Republic of Korea

GDP (US$ Billion)

1,538.03 (2017)

World Ranking 11/192

GDP Per Capita (US$)

29,891 (2017)

World Ranking 30/192

Economic Structure

(in terms of GDP composition, 2017)

Services
(52.80%)
Industry
(36.00%)
Agriculture
(2.00%)

External Trade (% of GDP)

77.7 (2016)

Currency (Period Average)

Korean Won

1130.42 per US$ (2017)

Political System

Unitary multiparty republic

Overview

South Korea has experienced significant success by combining rapid economic growth with significant reductions in poverty. The country is now the world's 15th largest economy and is the first former aid recipient to become a member of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). South Korea's rapid growth in the last few decades has been largely driven by exports of manufactured electronic goods and telecommunications equipment, which has earned the country a reputation as a top global producer and innovation hub. The country enjoys important – even dominant – positions in a number of major global industries, including nuclear power, consumer electronics and biotechnology, and has set goals to become a major player in several other areas, including smart-grid technology, the Internet of Things and robotics.

Source: Fitch Solutions

Major Economic/Political Events and Upcoming Elections

March 2017

President Park Geun-Hye was impeached.

May 2017

Moon Jae-in was elected as president.

April 2018

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met President Moon Jae-in for talks at the Panmunjom border crossing. The joint summit was the first meeting between leaders of North Korea and South Korea since 2007.

September 2018

The North and South Korean leaders signed a joint agreement on denuclearisation and agreed that Kim Jong-un would visit Seoul, a joint Korean bid would be launched for the 2032 summer Olympics.

April 2020

Parliamentary elections will be held for the National Assembly.

Sources: BBC country profile – Timeline, Fitch Solutions

Major Economic Indicators
Graph: Korea real GDP and inflation
Graph: Korea real GDP and inflation
Graph: Korea GDP by sector (2018)
Graph: Korea GDP by sector (2018)
Graph: Korea unemployment rate
Graph: Korea unemployment rate
Graph: Korea current account balance
Graph: Korea current account balance

e = estimate, f = forecast

Sources: IMF, World Bank

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

External Trade

4.1 Merchandise Trade

Graph: Korea merchandise trade
Graph: Korea merchandise trade

Sources: WTO

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

Graph: Korea major export commodities (2018)
Graph: Korea major export commodities (2018)
Graph: Korea major export markets (2018)
Graph: Korea major export markets (2018)
Graph: Korea major import commodities (2018)
Graph: Korea major import commodities (2018)
Graph: Korea major import markets (2018)
Graph: Korea major import markets (2018)

Sources: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

4.2 Trade in Services

Graph: Korea trade in services
Graph: Korea trade in services

e = estimate

Source: WTO

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

Trade Policies
  • South Korea has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since January 1, 1995 and a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade since April 14, 1967.


  • South Korea has adopted an export-oriented growth model. Total exports contribute 45.2% to GDP.


  • In the past, South Korea's trade policy placed heavy emphasis on import control and export growth promotion. The South Korean government has revised its trade policy to a more neutral stance in recent years, which includes forging free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries. South Korea has entered into 17 FTAs covering more than 50 countries, including with the European Union (EU), the United States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Singapore and Mainland China. South Korea is also engaged in negotiations for a further 10 FTAs, including with Ecuador, Mexico, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Indonesia, Mercosur, Israel and Japan.


  • In terms of trade barriers, South Korea continues to pursue economic liberalisation and deregulation, with low levels of bureaucracy and streamlined trade procedures easing the overall trading process and lowering import costs. Customs duties can be adjusted every six months, within the limit of the basic rate. South Korea also has a flat 10% value added tax (VAT) on all imports, with a special excise tax of 10-20% levied on the import of certain luxury items and durable consumer goods. Tariffs and taxes must be paid in South Korean won within 15 days after goods have cleared customs. Average import tariff rates currently stand at 4.78% and are the third highest in the East and South East Asia region, behind Cambodia and Laos.


  • The South Korean government maintains a tariff quota system designed to stabilise certain domestic commodities markets. Some of the major barriers to trade involve the rice industry, with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs implementing a number of measures to support domestic rice production, including rice farmer income subsidies and a hefty rice import tariff. In January 2015, the government of South Korea implemented a 513% tariff on over-quota imported rice. Imports of rice have a quota of 409,000 tonnes a year. Additionally, products such as crude oil are also subject to tariffs, significantly increasing the costs of imported inputs for businesses.


