South Korea is an interesting target market for European e-commerce retailers. In this article, we will explain what makes South Korea so appealing, what you can expect from the e-commerce market in South Korea, and what companies need to consider when it comes to digital trade.

Facts and Figures about the Country

South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea, is a democratic republic located in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. With over 51 million residents in an area of just over 100,000 square kilometers, South Korea is one of the more densely-populated countries on Earth. The country is separated from its northern neighbor, North Korea, by a 248-kilometer-long border. It is bordered by the Yellow Sea to the west, the Sea of Japan to the east, and the East China Sea to the south.

The metropolitan region surrounding the capital city of Seoul is known as Sudogwon. It is located in the northern part of the country and is one of the largest metropolitan regions in the world. Nearly half of South Korea’s inhabitants call this area home. As the country’s cultural and economic hub, this is where the vibrant heart of South Korea lies. As a result, Seoul attracts many people from the surrounding provinces.

Other major cities include Busan (3.4 million residents), Incheon (3 million residents), and Daegu (2.4 million residents). South Korea offers reliable travel and transportation with an extensive and efficient public transportation network, excellent logistics infrastructure, and the internationally-renowned Incheon Airport, which opened in 2001.

South Korea is a well-developed first-world country, and is a member of several international economic organizations, including the G20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It also ranks 19th in the world on the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), with a value of 0.925 (for comparison, Germany has a value of 0.942, Austria has a value of 0.916).

South Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated to be 1.65 trillion US dollars in 2022, and the GDP per capita was approximately 45,500 US dollars when adjusted for purchasing power (compared to Germany’s GDP per capita of 53,560 US dollars).

South Korea’s currency is the South Korean won (₩, KRW), which is divided into 100 jeon. However, the jeon is no longer used in daily transactions; it appears only in foreign exchange rates. Over the past 5 years, the exchange rate has fluctuated between 1,250 – 1,450 Won per Euro.

South Korea has abolished daylight saving time, which means that travelers from Europe have either a 7 or an 8 hour time difference, depending on whether Europe is on summer time or not. The time in South Korea is 8 hours ahead of the time in Germany, so when it is 12:00 PM in Berlin, it is 8:00 PM (or 8:00 PM) in Seoul.

Language and Localization

Korean is the official language of South Korea and is also spoken in neighboring North Korea and parts of China. There are approximately 87 million Korean speakers worldwide, including both first and second-language speakers.

South Korea is considered an isolated language, meaning it is not related to the languages in neighboring countries. The writing system is known as Hangul in South Korea, and includes 24 basic letters which can be combined to form additional “complex” letter blocks. Traditionally, it is written from right to left, but in modern times it is usually written left to right.

The primary foreign language taught in South Korean schools is English, although most schools also offer Japanese, Chinese, and European language. When compared to other Asian countries, the South Koreans generally speak good English.  Despite this, you shouldn’t rely on English as a lingua franca.

If you’re planning to market to Korean consumers, you should still translate your content into Korean. Beyond that, you should also localize other aspects of your website and advertising to account for cultural nuances, local currency, preferred payment methods, etc. This will help you make a better impression on Korean consumers, making them more likely to do business with you.

Key Facts about Economy, Imports, and Exports

Over the past few decades, Korea has transformed itself from a low-income country to a high-income country – an impressive feat that has been fueled by rapid growth in exports. Since 1988, Korean exports have increased by nearly 9% on average each year.

The economic sectors that contribute most to South Korea’s GDP are hospitality (when all hospitality services are added up together) and manufacturing. This is not surprising, as many global technology corporations — including Samsung, Hyundai, and LG — are based in Seoul, and many of their products are manufactured domestically.

In 2022, South Korea exported goods worth over 683 billion US dollars to countries around the world, while importing goods worth around 731 billion US dollars.

The top five import categories are: mineral fuels including oil (29.9% of total imports), electrical machinery and equipment (18%), machinery including computers (9.4%), optical / technical / medical apparatus (3.1%), ores / slag / ash (3%).

