If you’re looking to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, save some money, and grow as a person as well as a professional, teaching in South Korea provides a wonderful opportunity. In both your personal and professional life, you will experience something new every day.
You can discover Buddhist temples hidden in the mystery of early morning mountain fog, walk through Seoul’s bustling city sidewalks and neon-lit nights, and take part in cultural customs both at work and in your social life.
In order to teach English in South Korea, most teachers will require a Bachelor’s degree and often a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certification. Native English speakers are preferred. The average salary for teaching in South Korea can range between $1,350-$3,100 USD per month depending on the institution.
Government Sponsored Programs
Qualities like higher job security, lower teaching hours, and plentiful paid vacation makes working in a public school a bit more ideal. While these positions tend to be more competitive with slightly lower pay, your application will be made stronger by having a teaching certificate like a TESOL or TEFL.
While some view being the only foreigner working at your school as a negative, others view it as a positive. Public schools provide the unique opportunity to immerse yourself into Korean culture. You’ll work alongside a co-teacher, coordinating classroom instruction times, and even create lesson plans. Public schools hire about six months before their start dates; the beginning of March and September. Pay starts at $1,350-$2,700 USD. The various government-sponsored programs are: SMOE, GEPIK, EPIK, and TaLK.
- Located in Seoul
- Start dates: End of February and end of August
- Hire before arriving
- Work hours: 22 hours of actual working hours, 40 work hours a week
- Pay based on qualifications (A bachelor's degree and sometimes one year of experience.)
- Minimum qualification for pay starting at 1.8 Korean Won per month
- A TESOL or TEFL or English teaching certificate comprised of 100 hours
- OR, a currently valid elementary or secondary teachers certification
- Located in the Gyeonggi Province—the area surrounding Seoul. You can usually take a bus, taxi, or subway to get into Seoul in about 45 minutes.
- Start dates: End of February and end of August
- Hire before arriving
- Work hours: 22 hours of actual teaching, 40 hours a week
- Pay based on qualifications (Either a TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA, a bachelor's degree in education, or master's degree, teacher certificate.)
- Minimum qualifications for pay starting at 2.1 million Korean Won per month.
- Covers all other regions, preference given on first-come first-serve basis
- Start dates: End of February and end of March
- Hire before arriving
- Work hours: 22 hours of actual teaching, 40 hours a week
- Required to have TEFL/TESOL certification in order to teach, and minimum of 100 hours of prior teaching experience
- Minimum qualifications for pay starting at 2 million Korean Won/month
- Must be a currently enrolled university or college student
- Required to teach for a minimum of 6 months (can extend to a full year)
- Teach English to elementary-aged children during after-school classes (15 hr/week)
- Start dates: September for fall, or March for spring
- Monthly stipend: 1.5 million Korean Won
Read more about the similarities and differences of EPIK, GEPIK, and SMOE programs
It’s pretty essential to go through a recruiter in order to secure your placement. Once you register on their website, they will send you information about job openings. They’re a great resource for any questions you might have regarding the process. Some recommended recruitment companies are: Footprints Recruiting, Reach To Teach, and Adventure Teaching.
Most people begin teaching at universities once they've taught in South Korea for at least a year and have made contacts. However, if you have a master’s degree you qualify for teaching at the university level. Extremely low working hours and equal pay make working at universities very appealing. You can earn between 2.3-3.5 million won (~$2,050-$3,100 USD) per month.
However, unlike starting work at a public or private school, at a university level job, you will need to find your own apartment. You'll also have to provide the key deposit for your apartment, a deposit on average of about $5,000 USD that'll be returned to you at the end of your lease -- a potentially huge expense for teachers who are relocating from abroad.
Under the conditions of your E-2 visa, you are not permitted to teach private lessons. However, this restriction rarely prevents foreigners from providing the service. Stories of people getting caught providing private instruction read more like myths. The best way to get a private lesson is through trustworthy friends, who may know of an opportunity.
It's possible a co-worker may approach you on behalf of a student looking for a private tutor. Again, just make sure it's someone you trust so as not to put your visa in jeopardy. Teaching private lessons is not a big risk, but you should take precautions. Be discreet and always try to meet at the student’s home.
