How To Get a South Korea Work Visa (E2 English Teaching Visa)

Westerners, who want to teach English in South Korea, need an E2 South Korea work visa. To qualify for an E2 visa, you must meet strict requirements, bring your documents and find a job first. This post walks you through the tricky process of applying for a South Korea work visa.

South Korea is one of the most popular destinations for teaching English and for good reason. Schools there offer some of the best salaries, benefits, and opportunities to save money.

While the market to teach English in Korea has shrunken considerably in recent years, there are still jobs to teach if one meets the right requirements and South Korea remains a hot spot for teaching abroad. Just in the capital of Seoul alone, there are an estimated 24,000 foreign English teachers at any given time.

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Each of those Western instructors can tell you that getting the E2 South Korea work visa in hand before arriving in the country takes some diligence, patience, and research. In case you are wondering, an E2 visa is the work visa assigned by the Korean government for foreign English teachers.

There is an array of visas available, but if you are successful in landing a job, you will ultimately receive an E2 visa from your nearest Korean consulate before boarding that plane and hugging your friends and family goodbye.

How To Get a South Korea Work Visa E2 English Teaching Visa

How Long Does It Take to Get an E2 Work Visa?

In order to get an E2 visa, there are several steps that must be taken. How long it takes for one to receive a visa is really dependent on how quickly you can gather the necessary documents, processing time and fortunate or unfortunate luck. Nevertheless, expect it to take between two to six months.

If you are serious about teaching English in South Korea, it is better to be on the safe side and begin preparing six months out. But don’t worry. If you are a procrastinator like me, you might get away with three or four months with a little good fortune from the visa gods!

How to Qualify for an E2 South Korea Work Visa

In order to get an E2 visa to work in Korea, you obviously have to find a school that will hire you. Before a school will consider your application, some requirements have to be met.

  • First, you must be a native English speaker and…
  • a citizen of the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
  • In addition, you must have a university degree from an accredited school in one of the above-mentioned countries and…
  • a clean criminal record!

There are no exceptions to these three requirements when it comes to getting an E2 work visa in South Korea. Personally, I think the Korean government is too strict, but that is just my opinion.

While you do not need any experience to get a job there other than the requirements listed above, age is certainly an issue when trying to land a job in Korea. Many schools prefer young, inexperienced teachers fresh out of college so they can pay them a lower salary. It is certainly possible to get a job in Korea if you are over 30, but you must have prior teaching experience.

There are opportunities for better-paying jobs and non-teaching positions for experienced individuals, but it may take time and networking to reach that point. For a good source to search for jobs to teach English in Korea, check out Dave’s ESL Cafe Korean Job Board.

Documents You Need to Bring

Criminal Background Check

First, you will need to show a clean criminal record, which requires a criminal background check that has been apostilled. There are no expectations of this as your criminal check must come back squeaky clean. Minor things will not show up, but if you were ever fingerprinted and formally arrested,  you will not be able to teach in South Korea. A DUI will show up. Keep in mind that processing criminal background checks can be quite time-consuming.

For United States Citizens

  • You must get an FBI background check and have it apostilled to teach English in Korea.
  • First, have your fingerprints taken and send them with the application for a criminal background check to FBI headquarters. Processing time for this can take 8 to 10 weeks.
  • In order to expedite this process, you can use an approved FBI channeler, which will allow you get the results of your FBI background check within a few days for a reasonable fee.
  • Once you have your FBI background check in hand, you must have it apostilled by the department of state. This can take a few weeks to process, but again there are agencies that expedite this process for a fee.
  • Your FBI background check can be no older than 6 months when applying for a visa.

For Canadian Citizens

  • A notarized & verified copy of a Certified Criminal Record Check must be submitted by Canadian citizens.
  • This copy can be no older than 6 months
  • Canadians must submit a national-level fingerprint check
  • Electronic submissions are acceptable and take only 10-12 days as opposed to mailing it in, which can take up to 12 weeks.

