The Best Gifts for Korean Business Visitors

7 minute read

Expecting a visit from Korean clients or coworkers?

Need to make a good impression on a Korean business visitor?

Want to know which gift will have the biggest impact?

South Korean business gift giving culture is a serious matter.

I used to spend hours with my boss brainstorming what to give clients.

Giving the appropriate gift can start a relationship off on the right foot.

Do it wrong and you might plant seeds of doubt.

Here are some safe gift choices for Korean business visitors.

Dos

  • Get a gift. It’s pretty much mandatory. They will have one for you and reciprocity is vital.
  • Find out who’s coming including their age, gender, position and preferences. This will help determine what you choose.
  • Give higher value gifts to people with seniority.
  • Getting from South Korea to most countries takes a long flight. Keep this in mind when selecting a gift. Something portable and light is a good idea.
  • Presentation is important. Make sure to wrap the gift in pretty paper or put it in a nice bag.
  • Present your item to the most senior person first, then work your way down.
  • Give gifts with both hands and a slight bow. Persist if the receiver is reluctant as this is considered good manners.
  • Exchange gifts at the end of the business meeting. Not before or during.

Don’ts

  • Don’t forget anyone.
  • Don’t give gifts that are breakable or weight too much. Fragile or heavy items will make logistics harder for the receiver.
  • Anything with cilantro or other flavors considered exotic is risky. This includes curries and fishy products.
  • Perfumes and incense with strong scents are highly discouraged as well.
  • Brie, artichoke dip and other items that Koreans aren’t familiar with can be problematic.
  • If you’re going off script, make sure the receiver is fond of that particular item.

Symbolism of Korean Gifts

Shoes mean that the receiver will run away.

Belts symbolize wrapping someone up.

Scarves have the same connotation.

Sharp objects like knives mean you are severing the relationship.

For men

Entry level employees (Sa-won to Ju-im): 1-10 USD

Snack packs like nuts and dried fruits are a good choice. Pinenuts, cashews and macadamia nuts are especially popular.

Koreans love coffee. They have many varieties of instant coffee for home and office use. Specialty coffees that can be made without equipment are great gift ideas. Tasters Choice Instant Coffee has been popular for a while. Single serve hand drip coffees are very popular now.

Office items with your company’s logo like phone chargers, mousepads, etc. can work if they are high-quality and practical.

Middle management (Dae-ri to Bu-jang): 10-50 USD

Despite the fact that alcohol and tobacco are widely used, health is very important to Koreans.

Vitamins and supplements are expensive in Korea. Try getting Collagen, Calcium, Propolis, Omega-3-acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Folate.

Probiotics are especially popular now as well.

Starbucks is a huge hit in South Korea. A nice tumbler is guaranteed to be a hit.

Decision makers (Bu-jang to Hwe-jang): 50-200 USD

You can’t go wrong with whiskey, even if the receiver doesn’t drink much. This gift is more about prestige.

Local brands are nice, but old staples like Ballentines 25 or 30 year, Johnny Walker Blue work like a charm.

Hiking equipment can also be a good choice. Provided that it’s high quality.

Golf is still very much a large part of business in Korea. Balls and other accessories like gloves and hats are sure to make a good impression.

For women

Entry level employees (Sa-won to Ju-im): 1-10 USD

Chocolates or specialty teas are a nice touch.

Desserts like biscuits will also work.

Like with men, specialty and single serve hand drip coffees are safe choices.

Middle management (Dae-ri to Bu-jang): 10-50 USD

Silk scarves from respectable brands like Gucci or Burberry will be adored.

Scented candles from Yankee candle or similar brands can be a good choice.

Diffusers are also popular choices provided the scents are subtle.

Starbucks tumblers apply here as well.

Decision makers (Bu-jang to Hwe-jang): 50-200 USD

Coach or Channel bags will help you gain an ally. They are expensive in Korean but less so in many western countries.

Accessories from Tiffany’s will be greatly appreciated.

Silk scarves from Hermes for when you absolutely need to make an impression.

For children

If you know that your guest has children or are expecting, a nice gift can make a huge impact.

Addidas shoes are very popular.

For 돌잔치 or 1st birthday parties, a nice gold ring (돌반지) will work wonders.

For government workers

The Korean government has set a limit to gifts that government workers can receive.

This includes teachers, politicians, journalists, judges, police and other law enforcement officers.

This law is known as “김영란법 or Kim Young-ran Law” and has been in effect since July 28, 2016.

Limits on meals, food and drinks are set to 30,000 KRW.

Other gifts must be valued under 50,000 KRW.

Gifts for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, 1st year birthdays must not exceed 100,000 KRW.

Whether or not this applies overseas is debatable. Either way, it’s a good excuse to keep your spending level in check.

One thing’s for sure, hagwon or private academy teachers and staff are not included in this category.

Conclusion

Choosing the right gift for Korean business visitors can be stress-free if you follow the formula.

I’ve had a much easier time getting things done when I selected the appropriate gift.

This is part of building (jeong, unspoken bond).

Remember, the most expensive gift doesn’t necessarily yield the best result.

Knowing the receiver’s preferences will help you get the maximum impact per dollar spent.

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