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If you’ve ever been interested in pop culture, music, entertainment, or fashion, then you may have already heard the term “Hallyu” or the Korean wave. This refers to the phenomenal growth and popularity of Korean culture. People from all over are discovering Korean cuisine, music, drama, and language.
This is why South Korea has joined the list of top tourist destinations. It is also why many dream of moving to this country to teach English. Korea is not just about K-pop songs and television shows. The country has so many things to offer its visitors.
Many of South Korea’s traditions have endured throughout centuries. Even today, you’d be able to watch traditional music performances and dance. Tourists love renting their own hanbok and wear it around Joenju or Seoul. You can also visit decades-old teahouses and hanoks (traditional houses) in certain neighborhoods. This is a treat for history and culture enthusiasts.
If you love eating, then South Korea is definitely a place you must explore. It is the home of Korean barbeque. This phenomenon is a culinary and social experience rolled into one. You get to catch up with your family or friends as you grill and eat meats on your tabletop. Besides grilled meat, you can also try authentic Kimchi, tteokbokki, bibimbap, and other mouthwatering dishes.
So, if you are interested in immersing yourself in South Korean culture and getting caught in the Hallyu, one of the best things for you to do is to teach English in Korea. Not only is the country amazing, but the schools in this country also offer generous packages (that sometimes include housing allowances and even free airfare), the salary is comparatively high, plus the students are extremely hardworking and respectful. What more can you ask for?
How to Teach English in South Korea
There are numerous places where a native speaker can apply for English teaching jobs in South Korea. Each with varying requirements, salaries, work schedules, and perks. It is ideal to get to know these before making a decision.
Teach at a South Korean public school
Applying for teaching jobs at a public school is a great choice for first-time ESL teachers. The pay might not be that high and competition for slots can be fierce, but it offers high high-job security, accommodations, and even paid leaves. The position also offers a very structured schedule so the teachers get to enjoy their evenings and weekends off.
Teaching jobs at a public school entails lesson planning and coordinating classroom activities with a co-teacher. You can apply through a variety of government-sponsored programs like SMOE, GEPIK, or EPIK. These programs are organized and managed by the Korean Ministry of Education.
Teach at a Hagwon
If you are looking for a slightly higher salary and shorter workdays, you should consider applying to private schools or hagwons. The application process for teaching English in private schools is much easier than that for a teaching position in a public school, plus the school also provides pre-made lesson plans. To apply, you have to go through one of the many recruitment companies that place ESL teachers.
Teach at an International School
South Korea has several international schools that cater to the children of expats and diplomats. Most classes are taught in English. The main benefit of teaching English at an international school in this country is not the pay but the access to expat communities. The salary you can expect from a teaching position here is quite close to what you can receive from public and private schools.
Teach at a University
If you hold a Master's degree, you can opt to teach at the university level. The perks of teaching English at a university are you’ll work very low hours plus the salary is higher than what is offered to public school teachers.
However, the downside is that very few teaching positions in universities come with housing benefits. This means you’d have to find and pay for your own accommodations. You’ll have to cover the key deposit. That typically amounts to $5,000 and will be returned to you when your lease ends.
Requirements for teaching English in South Korea
Depending on the teaching position and hiring institution, South Korean schools will look for different requirements and require different qualifications. Below are the standard ones:
TEFL Certification from an international TEFL academy
If you want to teach in any of the South Korean public and private schools, you will need a TESOL, CELTA, or TEFL certification. You will be asked to submit a copy of your certificate when you apply through one of the government-sponsored programs. This may be waived if you have at least a diploma in education.
Bachelor’s Degree and licenses
A bachelor’s degree in any field or major is necessary to be able to apply for an E-2 visa. This is known as the teaching visa. You need to secure a copy of your diploma from an accredited institution.
For US and Canadian applicants, you will need to get the diploma certified via a notary public. For applicants of other citizenship, you have to get the diploma apostilled.
You will also need an official copy of your university or college transcript. Again, this document needs to be certified to prove its authenticity.
Documents and Visa
The most important thing when you plan on teaching abroad is to have a valid passport. The E-2 visa will only be granted to citizens of the US, the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, or South Africa. Those coming from India must also have a teacher’s license in English.
For those coming from Canada, applicants must prove their fluency in English by submitting a diploma from an English-speaking university or CEGEP.
Certificate of Clean Bill of Health and Criminal Record
You need to go through a national-level criminal background check. This means you need to go through the RCMP or the FBI (Canadian and US Citizens). For non-Canadians, the certificate must be apostilled. Canadians on the other hand must get their certificate of clean criminal records notarized.
As for the clean bill of health, you need to go to your primary care physician and undergo a health and drug test. Once cleared, get a copy of the certificate. You will need this for your E-2 visa application.
Most foreign ESL Teachers working at the various schools in South Korea qualify for the E-2 visa. This school-sponsored visa permits those who want to teach English abroad to work in South Korea for a period of one year with one entry. You can get that status upgraded to multiple entries for a fee.
