Busan houses South Korea’s largest port. This generates much economic activity which in turn has created a healthy job market. Those who don’t enjoy the fast-paced work environment in Seoul often choose to settle in sunny Busan. The job market attracts a wide variety of expat employees from English teachers to marine engineers.
With its laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals and competitive salaries, competition for expat jobs can become fierce.
Job market in Busan
With Busan being a port city, it makes sense that the city’s economy is heavily driven by the port sector. Aside from shipping and logistics, expats can also find employment in the information and communication sector, finance, information technology and education. Busan also hosts several international and multinational companies like Renault and Samsung.
Like in most of South Korea, most jobs available to English-speaking foreigners tend to be focused on teaching English. Expats who want to work in other industries aside from education would have to have a high level of education or be experienced in a highly specialised field.
Many large companies in Busan have a policy that managerial staff must be able to speak English. This makes doing business in Busan easier. That said, Korean society doesn’t necessarily follow the same rules most Westerners may be used to. Expats should do their research and try to keep up with the country’s cultural and social rules they hope to make their work-life successful.
Finding a job in Busan
It's standard for expats to find a job before relocating, as this is often a necessary condition of receiving a work visa. Korean employers often provide key support, such as helping expats find accommodation and applying for the necessary visas.
Many expats find employment through the various job portals available online. The high number of expats wanting to teach in Korea has resulted in a large number of recruitment companies which organise placements on behalf of schools, of which there are many in Busan.
Work Culture in Busan
Traditional social practices and etiquette still have an important role in South Korean business. If expatriate businesspeople want to be accepted by their colleagues, they need to display an awareness of Korean business practises and a willingness to engage in the social codes that are at the foundation of business culture in South Korea.
There is an elaborate system of hierarchy that imbues business culture in South Korea that is based on position, age, prestige and, to an extent, gender. Saving face is also an important part of business practice and expats should therefore not expect a direct negative answer from Korean people if they can’t help or don’t know. This is done in order to maintain honour and dignity.
Koreans need to be able to trust the people they are doing business with and social relationships are directly linked to business success. For this reason, prospective business partners spend a lot of time getting to know each other. Dinner invitations, after dinner drinks and karaoke are also likely to feature at some point and should not be turned down.
Teaching English in Busan
Teaching English as a foreign language is by far the most popular form of employment in Busan. Many young English-speaking foreigners move to the city with the hope of saving money, paying off student debt and getting the chance to travel around South-East Asia.
Due to the large number of private English schools (Hagwons) in the city, job opportunities are in abundance, but there are strict rules that go with the job. The E2-visa expats need before they can teach in the country is only available to citizens from certain countries (like the UK, US and South Africa). Applicants need to meet basic requirements and aren’t allowed to have any other form of employment while on this visa. In recent years, the government has been cracking down on foreigners who teach English without the proper visas.
Competition for good schools in Busan is very high. Expats should also be careful of being scammed while looking for a teaching job. For these reasons, expats should ensure they work with a reputable recruiter who will negotiate the best salary and benefits on their behalf.
►Read Accommodation in Seoul for information about finding a home in the city
"If you’re a teacher, make sure you have all your documents ready to go in order to begin the visa process. There are lots of jobs here, but the “good” ones have loads of competition. Brush up your interviewing skills and show you’re serious about work.
"The hours are longer here, and there is a big emphasis on staying at work until your boss leaves for the night. It doesn’t really apply to most foreigners, but sometimes can." Read more about Azra's thoughts on living in Busan.
"Korean culture is about hard work, but there are quite a few holidays throughout the year and Koreans know how to relax and let loose too." Read about Jenna's expat experiences in Busan.
Are you an expat living in Busan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Busan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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