The Truth About Teaching English in South Korea

a famous temple in south korea

South Korea remains one of hot spots for teaching English abroad. I have met several teachers who have taught there. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have had several wonderful Students from Korea while teaching for the International Language Institute in Washington DC. These students were part of the Korea West program.The ESL industry in South Korea is highly competitive and developed. There are thousands of university students and young professionals who are eager to improve their English skills in the hopes that it will strengthen their resumes.

Many young Koreans in their early to mid 20’s will go on to a do an internship or study English abroad. Many parents are also more than willing to shell out money to send their children to English lessons. While the South Korean economy has slowed down in the last couple of years, the ESL industry there hasn’t really been impacted. In fact, as the job market becomes more competitive, having a certain level of English proficiency is becoming more important than ever for Koreans to secure a good position.

How much money can I make teaching English in South Korea?

If you work at a public school expect to make between $1800  to $2400 a month depending on experience. Private conversational schools, which are called  hagwons, usually pay between $1900 to $3500 a month depending on experience and the ability of the teacher to attract new students. On average, you can expect to make about $2000 per month without any prior teaching experience. This amount increases with each year of experience and having a TEFL or TESOL will likely increase your salary as well. There are some hagwons where teachers reportedly make $4000 to $5000 per month. However, this isn’t the norm and these positions are reserved for the most energetic and experienced teachers that can generate significant revenue for a school.

Starting off at $2000 per month may not seem like a lot of money, but keep in mind that both private and public schools in Korea pay for the teacher’s rent, airfare to Korea and offer a bonus of one month’s salary upon the completion of a 12 month contract. In addition to free rent and airfare, teachers at public schools usually receive 18 paid days of vacation and 13 paid days off for national holidays per year. Most hagwons offer between 7 to 14 days of paid vacation and 13 paid days off for national holidays. If you’ve had a gander at the American job market lately, you quickly realize that teaching English in Korea can be a good opportunity.

What are the best English teaching jobs in South Korea and what qualifications do I need?

The best jobs teaching English in South Korea are at universities, which is the same in any country. English teaching positions at Korean universities are known to pay $3000 to $4000 dollars per month, including 2 to 3 months of paid vacation and a 6 hour work day. Not a bad teaching gig considering that Korean Universities also pay for accommodation. Naturally, university English teaching jobs in Korea are the most competitive. At least a master’s degree in any discipline with teaching experience is required for a University job. Candidates with a master’s in TESOL or Linguistics may fair better.

The majority of individuals interested in teaching in South Korea are not qualified to teach in universities, which is fine because there are plenty of good paying jobs in private language schools (hagwons) and in Korean public schools. If you have a master’s degree and interested in teaching at the university level, I recommend completing a TEFL/TESOL certification course with the INTERNATIONAL TEFL ACADEMY.

How much money can I save teaching English in South Korea? 

It depends on your lifestyle, spending habits and if you can control your consumption of booze. It is not uncommon for kids fresh out of college and making $2200 a month to save $12,000 to $16,000 in one year. I’ve heard reports of experienced teachers saving $25,000 to $30,000 per year. I would say that the average is around $8000 to $10000 per year. Again, it really depends on your lifestyle. If you learn to live like a typical South Korean, then you will save more, but if you cannot live without every back home amenity or product, then you will save less. My advice is to buy a rice maker and learn how to prepare food.

South Korea is not cheap, but it isn’t necessarily expensive either. Eating out can be rather affordable if you know where to go and don’t get caught up in the Western tourist dining choices. There are plenty of inexpensive places to eat and I am sure your new Korean friends or seasoned Westerners will take you to them. Like everywhere, nightclubs, partying and drinking will burn a hole in your wallet.

How do I secure a work visa to teach English in Korea?

Immigration has definitely become more strict in recent years. Partly because there are more foreigners and partly because there has been a slight increase in crime. While there is no direct evidence that this is due to an increase in foreign residents, the government is not as lax as it once was. You can no longer just fly into South Korea on a tourist visa like you could in the past and change it to a work visa. On top of that, schools do not hire teachers directly from their home countries with the exception of a few government exchange programs. Consequently, most teachers go through a recruiter in their home country. You try showing up on a tourist visa, but it’s almost impossible nowadays to get it changed to a proper work visa.

The whole process can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months, so so plan ahead of time and shoot for a 2-3 month timeframe.  Once the recruiter finds you a teaching position you will have to obtain a copy of your criminal background check and have it appostilized. Americans need an FBI check. NOTE: Your FBI background check needs to be clean! It must not show any arrest associated with fingerprints. If you have been arrested and fingerprinted, the only option is to first have that record expunged. Once you submit these documents, including your work contract and fees  to a Korean consulate, your visa will be processed. This may seem like a hassle, but keep in mind that South Korea also has some of the best English teaching jobs in the world. As a former teacher, I recruit students to teach in several countries, including South Korea.

Will my rent and health insurance be paid for and is there is a completion bonus if I teach English in South Korea?

Your rent will be fully covered by your school regardless if you are working in a private institute, public school or university. This is really one of the great advantages to teaching in South Korea. There are only a few countries around the world that will pay for the teacher’s rent. In most cases, you will have to pay for utilities, which only amount to $100 to $200 per month depending on which services you choose. You also receive full health insurance. The cost of health insurance is shared between you and the school, but you won’t pay anymore than you would with a company in your home country. As an added plus, many schools offer a bonus of one month’s salary upon completion of each one year contract. However, some schools are now shying away from this.

