#eCommerceAdvice
Exporting to South Korea: A guide to the e-commerce hotspot
Sujung Jeon
Sujung Jeon
8 min read
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Looking to grow your business internationally? Consider adding South Korea to your shortlist. It boasts one of the world's most mature and advanced retail markets. And though domestic e-commerce has slowed, cross-border e-commerce is growing rapidly – presenting businesses like yours with lots of lucrative opportunities.

All you need is an international shipping partner and some insights into the local market and you’ll be ready to go! Read on as we explore how to export to South Korea, including the consumer trends that will help your business engage and convert prospects there.   

51.4 million people

South Korea has a population of 51.4 million(1), and an impressive internet usage rate of 93% (as of 2022)(2).

Annual growth of 2.9%(3)

South Korea's e-commerce market is forecast to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2023-2028) of 2.71%. E-commerce takes a significant slice of the country's total retail sales – 18%(4).

45.3m online shoppers

The number of e-commerce users in the country is expected to reach 45.3 million by 2028(5). Online shopping is particularly popular amongst those aged 20-39(6).

What do South Korean shoppers buy online?

graphic image of statistics
Leading product categories in 2022, by value in billion South Korean won(7). *excluding food and beverages

Which cross-border markets do South Korean shoppers favor?

graphic of DHL logistics activities

Online purchases from foreign e-commerce brands reached US$4.7 billion in 20228. China took the biggest share, followed by the US and Japan9. It was the first year the US didn’t take first place in the rankings – due in part to unfavourable exchange rates.

How do South Korean shoppers like to pay online?

South Korea is a card-based online shopping economy, with a 73% market share. Looking ahead to 2024, card use is set to decline slightly as digital wallets grow in use.10

graphic image of statistics
Most popular payment methods in South Korea, by share of transactions(10)

Where do consumers in South Korea shop online?

Online marketplaces can be a helpful gateway for cross-border businesses wishing to sell to a new country for the first time.

Leading South Korean online marketplaces, as of October 202311

(By monthly visits, in millions)

coupang.com

South Korea's most used e-commerce marketplace.

A platform for both small, independent businesses and big brands. 

gmarket.co.kr

Positions itself as quality-led and reasonably priced.

11st.co.kr

Known as a go-to destination for K-Shopping.

ssg.com

Online 'shopping mall'.

Holidays and events to look out for

graphic image of holiday activities

Put these important South Korean dates in your e-commerce calendar so that your marketing and sales campaigns are well prepared! 
 
  • Seollal (Lunar New Year): January or February
  • Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving): September, runs for three days
  • Singles' Day: November 11
  • Black Friday: late November 
  • Korea Sale Festa, also known as the Korea Grand Sale: dates vary

Customs and import regulations for exporting to South Korea

What you'll need for customs clearance

  • De Minimis Clearance is a clearance method that allows goods to be cleared only with an invoice with the names, phone numbers, addresses of the consignor and the consignee, and the description, price, and weight of the goods. In this case, the resident registration ID number (including the personal clearance code) of the owner is required. List Import Declaration may apply for goods for personal use or commercial samples that do not exceed US$150 (US$200 dollars for the goods from US) if they are not one of the following goods excluded from the list Declaration.

  • Informal Clearance may apply for goods priced between US$150 (US$200 dollars for goods from the US) and US$2,000. South Korea Customs will allow goods to be cleared without an inspection if the declared details, such as the description, value, etc. of the goods, are deemed accurate. However, for some goods, including prohibited goods for import, simplified import declaration doesn't apply. In this case, an import declaration should be made following the procedures of the general import declaration.

  • Formal Clearance is required for goods with a price higher than US$2,000.

The taxes you’ll need to pay when importing to South Korea

graphic of shopping activities

  • Customs Duty: Customs duty rate is determined based on the HS (Harmonized System) code of the goods and varies depending on the nature of the items.

  • Value-Added Tax (VAT): Most goods and services are subject to value-added tax. The standard VAT rate is 10%, but some items may be exempted or subject to reduced rates under current regulations.

  • Excise Tax: Certain specific products are subject to excise tax. Alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and petroleum products are examples of goods subject to excise tax.

  • Other Taxes: Additional taxes may be imposed depending on specific circumstances or items—be sure to check with Korea's Customs agency by entering your product's HS code here

Useful links

https://www.customs.go.kr/english/main.do  

Customs and clearance information for exporting or importing goods to and from Korea.

http://english.motie.go.kr/www/main.do  

Check this for information and policies related to industry and trade, such as export-import support programs, trade agreements, market trends, and more.

 https://www.kotra.or.kr/english/index.do  

For information related to exports and imports, market trends, business opportunities, and more.

 http://kita.org  

A non-profit organization that supports international trade activities. Explore international market trends, trade agreements, export-import support programs, and more.

https://www.customs.go.kr/english/cm/cntnts/cntntsView.do?mi=8067&cntntsId=2741  

An overview of Korea's customs clearance procedures for overseas (e-commerce) purchases.

DHL’s 6 insider tips for exporting to South Korea 

graphic of DHL logistics activities

  1. Provide accurate information for B2C shipments. Consignee's company name, item description, amount, PCCC (Personal Customs Clearance Code) etc.
  2. Don’t under-value your goods. If you lower the value of the goods on the invoice to pay less customs duty, you may be subject to prosecution for document forgery. In addition to fines, you may undergo thorough inspections for each subsequent importation.
  3. Watch out for intellectual property infringement. Goods infringing intellectual property rights through imitation and counterfeiting cannot be imported into the country regardless of their purpose or quantity. 
  4. Optimize for mobile. South Korea has a high proportion of mobile phone users. To boost purchases among Korean consumers, it is crucial to provide a purchase experience that is optimized for the mobile environment.
  5. Leverage influencer marketing. Using well-known South Korean personalities will help you build trust in your brand.   
  6. Same-day delivery is the new standard. South Korea is a geographically small country, making same-day delivery possible. Many e-commerce platforms in Korea offer a variety of convenient delivery options, from next-day delivery to same-day delivery. To target Korean consumers, fast delivery is not an option—it's a must.

Thinking of exporting to South Korea?

You’re in the right place! We know that the above guidelines may seem a little overwhelming, but that’s where partnering with DHL will pay off. As international shipping experts, we’ll support you through all customs procedures so that your shipment avoids delays. Sell to the world with DHL!

Start your journey here