Upon completion of the necessary documents, you will receive a visa confirmation number. You’d need to deliver or mail your passport to the nearest Korean consulate and get it stamped with the visa. Your employer will be the one to help you get the needed residency permit which should be done within 90 days.
How to apply for a job teaching English in South Korea
If your dream is to go to South Korea, teach English, and immerse yourself there, you need to do thorough research. Below is an overview of where to look for and how to apply for the English teaching job of your dream.
Where should you look for English teaching jobs in South Korea?
There are two good ways to look for TEFL jobs in public or private schools. The first way is to get the services of a recruiter. The next one is to apply via one of the government-sponsored programs. You can also look for teaching jobs on your own by checking job boards and forums for those who wish to teach abroad.
When should you apply?
Hagwans recruit ESL teachers all year-round. Recruiters keep a record of any private school that has a job opening so you can contact them anytime after getting your documents in order.
As for public schools, the application period usually starts around April for the August or September start dates. There is another round of hiring around October in time for the February to March start dates.
What is the application process for teaching English in South Korea?
If you are going for teaching jobs in private schools, the best way is to contact a recruiter. You will be asked to show your qualifications so the agency can check where you’d fit it. Once the recruiter finds a match for you, you'll need to submit your needed documents. You might need to go through a few interviews before receiving an offer.
If you want to teach in any of the public schools, you have to apply to one of the government-sponsored programs. Additionally, your university degree must be in Education (major in Education / Teaching / TESOL / Second Language Studies). If your degree is in another subject, you must also have a TEFL certificate or a valid license to teach abroad.
Submit your application to the program. You will be subjected to a Skype interview. If the coordinator believes that you will be a good fit, you will be asked to submit your documents. After that, you have to wait for your confirmation so you can begin the process of applying for a visa. Once that’s done, you’re ready to book your flight to South Korea and teach abroad.
How to apply for an E2 Visa?
If you want to get a job teaching English in South Korea, you need to submit the following documents to the nearest Republic of Korea embassy or consulate:
Filled-out E2 visa application
Diploma from a recognized institution (apostilled for non-US or non-Canadian citizens, notarized if applicants are citizens from those two countries)
Sealed official college or university transcript
Passport photos (4 pieces, colored)
Passport (valid at least 6 months and with one empty page)
Employment contract provided by the recruiter or school
Criminal background check certificate (apostilled for non-Canadian citizens, notarized if Canadian)
Health statement (with doctor’s signature in ink)
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 to pay $45 either by money order or cash. Once you’ve submitted your documents, the consulate will arrange an interview with you. You have to do this in person. Once you pass the interview, you can expect your E2 visa within days.
Can You Teach English in South Korea without a degree?
South Korea is one of the strictest countries in terms of requirements for teaching in a public or private school. Holding a bachelor’s degree is not just required to apply for a teaching position, it is also a requirement to secure a visa to legally teach in the country.
Can you work in Korea without a visa? Yes, but it is illegal and definitely not recommended. Luckily there is still another way to be an ESL teacher in Korea even if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree. And that is to work using a working holiday visa.
To get that, you must have a valid passport from any of the countries listed below:
Your main reason for being in South Korea should be to travel. You have to indicate that your need to work is just to supplement your income. As such, you’d be asked to provide proof that you have sufficient funds and all the travel tickets necessary. This proof can be in the form of your latest bank statements.
To qualify for this visa, you must be between 18 to 30 years of age. You cannot bring any dependents.
With this visa, you are not allowed to be a full-time teacher. You can only get teaching jobs at private language schools or offer your services as a private English tutor.
Teach English in South Korea jobs
South Korea is a small country but it has a considerable number of urban cities that can be good choices for an ESL teacher. Foreigners often hear and read about Seoul or Busan but there are other wonderful places to choose from if you want to teach abroad.
Daegu is a moderately sized city in the southeastern part of Korea. It has a population of 2.5 million, and quite a large number of those wish to learn English.
Daegu has all the amenities that you can expect from a major city. It is known for its exciting nightlife and boasts of a number of fun areas to explore.
There are no beaches in Daegu but it is close enough to a few good ones. Travel for an hour and you’d find yourself on one of the country’s most popular beaches, Haeundae.
Incheon is another great option for teachers who wish to work in South Korea. It is between Seoul and the country’s largest international airport. It also has a massive bus terminal so you can quickly travel to any part of Korea if you want to.
Do you need to be able to quickly go to Seoul for a weekend trip? Incheon is connected to it by a subway, so traveling between the two cities is hassle-free. While a little tamer than the other major cities, Incheon still has a bustling nightlife.
Interested in technology? Then you should consider teaching in Daejeon. It is considered Asia’s Silicon Valley and houses the impressive Daejeon Expo Science Park. You can spend hours inside its countless museums.
