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Hire Employees in South Korea — Overview

South Korea is one of Asia — and the world's — strongest economies. Ranked 5th in the world for Ease of Business, South Korea is an innovation and tech capital, with a well-educated and highly-skilled workforce.

South Korea is a prime location for hiring overseas staff, but in doing so it is crucial to follow Korean labor laws and employment ettiquette.

In this guide we set out everything you need to know about hiring employees in South Korea.

Facts & Stats

Population

51.74M (Labor Force 27.27 million)

Capital City

Seoul

Languages Spoken

Korean

Currency

Korean Republic Won (KRW, ₩)

GDP per capita

$34,758

Ease of Doing Business

5th in the world

Minimum Wage

KRW 9,160/hour

Average Wage

3,928,819 KRW/Month

Paid Leave

Minimum 15 days after one year of service 

South Korea: Business Environment

Business outlook in South Korea

Continuing on from its strong recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Korean economy is expected to grow 1.8% in 2023, an enviable projection given the declining performance of other top economies. The South Korean economy is supported by robust consumer spending — this expected to grow by 3.1% in 2023 as post-pandemic domestic activity recovers. 

Business regulation in South Korea

The South Korean labour market is well regulated with strong employment protection laws in place, some of which are even enshrined in its national constitution.

Employment law in South Korea is mainly regulated by the Labor Standards Act (LSA) amended as of 2018. This is the principal piece of employment legislation in the country, governing matters such as employment contracts, wages, termination of employment, working time, parental leave, annual leave, and discrimination. 

All employment and labour laws in South Korea apply equally to foreign nationals who work there.

Business culture in South Korea

Hierarchy is an important concept when doing business in South Korea with things like age, status, and education affecting business interactions. In initial meetings, it is customary to exchange business cards, enabling one’s counterpart to be assessed on their position and title within their company. Business cards should be received respectfully with both hands and when seated, placed on the table in front of you.

In business dealings, it is best to avoid heated displays of emotion or open criticism. Culturally, South Koreans value traits like modesty and humility, aiming to preserve an environment in which each other’s kibun, or peaceful state of mind, is maintained.

Business culture in South Korea is often highly competitive meaning negotiations and decision-making tend to be fast-moving.

Recruiting employees in South Korea

Recruiting employees in South Korea — Overview

Building relationships and networking are important parts of doing business in South Korea and this extends to the recruiting process where family members and friends are often relied on to recommend potential candidates.

Many companies also recruit through campus events at top universities which take place twice a year. These employers purposely look to hire inexperienced candidates as they are thought to be more creative and easier to train.

Hiring employees in South Korea also involves extensive use of online job recruitment sites such as jobkorea.co.kr, especially for younger or entry-level candidates. Headhunting or placing advertisements in professional or trade publications are more suitable approaches for hiring at senior levels.

 

Most important recruitment tools in South Korea

  • Job Korea
  • www.jobkorea.co.kr/
  • JobKorea is the largest online employment marketplace platform in South Korea with a membership of over 10 million people.
  • HRnetOne
  • www.hrnetone.com/
  • One of the first international recruitment agencies in South Korea, HRnetOne specialises in the fields of chemicals, consumer, industrial, life sciences and retail.
  • KOTRA Job Fair
  • https://contactkorea.kotra.or.kr/en
  • KOTRA’s Job Fair for Foreign-Invested Companies is the longest-running and largest event of its kind in the country, helping foreign-invested companies recruit local talent.

Interviewing candidates in South Korea — Overview

Punctuality is seen as a sign of respect in South Korea so it is important to arrive on time for an interview. Rather than reaching out to shake hands with your interviewer you can expect to be met with a bow which you should return.

Present your business cards and any documents with both hands and remain polite and respectful throughout the interview. Avoiding boasting by mentioning your achievements with modesty. Dressing conservatively in formal business attire is also recommended.

Can I ask the candidate’s previous salary in South Korea?

While there are no laws prohibiting such questions in South Korea it is more customary to ask the candidate what salary they expect.

What is the typical salary increase at a new job in South Korea?

Salaries at some of the largest companies in South Korea have risen by 9.1% with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions asking for a 10 % increase.

Onboarding employees in South Korea

Onboarding employees in South Korea — Overview

While employment laws in South Korea do not regulate the onboarding of employees, there are some best practices companies can follow to ensure employees become familiarised with their roles and the organisation.

This will usually involve an induction program where employees are equipped with the information, training, and resources they need to excel in their new roles and become confident and productive members of the business.

Best remote working tools to use in South Korea

Below are three of the best remote working tools in South Korea:

  • Slack: This cloud-based collaboration and team interaction software is designed to facilitate communication in the workplace. Slack provides each person in an organisation with access to the same information helping teams to stay connected and updated  allowing faster and more efficient decision-making.
  • Zoom: This cloud-based video conferencing platform was the most popular team communication app in South Korea in October 2020.
  • Notion: This workspace collaboration tool is designed to help organizations manage projects with greater efficiency and productivity. South Korea has become one of the platform’s fastest growing user bases.

Holiday season in South Korea — 2022

The following is a list of national holidays in South Korea, which may be subject to change:

  • 31 December – 2nd of January – New Years’ holidays (Lunar Calendar)
  • First day of the first lunar month
  • 1 March: Independence Day
  • 5 May: Children’s Day
  • 8 April: Buddha’s Birthday
  • 6 June: Memorial Day
  • 15th day of the eighth lunar month: Harvest Festival
  • 3 October: National Foundation Day
  • 9 October: Hangul Day
  • 25 December: Christmas Day

What is the typical salary increase employees in South Korea expect?

The average pay increase among large South Korean companies this year is 4.7%.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ):

Freelancing has grown in South Korea in recent years as more businesses choose to rely on independent workers instead of hiring full-time employees, especially in sectors such as IT. The choice to hire a freelancer over an employee will depend largely on your organisational goals and the nature of the role you are hiring for.

Freelancers can reduce the administrative burden and cost on your business by eliminating the need to pay certain benefits and taxes. However, hiring employees can help you establish a company culture and ensure your staff is invested in your company’s success. 

It is also worth noting that, where you expect a professional to work fulltime, it will often be necessary to engage them on a fulltime employment contract. A failure to do so can be regarded as disguised employment and make you liable for penalties and potential backtaxes. 

It is possible to hire foreigners in South Korea, however, an important part of the process is to ensure all the necessary work visas are in place for the foreign employees you wish to hire. The process of applying for and obtaining work visas in South Korea can be difficult and there are multiple categories of visas and strict requirements to adhere to. Failure to do so can lead to expensive delays.

There are three main business structures to establish a presence in South Korea, namely, a company, a foreign branch, or a liaison office. 

To set up a subsidiary in South Korea, you must take certain steps which include making a company seal, registering your company, paying social security registration fees, and opening a business bank account. Recognised as a foreign investment, the company must invest at least 100 million won.

Opening a branch does not require formal incorporation, however, a designated foreign exchange bank must be notified of the branch and the notification must be filed with the local court registry office.

It is common practice in South Korea to hire top-level candidates at graduate level from prestigious universities. Online job posting sites and recruitment agencies are other methods through which employees can be hired.

Horizon’s PEO services offer a solution to your recruitment needs by helping you source, hire, and onboard talent in South Korea, helping you to expand your business operations and support your international growth without the need to establish a legal entity.

Hiring in South Korea, Made Easy

Your business can easily hire employees South Korea without opening a local entity. We handle local employment law, complex tax regulations, and international payroll in 150+ countries worldwide. All you need to do is focus on your business.

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