As they are constantly hiring and tend to offer higher pay and shorter working hours, private schools, called hagwons are an excellent option for people looking to spend a year abroad and save as much money as possible. In contrast to public schools, many other foreigners work in hagwons, providing a smoother transition to your new surroundings.
Some beginner teachers welcome the fact that most hagwons have pre-prepared lesson plans while others find it limits their creativity and individuality in the classroom. Though the working hours are shorter than public schools and start later in the day, typically after 1 p.m., you only get about ten days of vacation time.
However, this may be the best option for you if you like sleeping in and starting later in the day. You can also enjoy other benefits like higher pay, a less strenuous application process, and a quicker arrival timeline. If you choose to go with a hagwon, your best bet is to go with a larger, nationwide one. If you go with a smaller hagwon, remember that some are better than others, and a little patience and research could make a world of difference in the quality of your experience. Starting pay at hagwons is usually about $2,000 - $2,200 USD with a workweek of about 35 hours.
- Hagwons will usually hire anyone with a college degree. The minimum salary is typically higher, usually 2.1-2.5 million Korean Won.
- Typical work hours begin in the afternoon because these are after-school specialized English institutions. Usually anywhere from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a typical workday consisting of 6 hours or more, depending on the school.
- Hiring year-round, usually through a recruiter.
When and Where to Look for Jobs:
Seoul and Busan provide the most popular settings for English teachers in South Korea. With its vibrant nightlife and trendy restaurants lining the streets busied by people of different ethnicities, the capital city, Seoul, offers the most eclectic mix of options in South Korea. A quieter city bordering the Sea of Japan, Busan—home to the popular vacation spot, Haeundae beach—is a bit more low-key and provides a nice compromise between busy and relaxed.
If you’re taking this year to reflect in peace and quiet, consider Gyeongju, a small city with a big lotus pond and a rich historical heritage. No matter your taste, there is a multitude of jobs to teach in cities across South Korea. Public schools typically hire at the start of their semester -- March 1st and September 1st -- and accept applications six months prior. Private institutes hire year-round.
Working Visas in Korea:
Most foreigners working at public or private schools qualify for the school-sponsored E-2 visa. The E-2 visa will give you permission to teach in South Korea for a year with a single entry. For a fee, you can get your single entry status changed to multiple entries, allowing you the option to travel in and out of the country.
The first step to obtaining an E-2 visa is to get a contract with an employer. Once you have begun that process, you will need to send your apostilled documents to the Korean consulate. If you want to speed up the process, it’s okay to go ahead and send your background check before securing a contract.
To obtain an apostille (a government seal used for authenticating overseas documents) you will need to take a copy of your diploma to the notary public found at your local bank. Bring your original diploma so that the copy can be confirmed and stamped. Once notarized, you can send the copy to be apostilled by the Secretary of State. If you’re an American citizen, it must be apostilled in the state where the document was issued. For a list of locations, visit ESL Starter.
Additionally, the South Korean government now requires an FBI background check. One from an online or private company is not sufficient. To complete the application, you will need to be fingerprinted at your local police station. If you’re currently in Korea, you can be fingerprinted at the local Korean police station. You can mail these documents, along with a check for $18 USD and a note asking for the documents to be officiated by providing a “signature from a Division Officer for the purpose of obtaining a Federal Apostille.”
Once all of your documents are completed, and you receive your visa confirmation number, you will need to either mail or deliver your passport to your local Korean consulate so it can be stamped with your visa. Additionally, once you arrive in Korea, you'll have to undergo a medical check for TBPE (drug test), cannabinoid, and HIV. When you've been cleared, your school will help you obtain a residency permit within 90 days. To learn more about Korean visas, visit VISA HQ.
Teaching English in Korea Qualifications:
The minimum qualifications to get an English teaching job in Korea is a bachelor’s degree. Only native English speakers are highly considered. Though, if you want to increase your chances of working in a public school, or increase your salary in a private school, you will need to couple that diploma with a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate. These courses are available online, but make sure they are approved by the program or school you are applying to. If you are an EPIK teacher, it is required to hold a TEFL/TESOL certification, as well as 100 hours of previous teaching experience.
If you have an associate's degree or are the process of getting your university degree (third year or higher), you may be eligible for some programs. If you don't hold a degree, you may also consider looking into volunteer teaching opportunities.