If you are tired of spending your time indoors, you can head to Daecheongho Lake and spend your day hiking or swimming in its cool water. You can even hike up Mt. Sijkangsan if you want a challenge and a view of Korea’s famous cherry blossoms.
Outskirts of Seoul
The towns just outside of Seoul are the perfect places for you to teach if you want to go to Seoul during the weekends but still want to reside somewhere much quieter. Anyang, Ilsan, and Suwon are places you should consider since these are only an hour or two away from the country’s capital.
Anyang is considered a miniature Seoul. It has numerous parks where you can hold picnics. There are also a few street markets that you can visit to try mouthwatering food.
Ilsan is a great place for those who love spending time outdoors but do not wish to hike up a mountain. It boasts of a beautiful lake and a promenade where visitors can walk, skate, or bike.
Suwon is the place to be for teachers who wish to immerse themselves in history. You can explore royal tombs, palaces, ancient city walls of Hwaseong Fortress, or the fort at Paldalmun Gate.
The country’s capital offers the best chance for you to get hired simply because the demand for English teachers here is very high. If you love excitement, you’ll find that Seoul has everything that you need to keep your blood pumping. There is always something new in this city. It can be a festival, a concert, a new cafe, or a club. You will never run out of things to do or experience if you choose to live and teach in Seoul.
Teach English in South Korea Salary
The salaries of those teaching English in South Korea are considered among the highest in the world. Teachers can earn as much as $52,000 per year. That’s around $4,400 a month. This is why many teachers aspire to work in this country. Of course, the amount will vary depending on where you teach.
The salary of those in public school positions ranges from $1,200 to about $2,450 a month. Some schools also offer overtime pay of around $16 per hour inside the classroom.
For teachers working at hagwons, the average salary is a little higher. It ranges from $1,500 to $1,900 a month. This is close to what international school teachers get. English teachers there receive a monthly salary between $1,450 to $2,250.
You can earn anywhere between $1,800 to $2,800 if you work at a university. There are over 400 universities all over South Korea, and many of those offer English classes. That is why a position in such institutions is highly coveted.
Cost of living in South Korea
In general, the cost of living in South Korea is quite low. It is higher than in some of its neighboring countries but lower than in Western ones. Since most teaching jobs come with a housing allowance, the only things you’ll be spending on are food, transportation, and entertainment. It is safe to say that, if you try to live slightly frugally, you’d be able to live comfortably and still be able to travel and experience what South Korea has to offer on a teacher’s salary.
Your monthly expenses for food will depend on where you buy it and how much you eat. It can range from $80 to $100. Note that eating out will set you back around $6 per person. So, you’d save a lot if you decide to cook your food at home and buy your ingredients from the local supermarkets. Korean products are bound to be cheaper than imported ones.
You can buy a public transportation pass for $43.28 a month. This should be cheaper than taking a taxi everywhere you go.
Occasionally watching a movie or hitting a club are some of the common forms of entertainment that teachers enjoy. One night out on the town will cost you anywhere between $68 to $80.
If you decide to teach at a university, you will have to shoulder the cost of your accommodations. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment located in the city center is $810. As you can see, it can eat up most of your monthly salary so you need to be careful in choosing this option.
What it's like to teach English in South Korea
As a native English speaker working abroad, you need to research the country’s culture and etiquette so that you know what to expect. This will help you understand and adapt your ways so that you can live and work harmoniously with your new students and colleagues. Here are some important things to know to make your teaching experience in South Korea better:
Whichever learning institution you choose to work for as an ESL teacher, you’d notice that Koreans push themselves to excel inside the classroom. Expect your students to be serious about their learning and give you the utmost respect.
However, your students will likely have a lot of questions about you. Some you might deem too personal. This is not out of disrespect. Young students are naturally curious about their teachers and want to get to know them very well.
Always dress appropriately. Even if you are tasked to work with children, you will be expected to dress professionally and modestly. Most schools prefer that you cover up any tattoo and other body art that you have.
It is common to give a slight bow to your colleagues and superiors as a sign of respect. You can also do this outside the classroom.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding teaching English in South Korea:
How much money do you make teaching English in Korea?
The range of the salaries of English teachers in South Korea is $1,350 to $4,400. The pay is a little lower in public schools.
Can a foreigner teach English in South Korea?
Yes, as long as the teacher qualifies for an E-2 visa, he or she can teach English in South Korea.
What are the requirements to teach English in Korea?
The basic requirements to teach English in Korea are a bachelor's degree (preferably in education), a TEFL certificate, and a clear criminal record. The teacher must also be a native English speaker.
Are English teachers in demand in Korea?
Yes, there is a high demand for English teachers in Korea. This is especially true in major cities.
Is teaching English in Korea worth it?
Yes. The comparatively high salary and low cost of living will enable the teacher to spend on trips and experiences during their free time. And South Korea has something to offer everybody.