South Korea still an attractive option for expat professionals

South Korea still an attractive option for expat professionals

South Korea still an attractive option for expat professionals

South Korea’s buzzing capital of Seoul may not immediately spring to mind as an expat professional haunt, but its high-energy scene has a lot to offer.

The energy in this fascinating city is almost palpable and is believed by locals to spring from the vitality emitted by its waterways and nearby mountain ranges. A popular legend tells of the choice of the site as the capital of the Chosen Dynasty in the 14th century, and expat arrivals could well be forgiven for taking the tale seriously. Home to 10 million inhabitants, Seoul is the cultural, political and economic hub of the country and attracts the adventurous, the inquisitive and the talented from across the world.

Until the beginning of the millennium, the capital’s expat community consisted of a gaggle of English language teachers and a good few US military personnel. Nowadays, world citizens from all over arrive to take up jobs with multinationals, start their own businesses or simply to learn the Korean language. According to British head of the Seoul Global Centre Paul Carver, it’s a 24/7 city with a great deal to offer expats. Carver describes his enterprise as a support hub for 273,000 expats adding that, as a cyclist, he’s more at risk from the murderous local traffic than he is from North Korean aggression.

Korean/English translator David Karruth urges new arrivals to keep an open mind as regards Korea’s cultural differences, with group dynamics especially important. Korean employees stay in their office and work until their supervisor indicates it’s going-home time, with ‘clocking out’ at the contract-stipulated time seen as a selfish action. Attempting to learn the language earns brownie points as well as helping to crack the cultural differences, with the alphabet comparatively easy but fluency only possible after years of independent as well as academic study.

For job-seekers, top companies such as Hyundai and Samsung are a possibility, and the smaller expat population is an advantage to incomers searching for positions. A few Korean firms and multinationals offer relocation packages, but the global trend of hiring locally to save money is creeping in. Getting a work permit is conditional on the hiring company’s sponsorship and the largest sector employing expats is the education industry. Although the country’s public schools are now reducing their native English teacher numbers, private and international schools are still hiring.

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