  • To support the export sector, in 2016 the South Korean government announced plans to offer KRW4.8 trillion (USD4 billion) in trade-related financing, lowering export insurance premiums and expanding tax incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to export.


  • The trilateral FTA between South Korea, Japan and Mainland China has been under negotiation since 2012, and the 15th round of negotiations was held in April 2019. In addition, South Korea is engaged in negotiations concerning the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed FTA among 16 countries, including 10 ASEAN countries, Australia, Mainland China, India, Japan and New Zealand.


  • In July 2019, tensions between Japan and South Korea accelerated over tech exports. Japan tightened controls on the export of three core chemicals used in the semiconductor and display manufacturing process to South Korea: photoresists, hydrogen fluoride etching gas, and fluorinated polyimides. Under the revised controls, Japanese exporters must now individually apply for clearance to ship these chemicals – a process that could take up to 90 days – instead of relying on a blanket approval which is valid for a three-year period. Tokyo cited problems with South Korea’s export rules when imposing the controls, implying that the materials bound for the country have been diverted to North Korea for use in its nuclear development programme. South Korea, however, has rejected these claims. Japan is also considering removing South Korea from its export ‘whitelist’, a move which will require Japanese companies to seek a licence to export a wide range of technological items. Semiconductors make up around 20% of South Korea's total exports and Japan is the country’s major supplier of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process.


  • In 1997, following the amendment of the Customs Act and its Enforcement Decree, South Korea simplified import procedures and required documentation. Most goods can now be imported without licences, except items restricted for health or security reasons. All of Hong Kong's leading export products can be freely imported into South Korea. Most duties are assessed on an ad valorem basis. For non-agricultural products, about 90% of goods are charged tariff rates from 0% to 10%. Tariff rates for leading import items from Hong Kong (for example, electrical machinery) range between 0% and 13%.


  • In addition to tariffs, imports are also subject to other taxes, including VAT. The VAT rate on imports is 10% of the cost, freight and insurance value plus customs levies. A special excise tax or individual consumption tax, which ranges from 2% to 20%, is also levied on certain luxury and durable consumer items.


  • The South Korean government still maintains a safeguard mechanism in which high tariffs are imposed on certain products, protecting local industries that are vulnerable to global competition. For example, certain agricultural products are subjected to duties above 100%. Some non-agricultural products, such as leather and footwear, are taxed up to 16%.


  • South Korea's average import tariff rate of 5.2% is the joint-highest in the East and South East Asia region.


  • In July 2014, an individual consumption tax was imposed on imported coal used for power generation. The purpose of the measure was to tackle excessive electricity consumption and to rationalise the domestic energy price structure. At the same time, taxes for other alternative imported fuels, such as liquefied natural gas, kerosene and propane, were lowered. Trade bureaucracy in South Korea is generally relaxed, with the country having an increasingly open attitude toward imported goods.


  • In January 2015, the state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea announced that it will provide a total of USD51 billion in loans and investment and USD22 billion in loan guarantees to finance industrial activities and international development projects involving South Korean companies (which may be favoured over international ones) amid a diminishing quantitative easing trend in the United States and continuous depreciation of the Japanese yen. Financing priority will be given to large projects overseas that are related to engineering, procurement and construction. The amount will total USD25 billion.

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, Fitch Solutions

Trade Agreement

6.1 Multinational Trade Agreements

Active

  1. South Korea-Australia FTA (KAFTA): KAFTA came into force on December 12, 2014. South Korea is Australia's fourth largest trading partner, and under this agreement tariffs on 84% of Australia's exports to South Korea were eliminated. Tariffs on 96% of current exports will be eliminated within 10 years and by the time the agreement is fully implemented, tariffs on 99.8% of Australia's current exports to South Korea will be eliminated. Products representing about 0.2% of Australia's current exports to South Korea will be excluded from the agreement, namely rice, milk powder, honey, abalone, ginger, apples, pears and walnuts.


