Han Hyo-joo made her acting debut in the 2005 MBC sitcom Nonstop 5 after winning the top prize at the 9th Miss Binggrae Smile Pageant. In 2006, she starred in the KBS2 series Spring Waltz, which earned her a Best New Actress nomination at the KBS Drama Awards. In 2006, she led the film Ad-lib Night, which gave her acting trophies at the 26th Korean Association of Film Critics Awards and the 20th Singapore International Film Festival. In 2007, she was paired with Park Hae-jin in the KBS1 daily drama Heaven and Earth, which recorded a peak viewership rating of 36.1 percent. In 2008, she took home the New Star Award at the SBS Drama Awards for her work in the sageuk Iljimae. In 2009, she acted alongside Lee Seung-gi in the top-rating SBS series Brilliant Legacy, which scored her numerous accolades. In 2010, she played the title role in the hit MBC sageuk Dong Yi, which won her the Daesang at the MBC Drama Awards and the Best Actress trophy at the 47th Baeksang Arts Awards. In 2013, she bagged Best Actress citations at the 22nd Buil Film Awards and the 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards for her performance in the action thriller film Cold Eyes. In 2015, she headlined the movie The Beauty Inside, in which she received several Best Actress nominations. In 2016, she picked up Top Excellence honors at the APAN Star Awards and the MBC Drama Awards for the supernatural suspense drama W–Two Worlds.

Han Hyo-joo’s mother was an elementary school teacher while her father was an air force lieutenant colonel. In 2013, Han Hyo-joo’s former manager attempted to extort money from her father by threatening to expose personal photos of the actress and her ex-boyfriend. The police arrested the actress’ ex-manager and two others.