Gift-giving Customs in South Korea

In Korea, people give gifts to friends, family, and business associates. Knowing the gift-giving customs of South Korea is vital to expressing your feelings and creating healthy relationships with someone.

Whether you’re traveling to, working in Korea for a while, or starting a family there, we’ve listed the important things here so you won’t be out of place and offend anyone come gift time.

Ready? Let’s start!

Gift-giving Etiquette in South Korea

Gift-giving Etiquette in South Korea

Gifting is mostly practiced in both personal and business interactions in South Korea. Among them are birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals, galas, and other events.

Whenever you buy and hand a gift to a Korean, make sure to follow the etiquette as given below to promote respect and camaraderie.

  • It’s common to gift someone for a favor or for setting business ties. However, expect reciprocity—the receiver will try to give you a gift of equal value as a token of thanks.
  • Always receive a gift with two hands, which is a sign of respect. Generally, gifts aren’t opened in the presence of the sender, unless you are very good friends with them.
  • Gifts coming from your country or province are highly appreciated. But, be careful not to send one from an underdeveloped country.
  • If you plan to give money, put it in a small envelope. There are lots of lovely and colorful envelopes you can get from shops or online.
  • It’s normal for the receiver to be reluctant to receive your gift. This is considered a proper gesture and you have to keep trying so that they’ll take it.
  • Before sending a gift, ensure that it is within the spending power of the person. Because he will have to reciprocate the generosity soon.

Now, if someone gives you a gift that seems too expensive, and you can’t return the favor, you may want to return it, but do so politely and still say thanks for the kind gesture.

  • In a business setting, remember to give a gift of a similar value to the employees, and of higher value to the senior worker. This lets them know you respect their corporate ranks.

Or, you may just want to give one gift that everyone would enjoy. Perhaps you can give them scrumptious food and desserts.

  • As a business associate, you can give custom office items and a special gift from your hometown. Remember not to gift a very expensive item—one that is fairly priced and good quality is good enough.
  • Valentine’s Day is reversed in South Korea in which women give men flowers and chocolates. But on White Day (March 14th), men show their affection for their other half by doing the same.
  • During Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving, families often give money, a pair of socks, a gift set, a gift card, a toothbrush set, and vitamins, depending on the person’s age.
  • Avoid sending a gift with red handwriting or text or set-of-four gifts. Red and four symbolize death in South Korea.
  • It’s also a bad idea to send sharp objects as a gift like scissors or cutters. These suggest the idea of cutting off a relationship with someone.

More Resources on Giving Gifts in South Korea

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