Suggestion: Watch the 10 minutes video tutorial before reading this article
Korea has experienced a remarkable transformation in the past decades from having a similar GDP per capita as the Philippines to become one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
The introduction of land reformations, support from the US, and having a leadership that forced companies to export goods to international markets propelled Korea to what it is today.
The eCommerce market is one of the fastest-growing in the world and increasingly more foreigners now want to penetrate the Korean market, getting access to its high-earning population.
In this article, I explain the basics you need to know when exporting to Korea as a foreign company.
- Korean Trade Fairs
- Getting a Visa for Korea
- Finding Korean Distributors
- Trademark Registration
- KC – The Korean Product Certification Mark
- eCommerce Websites in Korea
Korean Trade Fairs
Under normal circumstances, you can find plenty of trade fairs that are held in Korea annually or biannually.
As it would be impossible for me to explain all the fairs, I’ve listed a few below for your general understanding of what kinds of fairs are held.
KIMES – Medical Equipment
KIMES (Korea International Medical and Hospital Equipment Show) is the biggest trade fair for medical equipment in Korea. The fair is held annually and visited by tens of thousands of people. Most of the visitors come from the following industries:
- Fitness centers & gymnasiums
- Health insurance companies
If you visit the fair, you will see the following products on display (examples):
- New technologies and products
- Waste disposal management system
- Operating lights
- Operating tables
- Freezer, Blood Plasma
Application & Expenses
The registration process is easy and the same as for most international fairs as you can submit your application on the website. A booth has a size of 9 square meters and can be rented at the price of USD 3,000.
If you need additional equipment the price will be higher.
Time & place
- Date: Usually in March every year
- Venue: COEX Korea Exhibition Center
- City: Seoul Korea
Seoul Food & Hotel – Food & Agricultural Products
Seoul Food & Hotel is one of the biggest food fairs in Korea and visited by tens of thousands of people yearly. The fair is located just 20 minutes from Seoul and in the city of Goyang.
Products on display include (examples):
- Meat products
- Wines & spirits
- Tea & coffee
- Cheese & dairy products
- Organic food
- Health products
- Baby food
Application & Expenses
The application can be printed from their website, filled in, and sent to the email address of the organizer.
The expenses are determined differently from many other fairs. You pay for the area rented and the equipment needed (including carpets, walls, and tables for instance).
Time & place
13-16th of May, on annual basis (Application deadline January 31st)
- KINTEX, Daehwa-dong
- Ilsan-seogu, Goyang-si
- Gyeonggi-do, Korea
Getting a Visa for Korea
Korea has generous visa regulations and most Europeans and Americans can stay in Korea for up to 90 days without a VISA.
Though, if required, it only costs you 30 USD and you can apply at your nearest embassy or consulate. Under general circumstances, the following visa regulations apply depending on your nationality:
- CanadaL 180 days
- EU Citizens (except Cyprus): 90 days
- Norway, New Zealand, UAE, Turkey, UK, US, Japan, Switzerland: 90 days
- Russia: 60 days
- Argentina, Saudi Arabia, South Africa: 30 days
These are just examples of countries and the permitted length of stay. For more information, you can check this wiki page.
Finding Korean Distributors
Hiring a distributor can be a great choice when navigating in a foreign market like Korea’s.
Comprehending the local language, culture, and customer preferences with little knowledge can result in lost sales and time, or perhaps a failed market entry.
Hiring distributors or local sales agents can be a suitable option as you’ll get hand-holding and reduce the risks of coming across pitfalls. The distributors generally have a wide network and understand the market significantly better than you do.
You can find distributors at trade fairs, by analyzing competitors, or on the internet for instance. Be sure to verify the distributor before you sign a contract with them.
The Department of Commerce has written a comprehensive guide with useful information on how it works when working with distributors in Korea, which I recommend.
Trademark registration in Korea
You need to register your trademark in Korea if you plan to sell your products there.
To many foreigners’ surprise, Korea has a so-called first-to-file regulation, which you can find in China and Japan as well. In short, this means that the first person or company that registers a trademark has all the rights to that trademark.
By not registering your trademark before exporting your products can expose you to great risks.
