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Working in South Korea

Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in South Korea

Working in South Korea is one of the easiest ways to relocate to the Land of the Morning Calm. Having a job not only guarantees you a visa, but also helps foreigners integrate to the country and start meeting locals and expats alike. However, expats should be aware that basic knowledge of the Korean language is crucial to landing a job.

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For native Koreans, the South Korea job market has been less than ideal in recent years. South Korea boasts Asia’s fourth largest economy, yet the country struggles to find adequate placement for a workforce that is fast becoming over qualified for the few jobs that are available. In Korea, as in many Asian societies, citizens tend to enter a job and stay with that one company until retirement. Nowadays, Koreans are struggling to enter the market at all and are instead turning to international opportunities in nearby China, Japan, and even as far away at the US.

Expats, on the other hand, will have a bit easier time finding a job in South Korea than Korean nationals. This is largely because as the country gains an international reputation, it is also gaining international companies and relationships. Foreigners are not only being welcomed into the job market to add to and improve these relations, but also because of the need for speakers of languages other than Korean. That being said, expats will improve their chances of being hired if they can demonstrate some skills in the Korean language.

Thinking of relocating to South Korea? Use this guide as a resource for the best ways to find a job in the Asian country as well as what it is like to work there, average salaries, and social security. Working as a self-employed person is more readily accepted in South Korea than when compared to other Asian countries. Working days are the standard Monday through Friday that is found throughout the globe, but expats should be aware that hours can (legally) be anywhere from 40 to 68 hours per week.

How to Get a Job in South Korea as a Foreigner

With its mixture of beautiful coastlines, lush mountains, and cosmopolitan cities, South Korea is becoming an increasingly popular destinations for expats looking for their next international adventure. If you are one of the many people wondering how to get a job in South Korea as a foreigner, this guide will walk you through the steps you need to take to land the perfect gig in the Land of the Morning Calm.

How to Apply for a Job in South Korea

As with any international job hunt, one of the best ways to get a job in South Korea as a foreigner is by already being in the country. This way, you will not only be able to have in-person interviews, but employers will take you more seriously as an applicant. By being in the country, you demonstrate that you have already started to adapt to the culture and lifestyle, and perhaps have already started to learn the language.

Online

If you are unable to move to Korea before finding a job, there are several online sites you can use:

  • JobKorea
  • Saramin
  • PeopleNJob

In addition to these, you can also use usual job search sites such as LinkedIn and Craigslist.

Newspapers

While this may seem more ‘old school’ when compared to other countries, South Korean jobs are often still published in newspapers. Job postings can be found through the newspaper’s online website or printed in the physical paper. Good papers to checkout include:

  • The Korea Herald
  • The Korea Times
  • The Seoul Times
Job Fair

Korea hosts annual job fairs that specifically targets foreigners. These job fairs will typically be split into two different categories: job fairs for international students and job fairs for international residents. To find the date of these fairs, you can search online for the following terms:

Although these fairs are for foreigners, it is best to come with printed copies of your CV and cover letter written in both English and Korean.

Requirements to Work in South Korea

To be eligible to work in South Korea you need a university degree. This degree should be in the same field as the job for which you are applying to. In addition, a knowledge of the Korean language is not necessarily mandatory, but it is highly advisable. It is possible to find jobs in Korean that do not require a knowledge of Korean, but employers will be more favorable to applicants who know Korean (and/or are interested in learning) as it will help them integrate with their coworkers and work culture more fully.

Tips for Landing a Job in South Korea

CV/Resume Tips

South Korea has a specific CV style that expats should adhere to while applying to jobs in the peninsular country. Like other neighboring countries such as Japan, South Korea has a distinct format in which resumes should be written. For the best results, it is advised to download a standard South Korean CV template and fill it in with the relevant information. Do not worry about being too uniform or like everyone else. When Korean HR teams sift through stacks of resumes, having a non-Korean style CV is more likely to hurt your chances rather than help them.

In general, the first page of a Korean style CV will contain your personal information such as your address, date of birth, cell phone number, and email. You will also see spots to write any hobbies you have or a special comment. These are the areas where you can personalize your CV and let your personality and interests come through.

When filling in the information about your education history, keep in mind that the South Korean grading system may be different from your home country. While a direct conversion may be difficult, use your best judgement to convert your GPA to the Korean equivalent.

When filling out your work history, you may note that the sections in the standard Korean CV template are very small. This is because Korean employers only expect to see a brief job description such as “I was an HR specialist” or “I was a software developer.”

