Annyeonghaseyo! If you are considering teaching English in South Korea, you are picking one of the prime locations in Asia for making money and having awesome adventures. Korea is packed with a variety of job opportunities for ESL teachers. This post will assist you in finding the perfect teaching job for you.
South Korea is one of the most sought out destinations in Asia for English teachers looking to go abroad. Widely touted for its safety and a huge variety of jobs available throughout the country, foreigners flock there in droves to take advantage of the teaching opportunities there.
Whether you’re interested in modern cities, ancient palaces, intriguing cuisine, or calm tea houses, South Korea has just as many robust social activities as it does job opportunities, too! Intrigued? Let’s jump into the details.
Why ESL Teachers in South Korea Are in High Demand
South Korea is full of job opportunities for English teachers. A big part of that has to do with the fact that as a small country, students are always in competition with their peers for a limited number of jobs and opportunities. Sometimes that leads to Koreans looking outside of South Korea for other opportunities. Many young people want to go to America for the university, to do an internship or to live abroad. Some want to relocate elsewhere for work.
Knowing that, parents are more than willing to shell out money and really push their kids to start learning English at an early age in order to be as successful as possible. In fact, it’s not unusual to have students who attend your classes, then go to piano school, then go to taekwondo school, and finally math academy – all before going to bed! And that’s just one day of the week!
The Opportunities to Teach English in South Korea
The demand for English is so strong and the positions tend to have great perks and high salaries. Each company and institution will be different, but language institutions all over South Korea tend to hire year-round.
Most jobs are located in Seoul. However, other popular destinations include Daegu, Busan, and Jeju Island. Teachers have a tendency to stay in Seoul for the most part or other large cities, however, for those interested in a nice, temperate climate and relaxing beach atmosphere, Jeju Island is highly recommended.
The main opportunities you will find include:
- Working as an English teacher in public school
- Teaching English at a Hagwon
- Teaching English at university
Teaching in a Hagwon (Private Language School)
The most common type of job available is at hagwons. Hagwons are private language training schools. They bring in foreign teachers to teach to young learns, normally between the ages of 5 and 14.
Teachers may teach only English content, or teach a variety of subjects but in English only. Do your research before signing up with one, because they all have different standards and some may be better than others.
Teachers can expect to make anywhere from 2.0 to 2.5 million won a month (around $2,000) before taxes depending on experience and credentials. Hagwons sometimes also either provide airfare costs upfront or reimburse teachers upon arrival. They also offer a one month’s salary payment as severance upon the 12-month contract completion. Health insurance is usually provided by the training institution as well as housing, which is a big deal as we will discuss later in this post.
A starting salary of roughly $2,000 does not sound to be very much in a first-world country. But if you consider all the perks and benefits included you will realize it can be a good opportunity. Most hagwons offer between 7 to 14 days of paid vacation and 13 paid days off for national holidays, which gives you a lot of time to travel the country or and relax.
Teaching English in South Korean Public Schools
For teachers with a teaching credential and/or previous experience, a public school position tends to be a good bet. The hours tend to be more stable in terms of consistency and there is also more vacation time, usually 18 days. The salary tends to remain in the 2.0-2.5 million won range, however, you may or may not have more students to manage at one time.
University Teaching Jobs
The third option is working at a university. Some universities will accept candidates as lecturers with only a bachelor’s degree. However, it is not unusual to find some requiring a Masters degree or Ph.D.
Salary ranges and requirements can vary widely as can benefits. Evaluate each opportunity carefully and compare and contrast your offers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Some university jobs also pay for airfare, but it isn’t always standard. Some position will pay you from $3,000 to $4,000 a month, including two to three month paid vacation and a 6-hour workday.
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 ESL 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 certification course.
Do You 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 (hagwon) without a TEFL certificate.
However, the job market in Korea has tightened up and has 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 take a 120-hour TEFL course or something similar.
How to Obtain Visa and Work Permit
Gone are the days of arriving in South Korea and being able to swiftly obtain a job. The process is much more streamlined and regulated today. There are some things the government and employers require:
- A Bachelor’s degree
- A TEFL certificate
- A signed contract
- A squeaky-clean FBI background check
- A medical check
- A passport with at least 6 months validity (I recommend two or more years)
- An E-2 visa
- At least two passport size professionally done photos of you (sometimes needed for immigration purposes)
Educational documents must be verified by the state that you are in. Background checks must be done by the FBI and can take up to 6 months to get back, so it’s important to start the process as early as possible to avoid any delays.
Upon arrival in South Korea, institutions will normally schedule prospective teachers for medical checks. For teachers intending to stay longer than two years, expect to be scheduled for an updated physical every few years as well.
While it is possible to enter South Korea on a tourist visa, it is illegal to work on one, and individuals violating South Korean laws will be punished accordingly. In order to legally teach English in South Korea, each of the documents outlined above must be given to the South Korea embassy in order to issue you an E-2 visa. The visa is sponsored by your employer during your tenure with them.
Applying for a Teaching Job in South Korea
Applying for work in South Korea is a relatively rigid process. The vast majority of teachers arrive with a contract in hand and an E-2 work visa already issued.
If arriving without a contract and offer, be sure to bring a copy of your TEFL certification all of your apostilled and authenticated documents. Previous experience is not required to land a job, but many teachers in South Korea have been there for quite some time and have a tendency to have some type of experience. For those reasons, it is important to dress to impress when interviewing.
For teachers arriving without a job and contract, please expect to have to fly to Tokyo once an agreement has been made between you and an institution. Updated E-2 visas are normally issued from Tokyo for foreigners coming to South Korea without a visa or job offer. The school that hires you may or may not take on the cost for the visa-run.
First, make a decision about where you want to live and what type of environment you want to be in. Then, start scouring TEFL job boards and online forums to apply to schools directly. There are also online recruiters specializing in placing teachers in schools. Tefl.com, Tefl.net, Dave’s ESL Cafe, all update their job databases daily with new opportunities.
Medical Insurance and Housing Costs
To reiterate, medical insurance and housing costs are usually costs that are covered by the school that you choose to work for. You will have to pay for utilities, which only amount to $100 to $200 per month depending on which services you choose. It is very unusual for a foreigner to have to find an apartment on their own, and also very expensive.
In South Korea, tenants must pay key money in order to rent an apartment. It’s very similar to a rent deposit, except instead of having to pay one month’s rent upfront, it is much like having to pay a year’s worth of rent upfront. For that reason, many foreigners are not able to come up with the funds and it is also difficult to find people who can speak English for the purpose of renting an apartment. Thankfully, schools regularly provide housing for the most part. This is one of the things which make teaching English in South Korea really stand out!
Educational institutions are also required to pay into the pension scheme as mandated by the government. A certain part of the teacher’s salary and a certain percentage from the employer goes into the pension fund for retirement each month automatically.
Can You Save Money While Teaching English in South Korea?
The average monthly income for people teaching English in South Korea translates to roughly $2000-$2,500 before tax. Again, while it certainly won’t make you rich, considering housing and medical insurance are already paid for, it’s a nice stack of cash. And it brings South Korea into the list of the countries paying the highest teacher salaries.
It really depends on your lifestyle how much money you can put on the side. It is possible to save a great deal of money if you stick to a budget and use public transportation, for example.
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.
Come to South Korea!
If you want to experience something new or have an interest in teaching English abroad, South Korea will not disappoint you. It is a superb option for anyone looking for adventure or establishing a lasting teaching career. So get online, find your ideal job, and book your flight today! A million delighted students are waiting for you!