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Korean Labor Law Resource Guide for Foreigners

Labor law resource guide & important contact information for foreigners in Korea. When to hire a lawyer, criminal procedures, and other advice.

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One of the most daunting parts about starting a life in Korea for foreigners is learning about Korean labor law. There is so much information to take in and it can be difficult to navigate. To make matters more difficult, there are endless posts online about bad experiences, horrible hagwon bosses, legal troubles, and worst of all, not getting paid on time.

That’s why I am creating an ongoing Korean Labor Law Resource Guide for Foreigners. I hope that this resource along with my other posts will help you understand the basics of Korean labor law.

Be sure to check out the Complete Guide to Work Hours and Korean Labor Law to read a detailed breakdown of the Korean Labor Standards Act.

Lawyers and Legal Advice in Korea

a) MOST of the time, YOU DO NOT NEED A LAWYER.

Korea is a bit like the Wild West when it comes to following laws. Many things are done in cash, under the table, and with handshake agreements. This includes things as serious as housing contracts, but you’ll most often encounter issues when it comes to employment, especially hagwons and English academies.

It is often the case that things can be worked out. Try this approach first:

  1. Be mindful and think about cultural differences.
  2. Follow-up or confirm the intention or exact nature of the communication. For example, a text message can leave things lost in translation. Ask again to confirm if something seems off.
  3. If you’ve confirmed that the person is doing something you feel is wrong or illegal, refer to your contract (housing or employee). If your boss begs, threatens, coerces, or bribes, then you pretty much know the contract is on your side.
  4. Contact the Ministry of Employment & Labor. The Labor Board can resolve many issues and offers English advice. See contact info here.

If you believe that you cannot resolve your issue and need a lawyer, then your first course of action needs to be a FREE CONSULTATION via the Seoul Global Center (02-2075-4140/4130). NOTE: They will arrange for a telephone consultation if you’re not in Seoul and during Covid-19.

b) In Korea, there are numerous government agencies and regulatory bodies, and free resources. If a lawyer or person who has contacted you is pressuring or discouraging you from following up via those aforementioned free resources and agencies, then they are after your business (money).

c) The rules and regulations governing Korean lawyers/legal counsel regarding advertising, etc., are quite strict. Korean lawyers/legal counsel cannot market themselves aggressively. If they do, they’re unlikely to be acting (or act in the future) in the interests of those they approach, which should be paramount (i.e.: acting in the best interest of the client).

This is actually a major difference in Korea compared to America. Many YMYL (“Your Money Your Life”) types of industries such as finance, legal, and medical are not allowed to advertise or market themselves aggressively.

If they’re not a Korea-registered lawyer, they cannot say that they are nor can they give Korean legal advice. They may ONLY give suggestions or provide sources of legal information. Non-Korean lawyers are also prohibited from marketing for Korean lawyers/law firms.

NOTE: The above info was provided by a legal industry expert.

d) The word for “lawyer” in Korean = “변호사” …if the person does NOT have this word as their professional designation, THEY ARE NOT A LAWYER.

The word for “labor advocate” = “노무사” …if the person has only this word as their professional designation, THEY ARE NOT A LAWYER. They are more like a paralegal with training limited to labor law issues; they can only provide you with service limited to helping you write and file certain types of paperwork regarding labor law violations and filing claims. To become a 노무사, one only needs to pass an exam–no law degree or legal background is required. They cannot give the advice of a lawyer because THEY ARE NOT LAWYERS.

NOTE: Some 변호사 are also certified as 노무사 …IF that is the case, BOTH professional designations will be mentioned. BE CAREFUL in terms of who you hire if you choose to engage legal counsel.

IMPORTANT: If you would like OFFICIAL or LEGAL help, then you NEED TO CONTACT THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITY (see the list of contact info below for said “authorities”).

Immigration Note

Immigration is at high capacity from February through at least April. It is highly recommended that you make an appointment at *least* two weeks in advance. If you cannot make an appointment and it is an emergency, you can call in advance and let them know what is going on. There is always a chance that they’ll see you without an appointment. Otherwise, appointments are now required (except for picking up ARCs or other documents). Be safe and make an appointment anyways.

To make an appointment, visit the www.hikorea.go.kr website and follow the instructions. You MUST use Internet Explorer or Edge as your browser.

If You’ve Been a Victim of a Crime

Regardless of your country of origin, the info in the following link may prove helpful. Please read it before posting about your situation so that you can seek help from the proper sources (and posting here might not even be necessary):
https://kr.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/75/Victims-of-Crime.pdf
(NOTE: the Sunflower Center contact info can be found in the above PDF)

If You’ve Been Accused of a Crime

Check out this video titled “Legal tips for resident foreigners in Korea : Korean criminal procedure“.