A Note About References

One thing you may notice that is missing from a South Korean resume is a spot for required references. This is because this is not a requirement. Instead, Korean employers will contact a previous employer of their own choosing.

Cover Letter Tips

A cover letter in South Korea is also called a “self-introduction” letter (jagiseogaeseo/자기소개서). As with any cover letter, Korean recruiters will want to know more specific details about your work history and qualifications that make you the perfect candidate for the position to which you are applying. Keep in mind that Korean applicants typically also talk about their career growth, their education, personality, and why they want the job they are applying for.

Interview Tips

When going in for an interview in Korea, you should arrive 10—15 minutes early. Have printed copies of your resume and cover letter, and, if possible, have them in both English and Korean.

It is traditional in Korea to bow instead of shaking hands when meeting someone. Do not try to shake the interviewer’s hand unless they initiate.

Be aware that the entire interview process could take a few weeks or even a few months. You may also be asked to submit a Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) score.

Networking Tips

As a foreigner, you will find yourself warmly welcomed in Korea. This will be a boon when it comes to networking as you will find many Korean nationals will be happy to speak with you. Receiving a business card is considered an “invitation to contact,” in Korea. If you receive a business card from someone, be sure to follow up with an email afterwards. Likewise, make sure to always carry business cards with you.

In addition to networking with Korean nationals, it is also a good idea to network with fellow expats as they will be the most familiar with what it’s like working in South Korea as a foreigner. InterNations has an active chapter in Seoul that would be a great starting point to building a professional in South Korea. Even if you are not moving to the capitol city, joining the online platform is a great way to get tips and advice from other expats living and working in the country.

Job Opportunities in South Korea for Foreigners

One of the greatest opportunities for expats wanting to live and work in South Korea is by teaching English. For starters, teaching English does not require extensive knowledge of Korean, and some schools even prefer for teachers to not be bilingual because they want their Korean students to be forced to learn and practice English. English proficiency is also a highly valued skill in Korea, making English teachers one of the more sought out professions.

In addition to teaching English, other sectors where expats will find a lot of opportunities are in IT, general office administration jobs, manufacturing, and careers related to health, science, research, and technology.

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Minimum Wage and Average Salary

Throughout the expat community, South Korea has a reputation as having a high average salary, and a destination where foreigners can save a great amount of money. However, this reputation largely comes from foreign English teachers, who are given expat packages that include roundtrip flights to their home country as well as paid-for accommodation through their school. Thus, their expenses are spared having to spend much on rent or international flights.

That being said, the average salary throughout South Korea is 44,812,260 KRW (38,000 USD) per year. In Seoul it is 65,431,200 KRW (55,500 USD). The legal minimum wage, established in 1988, recently saw a nearly 11% increase to 8,350 KRW (7 USD) per hour. Working full-time at this rate will earn employees a yearly minimum salary of 17,368,000 KRW (14,700 USD).

What is a good salary in South Korea? That depends on where you live in the peninsular country. The chart below takes a look of some of the most popular expat destinations in South Korea and the average annual salary needed for a decent living.

For a Family of Four
City KRW USD
Seoul 7,000,000 5,900
Jeju Island 6,200,000 5,200
Busan 6,000,000 5,050
Incheon 5,500,000 4,600
For a Single Expat
City KRW USD
Seoul 880,000 740
Jeju Island 800,000 700
Busan 550,000 460
Incheon 550,000 460

 

The Most In-Demand Jobs and How Much They Pay

Expats who work in the following fields will find the greatest amount of work opportunities.

Job KRW (monthly) USD (monthly)
Editor/Content Writer 2,000,000—5,500,000 1,680—4,600
Sales and Marketing 1,500,000—4,200,000 1,260—3,540
Public Relations 2,000,000—5,000,000 1,680—4,200
Securities Analysts 3,000,000—7,700,000 2,530—6,500
Programmers and Developers 1,500,000—4,200,000 1,260—3,540
Project Manager 4,000,000—5,600,000 3,370—4,700
Teachers (English) 1,860,000—3,000,000 1,570—2,530

In addition to the above job sectors, below is a look at specific job titles and their average annual salaries in South Korea.

