Engineering — 6 min
If you want to start making a living as an independent contractor, then South Korea is an ideal spot to go it alone.
As one of Asia’s — and, indeed, the world’s — most stable economies, there’s no shortage of potential clients. And whether you want to set up in the bustling, neon-lit streets of Seoul, or the stunning natural wonders of Jeju Island, it’s the perfect place to balance work and life.
Before you can start your self-employment journey, though, you’ll need to know how to:
Register your business in South Korea
Avoid misclassification as an employee
Create compliant contracts that protect you
Invoice and collect payments from around the world
In this article, we’ll cover all these things, and help you navigate your tax responsibilities as a self-employed worker. We’ll also discuss some of the other risks and liabilities you should be aware of.
First, it’s important to clarify how South Korea defines independent contractors.
Independent contractors are workers who provide paid services (or products) to another party. However, they are classified differently to employees, and are usually not entitled to the same benefits, such as paid leave, sick days, and minimum wage. On the flip side, contractors have more freedom and flexibility in the way they work.
As in most countries, South Korea does not explicitly define the difference between employees and independent contractors in law. Instead, the distinction is made based on the nature of the working relationship, and the degree of control exercised by the client/employer.
Based on these guidelines, and the definitions of employment in the country’s Labor Standards Act, you are generally considered to be an independent contractor if you:
Determine your own work schedule and working hours
Perform work for other companies
Set your own rates and scope of work
Provide your own tools or equipment
Are not integrated into one specific company and its operations (i.e. you don’t have an internal email address)
Are able to delegate or subcontract work
Work without direction or supervision
When you work with clients, it’s important to be correctly classified to avoid penalties and fines, and to ensure that you are paying the right taxes.
Before you can begin working as an independent contractor in South Korea, you’ll first need to choose a formal structure for your business. This will determine what your liabilities are, and how you will pay tax.
The most popular choice for contractors is to operate as a sole proprietorship (“sa-eob-ja”). Under this structure, you have full control of your enterprise, although there is no legal separation between you (the owner) and the business; you are personally responsible for all its debts and liabilities.
If you want more legal protection, you’re working with other partners, or you anticipate generating a large amount of revenue, you can also incorporate a formal company, or enter into a partnership. If you’re unsure which structure is most suitable for your business, it’s a good idea to speak with a registered solicitor or accountant.
If you do opt for the sole proprietor model, all you need to do is inform the National Tax Service (NTS) of your self-employed status. You can do this by visiting your local NTS office.
If your business activity is regulated (i.e. you practice a protected profession such as medicine or law, or you’re handling food), you may also need to acquire additional business permits or licenses from your local issuing authority.
As an independent contractor, it’s down to you to handle your invoices and payment collection. Unfortunately, this means billing each client individually and collecting payment through their preferred payment method — which can be inefficient and time-consuming.
Some of the most common ways to collect payments include:
Digital transfer services like PayPal and Wise
These methods all have their own pros and cons. For instance, bank and digital transfers can be pretty quick, but often come with hefty service fees. And if you have clients in other countries besides South Korea, the payment collection process can be even more complicated.
Alternatively, you can use a trusted solution like Remote. Our platform is a simple, secure, and reliable way to get paid quickly in South Korean won — and with no hidden fees. Learn more about how our platform can help.
As an independent contractor, you’re responsible for filing and paying your own taxes and social security contributions.
The good news is that, as a sole proprietor, you pay personal income tax on your business profits. This means that you do not have to fill out extra returns or pay additional corporate taxes.
In South Korea, you must pay anywhere between 6% and 45% of your taxable income, depending on how much you earn. You must also pay a local income tax of between 0.6% and 4.5% to your city or province.
In addition, you are required to make monthly contributions to:
The National Pension scheme (you must report your income in person at your nearest state pension office)
The National Health Insurance (NHIS) scheme
The Employment Insurance scheme
The Worker’s Accident Compensation Insurance scheme
You can calculate your premiums on the NHIS website.
