Country Snapshot: South Korea

Marc Jarrett
Up until fairly recently, South Korea had no significance in my life whatsoever. Nowadays, my dual-SIM cell phone is made by Samsung, my plasma TV by LG, and my son religiously attends Taekwondo sessions every week — so it certainly features now!

Sometimes referred to as the 'Land of Morning Calm,' South Korea is a high income OECD member, having the forth largest economy in Asia and the 15th largest is the world.

It is home to some 48m people, about 10m of whom live in its capital, Seoul, making it one of the world's largest cities and is often referred to as the "Tech capital of the world" — boasting Internet speeds of 100Mbits/s as standard. Its fiber optic broadband network is being upgraded to 1Gbps by 2012, leaving the rest of the world in the comparative Internet Dark Ages.

This is also reflected in the country's Internet penetration rate, with 76.1 percent of South Koreans having access to it. This makes it Asia's most wired country, in stark contrast to its neighbor in the North, whose poor inhabitants really are in said Dark Ages. Despite this, we have had six sales come from North Korea; possibly Kim Jong-il enjoying our decadent wares?

Back in the South, according to "South Korean Payment Card Market," a recent study from leading research firm RNCOS, average daily use of credit cards in South Korea is projected to grow about 10.5 percent between 2009 and 2013. Given convenience, tax benefits and perks such as reward points and discounts; credit cards will remain the preferred payment mode in the country in the coming years — and the country has become one of the most credit card friendly countries in the world.

In 2008, the use of credit cards increased significantly both in terms of value and volume, as individual customers stepped up their use of credit cards sharply while purchasing goods and services. Daily use of credit cards grew by over 12.5 percent in 2008 in comparison to 2007.

However, as in neighboring China, the South Korean authorities try to block access to foreign porn sites as they step up their campaign against adult content on the Internet — a Herculean task, when one considers its organic growth.

Perhaps for this reason, there are a small army of South Korean's who prefer the convenience and anonymity of phone billing when paying for access to adult sites; and given their tech-savvy credentials, you can rest assured that practically everyone there has access to a cell phone. Just remember to communicate with them in Korean.

Given that this country has such a rich technological culture, I suspect that South Korea will continue to increasingly feature in some way in my life, as I suspect it will in yours.