How the crime rate in Korea compares

It seems every couple of months we see this – another claim that foreigners are committing more and more crimes.  According to the opening sentence for this Korea Times’ article:

The number of foreigners arrested for violent crimes is increasing at a faster rate than their growth as a proportion of the population, according to the latest government statistics.

I guess this is what Evan Ramstad was referring to in the first sentence of his WSJ article:

An often-heard gripe in South Korea’s expat community is that South Korean media pay outsized attention to crimes by foreigners, especially those by English-language teachers in schools and hagwons (after-school tutor centers).

It is truly interesting to note the differences in the figures given in these two articles.

The KT article:

The number of foreigners arrested for murder, robbery, rape, theft and assault reached 8,086 last year, up 22.2 percent from 6,615 in 2008, according to figures that Rep. Moon Hak-jin of the main opposition Democratic Party obtained from the National Police Agency (NPA).

The number of foreigners rose by 8.85 percent from 1.16 million in 2008 to 1.26 million in 2010, according to statistics provided by the Korea Immigration Service.

The steepest rise occurred in robbery, for which 221 were arrested last year, up from 133 in 2008. The number of rape offenses also soared from 114 to 156 last year, while that of assault perpetrators rose from 4,940 to 5,885.

The WSJ:

In 2010, the data shows, police around the country charged 1.8 million South Koreans with crimes, about 3.8% of the overall population of 48 million. By contrast, 33,586 non-Koreans were charged with crimes, about 2.7% of the country’s foreign population of 1.26 million.

The biggest foreigner group, the approximately 610,000 Chinese people in South Korea, fell right on that average, with a 2.7% crime rate.

The second-biggest group, the 127,000 Americans in the country, had a crime rate of 1.6%.

The third-biggest group – Vietnamese, with 103,000 people in South Korea – stood at 2.6%.

This may cause Mr. Marmot to cringe:

What group of foreigners had the highest crime rate? The approximately 30,000 Mongolians in South Korea, with just over 1,800 charged with a crime in 2010, for a rate of 6%.


  • Apodyopsis Gymnophoria

    After puberty I was never been good at maths – however –

    1,260,000 foreigners / 8,086 arrests = ONE arrest for every 155 foreigners.


    48,000,000 Koreans / 1,800,000 arrests = ONE arrest for every 26 Koreans

    To me, foreigners seem to be angels – compared to the Koreans – or is my math wrong??

  • cm

    It depends. We have to know what “crime” means in Korea.

    The discrepancy in figures could be that the Korea Times article is counting “violent crimes of robbery, murder, rape, assualt, etc”. vs the WS article which includes all crimes.

    If we want to compare foreign vs domestic crime figures, then we have to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. How many violent crimes committed by foreigners vs how many violent crimes committed by Koreans? How many fraud crimes committed by foreigners vs how many fraud crimes committed by Koreans? How many traffic crimes committed by foreigners vs how many traffic crimes committed by Koreans? etc etc.

  • YangachiBastardo

    1 out of 26 Koreans were charged with a crime ?? Seems a bit outrageous, unless they count even speed tickets and parking violations

  • martypants

    well, in this crazy-ass land, sun bathing with a bikini top is considered a crime.

  • cm

    #3, exactly the reason why we need to establish what “crime” means in Korea.

  • Fullslab

    Now I understand why petty crimes by Koreans like paying for sex with Mongolian women happens, it’s payback.

  • slim

    In past Korean media reports on USFK crimes, it turned out that the bulk of those crimes were parking tickets, so yes, someone should take a close look at the police data to be sure like is being compared with like. But I don’t think the predictably xenophobic Korea Times is a credible source on any issue. We have seen this movie before.

    I would guess visa overstays would represent a good portion of the Mongolian crimes. (Although anecdotally, I recall hearing that Mongolian men get in a disproportionate amount of fights because they can’t handle their drink.)

  • Fullslab

    Crime is when you go on Korean TV and lie or tell about what you might/will do in the future(join the military). It got Yoo, Seung-jun/Steve Yoo deported and banned from returning to S. Korea. But, if/when you lie to the Korean police about evidence, that is not a crime according to the Korean Supreme Court.
    Crime is also when a Korea man pays for sex or Korean woman is paid for sex. Crime is also when a Korean woman pays a Korean man for sex but NOT a crime for that same Korean man to accept/receive $$$ for sex.