You must file your annual tax return and settle your tax bill between May 1 and May 31 each year.
As in most countries, almost all your business expenses are tax deductible, including travel, maintenance, and entertainment expenses.
You must register for — and charge your clients — VAT, regardless of your level of income. This must be reported and paid over a six-month period.
The standard VAT rate in South Korea is 10%. However, you may be eligible to pay at a lower rate of between 1.5% and 4% if your annual income is below ₩80 million (around $61,000).
As a sole proprietor, you are personally liable for finance and tax debts, which means your private assets can be forcibly used to settle your business debts. Many independent contractors purchase liability insurance to help mitigate this risk.
It’s also important to cover yourself when drafting and signing agreements with clients. Our legal experts can provide you with fully compliant contract templates, for both South Korean and international clients.
As a sole proprietor, you do not need to publish annual financial statements.
However, you should still keep organized, accurate records of all your income and expenditure (including client invoices, purchase orders, bank statements, and receipts). This will help you correctly file your taxes, give you a stronger picture of your financial situation, and generally make life easier if you are audited by the tax authorities.
You can either manage these records yourself using an accounting or bookkeeping tool, or hire a professional bookkeeper or accountant.
As we’ve mentioned, independent contractors are classified differently to employees in South Korea. Many of the protections and benefits employees enjoy do not typically apply to contractors.
As a result, companies may deliberately misclassify you to circumvent their legal obligations, while at other times, it may happen accidentally. Whether it’s intentional or not, misclassification can result in penalties and fines for both you and your client.
As an independent contractor, you can work with your clients to ensure this doesn’t happen. Discuss your role and responsibilities with them, and review the working arrangement regularly.
If your working relationship changes over time and you become more integrated into a client’s company, you can ask to be converted into an employee.
Open a dialogue with your client and carefully discuss the risks and benefits of moving to an employer-employee relationship. In particular, be clear about how it can benefit both parties — not just you.
You can even suggest the help of a third-party solution, such as Remote, to ease the transition. Our global employment services help both parties stay compliant by taking care of key HR functions (like payroll management and benefits administration) in line with South Korean law.
As you can see, there’s a lot to take on board when setting up as an independent contractor. Remote can help you with many of these challenges, allowing you to focus on growing your business and delivering to your clients. Here’s how:
Navigating all of your clients’ different invoicing, approvals, and payments systems can be complicated and time-consuming. And manual methods of invoicing and collecting payments can increase the risk of fees, errors, and delays.
Remote gives you access to a highly secure, streamlined dashboard that makes invoice management and international payments cost-effective and efficient. You can use our platform to get paid in South Korean won (or other currencies), without any hidden fees.
When you draft agreements and contracts for your clients, you run the risk of non-compliance with local labor laws — especially when working with international clients. Remote offers localized contracts tailored to South Korean laws, ensuring that you stay compliant. Our legal experts can also provide guidance on complex issues, such as local classification and intellectual property protections.
With Remote, you no longer need to rely on spreadsheets and other manual tools to invoice for payments; we remove many of the inaccuracies and delays caused by archaic processes and manual management. Our platform lets you create invoices, submit them for approval, and subsequently get paid in your local currency without needing to switch to any other tool or software.
Tax management is notoriously complex work. Remote helps you quickly and efficiently deal with tax management by compiling data about your income based on your invoices and payments received.
Having the freedom and flexibility to work on your own terms is liberating. But your administrative responsibilities can distract from what you really want to be doing: helping your clients, delivering great work, and collecting invoices.
By using a stable, trusted platform like Remote, you can manage these obligations quickly and efficiently, allowing you to focus on your business goals. Specifically, we can help you:
Avoid intermediary fees and delays with international client payments
Draft compliant contracts for South Korean and foreign clients
Enhance your invoice management and avoid manual processes
Comply with local labor laws regarding work practices
Our platform makes it quick, simple, and seamless to get started as an independent contractor. Learn more about how our expertise can save you time and resources today.
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