For UK citizens

  • UK citizens must get an apostilled copy of a Basic Disclosure that can be no older than 6 months.
  • In order to request a Basic Disclosure, the following items must be provided; passport, driving license or national insurance number in addition to a utility bill, previous disclosure, addresses of previous 5 years.
  • The process generally takes two weeks to receive a Basic Disclosure.
  • Citizens of Ireland must obtain an apostilled copy of a Police Certificate obtained by the Gardai issued within the past 6 months. This process generally takes 3-4 weeks.

For Citizens of Australia and New Zealand

  • Citizens of Australia must obtain an apostilled copy of a National Police Check, which generally takes around 3 weeks. This copy must not be older than 6 months.
  • Citizens of New Zealand must obtain an apostilled copy of a criminal record check from the Ministry of Justice. This process generally takes anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months. This copy must not be older than 6 months.

For Citizens of South Africa

  • Citizens of South Africa must obtain an apostilled copy of a Police Clearance Certificate, which can take upwards to two months. However, there may be services to expedite the process. This police clearance can be not older than 6 months.

Apostilled Copy of Your University Diploma

  • You will need at least a 4-year degree from an accredited university to teach English in  Korea. No exceptions.
  • You must obtain a notarized/certified and apostilled copy of your diploma. Do not send the original copy.

University Transcripts

  • You will need at least 2 sets of officially sealed university transcripts. Do not open them! It might be a good idea to order three copies just in case.

Overview: What You Need to Apply for a South Korea Work Visa

Although you may apply for a job before you gather these documents, most recruiters and schools will not take you seriously until you have these document in hand or are at least in process of gathering them.

Thus, it is imperative that you first work on obtaining a criminal background check. When you can show that you have a clean criminal record, you become officially eligible to teach in South Korea.

Once you find a school that offers you position, they will send you a contract for you to sign. At this point, you are ready to apply for the E2 visa. The following documents listed below along with the above mentioned are required in order to apply.

  • Signed work contract
  • Four color passport size photos
  • Photocopy of the picture page of your passport
  • Apostilled (certified) national level original criminal record check
  • Notarized and apostilled (certified) copy of Bachelor’s degree/diploma
  • Two official transcripts in separate sealed envelopes
  • Health statement with original ink signature
  • Resume

The Work Visa Application Process

At this point, you are pretty much on your way to arriving in South Korea. Once you have a work contract and all required documents, you will need to send these documents to your school.

Do not send them through regular US mail as that can take 6 to 8 weeks and there is a chance that your documents will get lost. In other words, don’t be a cheap bastard! Use a service that will get your docs there quickly and safely, which will cost between $40 to $80.

Getting a Visa Issuance Number

  • Your school will then take your documents to the Korean Ministry of Justice and Immigration to get a Visa Issuance Number.
  • The Korean immigration office will issue a confirmation of your visa issuance number within 7 to 10 working days.
  • This important number will be sent to your recruiter (assuming you are working with one, which is most likely).
  • You will need this number when filling out the visa application form.

Apply at Your Local Korean Consulate

Before your application for an E2 South Korea work visa is processed by the Korean Consulate, you have to send in the following documents and materials:

  • A completed E2 visa application form.
  • A passport with at least 6 months before expiration and with at least one empty page.
  • You will need an additional passport photo to send with your application (2 inches by 2 inches).
  • You must pay a $45 fee by cash or money order.

As per your passport, I recommend it should have at least one and a half year validity, so it does not expire while you are in South Korea. If your passport doesn’t have much time, it might be a good idea to renew it before leaving your home.

Once you submit all of the correct items, the consulate will contact you and arrange an interview. You need to visit the consulate for an in-person interview. I guess Korean embassy workers aren’t into Skyping!

Assuming you are not a complete lunatic and haven’t taken 17 bong rips before the interview, you will have your visa in hand and be on your way to South Korea within a matter of days.

On Arrival in South Korea

You must receive a full medical check upon 90 days of arriving in South Korea, which will not be paid for by your school. They will test for HIV, Ebola, and narcotics. There is some ambiguity as to whether or not they are only testing for hard drugs or soft drugs, such as Marijuana. Nonetheless, it is better not to smoke marijuana for at least two months before coming to South Korea.

Are English Schools in South Korea Racist?

