Snag an academy job... or teach public school. Save at least $2,000 before leaving the U.S.... or don’t worry if you arrive with empty pockets. Plan for months in advance... or just go for it!
When I first researched teaching English in South Korea, I was overwhelmed with conflicting advice. But when it came down to making decisions, I chose the path that made the most sense to me.
And oh man, was I lucky.
Over the next two years, I landed two different English teaching jobs in Seoul that I loved abundantly. I adored my co-workers and co-teachers, some of the most heart-warming humans I've met in my life. And, I was granted plenty of free time and vacation to explore Korea’s rich culture. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Some other expatriates I met weren’t so lucky.
Guided by misinformation, many new English teachers accept jobs with long hour, low pay, and little benefits. And when your work-life is poor, it's difficult to enjoy or maintain a social life — especially in another country. To land the best teaching jobs in The Land of Morning Calm, take a peek at some of my insider tips before signing your name on the dotted line.
Why Is Teaching English in South Korea so Popular?
If you’ve ever heard of K-pop, K-drama, or K-beauty, you don’t need an explanation as to why teaching English in South Korea is so popular. In short, Korea is rocking it on all levels of entertainment and beauty, and the country’s rich culture is permeating America. Additionally, South Korea celebrates a host of holidays and traditions -- from Seollal to Chuseok -- you won’t find anywhere else.
Beyond traditions, there are plenty of other reasons teachers choose South Korea over neighboring countries. One major reason is that it’s fairly easy to save money while teaching here, especially if you live outside of Seoul or are lucky enough to land a university teaching gig. But, even as an elementary school teacher within Seoul (like I was!), it’s possible to save almost $1,000 per month if you spend wisely. Salaries start at about only $22,000 yearly, but living costs are relatively low. Housing, healthcare, restaurant meals, and transportation costs are cheap compared to the U.S.
And while there are indeed tensions between the U.S.and North Korea, South Korea feels extremely safe. In fact, South Korea’s crime rate is very low, “with most offenses of a petty nature,” according to USA Today. Even when I was living in the “dangerous area” of Seoul (according to my coworkers), I felt safe enough to walk alone at night without fear.
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- Teaching Certification -- While not all English teaching jobs in Korea require a teaching certificate, most do. A TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate with 100 or more course hours are all equally acceptable. Many private academy jobs don’t care where the accreditation is from or whether it’s done online, but certain public school jobs may require you to have a certain number of “live hours” within a physical classroom.
- Master's degree in relevant field -- While not necessary, if you have a master’s degree in Education, TESOL, Linguistics, or a related field, you may qualify for high-paying university jobs.
- A $1,000-$2,000 “Safety Net” -- For the most, Korea is a cheap country to live in. However, most jobs won’t pay you until after your first month or two of work. If you arrive to South Korea with less than $1,000, you’ll survive your first month, but you'll be hanging out at home a lot, stealing Wi-Fi from your neighbors and eating a diet of plain rice and tofu.
- Some Korean Skills -- I didn’t start learning Korean until I was on the plane to Seoul. But, knowing some Korean before you arrive, especially if you aren't going through EPIK, will make your life abroad dramatically easier. Even just learning to sound out hangul letters will help. Additionally, many schools will ask you to speak only English in the classroom. But, sometimes young children will not respond to English commands (such as, “Sit down, please.”) Knowing some Korean can make class time go more smoothly.
Qualifications to Teach in South Korea
The easiest answer to most qualification questions about teaching English in South Korea is, “It depends.” Depending on the city, the age of students, and type of school you want to work at, the qualifications differ greatly. However, there are some boxes you should check off across the board.
- Be a native English speaker from an approved country -- To teach English on an E-2 visa (assuming you don’t qualify for an F-series visa), you must be a native English speaker from a recognized English-speaking nation such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, or Australia.
- Bachelor’s degree -- To legally teach English in South Korea, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. The degree major does not matter.
- Clear criminal record check -- In Korea, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a job if you have any charges or convictions because a clean national-level criminal record check is required to receive an E-2 teaching visa. DUI’s and misdemeanors, too, will disqualify you, but don’t worry about traffic violations.
When to Apply for a Teaching Job in South Korea
The best time to apply for a teaching job in South Korea depends on which type of job you’re applying for. If you’re applying to teach public school, like through English Program in Korea (EPIK), you should apply up to six months out. (Yes, really!) The hiring process for public schools takes a long time. However, public school usually offer the best benefits and tend to really hold your hand through the process.
If you’re looking to start sooner rather than later, consider applying to teach at a private academy, or hagwon, instead. These academies often hire year-round. But, for the best selection, note that the most jobs are usually posted in February or March, around the start of the new semester. Although the hiring process for hagwons is typically quicker than for public schools, still give yourself a few months for both you and the school to prepare the necessary documents and accommodations.
