Launching a business in a foreign country can be confusing and a little scary for many business owners. I founded the Atlanta Pacific Group to help businesses in the metro Atlanta area and foreign businesses in Asia and Latin America build reciprocal relationships. The KORUS FTA has made doing business with Korea easier than ever and we’re happy to help companies understand the unique nature of doing business in, and with, Korea. Here are my top 5 tips for doing business in Korea:
1. Understand the Culture
Travel to the Asia Pacific region is now common for many Americans. Most business travelers have a basic understanding of Asian culture; however, much of this knowledge is based on experiences in either China or Japan. It is important that businesses understand that Korea is a unique market. For example, China has become used to the American way of “getting down to business,” so that time intensive business meetings and banquets are no longer a requisite for closing deals. However, in Korea, dining and entertainment remain an important part of business culture and can be the time when real business negotiations take place.
2. Etiquette is Important
Korean business culture is much more formal than in the U.S. and image is important. Dressing appropriately, having proper business cards and addressing Koreans with the correct title are all critical to ensuring good social etiquette and establishing strong bonds.
3. Get Personal
Personal relationships are essential to Koreans. Such relationships cannot be established over the phone or after only a few meetings. You must invest the time in Korea to successfully build those relationships. Unlike America, Korea has very little division between personal life and professional life. Koreans are expected to keep long hours working in the office or socializing with their coworkers for dinner and drinks until very late building those personal connections. Business dinners are generally very formal, but it is also a time to build a personal relationship with your Korean host.
4. Host a Korean Business Partner
Hosting a Korean delegation in the United States can also offer great opportunities. Koreans like our country, so getting them to come to the United States is not a tough sell. However, they want to visit a place that has extended them a welcoming hand of friendship. It’s important to be a good host and keep them busy with activities, as they will surely do the same for you in Korea.
5. Visit Korea
The best way to get to know Korea and Korean business culture is to experience the country first hand. Koreans welcome foreign investment, and make efforts to encourage business interest in Korea’s diverse industries. Again, the personal relationship is important to Koreans, so a visit to Korea or an invitation to the United States is a great way to cement long-term ties.
By following the advice above and through taking advantage of the new and growing business opportunities under the KORUS FTA, American businesses looking to expand or partner in Korea will get started on the right foot. I believe that establishing strong business relationships between U.S. and Korean businesses can be the catalyst for economic growth. In my view, this is both a patriotic duty to the United States and an opportunity to spur economic prosperity and job growth.
Michael Fenton is an Atlanta-based entrepreneur with Atlanta Pacific Group, specializing in international trade between the U.S. and the Asia Pacific region.