Salary & Cost of Living in South Korea
Salaries in South Korea vary by the type of teaching institution. In general, hagwons offer the most amount of money for first-time English teachers at about $2,000 USD. Public schools, on the other hand, offer a lower starting salary at about $1,350-$2,000. In public schools, the pay tends to be more when you factor in the low amount of actual working hours. Public and private schools will provide your housing. Typically it’s a self-contained studio ranging from medium-sized to small. The apartments in Seoul tend to be the smallest but there is also much more to do in Seoul thus limiting the actual time spent in the apartment.
While hagwons used to always re-pay you for your flight by either giving you a stipend or converting the actual ticket cost, as competition gets tighter, they are providing this service less and less. Public schools will always re-pay your airfare with a stipend of about $1,000 USD, which will usually be stated in your contract. Most will provide a $250 USD settling allowance, that is usually deposited into your account before your first paycheck. Before you leave, they will deposit another $1,000 USD into your account for your outbound plane ticket, no matter the destination.
Overall, the cost of living in South Korea is affordable. Keep in mind that if you live in a bigger city, the cost can get a bit more expensive. However, since most teaching jobs cover the cost of your apartment and all you have to take care of is your utilities and cell-phone bill, it’s safe to say that 80% of your paycheck can be used for living or traveling expenses. The most enticing part of the deal comes when you finish your English teaching contract as most contracts provide an extra month’s bonus upon completion. This means that the last time you get paid, you actually get paid twice. Hello, Southeast Asia. Or student loans.
Depending on how much you want to work and how frugal you are with your money, you can travel and save during your time in South Korea.
Classroom & Work Culture
With everything from grocery shopping to understanding interpersonal communication in and outside the classroom, it can be overwhelming to move to a new country for the first time (or the tenth time!).
Each country and culture has been formed over thousands of years, with its own customs, beliefs, and values. In every situation, act with the utmost respect for others around you. In Korea, it's common to nod your head in a slight bow to your superiors to show respect. You can also show your appreciation for your co-workers help by bringing in doughnuts or coffee to your first day of work.
In South Korea, and anywhere in the world, it’s a good idea to accept invitations from co-workers to go out for dinner. It’s polite, and you will probably enjoy yourself and discover local gems in your new city.
When in your new surroundings, observe how others behave to learn about appropriate etiquette. Overall, the importance of respect will make the inevitable learning process more enjoyable. And after a few months, you'll become more accustomed to things you learned upon arrival. In the end, you will come away having learned a great deal from this beautiful country and its people.
Contributed by Anne-Claire Siegert
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Can I teach in South Korea without a degree?
Generally, no. Most English teaching jobs need specific qualifications such as a completed bachelor’s degree. However, it's possible to find a few programs like TaLK that allow you to teach if you have an associate's degree or are in your third year (or higher) of college. If you are not a degree holder, you may still be able to get classroom experience by teaching through a volunteer program instead.
Can you teach English in South Korea for 6 months?
Yes. Those looking to work at a private or public school can apply for a school-sponsored E-2 visa. This visa will grant you work rights in South Korea for up to a year.
How much does an English teacher make in South Korea?
An English teacher's salary in South Korea can range between $1,350-$3,100 USD per month. Your salary range may change depending on if you teach at a public school, private school, university, or international school.
Is living in South Korea expensive?
Living costs in South Korea are pretty reasonable. To give you a general idea, here are a few cost of living prices: $2.75 for a beer, $6 for a meal at a restaurant, ~$1 per trip for public transportation, and between $350 to $675 USD per month to rent an apartment (depending on if it's rural or in a city).
How do I become an English teacher in South Korea?
To become an English Teacher in South Korea you need to be a native English speaker from an approved country (for the E-2 visa), have a bachelor's degree, and pass a criminal background check. If you meet these qualifications, decide where you would like to teach (public school, international school, university, private academy) and apply to your preferred programs. Some good places to start are EPIK, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, and Go Overseas!
What requirements do I need to meet to teach English in Korea?
In order to teach English in South Korea you'll need to be a native English speaker, hold a Bachelor's degree, and have a clear criminal record. You may also need a TEFL or TESOL certification depending on the school.