  2. South Korea-United States FTA (KORUS): This agreement came into force on March 15, 2012 and was the first FTA between the United States and a major Asian economy, as well as its largest trade deal since the North American FTA in 1994. Under KORUS, almost 80% of consumer and industrial products exported to the United States from South Korea became duty free on March 15, 2012 – this was subsequently expanded to 95% by 2017. Most remaining tariffs will be eliminated in the medium term. KORUS eliminates tariffs and quotas for a broad range of agricultural products, with almost two-thirds (by value) of South Korea's agricultural imports from the United States becoming duty free. For services, KORUS provides meaningful market access commitments that extend across virtually all major service sectors, including greater and more secure access for international delivery services and the opening up of the South Korean market for foreign legal consulting services. In the area of financial services, KORUS increases access to the South Korean market and ensures greater transparency and fair treatment for the United States suppliers of financial services. KORUS addresses non-tariff barriers in a wide range of sectors and includes strong provisions on competition policy, labour, the environment, transparency and regulatory due process.


  3. South Korea-Mainland China FTA: This FTA was implemented on December 20, 2015 and has significant implications for both sides as it aims to eliminate more than 70% and 90% of import tariffs within the next 10 and 20 years, respectively. South Korea's bilateral trade with mainland China – South Korea's top trading partner – reached USD268.6 billion in 2018. By contrast, bilateral trade with the United States and the EU in the same year was USD132.1 billion and USD85.2 billion, respectively. The FTA aims to enhance economic cooperation between the two sides through the facilitation of productive competition and make a substantial contribution to the economic integration of East Asia and the Asia Pacific region.


  4. South Korea-India FTA: A closer economic partnership agreement between South Korea and India came into force on January 1, 2010. The agreement aims to enhance economic cooperation between the two countries through the facilitation of productive competition. The agreement will gradually remove tariffs on more than 90% of traded goods within two decades. In June 2017, a memorandum of understanding between the Export-Import Bank of Korea and the Export-Import Bank of India was signed in Seoul for export credit of USD9 billion for infrastructural development in India and for the supply of goods and services by India and South Korea as part of projects in third-party countries.


  5. EU-South Korea FTA: This agreement came into force on July 1, 2011 and aims to eliminate duties for industrial and agricultural goods in a progressive step-by-step approach. The majority of import duties had already been removed when the FTA came into force. On July 1, 2016 import duties were eliminated on all products except for a limited number of agricultural products. In addition to eliminating duties on nearly all goods, the FTA addresses non-tariff barriers to trade with specific focus on the automotive, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and electronics sectors. The agreement also creates new opportunities for market access in services and investments and includes provisions in areas such as competition policy, government procurement, intellectual property rights, transparency in regulation, and sustainable development. South Korea is the EU's 10th largest export destination.


  6. ASEAN-South Korea Free Trade and Economic Integration Agreement: This FTA, which came into force on October 14, 2010, allows 90% of the products being traded between the ASEAN and South Korea to enjoy duty-free treatment. The agreement is significant given the high trade flows between the countries.

Under Negotiation

  • South Korea-Japan FTA (KJFTA): KJFTA will be of benefit to businesses, owing to the high trade volumes between the two countries, and will create potential for businesses to explore new markets in the region. The scope of the KJFTA can be categorised into three main areas: trade liberalisation and market access through concessions for trade in goods and services, enhanced cooperation for non-trade areas, and institutional arrangements centred on a dispute settlement mechanism. Japan is an important trading partner, accounting for 5.1% of South Korea's total exports and 10.2% of total imports in 2018.


  • Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): This is intended to be an FTA between the 10 member states of ASEAN and six states – Australia, Mainland China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand – with which ASEAN has existing FTAs. The agreement will speed up the economic integration of the states and increase South Korea's export competitiveness in the global market. South Korea already has an FTA with ASEAN, and RCEP will expand the breadth of South Korea's export market diversification. Some progress was reported in the latest round of negotiations that took place in Melbourne, Australia from June 22 to July 3, 2019, but there is still some way to go before agreement is reached on the outstanding 11 chapters.

