companies in Seoul
Updated 4 months ago

Seoul is a dynamic city with an innovative spirit. The country's high growth rate inevitably generates job creation and opportunities, but access to the labour market is not easy for foreigners.

The local labour market

The growth rate of South Korea in 2019 is 2.8%, and gross national income per capita exceeds $30,000. The Land of the Morning Calm, and especially its capital, presents itself as a powerful economic player within Asia and on a global scale. Korean companies are now taking an international dimension - just mention Samsung, Kia or Hyundai to understand the Korean international influence - which explains the growing interest of Seoul for expatriates.

The free trade agreements signed between South Korea and the European Union and Canada in the early 2010s significantly increased the opportunities by promoting the creation of jobs and projects between French-speaking countries and South Korea.

Nevertheless, the Seoul labour market still presents significant obstacles for foreign nationals. Korean students are highly educated and can justify advanced training in a whole range of areas. The first Korean university degree is issued after four years at university (in contrast to three in many European countries) and access to higher education is by competition.

Competition for entry into the labour market is therefore fierce, and foreigners do not find an advantage in the need for a work visa. In fact, companies established in South Korea must justify each hiring of a non-Korean person by explaining the reasons for favouring expatriates over a local national.

Given the current difficulties in the unemployment of young workers (around 10% against an average of 3.6% for the entire population), immigration services are all the more demanding when it comes to granting work visas, another factor that supports Korean workers.

Attractive qualifications in the Seoul job market

To have the best chance of success, candidates for expatriation in Seoul must have experience and qualifications that are otherwise lacking in South Korea. Consequently, the profiles sought are mostly holders of higher education degrees such as Master's, MBA or PhD. Some international groups offer transfers through competitions. An English or Korean language certificate is recommended and is sometimes required when recruiting.

Hiring by a small company or a startup is not impossible, however, this is rarer when the company must sponsor the work visa. Not all young companies have sufficient financial status to do so.

According to the French Chamber of Commerce, recruited foreigners are usually very specialised managers, taking up positions as engineers, computer scientists, management controllers, marketing, project managers, etc. Traditional sectors for expatriation such as tourism or education are no exception to the rule in South Korea, nor are crafts concerned with the introduction of foreign cultures such as cooking or baking. While it is advisable to hold a university degree, this rule is not absolute, and the absence of a degree can be compensated for on the basis of substantial experience in the relevant field.

Mastery of the Korean language is an undeniable advantage, if only for the stage of the job hunt (offers are not always translated into English or French). Positions may be granted without mastery of Korean, but in such cases, fluent English will be imperative.

Wages in Seoul

The minimum wage in South Korea is 8,350 won per hour in 2019. However, foreigners are mostly hired for managerial jobs meaning the salary should be higher. While your salary cannot be lower, it will be negotiated, taking into account the size and means of the hiring company. For information, the average gross salary in South Korea is 2,957,536 won.

 Useful links:

KBS World - Economic perspectives for Seoul
South Korea-Canada Trade Agreements
The minimum wage in South Korea

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.