Profession KRW USD
Software Engineer 78,454,200 66,040
Architect 37,716,000 31,680
Marketing Manager 63,131,000 53,030
Product Manager 72,400,400 60,940
Web Developer 51,425,700 43,200
UX Designer 55,300,000 46,450
Teacher 54,302,200 45,700
Accountant 55,104,000 46,290
Nurse 41,257,600 34,700

Self-Employment

Self-employment in South Korea is an option for many expats. The country has a handful of self-employment visas that foreigners can apply for a use to bring their business ventures to the Land of the Morning Calm.

How to be Self-Employed in South Korea

Moving to South Korea may be a bit tough. However, unlike neighboring Japan, where freelancing is difficult because of stigmas that people who do not work in a traditional office are lazy, in South Korea it is almost the opposite. Self-employed people are so common, and so often hired, in South Korea that the market is over saturated. As a freelancer, you will find plenty of job opportunities, but also plenty of competition.

Tips for Finding Freelance Work in South Korea

One way to start searching for self-employment opportunities in South Korea is to look online. As a hyper modern society, Korea relies on technology for many day-to-day needs, including job finding.

The best sites to use for finding freelance work online are:

  • Kmong;
  • Wishket;
  • Soomgo;
  • Upwork.

Foreigners interested in being self-employed in South Korea should also come prepared with an impressive portfolio. It is not easy to start freelancing from scratch in Korea simply because there are so many other freelancers in the country with the same expertise and experience. If you have yet to move to the country, try to build up your client/reference base before relocating. If you have already made your move, create sample projects demonstrating the type of work you can produce.

Many freelancing expats choose to move to South Korea and teach English for a few months until they are able to build up a decent amount of freelance work. This is also a more secure way of living in the Asian country and visas for teachers typically last one year, while self-employment visas must be renewed more often.

As with working for a traditional company in South Korea, it is best to know Korean in order to work as a freelancer. You do not need to be fluent, but basic knowledge will go a long way, as will continuing to study the language while you are living in the country. This will boost your hiring chances as you will be able to communicate with more potential clients than someone who knows no Korean. When posting your resume and brief bio on job search sites, it is best to have written versions in both English and Korean. For help, contact the relocation professionals at InterNations GO! We can set you up with language classes as well as experienced translators who can help you prepare a flawless CV that is sure to get you hired.

Self-Employed Benefits in South Korea

One benefit to working in South Korea as a freelancer is a benefit expats will find anywhere: the ability to create your own schedule. Korea is a fascinating country with much to see and do. The cities have active night scenes, which can lead to late evenings and even later mornings. Being able to create your own schedule and work at your own pace will go a long way to helping newly arrived foreigners get as much out of their South Korean experience as they can.

In addition to this, Korea’s ready acceptance of freelancers is also a benefit. In other Asian countries, self-employed people have to work extra hard to gain the trust of clients. In South Korea, self-employment is so widely accepted that freelancers only need to prove that they are right for the job, rather than also having to prove they are professional, dedicated workers.

Top Self-Employed Jobs in South Korea

Self-employed expats who work in IT, development, or other computer-related professions will find many freelance opportunities in South Korea. Those interested in gaming technology or innovative design will be especially sought after.

In contrast to IT work, translation work is also a popular freelance opportunity in South Korea. The country is still in the midst of gaining international recognition and partnerships, which makes the use of other languages in business crucial. Expats who are bilingual will easily find work.

Other popular self-employment jobs in South Korea:

  • graphic designer
  • UX designer
  • content writer
  • web developer

Business Culture

Whether you are moving to South Korea for work or you are going for a business trip, there are certain business culture etiquettes you should be aware of. Although the country is seeing an influx of more and more foreigners, as a whole, South Korean society is still deeply rooted in their longstanding traditions of respect, hierarchy, and humility.

Greetings

When greeting someone for the first time, you should wait to be introduced by a third party. It is customary to bow, but handshakes are also becoming more and more standard. You should greet someone by their formal title and use your own title as well. This will immediately establish hierarchy.

Business Cards

Exchanging business cards upon first meeting someone is standard. The giving and receiving of a business card should be done with done hands. As a business card is seen as the extension of a person in Korea, it should be treated with the utmost respect. Do not simply slide it into your pocket. Instead, place it on the table in front of you for the duration of the meeting and then put it in a specific business card holder.

Hierarchy

As mentioned above, it is important to establish hierarchy right away as this is an important part of South Korean work culture. Korea has great respect for seniority, both in age and profession. Business decisions are typically made as a group but starting in order of hierarchy.

Should you meet a business associate who “outranks” you, you should show them a good deal of respect. That being said, if you are senior to someone, you should still treat them with respect and humility, as these are important traits in Korean society.