Sources: WTO Regional Trade Agreements database, The Hindu Business Line, Fitch Solutions

Investment Policy

7.1 Foreign Direct Investment

Graph: Korea FDI stock
Graph: Korea FDI stock
Graph: Korea FDI flow
Graph: Korea FDI flow

Source: UNCTAD

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

7.2 Foreign Direct Investment Policy

  1. Invest Korea is South Korea's national investment promotion agency, established as part of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency to support the entry and establishment of foreign businesses in South Korea. To promote inward foreign direct investment (FDI), the South Korean government offers various incentives, including cash grants and tax breaks.


  2. Following the onset of the financial crisis in 2008/2009, the South Korean government took further active steps to promote FDI. In 2008-2010, corporate taxes were reduced, administrative procedures were streamlined and the maximum amount of foreign capital that can be lent or borrowed without reporting the transaction was increased. In addition to strengthening the rights of foreign investors, the South Korean government has also taken measures to simplify procedures for mergers and acquisitions, reform bankruptcy laws, introduce short-term measures to facilitate asset transfer, permit the establishment of holding companies, and allow foreign investment companies to freely acquire land without limitations on the size and use of land.


  3. To bolster less-developed regions outside Seoul through private investment, the South Korean government announced a series of pro-investment measures in 2014, which included deregulations and tax incentives. For example, development restrictions will be lifted to allow for the construction of commercial facilities in green-belt areas. In 2015 the Bank of Korea enlarged the Bank Intermediated Lending Support Facility by KRW5 trillion (USD4.5 billion), providing additional financial support, such as trade financing and credit loans to SMEs and tech start-ups. In 2017 a new set of measures were introduced to spur investment, which include creating a tourism brand in the southern coastal area, allowing the distribution of beer made by microbreweries and using apartment complex parking lots for paid parking space during the day.


  4. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance administers tax and other incentives to stimulate advanced technology transfer and investment in high-technology services. There are several types of special areas for foreign investment, including free economic zones (FEZs) and free trade zones (FTZs), where favourable tax incentives and other support for investors are available. A number of highly favourable trade and investment opportunities – especially for large hi-tech businesses – offer a tax reduction or exemption for five to seven years, a rent reduction of 50-100% and cash grants of not less than 5% of the invested amount. The FEZs differ from other zones designated for foreign investment in their focus on creating a comprehensive living and working environment with biotechnology, aviation, logistics, manufacturing and other industrial clusters, as well as international schools, recreational facilities and international hospitals. There are also four foreign-exclusive industrial complexes in South Korea. These are located in different parts of Gyeonggi Province and are designed to provide inexpensive plant sites, with the national and local governments providing assistance for leasing or selling in such sites at discounted rates.


  5. Moreover, there are two types of foreign investment zones (FIZs) designated for foreign-invested SMEs and large foreign-invested companies. Land purchase, rent subsidies and tax incentives are offered in those FIZs with foreign investment on service industries, including tourism, logistics and other business services, are also encouraged. Furthermore, qualified foreign investment can be exempted from customs duties, VAT and special excise tax on imported capital goods for the first three years.


  6. South Korea's Financial Services Commission introduced the omnibus account system for foreign investors in stocks trading in March 2017, which is an integrated and simplified registration system for foreigners to make it easier for foreign investors to trade locally listed stocks on the South Korean stock market. In the past, foreign investors had to open an account not only in South Korean banks but also in South Korean securities companies to make an investment in South Korean stocks, and they had to handle all financial transactions themselves. The omnibus account was extended to cover bonds and derivatives trading in June 2017.


  7. Despite an increasingly open economy, there remain market access issues relating to certain aspects of the South Korean economy. Products that compete directly with current or future offerings of South Korean chaebols (large conglomerates) would likely continue to be protected by the South Korean government in the medium term. The Foreign Investment Promotion Act (FIPA) is the basic law pertaining to foreign investment in South Korea. FIPA and related subordinate regulations categorise business sectors as being either open, conditionally or partly restricted, or closed to foreign investment.


  8. The South Korean government reviews restricted sectors from time to time for possible further openings. According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the number of industrial sectors open to foreign investors is well above the OECD average. Currently, restrictions on foreign ownership of public corporations remain although ownership limit levels have been raised. Foreign ownership is limited to 49% for government-controlled utilities, such as telecommunications and cable networks. Although government efforts to privatise government-owned assets have been slowed by labour union protests, foreign investors are allowed to participate in privatisation programmes provided they comply with the ownership restrictions stipulated for the 27 industrial sectors.