Where to Find Jobs in South Korea
If your heart is set on finding a public school job in South Korea, your best bet is applying with EPIK. You can apply directly through their website, or you can use a recruiter for extra help in polishing your resume and ensuring you have the correct documents.
While both routes have perks, I decided to apply directly to EPIK and found I received faster response times because there wasn’t a middle-man. If EPIK doesn’t hire you, don't lose hope! Sometimes, public offices of education, like Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE), will post some of their jobs on their own job boards. While it’s typically tougher to land a public school job by applying directly this way, it isn't impossible.
For the best private teaching jobs, use one of Go Overseas’ favorite recruiters. Or, apply directly through websites Craigslist for the city area you're interested in. If this is your first rodeo, I advise you to use a recruiter, who will help you navigate your contract and ensure there are no language barriers between you and your school. But if you’ve done your research thoroughly, know Korean, or have experience teaching abroad already, browsing job listings directly can sometimes prove useful. I actually found my second-year job teaching English to adults part-time (an extremely rare find) through a Seoul Craigslist posting.
Common Types of English Teaching Jobs in South Korea
In Korea, not all teaching jobs are created equal. In fact, while some teaching jobs require intensive lesson-planning, testing, and homework-grading, other jobs are a bit more like glorified babysitting. To be sure you land the best job that suits your teaching style, read through the most common job types that follow.
Public School Jobs
One of the most coveted types of English teaching jobs in South Korea is a public school position. These jobs usually ensure a normal 9-to-5 (or similar) job schedule with actual teaching hours guaranteed not to exceed 22 per week. In addition, pay scales are usually set per office of education area and vary with qualifications.
All public job benefits generally include a small settlement allowance, free furnished housing or a housing stipend, severance, an entrance and exit allowance, national insurance, national holidays off, and 18 work days paid vacation. (Whew -- what a mouthful!) However, these jobs are also typically the hardest to land, especially if you're picky about which city you want to end up in.
Most of the available public jobs are in elementary schools (third through sixth grade), although some middle and high schools hire, too. Additionally, public school jobs require a co-teacher to be present in the classroom with the native English teacher. Co-teacher duties and relationships vary per school, so you won't know your exact duties until your first day of teaching.
Private Academy (Hagwon) Jobs
Not all public school jobs are exactly the same, but most follow similar guidelines. Hagwon jobs, however, vary greatly. Generally, teaching hours do exceed 22 hours per week and less vacation time is offered than at public schools. But, private academies offer two large few benefits over public schools jobs: quicker hiring turnaround and higher pay.
Additionally, most private academies don’t have co-teachers. This can be a benefit or a disadvantage, depending on your personal preferences. Teachers who teach young children often work mornings, whereas teachers who teach middle and high schoolers often work nights. If you're more of a "night person," these job types could be perfect for you. Those who teach adults are usually required to teach split shifts in both the a.m. and p.m.
Finding a university job in South Korea isn't easy. But, if you have a master’s degree and some teaching experience, you're likely qualified. University positions pay very well and require low teaching hours (as low as 10 per week), so it’s no wonder they’re highly coveted. These jobs are difficult to find but are usually posted on the university's website. Sometimes, you can also find them on job sites like Dave's ESL.
While private teaching and tutoring jobs run rampant in South Korea, these positions are mostly illegal and should only be done by F visas. High pay and low hours may make these jobs seem worth it, but if you’re caught teaching illegally, you could be kicked out of the country and possibly blacklisted from teaching in South Korea again.
Additional Information about Teaching in South Korea
If you're anything like I was, you're probably already booking your ticket abroad and planning your vacations. But before you say, "Annyeong," to South Korea, there are a few more things you should be aware of before signing your teaching contract:
- Working hours vs. teaching hours
- Salary (including overtime salary)
- Roundtrip air flight, settlement allowance, severance
- Vacation (and how many days can be taken at once)
- Housing provided vs. housing stipend
- Lesson planning/prepping requirements
- Co-teacher and co-teacher’s duties (or lack-of)
If the above isn't spelled out in your contract, talk to your recruiter or school about what to expect, and don't be afraid to ask for the contract to be redrafted.
Previously, I said I got lucky with my teaching positions in South Korea. I did, but perhaps I don’t owe all of my fantastic teaching experiences in Korea to luck. I researched my opportunities carefully, and I asked a ton of questions.
Then again, no amount of research could’ve prepared me for the life-changing experience that was teaching overseas. From the kind-hearted people to the unforgettable adventures, South Korea took a piece of my heart when it was time to say goodbye. Perhaps the country will keep a piece of yours, too.
This article was originally published in October 2014, and was updated in July 2018.