Do not be surprised if someone you are senior to does not make much eye contact during a meeting. This tendency is changing in more modern Korean society, but some of your colleagues may still adhere to it. Likewise, be aware of the direct eye contact you make with someone senior to you.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is common when first meeting a business partner. Just like with the business cards, the gift should be present with both hands. If you are giving gifts to more than one person, the gift with the greatest value should go to the most senior person.

Meetings

One aspect of South Korean business culture that may surprise foreigners is that it is customary to schedule meetings a few weeks in advance. That being said, do not be surprised if the meeting is then canceled at the last minute. This is not meant to be rude. However, if a meeting is canceled more than once then it may be a sign from your Korean colleagues that they do not want to have the meeting.

Meetings should only be scheduled between 10:00—12:00 and 14:00—16:00.

Punctuality

Punctuality is seen as a sign of respect in Korea. You should always aim to be 10 to 15 minutes early. If you know, or suspect, you will be late, you should alert whoever you are meeting.

Dress Code

The South Korean culture leans towards the conservative, and this extends to the dress code in the workplace. Men should wear white button-up shirts with dark suits. Women should also wear darker colors and aim for business suits or skirt suits.

Social Security and Benefits

Social security in South Korea operates in a similar fashion to what is found in many other countries around the globe. What is a social security number in South Korea? A social security number is a 13-digit number that all residents, both national and foreign, are required to have. This number is typically referred to as a resident registration number.

The resident registration number is generated by listing the person’s birth date in the first six numbers, then designating their sex and century in which they were born with the seventh number. The following six digits signify where the person was born, differentiate people born on the same day, and whether they are a foreign or national citizen.

In Korean, a resident registration number can be referred to one of two ways:

  • Jumin deungnok beonho/주민등록번호
  • Deungnok beonho/등록번호

How to Get a Social Security Number South Korea

Can a foreigner get a social security number in South Korea? Yes, and as a foreign resident, you will need this number in order to set up a bank account, get a Korean phone number, and other necessary tasks when settling in a new home.

You will apply for a social security number in South Korea at the same time you apply for your Alien Registration Card (ARC): oegugin deungnokjeung/외국인 등록증. Depending on where you live in South Korea, you will need to visit the appropriate Immigration office branch for your specific region. To apply, you will need:

  • Completed application;
  • your passport;
  • passport-sized photograph;
  • Korean visa;
  • supporting documents that are related to your visa.

There is no official social security card in South Korea. Instead, your resident registration number will be printed on your ARC, and you can carry this around as an official form of identification (even taking the place of your passport).

Foreign residents will receive a blue card. Permanent residents will receive green. You should receive this card within a few weeks of submitting your application.

Social Security Benefits South Korea

Part of Korea’s social security scheme pays into the public health insurance. As a foreigner, you are able to take part of the public health insurance once you are a registered South Korean resident.

The other part of social security is paid into the country’s national pension plan, which acts as a retirement fund. If you do not plan on remaining in Korea for more than five years, it may be possible to receive the amount you paid into the scheme as a lump sum upon your departure from the Asian country. 

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Maternity and Paternity Leave

How long is maternity leave in South Korea? When compared to neighboring Asian countries, South Korea’s maternity leave policy falls in the middle: not a ton of paid leave, but also not a minuscule amount. Working mothers receive 90 days of paid maternity leave in South Korea. This leave should be split, with at least 45 days being used after the birth. The final 30 days of the maternity leave are funded by the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

As an added bonus, couples that are trying to get pregnant are allotted three days of fertility treatment leave. Only the first day will be paid, but the other two days will not count towards vacation days.

Maternity Leave Benefits in South Korea

In addition to the paid leave, new mothers who are nursing are allotted two 30-minute periods per day to nurse their child. They can do this up until the child turns one year old (as a note: children in Korea are considered “one” on the day they are born, but the nursing policy is valid for one full calendar year following the child’s birth).

South Korea also has childcare leave, which dictates that parents can reduce their working hours for another full year. This year can be taken any time before the child turns eight.

Paternity Leave and Benefits

South Korean employers are required to give ten days of paternity leave to new fathers. Employees may request extra time within the first 90 days of the birth, but whether or not the time will be granted is up to the discretion of the employer. With the increase of fathers taking paternity leave in South Korea, the government is looking at extending the mandated leave, but has yet to officially decree anything yet.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: March 20, 2020
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