Unfortunately, racism is still an issue in South Korea and the rest of Asia. Personally, I stopped recruiting teachers for South Korea due to this problem. However, don’t lose hope! Things are slowly changing for the better and it is possible for non-white teachers to get hired to teach English in Korea. While that last statement is unfortunate, it is reality and one in which myself and others are trying to erode.

If you are a non-white teacher, your best chances are to apply for the EPIK program. This is a government program that places teachers in public schools throughout Korea. From what I know, racism is not an issue with the EPIK program. However, racism is an issue with private language schools (hagwons) throughout the country. While it is not impossible to get hired by a hagwon for non-white applicants, it can be difficult. However, you shouldn’t let racist attitudes deter you from teaching in South Korea.

The reality is that most private language schools in South Korea prefer white Western females. If you are a white woman around the age of 25, then you are the queen B! Better yet, If you are an attractive and intelligent young, white Western woman, hagwons will practically fight over you and each recruiter you contact will respond to your inquiry at lightning speed.

If you are a non-white Western Female, then you have a decent chance of getting hired. This is a sad reality, but hopefully, the perception in Korea of what qualifies one to be a good teacher will change. This, of course, begins with the teachers that are already there doing what they can to eradicate this misguided perception.


As you can see, obtaining an E2 South Korea work visa is a long process that requires patience and organization. If you are serious about teaching there, do your research and begin the process early.

Keep in mind that the English teaching job market in South Korea has become significantly more competitive in the past few years. Your best chances to find employment are in the outer suburbs of Seoul or in the smaller cities and rural areas. A saturation of foreigners in Seoul and Pusan and a slowing Korean economy has made finding a teaching job a bit more challenging. It can also be difficult to find a job in Seoul or Pusan if you are over 35 years of age.

With that being said, if you are really committed to teaching English in South Korea and meet the requirements for a South Korea work visa, I am sure there are ways and good luck!

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15 thoughts on “How To Get a South Korea Work Visa (E2 English Teaching Visa)”

  1. Avatar

    Hi there,

    This is very useful information, thanks for the overview!

    Is there any possibility for me to bring my partner (married) to South Korea as a ‘dependent’ or similar if I was to get the E2 visa for language teachers? My partner is not a holder of citizenship for any of the countries listed for the E2 visa, so we could not simply apply for the same visa


  2. Avatar

    I am in the process of obtaining my documents for an E2 Visa. However, I forgot that when I was in HS I took a college class online and transferred that credit to the school I just graduated from. I have that college transfer credit on the transcript from the University I graduated from. Am I going to need to get a transcript from the University I took one class with 10+ years ago? Or is just the transcript from the Uni I graduated from sufficient.

    If anyone knows this would be helpful!

  3. Avatar

    How many apostiled photocopies of the University degree are required? Some people say 1, others say 2. Just need to know.

    1. Marcel Jimmy

      Hey Moshood,

      thanks for leaving a comment. I am not sure whether there’s a logical answer to your question. The distinction between so-called natives and non-natives is one of the facts you have to deal with in the TEFL industry.


    2. Avatar

      Moshood Oyekan,
      I feel for you, even though I am from one of the privileged 7 countries that can apply for English teaching visas in Korea. If it’s any compensation, I have taught in China. I taught at a university, and some of the native English teachers were from Ghana and Nigeria. I also taught at high schools in Beijing, and there were English teachers who were from a wider range of countries, and some from Nigeria.
      I also briefly taught in Saudi Arabia. There are problems there. I liked the sense of peace and tranquillity there (as long as you don’t step out of line). However, teaching there can be a trial. The good news is that the company I worked for hired a teacher from Sudan. Saudi Arabia can be a difficult location for some people, but they do often look after teachers, pay them a good salary and so on. Saudi Arabian schools often pay for housing and flights. I hope that that helps.
      I have also taught in South Korea. While I’ve had good experiences there, I’ve also had problems. For example, I completed one contract. Then I got a new job the next day. The new boss was very enthusiastic. But then she said I had to leave. Why? Well, parents were given a final say based on a profile photo. Parents were boycotting the school because I looked “too old.” They wanted 21 year-old graduates. Nonsense like that happens all the time in Korea. There is the famous case of the young, pretty Irish girl who was rejected at interview by a language school “because of the alcoholism of your kind.” Ignorant Korean bosses decided all Irish people were drunks. BUT SOUTH KOREA HAS A HIGHER CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL THAN ALMOST ANY OTHER COUNTRY! More than Ireland.

