Teaching English in South Korea has been one of the best decisions of our lives. It is one of the most unique and challenging experiences. It will test you beyond your limits and push you to grow in ways you never knew you could. It’s a rewarding and whirlwind journey that we highly recommend to anyone and everyone who is up for adventure.
From the very beginning of our blog the most asked question we get is How can I teach in South Korea? So, this post aims to answer all your questions and tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about teaching in South Korea. This may get lengthy so grab a coffee, get comfortable and let’s get started.
Private or Public schools
This is the part where you sit up straight and concentrate, because teaching at a public school is VERY different to teaching at a private school in Korea. Choosing between the two will probably be the most important decision you make and will drastically alter your time in Korea. So, what’s the difference between private and public schools?
Private Schools (or Hagwons) are privately run, after-school programs. Classes range from around 5-15 kids and there are usually multiple foreign teachers at each school. The workload is high and benefits are usually not as good as public schools. In Hagwons parents are paying the Schools directly so keeping them happy is priority at all costs (they are run more like businesses).
Public schools are government run with much bigger classes ranging from 15-30 kids (some rural schools will have much fewer students and you may even have a class with only one student). Public schools generally only hire one native English teacher to teach the entire school.
Here is a more detailed comparison between Public and Private schools in Korea.
So, what would we recommend? Well this is entirely up to you and what situation would suit you. If you want more freedom with which city you end up in then go for a private school, if you prefer having more vacation time to travel then go for a public school. It really just depends on you and your personal preferences and needs.
In general we would suggest you stick to a public school where you know exactly what you will get (ie. in terms of your contract). Although we usually only hear horror stories about private schools, there are some instances where people have found great private school jobs and have been very happy. It just depends on what school you get and whether you are willing to take the risk as it seems to just be luck of the draw.
As we both had public school jobs, the rest of this post will be focused on getting a public school job as that is what we are familiar with.
Requirements and Eligibility
Yes, there are some requirements for teaching English in South Korea. Here are the basic requirements you need to be eligible for a teaching job:
You must be a fluent English speaker AND have a valid passport from one of the following countries; America, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa (basically any country with English as the first language). Unfortunately, even if you are fluent in English but you do not carry a passport from any of the above countries you CANNOT get a contract job at a public school in Korea. However, you may be able to work as a private tutor or in some After School programs. This is more risky as you will have to find a way to get a working visa, get housing and find clients completely on your own. But, it is not impossible if this is a risk you are willing to take.
You must have a University degree of a minimum of 3 years. Any bachelor’s degree is acceptable (mine is in Teaching but Steven’s was in Environmental Developmental Management at the time of his application).
You must have a TEFL certificate of 100+ hours OR a Teaching Degree or Diploma.
If you are not a qualified teacher then you will require one of these courses in order to be eligible for a teaching job in Korea. There are numerous courses available online and we highly recommend International TEFL and TESOL training. For more information on the TEFL course read our post What is TEFL and why do I need it?
Finally, you must have a clean criminal record to teach English in Korea (that goes without saying).
You don’t need to speak Korean but we would highly recommend at least learning to read Hangul and getting to grips with the basics as it will make your life in Korea a lot easier.
Finding a Job
Once you have met all the requirements mentioned above, your next step is to find a job. There are numerous ways to find a job in Korea but getting a recruiter is, by far, the easiest. A recruiter will guide you through the whole application process and is paid by the government or school so is available at no extra cost to you. There are however, other ways to find a job in Korea so let’s go through all your options.
1. Apply directly through EPIK
EPIK stands for English Program in Korea and will most likely be the governmental program that hires you. Applying directly to EPIK (or other branches of the program such as GEPIK) usually means you will have a faster response time and be granted an interview quicker than if you use a recruiter. Furthermore, the application deadline for recruiters is usually a lot sooner. However, the application and amount of paperwork involved can make the whole process a bit tricky and overwhelming, so having a recruiter there to guide you through will make your life a lot easier.
There are loads of private recruiters that can assist you in getting a teaching job in Korea. The recruiter acts as the middleman between you and the teaching program (ie. EPIK). They assist you with each step of the application process, guide you through the paperwork and provide tips and tricks for your interview. Recruiters get paid for every teacher that is successfully hired so they really want you to get you a job and will make sure your application is the best it can be. In short, if you pick the right one, they can make the whole procedure a walk in the park instead of an administrative nightmare.
Which recruiters would we recommend? The most popular and reliable recruiters that we know of are Korean Horizons, Korvia, ESLstarter, Footprints, Teach ESL Korea, Adventure Teaching, Reach to Teach, Gone2Korea and DreamWorks Recruiting. For more information on these recruiters read our blog post Teaching English in South Korea: Top Recruiters.