Internet Usage in South Korea

Internet penetration in South Korea is very high, with over 93 percent of South Koreans over the age of 3 using the Internet. In practical terms, that means that usage among adults is even higher – reaching almost 100% among young adults between the ages of 20 and 30.

The Korean government has made a concerted effort to expand internet access throughout the country, which has been very successful thanks to the high population density. South Korea now has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world, especially in terms of mobile internet.

It’s no wonder, then, that nearly all Koreans between the ages of 10 and 59 own a smartphone and use it to access the internet. That means two things for e-commerce retailers: online shopping is very convenient for Korean consumers, and websites should definitely be mobile-friendly.

Consumer behavior trends

According to a report from Statista, South Korea’s e-commerce sales amounted to over 164 billion US dollars in 2022, a number which is expected to grow by 12% annually. Fashion is the most popular e-commerce sector, with over 80 percent of survey respondents stating that they had purchased clothing, footwear, sporting goods and accessories online over the past year. Food and groceries were the next most-common online purchases.

According to Statista, over 97 percent of South Koreans between the ages of 20 and 39 shop online regularly. This trend is much higher than the global average of around 58 percent. In South Korea, mobile shopping accounts for a significant portion of e-commerce purchases.

As of May 2022, the most popular shopping site in South Korea was  It recently managed to overtake G-market, which is owned by eBay and dominated the marketplace for many years. Online shopping is popular in Korea both due to its convenience, and as a way to pass the time when users are feeling bored.

As in most of the world, credit cards are a popular way to pay for online purchases. However, mobile wallet payments (such as PayPal) are booming in South Korea. The local heroes there are KakaoPay, Samsung Pay, and Payco. They dominate the mobile wallet market in South Korea, where only 9% of survey respondents use PayPal. It’s always best to give shoppers payment services that they are familiar with, so keep this in mind when localizing your e-commerce site.

What You Should Know About Import and Customs Regulations

The European Union and South Korea have had a free trade agreement in place since 2011, which completely eliminates tariffs on nearly all goods (98.7%) originating in the two countries. Non-tariff barriers (NTB) to the exports of key EU products to South Korea have also been removed, making it easier to export products such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics and chemicals.

The agreement applies to all exports by businesses registered in an EU Member State, as long as they have a valid customs declaration and, if necessary, an export license. Products defined as “originating in the EU” must be transported from the EU to South Korea without being further processed in a third country. However, temporary warehousing during the transportation process is allowed.

Importing certain types of products, such as electronics, used to be very complicated. However, the EU-South Korea trade agreement has made things much simpler. Both entities have adopted simplified approval procedures and now recognize international standards. That means there is no longer any need to have products certified by an independent organization.  These changes make it easier to import electrical and electronic equipment, pharmaceutical products/medical devices, motor vehicles and parts, and chemicals.

Packaging and labeling rules for South Korea are generally the same as those for the EU. However, there is one important difference to be considered. South Korean consumer protection laws do not allow the use of the term “European Union” in origin designations. Specific information about the country of manufacture (such as “Made in Germany”) must be provided. Additionally, for certain product categories, the origin labeling must be directly attached to the product in a way that it is not easily removed.


South Korea is a nation with excellent infrastructure, high rates of internet and mobile use, and excellent internet throughout the country. It also has an excellent free trade agreement in place with the EU, which makes it very easy to export goods that originate from within Europe. E-commerce volume is also increasing rapidly, a trend that is expected to continue. Although the geographical distance and cultural differences may represent a challenge for European e-commerce sellers, Korea is overall an interesting target market. This is particularly true for companies who are considering branching out into the Asian market in general.



autor_eurotext_100Author: Eurotext Editorial Team

We explain how internationalization works, provide tips for your translation projects and outline some of the technology and processes used. We also report on current e-commerce developments and cover a range of language-related topics.