Shipping to South Korea: Step-by-step guide for enterprises

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Trade relations between Vietnam and South Korea have not only consistently grown, but they have also exhibited a robust upward trend. Following a recent agreement during the second economic cooperation dialogue held in Hanoi, Vietnam and South Korea have set an ambitious target to raise bilateral trade to US$100 billion in 2023, and further to US$150 billion by 2030.  

May 2023 also witnessed South Korea exporting goods worth US$4.28 billion to Vietnam while importing US$1.92 billion worth of goods from Vietnam, resulting in a positive trade balance of US$2.36 billion, reported by the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC). The top imports of South Korea from Vietnam were notably diverse, spanning several industry sectors. Electrical machinery and electronics led the imports, valued at US$832 million. This was followed by machinery, mechanical appliances and parts, clothing accessories, and footwear. A significant enabler of this is the Vietnam-Korea Free Trade Agreement (VKFTA). Signed on May 5, 2015, and effective from December 20 of the same year, this FTA has amplified bilateral trade ties. Under the VKFTA, Vietnam pledges to eliminate tariffs on 90% of its lines for Korean goods, while South Korea reciprocates by addressing 95% of Vietnamese products. 

For Vietnamese businesses keen on exploring these expanding trade opportunities, understanding the processes of shipping from Vietnam to South Korea becomes crucial. International delivery to South Korea carries its own nuances, and the key to a successful business endeavour lies in adeptly navigating these intricacies.  

Customs taxes 

South Korea applies two principal forms of taxes on all imports: customs duties and Value Added Tax (VAT). Korean customs utilises the internationally recognised Harmonised System (HS) code to determine the import duty fees for each product. On average, customs duty rates hover around 8% of a product's market value. However, specific items may command higher rates. 

Furthermore, a standard VAT rate of 10% applies to all imported items, with the exception of those that fall under their de minimis limit of KR₩150,000. Beyond the VAT, an excise duty ranging from 10% to 20% is also levied on specific luxury and durable consumer goods.  

Nevertheless, preferential rates exist for Vietnamese exports under specific agreements, potentially leading to a decrease in the customs duties and taxes for your imports. Before initiating your international shipping to South Korea, ensure you cross-check these rates with your logistics partner. DHL Express, the global shipping provider, offers its online Trade Automation Services (TAS) platform. Here, users can effortlessly estimate the duties and taxes for shipments to over 220 countries and territories, including South Korea. 

Prohibited and restricted goods 

Understanding South Korea import restrictions is also pivotal for businesses aiming to penetrate the Korean market. These restrictions outline specific items deemed inappropriate or unfit for import by the South Korean authorities. 

Some commodities that fall under the 'prohibited' category include (but are not limited to) firearms, narcotics, and counterfeit goods. These items are outright banned from entering South Korea, underlining the stringent shipping restrictions. They will be denied at customs; further, attempting to export them could lead to severe penalties. Importing restricted goods, on the other hand, necessitates adherence to stringent regulations and specific documentation. For example, you will need to present an Entry Notice from the Korea Pharmaceutical Traders Association (KPTA if you are importing cosmetics and drugs, and in some cases, a TSE (BSE) Free certificate. Only a small quantity is allowed for non-commercial or personal use. 

Foodstuffs require different types of quarantines and certificates depending on whether they are plant-based or meat-based. The consignee must be a licensed food importer. 

Additionally, for electronic items, either a Conformity Assessment Certificate by RRA (Radio Research Agency) or Electrical Equipment Safety Certificate by KTC (Korea Testing Certification)/KTL (Korea Testing Laboratory)/KTR (Korea Testing & Research Institute) or both are required.

Shipping documents 

For a seamless transition through shipping procedures to South Korea, a set of vital documents is needed. This collection includes certain paperwork like your air waybill, customs invoices and other additional import licenses, permits or certificates as required by local authorities in South Korea. Customs invoices, for instance, are essential for presenting necessary information to customs officials for clearance. These specifics assist in determining the relevant duties and taxes. An air waybill, on the other hand, typically includes the shipper’s and consignee’s addresses and contact details, a comprehensive description of the shipment’s contents detailing the type of goods and their respective quantities, as well as the number of packages or items, the overall weight, and the dimensions of the shipment

To ensure a smooth customs clearance process and avoid potential penalties when shipping to South Korea, compliance with the following guidelines is vital for your imported goods: 

  • Ensure that the description of goods is accurate and not undervalued to avoid physical inspections and penalties when imported. 
  • The consignee's full details, including their name, phone number, and full address, should be included on the waybill and the entry information system before shipping. 

All original documents necessary for customs clearance, such as the Country of Origin and ATA Carnet, must accompany the physical shipment. 

South Korean Customs officers thoroughly review and process these documents to ascertain the eligibility of your export into Korea. They also evaluate copyright or trademark relevance, if applicable. In the event inconsistencies emerge in your declaration forms, you may need to make corrections or provide additional information to progress with the imported goods customs clearance process. Upon successful validation, they provide a certificate of import declaration. To accelerate the customs-checking process, it's recommended to upload these documents to UNIPASS, the platform used by Korean Customs services, before shipping. 

Packaging and labelling 

Packaging and shipping commodities require specific attention to ensure the products arrive safely, in perfect conditions and without any customs delay. For example, when shipping electronic goods, it is crucial to utilise anti-static bags for items that are susceptible to static damage. It is equally important to provide sufficient padding and cushioning inside the package to restrict any movement.  

On the other hand, for clothing shipping, garments should be shielded with plastic covers to keep them free from dust and moisture. Accessories and shoes should be housed in firm boxes to prevent them from getting crushed. If necessary, the package should have a clear indication to ensure it remains upright during transportation. 

During the inspection phase at South Korean Customs, officers scrutinise the details provided in your customs declaration documents.  

Selecting a reliable international courier like DHL Express 

Once you've prepared your shipping information and packed your parcel carefully, you can arrange the shipment handover at your convenience. This can be achieved by contacting customer service toll-free with your preferred pickup date and time, scheduling it via the online shipping platform MyDHL+, or simply dropping your package off at any official DHL Express Service Point across the country. In this way, the whole process of international shipping from Vietnam to South Korea becomes manageable and straightforward for your business. 

Choosing DHL Express Vietnam as your courier for shipments to Korea offers a plethora of advantages, transforming the process of shipping to South Korea into DHL Express an effortless endeavour. 

  • Global reach, local expertise: DHL Express provides seamless door-to-door delivery services to every corner of the world, including South Korea, bridging vast geographical distances with its comprehensive network that spans across 220 territories. 
  • Unparalleled transit times: We offer 1 working day Transit Time across key Intra-Asia trade lanes. This means you can commit to your customers overnight delivery schedules from Vietnam to South Korea. 
  • Efficient shipping procedures: Our streamlined operations, supported by advanced platforms like MyDHL+ and On-Demand Delivery (ODD), ensure a swift and efficient shipping process, simplifying your shipping from Vietnam to South Korea. 
  • Transparent shipment tracking: Our real-time tracking system provides visibility into our delivery chain process. You can monitor your shipment status anytime, anywhere, ensuring complete transparency. 

If breaking into the South Korean market forms part of your business strategy, consider DHL Express as your reliable shipping partner. As the international express delivery provider of choice, we will take on the role of your brand ambassador in South Korea, representing your service quality commitment to your customers as well as your key service differentiator. To explore how you can enhance your competitive advantage by partnering with DHL, request to open a DHL Express business account today!