Difference Between Independent Contractor & Employee

Many foreigners who are teaching in Korea will find themselves in a situation where their employer claims they do not owe the employee benefits (pension, health insurance, severance) because the foreigner is actually an independent contractor. This is an extremely common situation and almost every foreign teacher will go through this.

If you don’t know whether you should be classified as a freelancer, independent contractor, or employee, check out this post.

Important Contact Information For Official Authorities

►Korean Immigration Services Call Center (ENG)

http://www.hikorea.go.kr/pt/main_kr.pt
Open Hours: 09:00-18:00 M-F
Call: 1345

►National Tax Service (NTS)

https://www.nts.go.kr/english/main.do
Call: 1588-0560

National Pension Service (NPS)

http://english.nps.or.kr/jsppage/english/main.jsp
Open Hours: 09:00-18:00 M-F
Call: 1355 (Korean only) / 02-2176-8700 or -8794 (English service -you will be asked which country you’re from and they will transfer your call accordingly)

►National Health Insurance Corp (NHI)

http://www.nhic.or.kr/static/html/wbd/g/a/wbdga0101.html
Open Hours: 08:00-19:00 M-F
Call: Eng: 033-811-2000 / Kor: 1577-1000

► Medical / Hospital Vocabulary

https://www.healthinfotranslations.org/language/korean/794333/
(for various contexts/illnesses/injuries)

► KMLE –Korean Medical Library Engine

http://www.kmle.co.kr/
Excellent resource for health-related vocab/translations …conditions, symptoms, pharmaceuticals, injuries, tests, etc.

► Korea Medical Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Agency

https://www.k-medi.or.kr
To report malpractice, incompetence, if a medical professional divulges your information to any 3rd party without your consent, etc.

►Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL)

http://www.moel.go.kr/english/main.jsp
(all LSA violation issues EXCEPT FOR unfair dismissal)
Open Hours: 09:00-18:00 M-F
Call: 1350, press 4, then 1 for English
International: +82-52-702-5089 (ext.4)

►National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) (contact info by area)

http://www.nlrc.go.kr/nlrc/en/sub/sub04_01.html
(unfair dismissal cases ONLY)
Call: 1350, press 4, then 1 for English

►Severance Pay Calculator

http://www.moel.go.kr/retirementpayCal.do

►Ministry of Education & Appeal Commission for Educators (ACE)

https://www.ace.go.kr/act/e_main.do
Call: 044-203-7490

►e-People (Central Government Petition & Complaint Filing Agency)

https://www.epeople.go.kr/petition/pps/pps.npaid
This is the 24/7/365 place to file ANY sort of petition related to labour issues with your employer OR to lodge a complaint against any government agency, at any level of government. e-People receives your claim/petition and directs it to the appropriate agency to be properly dealt with.

►Housing Lease Dispute Conciliation Committee

https://www.hldcc.or.kr/

►Korea Legal Aid Corporation

http://eng.klac.or.kr/
Nationwide Hotline: 132
1644-7077

►Korea Consumer Agency

http://english.kca.go.kr/index.do

►Seoul Global Center

http://global.seoul.go.kr/index.do
Call: 02-2075-4140/4130
Regardless of where you live, they’ll help out with pretty much everything or will connect you with the necessary resources.

►Judicial Information for Foreigners and Immigrants (JIFI)

http://jifi.scourt.go.kr/foreigner/main/Main.work

►Laws & Statutes of the Republic of Korea

https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/main.do
(the Labor Standards Act can be found here)

►Traffic violations

https://www.efine.go.kr/main/main.do
(pay/check fine online)

►Highway toll violations

https://www.hipass.co.kr/main.do
(pay/check fine online)

►BBB Korea

https://www.bbbkorea.org/en/
(volunteer-driven mobile-call-based translation service)

►Danuri Centre for Migrants

https://www.liveinkorea.kr/portal/USA/main/main.do
(spend time exploring this site -they have A LOT of useful info regarding visas, working, rights, responsibilities, etc.)

►Global Overseas Adoptee Link (GOA’L)

https://www.goal.or.kr
Provides many of the above resources for adult Korean adoptees living in or returning to Korea. Other services include birth family search, translation, and Korean language programs.


Be sure to check out the Complete Guide to Work Hours and Korean Labor Law to read a detailed breakdown of the Korean Labor Standards Act.

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