. When giving a business card, don’t just put it in the other person’s hand. Instead, slide the card so that it is resting against the other person’s palm. Also, don’t forget to write something on the back of your card, like your name, company name, and title.

Koreans Are Confident, but Discreet

A lot of people think that because Koreans are very confident people, they are also very vocal or extroverted. However, this is often not the case. In fact, Koreans are very discreet when it comes to expressing themselves. You may notice that Koreans are less likely than Westerners to share their opinions or ideas in groups or team meetings. However, when given the opportunity to speak one-on-one, they are very likely to voice their ideas and opinions. Koreans prefer to make decisions after careful consideration. They aren’t impulsive people and like to do a lot of research before making a big decision. While this can be frustrating for someone who is used to making quick decisions, it is important to respect your Korean business partner’s need to explore all their options.

Koreans Have Strong Sentiments About Face

In the Korean business culture, the concept of face is incredibly important. Face is the ability to maintain a positive image and reputation both at work and in the community. If a business deal goes badly, it can negatively affect the image of both sides. It’s important to protect face during a business meeting, especially if the meeting includes your Korean business partner’s superiors. Protecting face can mean being very careful about what you say during a meeting. For example, you might be tempted to tell your Korean partner that you think they made a mistake in their business plan. However, you should phrase your critique in a way that doesn’t diminish their reputation. For example, you might say something like, “I think that your plan will work better if you do this instead.”

Don’t Rush the Decision Making Process

When you are working with a Korean business partner, it is important to be patient. Koreans like to discuss things with each other and explore as many options as possible before making a decision. This can be frustrating if you like to make fast, decisive moves. However, it is important to respect your Korean business partner’s need to explore multiple viewpoints before deciding on the best course of action. If you want to speed up the decision-making process, make sure to note that it is the normal way of doing things in Korea to take a long time. You should be aware of this before you get frustrated and push for a decision that might not be ready yet.


Understanding the Korean business culture and the way Koreans conduct business is an important step in building strong, successful relationships with your Korean business partners. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to creating strong relationships with your Korean business partners.