  9. There are currently 34 South Korean state-owned enterprises (SOEs) which continue to exert significant control over certain segments of the economy. However, the government has increasingly tried to attract more private participation, especially in the real estate and construction sectors. The state-owned Korea Land and Housing Corporation is given preferential access to developing state-owned real estate projects, notably housing.


  10. The court system functions independently and gives equal treatment to SOEs and private enterprises.


  11. The South Korean government has sought to control the market through a series of capital control measures under a macro-prudential stability policy. This has included lowering foreign exchange forward-position limits for foreign bank branches in 2010, re-introducing a withholding tax on foreign investors' government bond purchases and imposing a bank levy on non-deposit financing in foreign currency from August 2011. To date, the government has lowered the forward-position limits again and has changed bank levy provisions to promote long-term financing.


  12. Overall, restrictions on foreign ownership remain for 27 industrial sectors, three of which (nuclear power generation, radio broadcasting and television broadcasting) are completely closed to foreign investment. Relevant ministries must approve investment in conditionally or partly restricted sectors. Most applications are processed within five days; cases that require consultation with more than one ministry can take 25 days or longer. South Korea's procurement processes comply with the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, but some implementation problems remain.

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, ITA, US Department of Commerce, Invest Korea

7.3 Free Trade Zones and Investment Incentives

Free Trade Zone/Incentive ProgrammeMain Incentives Available
FIZs: 25 locations and foreign-exclusive rental industrial complexes in Gyeonggi Province (Hyeongok, Poseung, Chupal and Eohyeon-Hansan)- These FIZs and four rental complexes are designed to provide inexpensive plant sites, with the national and local governments providing assistance for leasing or selling in such sites at discounted rates.
FEZs: Incheon FEZ (near Incheon Airport, to be completed in 2020); Busan/Jinhae FEZ (in South Gyeongsan Province, to be completed in 2020); Gwangyang Bay FEZ (in South Gyeongsan Province, to be completed in 2020); Yellow Sea FEZ (in South Chungcheong Province, to be completed 2020); Daegu/Gyeongbuk FEZ (in North Gyeongsan Province, to be completed in 2020); Saemangeum/Gunsan FEZ (in North Jeolla Province, to be completed in 2020); East Coast FEZ (in Donghae and Gangrung); and Chungbuk FEZ (in North Chungcheong Province)- The eight FEZs differ from other zones designated for foreign investment in that their focus is on creating a comprehensive living and working environment with biotechnology, aviation, logistics, manufacturing and other industrial clusters, as well as international schools, recreational facilities and international hospitals.



- Foreign-invested enterprises in FEZs are exempt from corporate income tax (CIT) and income tax for five years (100% for the first five years and 50% for the following two years) and import tariffs are exempt for three years on capital goods. This applies to foreign investment of USD10 million for the manufacturing and tourism sectors and USD5 million in the logistics and medical fields.



- The South Korean government expects to increase the minimum investment for the former to between USD20 million and USD30 million and to USD10 million for the latter, as well as increase incentives in the short term. In addition, all capital goods are exempt from VAT for three years.
13 FTZs: Seven industrial complexes at East Sea, Gunsan, Daebul, Masan, Ulsan, Gimje and Yulchon, and six logistics areas near the ports of Busan, Pohang, Dangjin-Pyeongtaek, Gwangyang and Inchon, and Inchon International Airport

- In FTZs, companies may pursue their business with government support without the usual legal requirements, such as approval procedures for exports and imports and customs duties. Neither VAT nor tariffs are applicable on foreign goods or services exchanged among tenants or on domestic goods carried into an FTZ.



- Tenants enjoy low rentals and subsidies for facilities, employment and training.



- Administrative agents from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy are stationed nearby to provide one-stop services and support for all administrative affairs, such as factory construction and registration, foreign investment, tax breaks, and import and export paperwork. There is also rent-free lease of land and standardised factories for 10 years for foreign-invested companies in which foreign ownership is at least 30% or the largest shareholder is a foreigner. There is up to 75% exemption if the investment is more than USD5 million.



- There are tax breaks available for manufacturing investment of more than USD10 million for five years (100% for first three years and 50% for the following two years).



