Go to Main Content

International Relations News

  • About 90,000 Foreign Workers Live in Seoul…What Are Their Lives Like?

  • International Relations News SMG 5525

    Currently, about 90,000 foreign workers live in Seoul, but what do they think about their lives here?

    According to a study conducted by Seoul Metropolitan Government, around 45.8 percent of the foreign workers in Seoul came to Korea with the hope of earning wages higher than those of their home countries. On average, they work 11 hours a day and earn KRW 1.89 million a month.

    They were “somewhat satisfied” with their lives in Seoul, but their desire for “employment information, education, and support facilities” was found to be quite high. “Communication” was identified as one of the main difficulties faced in the initial stage of their settlement, but approximately 90 percent of foreign workers responded that they have no difficulties communicating in Korean now.

    In December 2014, Seoul City conducted a study on the living conditions of foreign residents in Seoul with the participation of 700 foreign workers across 11 areas—including housing, working conditions, and living conditions—in 93 specific categories.

    This study, the first of its kind in Korea, was carried out to reflect the living conditions and difficulties of foreign workers, who account for one-fourth of the foreign residents of Seoul, in the city government’s policy-making.

    About 89,620 foreign workers live in Seoul, making up about 22 percent of the 415,059 foreign residents of Seoul, and they work in diverse fields, including basic labor, machinery assembly, services, and sales (based on the statistics for 2014 of the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs).

    <”Somewhat satisfied” with life in Seoul, working 11 hours a day and earning KRW 1.89 million a month on average>

    First of all, rating 3.57 out of 5, the overall satisfaction of foreign workers with the living conditions in Seoul was “somewhat satisfied.”

    [Foreign Residents’ Overall Satisfaction with Living Conditions]

    Specifically, foreign residents’ satisfaction with their basic living conditions, including transportation, culture, housing, and medical care, was “somewhat satisfied” (3.56 points), while their satisfaction with hospitality, support facilities, and the operation of facilities was identified as “generally satisfied” (3.18 points).

    The main reason for foreign workers relocating to Korea was identified as “to earn a lot of money,” which was the answer indicated by 45.8 percent of respondents, and they were found to work an average of 11 hours a day and earn an average of KRW 1.89 million a month. The distribution of salary levels was: KRW 1.51 to 2 million (47.8 percent), KRW 2.01 to 2.5 million (24.8 percent), KRW 1 to 1.5 million (15.3 percent), and KRW 2.51 to 3 million (7.0 percent). Among foreign workers in Seoul, employees of overseas-based businesses working in Seoul through the visiting employment system (KRW 1.92 million), including Korean Chinese workers, earned roughly KRW 400,000 more than non-professional employees from Thailand and the Philippines (KRW 1.51 million).

    <Detached houses and houses based on a semi-Jeonse system (deposit of less than KRW 20 million and monthly rent of KRW 200,000 to 400,000) were most common.>

    According to housing type, a majority of foreign workers lived in “detached houses” (44.1 percent), followed by “row houses/multiplex houses/town houses” (41.4 percent), “company dormitories” (6.2 percent), and “apartments” (6.2 percent), houses based on monthly rent with deposit” (63.7 percent) were most common.

    Regarding leisure activities, foreign workers “watched TV” (54.3 percent) and “just relaxed” (29.8 percent) on weekdays and “socialized with friends and relatives” on the weekends (33.4 percent). Furthermore, eight of 10 foreign workers indicated that they had never participated in any cultural or sports events held in Seoul in the last year.

    <Rate of health insurance subscription was 41.5 percent, with main reasons for not subscribing being high insurance premiums (42.7 percent) and good health (16.7 percent).>

    Regarding medical services, the rate of health insurance subscription was particularly low at 41.5 percent. The main reasons for not subscribing were “high insurance premiums” (42.7 percent) and “good health” (16.7 percent), and the most frequently visited medical facilities were “general hospitals” (46.9 percent), “pharmacies” (12.9 percent), “religious facilities offering medical services” (5.8 percent), and “health centers” (4.6 percent).

    Some of the difficulties identified involving medical services were “high medical costs” (45.5 percent), “lack of information on medical institutions” (28.6 percent), “lack of hospitals exclusively for foreign residents” (26.7 percent), and “lack of foreign language services” (14.2 percent).

    < Most desired by foreign workers was information, facilities, and training regarding employment.
    About 90 percent of foreign workers were able to communicate in Korean.>

    The Internet usage rate was low at 42.1 percent, with only 28.4 percent of foreign workers active in Internet communities or blogs. However, about 88.3 percent of foreign workers owned smartphones, (with Internet access) with 70.0 percent of them using SNS services.

    Living and lifestyle information was acquired mostly through “acquaintances” (64.4 percent), with foreign workers most desiring “information on employment” (40.8 percent). With respect to facilities or programs that foreign workers believe should be established in the future, “vocational training” was most highly indicated. Regarding the difficulties of acquiring information, “difficult to find necessary information” (42.0 percent), “inaccurate information” (15.1 percent), and “not clear whether the information is up-to-date” (12.1 percent) were the most common answers.

    [Additional Support Facilities and Programs Desired by Foreign Workers]

    In the early stage of their settlement in Seoul, foreign workers had a hard time communicating in Korean (46.2 percent), but currently, about 90.1 percent of them can communicate in Korean. Nearly 87.5 percent of respondents answered that they can read in Korean.

    They faced difficulties due to “prejudice/discrimination” (40.1 percent), and as in the initial stage of settlement, non-professional employees pointed to “communication” (26.0 percent) as the greatest difficulty they currently face.

    It was found that foreign workers sought help from “friends from their home countries living in Seoul” (35.7 percent) and “spouses” (28.8 percent), and tended to resolve their difficulties through “conversation and commiseration” (46.9 percent).

    In response to a question about “whether they want to extend their period of stay,” about 92.7 percent of respondents answered “yes,” and among them, roughly 78.9 percent wanted to extend their stay for more than three years.

    In response to a question asking respondent to identify “the most important Seoul City policy for foreign residents,” the most common answer was “basic living policy, including housing, healthcare, etc.” (29.2 percent), followed by “early settlement education (Korean language classes, etc.) and counseling” (25.0 percent) and “employment support” (22.8 percent).