The Trademark Application Process
The trademark can be registered via a third party or by yourself, but it needs to be handled through the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). The application process is similar to other developed Asian countries:
- Submission of application
- Formal examination (If the applicant does not have any address or place of business in the country, then it must be written in Korean and submitted by a Korean patent agent )
- Substantive examination (Takes around 11 months. A refusal will require amendments of the application)
- Publication (The trademark application to be published)
- Decision of grant protection
- Registration (Application approved)
- Renewal (A trademark registration needs to be renewed every tenth year)
Costs to Apply for a Trademark
The application fees are determined based on the product class. The costs below are presented in the Korean currency Wong, the exchange rate is around 1050 KRW/USD. Keep in mind that the fees are for general information only as they change frequently.
You can also visit KIPO’s website for more information regarding the fees to be paid by applicants.
- Application fee: KRW56000 per product class if you submit the application over the internet and KRW66000 for paper applications
- Examination fee: KRW18000 if you submitted over the internet and KRW20,000 for paper applications
- Registration fee: Basic fee KRW211000 and an additional fee of KRW211,000 for each product class added (For multiple-registrations)
- Renewal of trademark registration: Basic fee KRW310,000 and additional KRW310,000 for each added product class
KC – The Korean certification mark for electronics
The KC mark is applied to electrical products and used to guarantee safety for humans and properties. The KC mark assures that products are safe to use and that users won’t get injured from electric shocks, fires, or chemical hazards, for example.
All products that need a KC mark and with an input voltage of 50-2000V must be tested and inspected. Factory inspections are required and performed at the applicant’s expense.
Examples of products that need the KC mark include:
- Household appliances
- Motorcycle helmets
- Video devices
- Automotive parts
The KC mark is similar to the CCC mark in China, which I explained in my separate article.
Various large-sized companies like Intertek and Tuv Sud can help with the testing to obtain the KC mark. You can also contact us for more information.
It takes around 45 days to receive the certification mark and the application is normally as follows:
- Submission of application form
- Authorization letter
- Issue the marking label (According to KC standard)
- At least 2 product samples to be provided for tests (1 if EMC will not be needed)
- List of parts (BOM) and other information concerning the part and its sub-components
- Circuit diagram
- Pattern diagram
- User manual
- CB, EK or KS certificate/report (If your parts don’t have any of these certificates, additional tests will be needed)
- EMC report
- Factory inspections being conducted once a year
KFDA – Korea Food & Drug Administration
KFDA is the responsible organ for the creation and enforcement of standards of imported food, cosmetics and medical equipment to Korea.
To assure that you meet the safety guarantees and giving you the responsibility for the safety of the imports of food products, you must be registered as a ”good” importer. The application process is generally as follows:
- Submission of application
- Documents to be evaluated by the MFDA
- On-site inspection by the KFDA
- Evaluation and determination by the KFDA
- Registration as a good importer
Inspections of Food and Agricultural Products
Your products sometimes have to undergo testing in a designated laboratory, before selling them in Korea.
The laboratory must also be approved by the KFDA mentioned above. After the testing by and approval, the laboratory can start the:
- Same product confirmation (Assurance that the products come from the same company)
- Document review (2 days) – When results from the laboratory shows that your product meet the standards needed, a second consignment will be delivered for document review
- Sensory test (3 days) – For flavors, colors, taste, storage, packaging and labelling
- Laboratory test (10 days, 14 days for retort or canned food) – Needed if your product has been rejected several times, if standards have changed or of it’s the first you export the food products
- Sampling test (5 days, random test)- KFDA will pick products based on their annual sampling plan
eCommerce Websites in Korea
With the rise of eCommerce in Korea, you should know what the biggest eCommerce marketplaces are. Sooner or later, you will most likely start selling on the websites even if you sell offline at a start.
While the biggest eCommerce sites in Southeast Asia are Lazada and Shopee, there are 5 other sites that dominate the Korean market:
The websites focus on different business models and product categories. G-Market, for instance, is operated like a general eCommerce site where you can find any kinds of products, including fashion products, electronics, health/diet, and more.
Interpark and Auction.co, on the other hand, focus on online auctions, a concept that has become increasingly popular in Korea.
For more information about the platforms, I recommend you to check the websites directly. You can also check my separate guide that explains the ins and outs.