    3. Avatar

      I think your comment answers your own question (it’s full of English mistakes). Which may seem rude but it is the answer. Nigerians speak “English” but there are many varieties of the language – and in Nigeria its Pidgin English. They obviously want people coming over there who speak “proper” international English to a high standard. English South Africans speak a version of the language that is close to British English (or some would say the “original”). Even for South Africans, things have become a bit trickier in South Korea due to the amount of Afrikaans people (and other ethnicities) saying on their applications that their first language is English (when it really isn’t) and then going into classes and teaching incorrect grammar and pronunciation – I’ve personally met students who previously had Afrikaans teachers and pronounce certain words as an Afrikaner would….which sounded funny to me but really…not what the gov wants of course. And they are aware of the issue – South Africans now have to provide proof of having gone to English only schools for primary school, high school and university. After that, they are at the bottom of the hiring ladder anyway (because of the “African” label – which doesn’t have a prestigious English speaking connection to it) but, at least the door is still open to South Africans who can speak the Queen’s English or sound neutral or somewhat American. Which you just don’t hear too often from Nigerians. People moan and complain about Korea being racists and about who is on the list or not – but seriously, their money, their country, their education system – they don’t have to import anyone at all. And they can allow access to whoever they think fits what they’re looking for.

  4. Avatar

    I’m a 59 year old American, with 13 years of teaching Korean children abroad in Paris, France. I would like to relocate to South Korea next year to begin a new career start there in a hagwon.
    Would there be any realistic possiblity for me?

  5. Avatar

    I’m a 30-year-old brown lady, ethnically Indian but North America-born, who has been looking for jobs in South Korea and Vietnam for 3 months. I’ve received four offers, and I worked my butt off to get those offers! I’m older, have teaching experience, and have published books (including a children’s book), yet some hogwans have never gotten back to me, or have even stood me up for the interview.

    It’s sad to see that Koreans have so many hang-ups that as a Western woman seem totally bizarre to me, just downright weird to be honest. It isn’t a PC country — they will openly ask your age, race, and marital status during job interviews, as well as question your physical and mental health! Also, they’ll ask about piercings and tattoos. Koreans also have strange beauty standards regarding skin colour, size, and eye shape. I find it all so weird!

    However, I’m grateful for the offers that I’ve had, and I know that the job that I chose is the one where I’m meant to be. At the end of the day, I’m doing this all for the children. <3

  6. Avatar

    Thank you for this information! I’m getting my degree currently so I can become an ESL teacher. The only thing that worries me is the clean bill of health. I don’t do any drugs at all, but I did have cancer and am since in remission. Do you know if a cancer diagnosis could potentially disqualify me? I have spoken with recruiters about this issue but they don’t have a for sure answer since I’m required to take daily medication, even if it is just thyroid hormone.

  7. Marcel

    Hello Mr. C,

    thank you for your comment. While I am not 100% sure, I think there isn’t an explicit expiry of the notarized diploma.

    Your criminal record may change very quickly, ;-) so it is understandable they want an up to date one.

    But why don’t you inquire your future employer? They should know best!

    All the best to you!


  8. Avatar

    Thanks for posting this… I’ve been in Korea ?? for 5 years, coming in on an E2.
    It was a real pain to get the documents together the first time but I got there in the end.

    Going through the process again, but this time I’m in Korea (went home a few months and came back on a tourist visa).
    I’ve just passed my documents onto my employer, after 2 months of obstacles.
    It’s now their turn to contact immigration and send the visa documents my behalf, for the next stage.

    You mention that there’s a 6-month expiry on the Criminal record check, is there an expiry on the diploma, after its been notarized by a lawyer?

    My diploma was notorised around 5 months ago (3 months before my CRC) and I’m a little concerned!


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