Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in South Korea

[Updated on April 29, 2020] Let’s say you obtained damages recovery judgment from a U.S. court against a Korean residing in the states.  Soon after your excitement for the winning judgment, however, you found he had no assets in the states to fulfill your judgment.  This could also happen in litigation between U.S. citizens in a U.S. court where the losing defendant moved to South Korea and there are no assets left in the U.S.  You might have spent quite a large amount of legal fees to win the judgment already, but you think your judgment is now in great peril to become useless.  This horrible situation might frustrate you.

But, don’t worry too much.  You can enforce your duly obtained U.S judgment in South Korea.  If you are sure the defendant has enough assets to cover your claims in the judgment and your legal fees, you are encouraged to file for an enforcement order for a foreign judgment to a Korean court.

Requirements for the Recognition and Enforcement

According to Article 218 of the Civil Procedure Act of South Korea, a final and conclusive judgment by a foreign court shall be recognized and enforceable in Korea, when all the following requirements are met:

1. The international jurisdiction of such foreign court is recognized under the principle of international jurisdiction pursuant to the statutes or treaties of South Korea;

2. A defeated defendant was served, by a lawful method(excluding cases of service by a public notice or similar), a written complaint or document corresponding thereto, and notification of date or written order allowing him/her sufficient time to defend, or a defeated defendant responded to the lawsuit even without having been served such documents;

3. The approval of such foreign judgment does not undermine good morals or other social order of South Korea in the perspective of the contents of such foreign judgment and judicial procedures; and

4. Mutual guarantee exists, or the requirements for recognition of a foreign judgment in South Korea and in the foreign country where the foreign court belongs are not far off balance and have no substantial difference between each other in important points.

Any foreign judgment which orders the defendant to do a specific action such as money payment and delivery of goods can be recognized and enforced according to the above rules.  Korean Court had ruled that a foreign alimony order can be enforced, although the Korean legal system doesn’t recognize alimony.

Punitive Damages Award Unenforceable in Korea

As to the 3rd requirement above, please note that punitive damages award by a U.S. court is currently not recognized by the Korean court and therefore not fully enforceable in Korea.  That is because the concept of punitive damages is not accepted by the Korean law and the court sees it violating the social order of South Korea.

In torts law of Korea, the damages a plaintiff is entitled to are only actual damages which can be found legally and reasonably caused by the tortfeasor, which amount is eventually quite smaller than punitive damages.

So, if you bring a punitive damages award from a U.S. court to a Korean court in order to get it recognized and enforced, the Korean court will reduce the amount of the award to the level where Korean law would find it consistent with Korean torts law.

Existence of Mutual Guarantee

As to the 4th requirement, the mutual guarantee which the act requires is similar to the concept of comity and reciprocal recognition of judgments in the U.S.  The Korean law requires the foreign jurisdiction where the judgment was issued has established the standard for recognition of a Korean judgment which should not be more difficult to be met when compared to the Korean legal standard.

This is somewhat hard to grasp, but if your judgment came from a U.S. court, you don’t have to struggle, because the Korean court has been ruling that there exists a mutual guarantee between Korea and the U.S.

The Korean courts have so far recognized the mutual guarantee with, among others, California(U.S.A.), New York(U.S.A.), Texas(U.S.A.), Washington(U.S.A.), Minnesota(U.S.A), New Jersey(U.S.A), Ontario(Canada), China, Japan, Taiwan, and Russia.

By contrast, the Korean court had denied the existence of a mutual guarantee with Malaysia.

If you have any questions about the enforcement of foreign judgments in Korea, please send your inquiry to Mr. Wonil Chung by clicking here.

© 2012 Wonil Chung. All rights reserved.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may or may not reflect the most current legal development at the time of view, nor is it applicable in all situations nor should be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations. 

Leave Your Comment