The government supports the teaching of English so there are plenty of opportunities in language teaching for native English speakers. Technology and IT are big in South Korea and jobs are often available in these areas, although English is not widely spoken and finding suitable employment in these fields can prove difficult.
Typical problems encountered: there is high competition from home graduates for jobs. Language barriers and tight social/business circles may also limit opportunities.
How to improve your chances: work experience is highly valued and short-term volunteering placements can allow the opportunity to network. Some multinational companies have their head offices in South Korea and may be more open to UK graduates. The government is investing heavily in science and technology as well as the financial sector, biotechnology, robotics and aerospace industries. Focusing on these sectors may be effective, particularly if you have previous related experience.
Language requirements: Korean is the main language and has its own alphabet, Hangeul. Newspapers and official documents are usually a mix of Hangeul and Chinese characters. English is widely taught in schools and is a common second language. It is spoken to a certain extent in business and government, but less so outside the main cities. A working knowledge of Korean is a definite asset especially if you want to work outside of English language teaching. Courses in the UK are available through the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, as well as private companies offering bespoke courses for individuals or businesses. In South Korea, the language institute at Yonsei University offers a range of study options.
Where can I work?
Major industries: manufacturing, consumer electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, steel, chemicals and shipbuilding.
Recent growth areas: biotechnology, robotics, aerospace and IT.
Shortage occupations: the only real shortage occupations are at the highest level in science and technology research and development. South Korea prefers to train home graduates in these areas, rather than employ foreign nationals. Workers may also be required in finance (foreign exchange dealers, insurance specialists, etc.) and IT (database administrators, programmers, web designers, etc.).
Major companies: Daewoo, Hyundai-Kia, Korea Aerospace Industries, Samsung. Multinationals operating in the UK and South Korea include BP, Esso/ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, Schroders, Smith & Nephew.
Major cities: Seoul (capital), Busan, Daegu, Incheon and Daejeon.
What’s it like working in South Korea?
Average working hours: large organisations and the public and financial sector are limited by law to a maximum 40-hour working week. This is typically carried out over five days.
Holidays: 15 public holidays per year. The amount of additional annual varies depending on the employer but workers usually get at least 12 days. Extra holiday may be given if no sick leave is taken and teachers usually get three to four months off.
Tax rates: personal income tax rates range between 8% and 35%. In addition to this there is a state income tax rate of 10%. The local government may raise or lower this between 5-15%. Social security taxes are also paid for jointly by the employer and employee to the Korean government. You may be exempt from this if you are sent to work in South Korea by a company in your home country and you should check it with your employer.
Working practices and customs: corporate culture is still based on a rigid system of hierarchy in which promotion is awarded for seniority. Business attire is formal. Business relationships have traditionally been built upon personal ties and valuable introductions and trust is an important factor in business relationships. It is common to distribute business cards (only asking for one after you have offered your own). Typically, South Koreans will only do business with those of an equal rank. Punctuality is extremely important and business meetings should be agreed several weeks ahead of time.
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