Export Britain

South Korea

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Ease of trading across borders

Importing a standard container of goods into South Korea requires:



South Korea is Northeast Asia’s third largest economy after China and Japan. Roughly the same size as England, the country has a high-tech industrialised economy and joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies in 2004. South Korea is a liberal, open market economy and boasts a highly educated and diligent workforce. The country ranks 27th globally and seventh regionally in the Index of Economic Freedom and has signed Free Trade Agreements with 24 countries around the world.

Economic snapshot (% annual growth rate)

GDP 3.3 2.6 2.8
Export of goods and services 2.0 0.8 3.0
Import of goods and services 1.5 3.2 3.3
Inflation 1.3 0.7 1.8
Exchange rate (per $) 1052.8 1131.0 1185.4
Population 0.5 0.4 0.4
Unit labour cost -1.2 -1.1 0.3
Source: Oxford Economics

Economic outlook

Quarterly GDP growth exceeded expectations in Q2, rising by 1.1%, the largest increase in over two years. The rise was driven by a surge in spending by the new government. Export volumes increased modestly but at a faster pace than imports. While the economy is being supported by expansionary monetary and fiscal policy, as well as low inflation, it is currently being held back by subdued global trade flows, high levels of uncertainty, weak business investment and low levels of consumer spending. However, over time these headwinds will gradually ease, with growth of 2.2% expected this year.

Trade outlook

South Korea’s export-driven economy has recently been hit by sluggish demand from debt-hit Europe and its biggest trading partner China. Exports unexpectedly shrank year-on-year for two straight months in March and April.  The Chinese economic outlook despite recent improvement is weaker than six months ago, forecasting growth of just above 7% this year and next. This also implies weaker prospects for regional trade. 

Cultural tips

Essential Customs tips

The de minimis value is 150 USD.

The South Korea Customs Service is strict, and so full customs compliance is essential. Undervalued shipments, vague descriptions (e.g. sample, spare parts) and inaccurate company name/address will be subject to physical inspection and penalties. Therefore, full and accurate information on waybills and invoices is required to ensure smooth clearance. Formal clearance is required for any e-commerce shipments being sent into South Korea, regardless of order value.

SWOT analysis

Educated and English-proficient workforce
Potential test-market for Japan and China
Consumer base with a strong appetite for imported brands
Ageing population
Inflexible labour markets
Production focused on electronics, automobiles, ships, machinery, petrochemicals and robotics
North/South relations

South Korea's trade with the UK

Sector segmentation growth

Sectors to watch:
  • Utilities
  • Iron and steel


  • Aerospace,
  • Electronic components  boards 

Fastest-growing exporters into South Korea

1 China
2 Cambodia
3 Kuwait
4 Saudi Arabia
5 Singapore
6 Indonesia
7 Japan
8 Brazil
9 Australia
10 Malaysia

Total merchandise trade - Leading import partners

Total merchandise trade - leading import partners
Opportunities for UK businesses

South Korea offers many opportunities for British businesses in sectors including retail, clean energy, fashion, industrial design, automotive, and ICT.

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