Thais Working in Korea Are Dying in Droves

Seoul in December 2016. Photo: Blankicks / Flickr

SEOUL  — Dozens of Thai nationals have frozen to death in Korea in this year, pointing to a worrying trend, the Thai Embassy in Seoul disclosed Tuesday night.

Harsh winters and lack of access to healthcare are to blame for the deaths of 66 undocumented Thai workers, a number that has more than doubled over four years ago as the ranks of Thai workers have swelled.

Most deaths occurred among Thai workers who are often overworked and cannot access health care due to their legal status, according to the embassy. Most died of brain hemorrhages, heart failure and other sudden causes, pneumonia and asphyxia. While this year’s winter has been typical, the deaths have increased with the number workers. In 2012, 29 Thais died in South Korea, while last year the number peaked at 72.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated that of the 100,000 Thais in South Korea this year, around half overstayed their 90-day tourist visas to work illegally.

When the workers fall sick, they avoid going to the doctor since medical fees in South Korea are among the highest in the world. Workers have to pay their own hospital bills, and are even billed in the event of death for the cost of transporting their body back to Thailand.

The Royal Thai Embassy advised Thais residing in South Korea to take care of their health, especially during the winter where much of the peninsula’s temperatures reach as low as -10C.

A number of Thais reacted to the news by sharing their experiences working in the Korean winter.

“They have so much work and the middleman delays their very small pay. They work at night and in the morning hide from the police by sleeping in closets and shipping containers,” user Maew Kanittha wrote. “Even though I’m working here legally and sleep in a house with a heater, I’m still freezing.”

“The weather is so damn cold. If your room doesn’t have a heater or heating pipes, you could wrap yourself in 10 blankets and still freeze,” user Nan Kal wrote. “Lots of Thais buy heating fans that cost around a 1,000 baht, but they didn’t leave the window a bit open so many die in their sleep.”

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Asaree Thaitrakulpanich can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @Asaree.