South Korea – a global hub of technology, innovation, and pop culture. The “Korean Wave” phenomenon, driven by K-pop music, Korean dramas, and technological advancements, has significantly contributed to shaping the country’s international image, boosting its soft power. But what do leading rankings and indices say about the country’s economic performance, its sustainability, nation brand strength and reputation?

Let’s take a closer look at: 

  • South Korea’s soft power and brand strength
  • Its appeal to skilled labor, investors and visitors
  • The country’s global contribution to peace and wellbeing
  • How well it fares in terms of happiness and sustainability

Soft power and country brand strength

In the Global Soft Power Index 2023 by Brand Finance, South Korea secures the 15th spot, slightly trailing Russia (13th) and Australia (14th). Impressively, its score has shown growth, rising from 52.9 in 2022 to 53.9 this year. Nonetheless, it has slipped three positions in the rankings, influenced by the heightened efforts of other nations.

In the U.S. News Best Countries 2023 ranking, South Korea secures the 21st position, behind the UAE (19th) and China (20th). Notably, South Korea excels in three key areas: power (6th), entrepreneurship (7th) and cultural influence (7th). Impressively, it maintains its position, showing consistency with the previous year’s ranking of 20th. The country needs improvement in its tax environment and ensure more transparency in government practices.

The Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brand Index (NBI) calculates its ranking based on averaging the scores of six different factors: exports, governance, tourism, culture, people and immigration, and tourism. According to the NBI 2023 ranking, South Korea secures the 24th position, a drop of one position from the 2022 edition.

South Korea’s attractiveness for talent, investors, visitors

What is the global perception of South Korea as a destination for living, conducting business, and tourism?

The Expat Insider 2023 notes South Korea continues to rank at the bottom (50th), grouped amongst fellow weak performers such as Germany and Türkiye in terms of expats’ satisfaction. The country performs quite well in the Travel and Transit (2nd) and Healthcare (2nd) metrics but needs significant improvement in the Ease of Settling In (49th) and Working Abroad (46th) parameters. 

As per the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2023, South Korea secures the 22nd position for FDI inflows in 2022, trailing behind Italy (18th) and Chile (19th). This marks a decline of four positions compared to its 2021 ranking. Nevertheless, the nation continues to maintain a strong presence within the top 20, with its success attributed to the POSCO finance deal project. In terms of FDI outflows, South Korea ranks 9th in 2022, a slight shift from its 8th position in 2021, while the levels of FDI remain consistent with the previous year. South Korea ranks 14th in the Economic Performance parameter, 38th for Government Efficiency, 33rd in Business Efficiency, and 16th in Infrastructure.

The Bloom Consulting biannual Country Brand Ranking Trade Edition 2022-2023 assesses investment-related variables, emphasizing perceptions of a country’s trade-specific brand and evaluating branding performance. Regionally, South Korea makes a remarkable leap to the 8th position, surpassing Israel (9th) and Thailand (10th) after previously holding the 12th spot. Globally, it secures the 26th position, and Bloom Consulting envisions its potential to break into the top 25 soon.

In addition, the Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking Tourism Edition 2022-2023 places South Korea at the 20th global position, advancing three spots from the previous year attributed to the global reach of its entertainment and beauty industries, which have garnered international attention and put the country on the tourism map. Regionally, South Korea now holds the 5th position, climbing three places and falling behind Thailand (3rd) and Singapore (4th).

In the IMD 2023 World Competitiveness Ranking, South Korea secured the 28th position, showing a slight shift from its 27th ranking in 2022 and 23rd in 2020. Currently, it sits just behind Estonia (26th) and Malaysia (27th) while surpassing the United Kingdom (29th) and Thailand (30th).

In terms of specific characteristics, South Korea excels in economic performance, leaping eight positions to reach the 14th spot in 2023. However, it holds the 38th position for government efficiency, experiencing a slight drop of two positions compared to 2022. South Korea maintains its 33rd position for business efficiency, which is consistent with the previous year, and holds the 16th spot for infrastructure, remaining at the same level as in 2022.

South Korea a “good” country?

In the Caf World Giving Index 2023, the Republic of Korea secured the 79th position, trailing behind Hong Kong (77th), and Namibia (78th). Notably, it performs admirably in the subfactor of helping a stranger, with 57% of the adult population partaking in such activity. This marks a significant increase for South Korea, as in 2022 it held the 88th overall position.

In the Good Country Index, South Korea currently holds the 37th position overall, with notable subfactors as follows: Science & Technology (50th), Culture (6th), International Peace & Security (43rd), World Order (62nd), Planet & Climate (142nd), Prosperity & Equality (24th), and Health & Wellbeing (13th). It’s worth mentioning that in 2022, it was ranked 28th, and in 2021, it held the 26th position. While the country has experienced an overall drop in its ranking, there have been significant increases in the Culture and Health & Wellbeing factors.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index 2023, South Korea ranked in the blue zone (8-9 range) with a 8.03 out of 10. This is higher than the United States who scored a 7.85 and Portugal 7.89.

The 2022 Corruption Perception Index ranks South Korea 31st, tying with Israel and below Barbados (30th) and the Bahamas (30th). South Korea’s score has increased by one since 2021.

The Sustainable Development Report 2023 ranks South Korea 31st, it highlights that South Korea continues to face major challenges in quite a few of the 17 SDGs. However, some factors are experiencing some moderately increasing positive change. Although, Life on Land goal is demonstrating a downward trend.

Peace and happiness

Is South Korea a happy and safe place to invest time and money in?

The Global Peace Index 2023 ranks South Korea 43rd, seeing a jump of two positions over last years’ index. South Korea now sits ahead of Albania (40th), Vietnam (41st) and Botswana (42nd), all of which fall in the high sector of the ‘State of Peace’ spectrum as defined by the Institute for Economics & Peace. South Korea is positioned 8th regionally amongst its fellow Asia-Pacific countries, led by New Zealand and Singapore.

The Institute for Economics & Peace similarly ranks South Korea within the no impact zone in terms of ‘Impact of Terrorism’ in the 2022 Global Terrorism Index. South Korea ranks 93rd, tying with many other countries for last position, including Bhutan, Switzerland and Estonia.

Meanwhile, the World Happiness Report 2023 which displays the Ranking of Happiness based on a three-year-average 2020–2022 ranks South Korea 57th, upholding the same positioning from the 2022 report.

Environmental performance

How well does South Korea perform in terms of environmental sustainability?

The 2022 edition of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks South Korea 63rd. The EPI analyzes the performance of 180 countries, scoring and ranking these countries on their environmental performance using the most recent year of data available as well as providing calculable changes in scores over the previous decade. South Korea has experienced a change in score of positive 2.2.

Talent attraction and competitiveness

What are the conditions for talent attraction and retention in South Korea?

The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index 2019 edition placed the Republic of Korea at an impressive 13th position among 141 countries. However, it’s important to note that an updated version of this report hasn’t been released in the past five years, and rankings may have shifted since then.

South Korea, classified as a high-income country within the Eastern/South-Eastern Asia & Oceania regional group, currently holds the 24th position in the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2023. Notably, South Korea ranks best in the GK skills pillar (8th) while the Attract pillar presents to be its biggest challenge where it ranked 59th.

In terms of education excellence, South Korea boasts three universities within the top 100 worldwide, according to the World University Rankings 2024. These esteemed institutions are: Seoul National University, Yonsei University (Seoul campus), and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

Last updated in October 2023. More country profiles here.

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