- For the Masan Free Trade Zone, advanced technology industries and industry-support services, there is a tax break of 100% for the first five years and 50% for the following two years and no local taxes (acquisition tax and registration tax) for 15 years.

Sources: Fitch Solutions, Invest Korea

Taxation – 2019
  • Value Added Tax: 10%
  • Corporate Income Tax: 10-25%

Sources: National Tax Service Korea, Fitch Solutions

8.1 Important Updates to Taxation Information

The South Korean government announced a series of new tax measures in August 2017 that would come into effect for fiscal years starting after January 1, 2018. The main focus of the 2018 CIT Law reform is to encourage job creation by reforming the existing tax credits for corporate investment. The most important of these measures for businesses is the addition of a new CIT rate of 25% for taxable income of more than KRW300 billion.

8.2 Business Taxes

Type of TaxTax Rate and Base
CITProgressive:

- 10% on operating profits up to KRW200 million

- 20% on operating profits between KRW200 million and KRW20 billion

- 22% on operating profits between KRW20 billion and KRW300 billion

- 25% on operating profits in excess of KRW300 billion
Local Income TaxLocal income tax is taxed in addition to the CIT mentioned above and also follows a progressive schedule:

- 1% on operating profits up to KRW200 million

- 2% on operating profits between KRW200 million and KRW20 billion

- 2.2% on operating profits between KRW20 billion and KRW300 billion

- 2.5% on operating profits in excess of KRW300 billion
Capital Gains TaxGenerally, capital gains are taxed at the same CIT rate as ordinary taxable income.

Capital gains garnered by a non-South Korean citizen on South Korean enterprise is taxed at the lesser of either:

- 11% of sales received

- 22% of gains realised
VAT

10%



Certain products and services are exempt from VAT payments, including:

- unprocessed foodstuffs and agricultural products

- medical and health services

- finance and insurance services
Acquisition TaxRanges between 2% to 7% according to the asset classification
Securities Transaction TaxTransfer of shares are taxed different amounts according to whether or not the shares are listed:

- the transfer of listed shares are taxed at a rate of 0.3%

- the transfer of non-listed shares are taxed at a rate of 0.5%
Social security contributionsEmployers and employees both contribute 8.5% of salaries towards the following:

- national pension

- national health insurance

- employment insurance

Employers alone are required to pay an additional fee for the worker's acident compensation fund.The rate for this is dependent on the specific industry and can range as high as 28.25% for certain mining jobs
Property Tax- Annual tax ranging between 0.07% and 5%

- For newly-built factories and buildings within specified urban or metropolitan zones, the rate is increased five-fold for the first five years of the property's lifespan
Withholding TaxesDividends: 0% for domestic companies; 22% for foreign companies

Interest: 22% to a non-resident entity

Interest on bonds: 15.4% (unless reduced via tax treaties with the country in which the company is domiciled)

Royalties: 22% (unless reduced via tax treaties with the country in which the company is domiciled)

Techincal service fees: 22% on non-resident companies (unless reduced via tax treaties with the country in which the company is domiciled)

Sources: Invest Korea, Fitch Solutions

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

Foreign Worker Requirements

9.1 Foreign Worker Permits

South Korea is increasingly opening itself to immigration in the face of falling fertility rates and labour shortages. By 2002 unauthorised workers represented 70% of South Korea's total foreign labour force. Since 2002 South Korea has taken a number of steps to overhaul its labour migration system. This has resulted in gradually loosening controls and a declining unauthorised population. In 2003 the South Korean government introduced the Employment Permit System (EPS), a guest worker scheme that provides a framework for the entry of foreign labour. EPS is divided into two subsystems:

  • The General EPS which is based on memoranda of understanding drawn up between the South Korean government and sending countries (16 countries as of 2019)
  • The Special Case EPS which grants foreign nationals of South Korean ancestry visiting worker status so they can get a job in South Korea

Skilled workers, including researchers and language teachers, are welcome to temporarily work and live in South Korea. When they have valid employment contracts, skilled workers can easily acquire work visas and can renew their visa status. Certain skilled international workers, including technology workers, can move to South Korea through an express procedure. Under the General EPS, South Korean employers can enter into employment contracts with foreign workers who pass a South Korean language proficiency test and are deemed to be in good health.