    Gotta employ the young unemployed male university students somehow aye?

  • Fullslab

    Bad Mongolians,
    “Mongolian stabs Chinese over banmal”
    “반말 하지마”‥몽골 근로자가 중국인에 칼부림
    “Mr. K told police that “I became really angry after H, who is extremely young, sometimes spoke to me in banmal.”

  • dogbertt

    Wow …. one man killing another in a dispute over the usage of a language native to neither of them.

    Gerry — please don’t let it ever come to that.

  • robert neff

    #9 an #10
    Wow – that is something I didn’t expect. But, to be honest, I could see how that would bother a person – especially if you knew he was doing it just to bother you. But to stab him?

  • chrisinsouthkorea

    In the interest of comparing apples to apples, let’s compare the ARRESTS (which has already been done). No one’s getting arrested for traffic tickets.

  • cm

    #11, the Korean article says the Chinese man was not very good speaking the Korean language. The rudeness which offended the Mongolian probably wasn’t intentional, but it almost got him killed.

  • Granfalloon

    Well, the KT article is alarmist and xenophobic, as one might expect. It’d be nice if they could point out that the foreign crime rate is well below the Korean crime rate. But none of us would expect that kind of competence from them, so let’s just get over it.

    At the same time, though, IF their numbers are accurate on the increase of foreign crime, it’s certainly worth taking note of. A 22% increase is significant.

  • kuiwon

    #9 – That’s something I’d expect from an angry Korean 아저씨; not an angry 오랑캐 아저씨.

  • hamel

    kuiwon: linguistic question here, does 오랑개 normally refer to ALL foreigners? For some reason I thought it applied chiefly/only to the Japanese.

  • kuiwon

    The term is a bit Sino-Centric, in that it refers to all foreign peoples, usually those surrounding Korea and China. During the Chosun Dynasty the term was also applied against the Manchu Qing dynasty, because Manchu were originally 오랑캐 (barbarians) or 호(胡), though the Manchu assimilated into Chinese culture a bit too well later on and now the Manchurian language is almost extinct.

    There are Sino-Korean words if you want to be further descriptive of the Barbarians you are referring to. 북적(北狄) refers to Northern barbarians (e.g,. Mongols); 서융(西戎) refers to Western (e.g., Tibetan); 동이(東夷) refers to Eastern barbarians, though the character 夷 can be used with barbarians of any direction (e.g., 양이/洋夷 for Europeans); 남만(南蠻) refers to Southern barbarians (e.g., Vietnamese); and 왜(倭) refers to Japanese as barbarians.

  • hamel

    Many thanks, Kuiwon! I like to keep my barbarians separated.

    In fact, you gotta keep ’em separated.

  • Fullslab

    Kuiwon # 15,
    Thank you but I can’t take credit since I got it from Robert, that’s his English teacher speak.

  • kuiwon

    Hamel, you’re welcome. It should be noted that the term 夷(이) has some history and is more of a cultural connotation than a racial one. The term 오랑캐, on the other hand, I believe does not distinguish. The whole concept of being civilized (華, 화) versus barbarian (夷, 이) has a long history in Oriental thought. This wiki article have some questionable points, but give a good overview of the concept:

  • Avaast

    I got involved in something similar with a French person a few months back…since we were both foreigners (and neither of us being 100% native in Korean) I decided that insisting on 존댓말 would be a bit much. However my Korean friend who was sitting next to me thought otherwise, and scrambled to intervene in order to save what little remained of my honour – and received a hilariously effeminate slap across the face for his trouble. I then spent the next hour trying to prevent a potential catfight with a straight face.

    If only all such quarrels were solved with effeminate slaps…

  • Yu Bum Suk

    You’d also have to consider age: very few foreign residents are children or elderly. What’s the crime rate of foreigners to Koreans age 18-65? Gender could also play a role. I have no idea how it would factor in since most foreign labourers are male but most foreign spouses are female.