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Employment in Seoul

At a Glance:

  • Since the financial crisis of 1998, economic reforms have transformed Seoul into one of the world’s biggest hubs for business.
  • The city’s job market is highly competitive and proficiency in Korean will certainly benefit you.
  • When it comes to business, the harmony of the collective, the respect for authority, and the importance of family and friendships are highly valued.
  • Tax rates are based on individual income instead of joint household income and will be handled by your employer.

South Korea experienced an economic growth rate of 3% in 2017, it’s fastest growth since the 3.3% growth seen in 2014. The country has taken big steps since the 1960s and is now one of the largest economies in Asia, forever seeking integration into the global market. As a hub for many multinational companies, Seoul offers great employment opportunities for expatriates.

Getting to Know the Economy

The economic development that Seoul, and more broadly South Korea has gone through, is impressive. The country reacted to the first crisis in 1998 with economic reforms which brought greater openness to imports and foreign investment by companies interested in doing business in Seoul and the rest of the nation.

The majority of people working in Seoul are employed in the services sector. Still, the manufacturing industries, and to a lesser extent the agricultural sector, remain major employers in South Korea. Foreigners who are interested in working in Seoul are likely to find work in one of the major industries such as electronics; telecommunications, automobile production, and the chemical industry.

On top of this, the majority of South Korea’s population, 81.5 percent, currently lives in Seoul and other major cities. The urban area around Seoul is home to almost half of South Korea’s population. Foreign residents in Seoul will benefit from the numerous economic opportunities. International banks and major companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia are located here. Seoul is the world’s fourth largest metropolitan economy and has a GDP of 779.3 billion USD.

Taking Care of Your Work Visa

There are different types of work visas which could apply to you while you are working in Seoul. This depends strongly on your occupation and on the duration of your stay. A temporary employment visa (C-4) is probably the best fit for most expatriates with a job in Seoul. However, you should refer to our article on moving to Seoul and to your nearest South Korean embassy for more information on visa types.

What is important for expats, no matter which type of visa they need, is to enter the country within 90 days after the visa has been granted. If you fail to do so, your visa will expire and you will have to go through the entire application process again. Your visa will also expire as soon as your work contract ends. You will then have to leave South Korea within 14 days. If you want to keep working in Seoul, you can, of course, find another job. Unfortunately, this will not prevent you from having to go through the process of re-applying for a work visa.

Seoul: Job Market and Business Etiquette

The Job Market for Expatriates

South Korea’s government supports the teaching of English and other foreign languages. For that reason, teaching opportunities are widely available. Naturally, in Seoul, the competition among language teachers is higher than anywhere else in the country.  Jobs are also widely available in the field of technology and IT. Again, you should bear in mind that the competition in these industries is fierce. Many of the local population aspire to claim the highly-paid graduate jobs offered by huge Korean companies such as Samsung, Hyundai Motors, and LG Electronics.

Another barrier is often the lack of proficiency in Korean. Unfortunately, speaking Korean will likely be important if you plan on working in a field other than English teaching. The tight social and business circles can make it hard to make progress in Seoul’s business world.

When you apply for jobs with Korean companies in Seoul, keep in mind that work experience is highly valued. Emphasizing any work experience on your application is highly recommendable. Short-term job placements can help you to network and get a foot in the door. Alternatively, multinational companies in Seoul may welcome employees from abroad.

How to Do Business in Seoul

Before you start your new job in Seoul, you should acquaint yourself with the way Seoulites do business. While Seoul is more cosmopolitan than smaller cities or rural areas, traditional ethics still persist in all aspects of life. As a result, time, patience, and negotiation skills are important when doing business.

The harmony of the collective, the respect for authority, and the importance of family and friendships are highly valued within Korean society and business world. Thus, it comes down to the type of business relationships you make and maintain, as well as their quality which can make or break you when doing business in Seoul. After all, your Korean business partners will want to make sure that you are a trustworthy and honorable person before hiring you or closing a deal with you.

A Slightly Different Way of Communicating

For Koreans, saying “no” directly and openly is rude, offensive, and simply poor etiquette. Just like your business partners, you should try to avoid this in order to not upset anybody. As a result, it can be difficult to get at the truth of what your business partners intend. It is necessary that you pay close attention, as they may voice their unhappiness or disagreement only vaguely. Expats with a harsher way of negotiating may find this extremely difficult.

By the same token, “yes” does not always mean “yes”. Instead, your business partners or colleagues may simply indicate that they have heard you or that they will consider your point of view. This way of communicating makes meetings longer, so try to stay patient and polite if negotiations take more time than expected.

Seoul: Business Info for Expats

Paying Taxes in Seoul

In South Korea, all residents are subject to taxation on global income, both derived from domestic and foreign sources. If you live in Korea for 90 days or more, you will have to declare your residency and will then be taxed on your income. South Korea’s personal income tax rates are not that high, with a top tax rate of 42 %. This is particularly true for high-income executives.

The tax rates on personal income can range from 6% to 42% and are based on individual income instead of joint household income. Your employer will automatically handle your taxes by way of monthly withholding and year-end adjustment cycles. However, there are special rules which apply to foreign employees and executives of multinational companies. For instance, expatriates can apply to be taxed at a 19% flat rate on their Korea-sourced income. Under this flat rate, they are not subject to complex income tax regulations.

Digital Media City

Seoul’s Digital Media City was planned and built to give a home to Seoul’s advanced IT, digital media, and entertainment industries. On 570,000 m² in the northwest of Seoul, you can find modern architecture side-by-side with green spaces. The project was launched in 2002. Aside from apartments and office buildings, Seoul’s Digital Media City is home to various international media and technology companies such as LG Telecom or Pantech.

Digital Media City is connected to other parts of Seoul via various subway lines. If your job does not lead you to this part of the city, it is still worth stopping by for a tour. The area is awash with stunning modern architecture and much more. Also located here is the Korea Cultural Content Center and Digital Media City Gallery, which showcase art installations and artifacts of Korean film. Culture aside, Seoul’s Digital Media City is an important spot for those who want to work in Korea’s media or IT sector.


Gangnam is considered to be one of the most affluent districts in Seoul. While it is popular for its fashion districts and shopping opportunities, it also houses a number of business facilities. Thus, you can find the Korea International Trade Association here as well as COEX, which offers space for meetings, conferences, and conventions.

Within Gangnam, the Teheranno area is nortorious for attracting the attention of businessmen and -women, as well as expats. Also known as Tehran Boulevard or Teheran Valley, Teheranno is home to numerous significant IT and telecommunication companies. Aside from Yahoo, Samsung, and their competitors, various financial firms are also located here. Additionally, this part of Gangnam does not only boast the tallest skyscrapers in the city, it is also known for its high real estate prices.

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