9.2 Localisation Requirements

Employers who wish to employ low-skilled foreign labour must first demonstrate that they have spent at least 14 days (seven days in some cases) attempting to find South Korean workers by requesting help from public employment centres. 

Any foreigner planning on a long-term stay or permanent residency must register as a foreigner or file a domestic residence report within 90 days of arrival.

9.3 Visa/Travel Restrictions

There are 16 visa statuses that allow employment in South Korea:

  • Short-term employment (C-4)
  • Professorship (E-1)
  • Foreign language instructor (E-2)
  • Research (E-3)
  • Technology transfer (E-4)
  • Professional employment (E-5)
  • Arts and performances (E-6)
  • Special occupations (E-7)
  • Employed trainee (E-8)
  • Non-professional employment (E-9)
  • Vessel crew (E-10)
  • Residency (F-2)
  • Overseas koreans (F-4)
  • Permanent residency (F-5)
  • Working holiday (H-1) and
  • Working visit (H-2)

Foreign workers brought in under the General EPS receive E-9 non-professional employment visa status, while those under the Special Case EPS are given H-2 visiting worker status. H-2 visa holders do not need an employment contract before entering South Korea and there are no restrictions on employment sectors and workplace changes for them. E-9 visa holders need an employment contract, are tied to their employer and are restricted to certain sectors, including agriculture, construction, fishing and manufacturing. Family members of low-skilled foreign workers are not allowed to settle in South Korea.

Sources: Korean Immigration Service, Fitch Solutions

Risks

10.1 Sovereign Credit Ratings



Rating (Outlook)Rating Date
Moody's

Aa2 (Stable)18/06/2018
Standard & Poor'sAA (Stable)08/08/2016
Fitch RatingsAA- (Stable)08/08/2019

Sources: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings

10.2 Competitiveness and Efficiency Indicators



World Ranking

201720182019
Ease of Doing Business Index

5/1904/1905/190
Ease of Paying Taxes Index

23/19024/19024/190
Logistics Performance Index

N/A25/160N/A
Corruption Perception Index

51/18045/180N/A
IMD World Competitiveness29/6327/6328/63

Sources: World Bank, IMD, Transparency International, Fitch Solutions

10.3 Fitch Solutions Risk Indices



World Ranking
201720182019
Economic Risk Index RankN/A2/2023/202
Short-Term Economic Risk Score

82.584.080.2

Long-Term Economic Risk Score79.580.481.0
Political Risk Index RankN/A25/20225/202
Short-Term Political Risk Score71.772.171.6

Long-Term Political Risk Score82.582.582.5
Operational Risk Index RankN/A26/20119/201
Operational Risk Score70.070.971.8

Source: Fitch Solutions

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

10.4 Fitch Solutions Risk Summary

ECONOMIC RISK

South Korea's short-term economic risk outlook represents a considerable improvement on that seen in early 2009, reflecting the sharp recovery in the South Korean economy. South Korea's long-term outlook is comfortably above that of its regional peers, reflecting favourable opinions about the country's long-term growth prospects. Nevertheless, the South Korean economy is susceptible to sharp drops in international investor risk appetite and trade slowdowns in developed markets. For example, it was significantly hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and the global downturn in late 2008 caused a dramatic sell-off of the won.

OPERATIONAL RISK

South Korea's advanced and highly industrialised economy represents an attractive prospect for investment in the Asia region. South Korea is both a regional and global trade hub, owing to its strategic location in East Asia, and attracts considerable interest in its developed and sophisticated manufacturing industry. A stable regulatory regime and numerous FTAs boost its appeal. The country offers few operational risks thanks to its modern logistics networks, a highly skilled labour force and a welcoming policy environment for FDI.

