Tips for doing business in North Korea

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, abbreviated as DPRK or PRK, and commonly referred to as North Korea is a country in East Asia , located in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. The capital city is Pyongyang, the country’s largest city by both land area and population. North Korea has worked very hard in recent years to improve the business climate for foreign companies and individual investors in an effort to boost its sagging economy. Although the improved business climate is not a sufficient reason alone for doing business, it is a necessary ingredient for business relations. The etiquette of North Korea is not much different from South Korea. Below are the tips for doing business in North Korea.

Eating and Dining

1. Don’t pour your own drink, but offer to pour others’ drinks. If you deny to pour for someone, if will be offensive. Women pour only men’s drinks, and never another woman’s drink. A woman can pour her own drink though. If you want a refill, drink all of your drink, otherwise, don’t drink all of your drink.

2. Wherever you see a “No Tipping” sign, don’t tip. Koreans find that if you tip, then it will be offensive.

3. Always agree to your host to seat you. The seat of honor is the seat looking at the front door, and if you are seated there, it is polite to protest slightly.

4. It is polite to pass or accept food or drink with your right hand while your left hand supports your forearm/wrist.

5. The person who invites pays the bill for everyone. However, it is polite to offer to pay. When two people are dining, usually the younger person pays for the older person.

Body Language

1. Never touch, pat, or backslap a Korean that is not your relative or close friend.

2. Always pass and accept things with your right hand, with your left hand supporting the wrist.

3. To beckon someone, extend your arm palm down, and move your fingers in a scratching motion.

4. Never point with your index finger.

Gift Giving

1. It is the most important part of their culture, so have gifts wherever you go, just in case.

2. If you are the one accepting the gift, refuse a couple of times, before agreeing to have it, and if you don’t agree to take the gift, they will be very insulted.

3. When shaking hands or getting a gift from an elder, use two hands.

4. Never give expensive gifts (they will give you a gift about the same amount of money you spend on the gift you gave them), scissors and knives, a gift wrapped in red, or red writing on the gift.

5. They prefer bright colored wrapping paper on the gift.


1. When greeting (and saying bye to) an elder, keep both legs straight and together, put both arms stiffly by your side, keep your back straight, and bend from the waist.  Keep the head down and do not look at the elder.

2. While bowing, say, “an nyung hah sae yo” (the greeting phrase).  Bow not too fast or slow.

3. If it is the first time meeting the person, give a detailed introduction about yourself.

4. Koreans avoid saying “no”, so “yes”, may not mean, “yes”.

5. You shouldn’t squeeze hard when shaking hands.

6. Never talk about Korean culture, even if it is complimentary, earshot to a Korean.


1. Avoid direct eye contact between junior and senior business people.

2. Call if your late, and if you wait for thirty minutes, it is not a sign of disrespect, but how pressured the Korean people are with time.

3. Whenever meeting another professional for the first time, exchange business cards (don’t forget, both hands!)

4. The first meeting is to know if they are trustworthy, so business is not discussed.

5. Be formal in meeting until the Koreans trust you.

6. A low deep bow from Koreans means the meeting was successful, but a short, quick bow, means it was not.


Jaraswan Jarasjaruwan or Pear is a full-time MIM student. She got a Bachelor’s of Science from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. After she graduated, she worked as an educational consultant in Thailand for 2 years. Pear chose to study international business at Portland State University because she is interested in the business field and also the reputation of the university. Currently, Pear is studying Chinese as a third language. Also, she will choose Global Marketing as her specialization in the Master of International Management program.

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