The Korea Herald


How content are expats in Korea? Survey shows 8 in 10 satisfied

Almost 20% of foreigners report experiencing discrimination

By Moon Joon-hyun

Published : Sept. 6, 2023 - 16:17

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A job fair for foreign students is being held at Coex in southern Seoul last month. (Newsis) A job fair for foreign students is being held at Coex in southern Seoul last month. (Newsis)

Eight in 10 expatriates living in South Korea reported they are content with their lives despite ongoing challenges such as discrimination and cultural integration, according to a 2022 survey conducted by Statistics Korea.

The biannual survey sampled a pool of 25,000 expats aged 15 and above residing in Korea for over three months, comprising 20,000 foreign nationals who had visas for stays longer than 91 days and 5,000 naturalized Koreans.

Breaking down the respondents, 23.4 percent held an F-4 visa designated for overseas Koreans, who are either individuals born in Korea and migrated elsewhere or their descendants. Following this, 20.2 percent were naturalized Korean citizens, 11 percent were non-professional workers(E-9), and 10.4 percent were students(D-2, D-4-1, D-4-7).

Concerning the duration of their stay, 35.5 percent had lived in Korea for over 10 years, 29.6 percent for five to 10 years, 17.9 percent for three to five years, and 12.6 percent for one to three years.

In the survey, 40.8 percent of foreigners said they were “very satisfied” with living in Korea, while 39.6 percent said they were “somewhat satisfied.”

The overall satisfaction rate of 80.4 percent was slightly down from the 81 percent recorded in the previous survey in 2020.

Naturalized Korean citizens also showed a similarly high level of satisfaction, with an overall satisfaction of 81.6 percent, almost unchanged from 81.5 percent in 2020.

Nearly 90 percent of foreigners expressed satisfaction with their relationships with family members.

The overall satisfaction rate extended to living conditions (79.2 percent) and interpersonal connections, including relationships with immediate acquaintances, neighbors and friends (76.5 percent).

While personal connections thrived, economic satisfaction saw a decline during the same period. There was a drop in satisfaction ratings when it came to individual incomes from 58.1 in 2020 to 53.3 percent in 2022.

Barriers to integration also remained, with 43.4 percent of foreigners citing language problems as a primary challenge. Emotional challenges were also evident, with 28.8 percent experiencing feelings of loneliness and 27.8 percent citing difficulties in adapting to local habits and food preferences. Other challenges included family conflict (2.4 percent), and child care and education (7.9 percent).

Discrimination against foreign residents stood out as a key concern for nearly a fifth of respondents at 19.7 percent. Most attributed the problem to their country of origin (58 percent). Others cited limitations in Korean language proficiency (27.9 percent) and physical appearance (8.3 percent) as triggers for biased treatment. Instances of bias were more frequently reported in commercial establishments like stores, restaurants and workplaces, and less in educational institutions and public services.

When it came to seeking redress against discrimination, the effectiveness of resolutions declined. While 16.6 percent tried to address experiences of bias, only 36.7 percent of them felt their issues were resolved, down from 46 percent in 2020.

Among long-term residents with F-5 visas, there was a perception of foreigners' views being sidelined. In 2022, over a third (37.3 percent) felt their opinions were not valued by the Korean government, a 2.9 percentage point uptick from 2020, implying potential policy or communication gaps.

Access to health care remained an issue for some. Nearly 7 percent reported they couldn’t access any medical services. Their challenges spanned from language barriers (33.7 percent) to financial constraints (28 percent).

According to the statistics agency, expats make up 3.4 percent of the nation’s 51.69 million population, up 6.2 percent from 2021. In terms of nationality, Chinese Koreans make up the majority at 30.1 percent, followed by Vietnamese nationals at 11.9 percent, Chinese nationals at 11.7 percent, and Thai nationals at 9.3 percent.

Chinese Koreans are ethnic Koreans who moved and settled in China and the surrounding areas in the early 20th century. Those included in these statistics are descendants of this group.

By residency status, overseas Koreans grew by nearly 4 percent, adding 9,000 individuals, while permanent residents rose by 7.2 percent, or 6,000 people. Marriage immigrants increased by around 5.6 percent, or 4,000.

In contrast, visiting workers saw an overall decline, with a loss of 22,000 individuals. Non-professional workers and international students decreased by 3.2 percent and 17 percent respectively, equating to 7,000 and 6,000 fewer individuals in each group.