Source: Fitch Solutions

Date last reviewed: July 30, 2019

10.5 Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices 

Graph: Korea short term political risk index
Graph: Korea short term political risk index
Graph: Korea long term political risk index
Graph: Korea long term political risk index
Graph: Korea short term economic risk index
Graph: Korea short term economic risk index
Graph: Korea long term economic risk index
Graph: Korea long term economic risk index

100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk

Source: Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

10.6 Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index



Operational RiskLabour Market RiskTrade and Investment RiskLogistics RiskCrime and Security Risk
South Korea Score71.865.971.479.870.4
East and Southeast Asia Average55.055.956.753.853.6
East and Southeast Asia Position (out of 18)3

3514
Asia Average48.249.748.246.049.1

Asia Position (out of 35)3

3514
Global Average49.650.349.8

49.049.2
Global Position (out of 201)19

18251434

100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk

Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Graph: Korea vs global and regional averages
Graph: Korea vs global and regional averages
Country

Operational Risk

Labour Market RiskTrade and Investment RiskLogistics RiskCrime and Security Risk

Singapore82.078.288.675.086.3
Hong Kong80.772.388.877.184.5
South Korea

71.865.971.479.870.4
Taiwan71.865.576.273.471.9

Malaysia70.063.973.675.866.8
Macao62.361.766.552.169.1
Brunei61.161.660.755.167.0

Thailand60.2

55.7

67.2

68.5

49.4

Mainland China56.3

53.8

57.7

66.2

47.3

Indonesia54.154.453.356.851.8
Vietnam52.247.856.655.649.0
Mongolia51.656.053.840.9

55.6
Philippines46.657.150.742.536.2
Cambodia41.444.543.737.639.8
Laos36.740.634.534.137.6
North Korea

31.345.818.5

28.832.3

Myanmar30.943.931.9

30.017.8
Timor-Leste29.437.927.819.632.3
Regional Averages55.055.956.753.853.6
Emerging Markets Averages46.948.645.447.446.1
Global Markets Averages49.650.349.8

49.0

49.2

100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk

Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Date last reviewed: July 28, 2019

Hong Kong Connection

11.1 Hong Kong’s Trade with South Korea

Graph: Major export commodities to Korea (2018)
Graph: Major export commodities to Korea (2018)
Graph: Major import commodities from Korea (2018)
Graph: Major import commodities from Korea (2018)

Note: Graph shows the main Hong Kong exports to/imports from Korea (by consignment)

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

Graph: Merchandise exports to Korea
Graph: Merchandise exports to Korea
Graph: Merchandise imports from Korea
Graph: Merchandise imports from Korea

Note: Graph shows Hong Kong exports to/imports from Korea (by consignment)

Exchange Rate HK$/US$, average

7.75 (2014)

7.75 (2015)

7.76 (2016)

7.79 (2017)

7.83 (2018)

Sources: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, Fitch Solutions

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019



2018

Growth rate (%)

Number of South Korean residents visiting Hong Kong1,421,410

-4.5

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board



2018Growth rate (%)
Number of Asia Pacific residents visiting Hong Kong61,043,580

12.0

Source: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Date last reviewed: August 20, 2019

11.2 Commercial Presence in Hong Kong



2018

Growth rate (%)

Number of South Korean companies in Hong Kong145-2.0

- Regional headquarters8

14.3
- Regional offices470.0
- Local offices90-4.3

Sources: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department

11.3 Treaties and Agreements between Hong Kong and South Korea

  • Double Taxation Agreement (effective date: September 27, 2016)
  • Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (effective date: July 30, 1997)
  • Bilateral Investment Treaty (effective date: July 30, 1997)

Sources: Inland Revenue Department, Trade and Industry Department, UNCTAD, Fitch Solutions

11.4 Chamber of Commerce or Related Organisations

Korean Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong

The Korean Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, founded in 1976, aims to provide business information and business networking opportunities, and promote commercial trade through various activities to help members build up their business networks.

Address: 16/F, Yat Chau Building, 262 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong

Email: info@kocham.hk

Tel: (852) 2544 1713, 2544 2791

Fax: (852) 3905 8313

Sources: Korean Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, Fitch Solutions

Hong Kong-Korea Business Association

Email: hkkba@naver.com / bglee96@naver.com

Tel: (82) 10 2414 0454

Please click to view more information.

Source: Federation of Hong Kong Business Associations Worldwide

Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Hong Kong

Address: 5/F, Far East Finance Centre, 16 Harcourt Road, Admiralty, Hong Kong

Email: hkg-info@mofa.go.kr

Tel: (852) 2529 4141

Fax: (852) 2861 3699

Source: Visa on Demand

11.5 Visa Requirements for Hong Kong Residents

HKSAR passport holders and BNO passport holders respectively enjoy 90-day and 30-day visa free access.

Source: Visa on Demand

Date last reviewed: August 21, 2019

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