The Guide on How to Teach English in Korea

Teaching English in South Korea

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. Although there has been a saturation of Western teachers in the past few years, the job market remains somewhat steady. While the market to teach English in Kora has shrunken considerably in recent years, there are still jobs to teach if one meets the right requirements. How long that will last is debatable, but until then, there is no doubt that thousands of Westerners will seek work in South Korea. Just in the capital of Seoul alone, there are an estimated 24,000 foreign English teachers at any given time. In recent years, Seoul has become a sought after location to live because of its strong and active foreign community. If you are looking to teach in South Korea, your chances will improve significantly if you are wiling to teach in a smaller city.

For more about teaching jobs in South Korea, click here.

While South Korea remains a hot spot for teaching abroad, each of those 24,000 Western instructors can tell you that getting the E-2 visa in hand before arriving in the country takes some diligence, patience and research. In case you are wondering, an E-2 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 E-2 visa from your nearest Korean consulate before boarding that plane and hugging your friends and family goodbye. In order to get an E-2 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. With that being said, if you are serious about teaching in South Korea, it is better to be on the safe side and begin preparing 6 months out. But don’t worry. If you are a procrastinater like me, you might get away with two to three months with a little good fortune from the visa gods!

How do I qualify to teach English in Korea and get an E-2 visa? 

In order to get an E-2 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 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 and a CLEAN CRIMINAL RECORD! There are no exceptions to these three requirements when it comes to getting an E-2 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.

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 (hagwons) 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 lightening 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. If you would like to help me expose this issue, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.

What documents do I need to get an E-2 visa if I want to teach English in Korea? 

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 to 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 notoraized/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.

Note: Although you may apply for a job before you gather these documents, must recruiters and schools will not take you serious 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 have a clean criminal record, you become officially eligible to teach in South Korea.

Once you find school that is 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 contract
  • Four (4) colour 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 (2) official transcripts in separate sealed envelopes
  • Health statement with original ink signature
  • Resume

What happens after I have a work contract to teach English in Korea and all required documents?

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. Note: 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.

  • 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

You will need the following items for the Korean Consulate

  • A completed E2 visa application form
  • A passport with at least 6 months before expiration and with at least one empty page. If your passport doesn’t have much time, it might be a good idea to renew it before coming to Korea.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Note: 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 at least two months before coming to South Korea. If you are a crack or meth addicted zombie, then you probably want to reconsider teaching in Korea.

As you can see, obtaining an E2 work visa for South Korea 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 are to find employment 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, then I am sure there is a way and good luck!

About JT 63 Articles
JT taught English for four years in Japan. He also has extensive experience teaching ESL in the United States. JT has also traveled throughout Asia and South America. He began JimmyESL in 2014 as a way to provide honest information for those interested in teaching English abroad. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.