Do I need a TEFL or TESOL to teach English in South Korea?

Yes and no.  You will need a TEFL or TESOL if you want to teach in a Korean public school as mandated by the South Korean government. You can teach at a private language institute without a TEFL or TESOL certificate. However, the job market in Korea is beginning to tighten up and become more competitive. If you are going to spend a year or two teaching there, then it is wise to find the best position possible. You will more than likely increase your chances of finding a better job in Korea if you have a TEFL or TESOL.

There are some schools that do require a teaching certificate and these are usually the best places to work. If you have a master’s degree, you will also increase your chance at landing a teaching job in a university or college. Of course, you should avoid getting a certificate for as long as you can to save money and I would do the same. However, if you plan on teaching beyond just one year, then you should highly consider completing either a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA course. Before enrolling in a course, make sure that it is at least 120 hours as this is the industry standard throughout the world.

When do most jobs begin and when should I start looking for a job to teach English in South Korea?

Public schools in South Korea, including colleges and universities, begin in August and early March. If you are hired by a public school, you can expect either a late February or August start date. Since the visa process can take a while, it is best to start looking for jobs in spring for an August start date and in the fall for a February start date. Private language institutes hire all year. While there may be more private school openings coinciding with the public start dates,  private institutes are always on the lookout for teachers.

I have come across hundreds of Koreans and they are for the most part generous, friendly, polite and fun people. Lets not forget about Korean food, which is delicious!!!!!! If you want to teach in a highly developed market and have the potential to save a decent amount, then Korea is a good place. However, it should be noted that finding a teaching job in South Korea has become increasingly difficult in recent years. Not only have requirements become more demanding, but the South Korean recession in recent years has meant that schools can become more selective. Unfortunately, many schools now only looks for recent graduates who are willing to work for lower wages and typically only stay for one or two years.

Do I really need a  clean criminal or FBI background record to teach English in South Korea?

The answer to this question is yes and there are no exceptions. Korean immigration is quite strict about handing out visas. Even if a small blemish, such as a petty misdemeanor, shows up on your background check, you will be denied a visa. Do you have a DUI? It will show up on your record an you will be denied a visa. Personally, I think it is too strict and deters a lot of quality teachers who made mistakes when they were younger to teach in Korea. However, this is the policy of the Korean government.  For an FBI background check, only times when you were formally arrested and ‘fingerprinted’ will show up. So if you’ve had some run-ins with the law, but were not fingerprinted, then you should be ok.

Teaching in South Korea can be a rewarding experience. If you are serious about teaching there, it is best to do some research and begin gathering the necessary documents months in advance. Most likely, you will have to go through a recruiter or some sort of agency to find a job there. I good place to begin is the Korean Job Board on Dave’s ESL Cafe.

About James 66 Articles
Since finishing Graduate school in 2007, I have been teaching ESL and adjuncting as a political science instructor. I taught English in Japan for four years and I have traveled throughout Asia and South America. These days, I spend most of my time customizing Wordpress themes, blogging and understanding SEO. My next goal in life is to become a successful entrepreneur. I recently have started a teacher placement agency, Beyond Borders ESL Jobs, and I am looking for investors to start-up an online language school with an innovative twist.

6 Comments

  1. Hi Nick, the only thing that matters is whether or not the misdemeanor will show up on your criminal record. If not, then just don’t say anything about it.

  2. I have a Misdemeanor Obstruction of an Officer/Resisting arrest. I have heard conflicting information about being able to teach in South Korea with the misdemeanor so I spoke with Korean consulate and recruiters. The consulate said that it would not prevent me from obtaining a visa but that it is up to the employer. I found that most recruiters will not pursue you if you have a criminal record because schools will not hire you because they think the government will deny the request. It seems to me to there is confusion about the law. I recently spoke with a recruiter (1/15/15) and told her about the Misdemeanor. She said she would be able to find me job placement. Has the law changed since you wrote this article?

  3. Well,there are definitely those students from time to time who display disturbing behavior. If I think they may harm other students, I make the school admin staff aware of the problem and take further action if necessary. Sometimes, you just need to talk to them for a bit and find out what the problem is.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog

  4. Hello Matt,

    I am sorry that I didn’t respond before, but I only saw your comment now. You make a good point . I will revise this article and mention about when schools hire. How long have you been teaching English in South Korea?

    James

  5. Ia??m curious how innovative writing instructors at faculties and universities take care of learners who compose about really disturbing factors and who seem probably harmful to themselves and others? Are instructors privy to studentsa?? psychological health documents? Do they enable these kinds of learners get absent with violent or disturbing creating in an energy NOT to stir way too much trouble? Do you become proactive in making an attempt to help these students? Do you go through coaching to deal with dilemma learners? As a innovative creating scholar at a college, I typically see disturbing stuff introduced into workshops. Ia??m wondering what the profs think of all this. Thanks to any answers!

  6. This is a good article, but you failed to mention when schools hire. Hagwons hire all year, but public schools and universities hire before March and August. The school year starts in March in South Korea.

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