3. Facebook Groups
There are LOADS of Facebook groups that exclusively deal with teaching English in Korea. Post a question in any of the following groups and you should get an instant response:
-English Teachers in South Korea
-Teach ESL Korea
There is also a thread available on Dave’s ESL Café where people post job opportunities all over Korea and you can apply to them directly on there.
Contracts, Pay and Benefits
Now for the part you have all been waiting for, how much will you make?
The starting salary for most public schools is about $2,000 per month. Although this doesn’t sound like much, keep in mind that this amount goes straight into your pocket every month as you have almost NO EXPENSES (see benefits below). This means you can pretty much live like a King (or Queen) during your time in Korea. Many people come to Korea to pay off student loans or save to travel. What you do with this money is up to you, but you will have more than enough of it (we can guarantee you that).
2. The Contract
In Korea, most public school contracts will begin with the same pay and benefits. The contracts are about 50 pages long and written in both Korean and English. Each contract is for exactly 1 year but if you want to stay longer, and your school likes you, then you may be offered the chance to re-sign for another year (or, if you are lucky, for an extra 6 months).
Your contract is absolute law in Korea and most schools will stick to it down to the last word (this is not always the case for private school jobs). Just bare in mind that you will have to stick to your contract too. If the contract states that you need to be at school from 8:30 to 16:30 everyday then don’t try and bunk out early because if your school finds out they could take that time as unpaid leave (trust us, we have witnessed this happen). Although some schools are more lenient than others, it is just wiser to stick to your contract unless told otherwise.
While this strict adhesion to your contract can seem tiresome it also provides more security for you as you can count on being paid on time and getting all the benefits stipulated in your contract. Speaking of benefits…
Although teaching English in other countries such as Japan or in the Middle East may mean you get paid a higher salary, there is no country that is comparable to Korea in terms of benefits. It is this part of your contract that you should pay close attention to. Here are the main benefits which should be outlined in your contract (although some may vary according to your school):
Flight allowance to AND from Korea ( this amount is usually way more than a flight costs so you will be able to pocket the difference).
18 days PAID vacation per year.
A furnished apartment near or close to your school (furnished usually means: a bed, wardrobe, desk/table, chair, fridge, and a TV. If you are lucky enough to move into an apartment that a previous teacher lived in then you will probably have other kitchen and home appliances too, otherwise you will have to buy these yourself). To see what apartments in Korea are like watch our South Korean Apartment Tour video.
$300 entrance allowance (to settle in to your new apartment and buy anything you may need).
End of year bonus (one months pay).
No taxes (this depends on your country, but South Africans get 2 years tax free).
Health Insurance (100% or 50% paid by your school).
11 paid sick days per year.
A visa to live and work in Korea (usually valid for 13 months to give you time to pack up or see more of the country before you leave).
What to pack?
Korea has four very distinct seasons, which means the summers are extremely hot and humid, and the winters are ferociously cold. Although you will need clothes for all weather types, you can buy everything you may need in Korea. So, if luggage space is an issue, just come fully prepared for the season you are arriving in and you can build up the rest.
In terms of the school dress code, it is surprisingly casual. Make an effort to dress smart in your first few weeks to make a good impression. Then, you can just gage what the other teachers wear to school and follow their lead.
You can find pretty much all toiletries and cosmetics in Korea EXCEPT deodorant, so stock up on that before you arrive (Koreans don’t really wear deodorant for some reason). Also, Koreans don’t really use tampons so ladies, make sure you have enough to last you a year as they are hard to come by and very expensive.
Everything else you can buy in Korea, so don’t stress if you forget something and don’t over pack.
Arriving in Korea
In most cases, someone will be there to welcome you when you arrive at Incheon International Airport. You will then either be taken straight to and Orientation or to your school or apartment. Every public school teacher must go through some form of Orientation at some point during his/her contract (if you’re lucky it will be at the beginning although there are some instances when you only get to an orientation a couple of weeks or even months after you arrive in Korea, depending on when your contract starts). The orientation is a great way to meet other English teachers in Korea as well as to learn some basic teaching and survival skills for both life in Korea, and your classroom.
In most cases, you will be required to teach your first class the day after you arrive at your school or, in some cases, the day you arrive. So make sure you are prepared with some form of relaxed introductory lesson or ice breaker games, just in case.
You may also be required to say a little speech in front of your whole school so don’t panic if this happens. Keep it short and sweet so your Korean co-teacher can translate easily for you.
Within the first few weeks of your arrival you will be given your entrance allowance of $300 to get you settled in your new home. You will also be required to do a health check and a drug test so make sure you don’t fail that one or you will be sent straight back home. Your Korean co-teacher will also help get your ID card, a phone contract and a bank account set up.
Your first week or even month will be extremely overwhelming and it will take time to adjust to the jetlag and culture shock. We promise you will settle in and get into a rhythm of teaching and living in a new country. Just remember to take it all in, learn as much as you can, and we guarantee it will one of the best experiences of your life.