The number of foreigners visiting South Korea reached a record high last year despite political tensions on the peninsula and the global financial crisis.
The Justice Ministry said Wednesday that a total of 8.77 million foreigners came to Korea in 2010, up 11.9 percent from a year earlier. But Koreans leaving the country reached 12.81 million, posting a 30.6 percent increase after the number had been declining since 2007, due to a recovering economy and stabilizing won. Since the number of visiting foreigners was only 68 percent of that of Koreans leaving, the country is likely to remain a deficit in the travel account.
Including the number of foreigners who left Korea, some 17.4 million foreigners entered and/or left the country last year, while the combined number for Koreans was 25.56 million, together surpassing the 40 million mark for the first time, up 22 percent from 2009.
The countries Korean travelers excluding airline crew visited most were China with 2.84 million people or 24.2 percent, followed by Japan with 2.14 million or 18.2 percent, the U.S. 980,000 or 8.3 percent and Thailand with 720,000 or 6.2 percent.
Three million Japanese visitors accounted for the largest number of inbound travelers or 38.6 percent, followed by Chinese with 1.72 million or 22.2 percent, Americans with 690,000 or 8.9 percent, and Taiwanese with 440,000 or 5.6 percent. With easier visa procedures, the number of Chinese tourists rose 42.2 percent last year compared to 2009.
The main purpose of visits was tourism (6.36 million or 72.6 percent), while some 290,000 foreigners or 3.3 percent came for business and investment.
The number of foreign residents in Korea also rose 8 percent to 1.26 million, and the number of registered foreigners totaled 1.003 million, surpassing the one million mark for the first time due to an increase in the number of foreigners married to Koreans and foreign students studying here.