What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Korea? K-pop? K-drama? The food? The unique cafes?
Many people don't know what to expect before coming here. I know I didn't. So, I'm here to give you a little insight on what to expect, how to get a job, and why you should come to this one of a kind place.
Understand the requirements to get hired
- A Bachelor's Degree in any subject
- Native English Speaker (ideally but some schools will make exceptions)
- TEFL/TESOL or Equivalent Certification (if your degree is not in teaching)
- Criminal Background Check (with clean record)
- Ability to Pass a Health Check (upon arrival in Korea)
- Ability to Sign a 1-Year Contract (typically)
Why choose Korea compared to other countries?
Many expats come to Korea for jobs, but why? What’s the appeal? Why is it so enticing?
In short, a few of my favorite perks to teaching in Korea are:
- The easy transition from university to the "real world."
- The competitive salary
- The huge expat community
- The culture (Hello, K-Pop and K-Dramas!)
- The delicious food
I think so many people choose Korea because after university, it’s hard to jump right into adult life and responsibilities. Many of the schools will assist with “adulting” (rent, insurance and visas, etc). The salary alone makes it a great way to pay off those student loans.
Korea is also appealing to those who still want that sense of community like they had in university. The expat community is huge here and it is great to be around like-minded people. Also, a lot of us grew up listening to K-Pop or falling in love to K-Dramas. If not, the sweet and spicy food should be enough to convince you!
People come here for many reasons and do various jobs, but the majority of (western) foreigners come with the purpose of teaching English abroad. I would love to pretend that I know about other occupations in Korea, as I am curious myself! However, it is only fair that I write about what I know and have experienced.
There is a "non-teaching Korea" group on Facebook that puts up various job posting daily, but many of those jobs require you to already be in Korea and have a visa. Trust me, all expats wish we could be voice actors, models, musicians, and more, but you will have to do more digging to figure out how to achieve visas that support these jobs.
Check out this post to learn how to get a job other than teaching English in Korea.
Personally, I chose to teach in Korea compared to other countries because of the wide array of perks teachers at private schools are offered. Not only will you receive a competitive salary, you get a lot of perks.
Those perks will include:
- A paid flight to Korea
- Paid housing (or rent allowance)
- Visa Assistance
- Medical Check Assistance
- Tax Assistance
- A competitive monthly salary
- Pension & Severance at the end of your contract
Pension is money that is set aside every paycheck and then will be doubled for you when you leave the country. Severance is a 1-month bonus paycheck you receive when you finish your 1-year contract. Keep in mind not all schools provide these things but they should.
Don't fall for a school that doesn't offer you this.
3 Big tips to find a teaching English job in South Korea
1. Browse job listing platforms
On Dave’s, there is a “Korean Job Board” with a long list of public and private schools that are looking for teachers. Many of the posts are recruiting companies so you can choose if you want their help, but if you don’t, you can find plenty of posts that are directly from the school. There are always so many jobs that are posted and it can be quite overwhelming if you don't know what you're looking for.
On the bright side though, you'll have plenty of job opportunities to apply for and should hopefully have a few offers to decide between at the end of it all. From my experience, I'd apply to and interview with as many schools as you can. This will give you the best chance to find a good fit for you without feeling the need to "settle" on something that just doesn't feel quite right.
Pro Tip: Dave's ESL Cafe it's a great way to find teaching jobs all over the world but it can be a little overwhelming if you haven't decided on which country you'd like to teach in. Browse through A Way Abroad first for teaching jobs all over the world to see which country is best for you before you start browsing.
2. Decide if you prefer a public school or private school
As you're skimming through job posts, you'll need to choose between a public school or a hagwon (private school).
Generally speaking, if you plan to work at a hagwon, you apply directly to the school of your choosing after browsing the sites mentioned in Tip #1. If you want to work at a public school though, you'll go through the English Program in Korea, better known as EPIK. EPIK is affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Education and will typically place you in a school of their choosing, based on your experience and preferences.
Many people have told me that public schools are better, but I have found that it is not always the case. A lot of public schools have a lower starting monthly salary, but more vacation days. It really does not matter what you choose, public or hagwon.
Just find one that fits your needs and wants. Just don't find yourself teaching at a Blacklist School! More on this in the next tip.
3. Do a lot of research about a school before signing a contract
Apply to many places and see what your options are. DO NOT SETTLE!
When I first moved to South Korea, I only applied to one school and took their offer right away. I later regretted not exploring my options more. Don’t get me wrong, moving to Korea is the best thing I ever did but the school that you choose is very important. It can make or break your Korean experience.
Some schools are not exactly what they say they are and it is best if you know what you are getting yourself into. Don’t fully trust the outward appearance. Ask the principal/recruiter if you can contact several teachers that are already working there. If only one teacher responds out of many or none respond at all, then you should think about why the other teachers didn’t respond. Also, if the school is too eager to hire you, take that as a red flag. If they are desperate, then maybe they have many teachers that are leaving and for good reason.
There are many good schools in Korea so don’t be discouraged. My first school was not what I had hoped but I stayed a second year and later found a school that was better. I am just encouraging you to do your research. There are good jobs and bad jobs in every country.
There are sites called “Korean Blacklist” and “Hagwon Blacklist.” CHECK IT! When you are interviewing for a job, search their name on these pages to make sure that you won’t dread your experience in Korea. The list is quite long on these websites, so to save yourself time, use the "search" function (ctrl + f) and search directly for a school you might be interested in.
Choose which Korean city fits your needs/wants
Personally, I chose to live in Seoul but there are plenty of other great places to live and work in South Korea. From big cities to small Korean towns, there are plenty of wonderful places you could call home.
Another thing to consider is location. You can find jobs all over Korea but think about the kind of place that would best suit you. If you like the city, like me, Seoul or Busan is your best bet. The jobs will be more competitive for sure, but there is so much to do in these areas.
For a better idea of fun things to do in Seoul all year round, check out this guide for the top 50 things to do while in Seoul!
If you're more motivated to live and work in a smaller city, check out our expat guide to life in Jeonju, S. Korea. As a culinary capital, it has a lot to offer!
If you don’t mind the suburbs or smaller cities, awesome, you will enjoy Korea just the same. Just make sure you Google the location before you come here.
I was told that mine would be 20 minutes from Seoul, but in fact it was 55 minutes by subway. Just do some research before you sign a contract. I've heard similar stories of recruiters telling their candidate just what they want to hear, regardless of truth, to get them to sign at the X.
So, you found a good school, in a good location, with good benefits. What’s next?
The school should help you with the necessary paperwork and the series of steps to go through to be rewarded an E2 visa. The E2 visa is the visa awarded to language teachers in Korea.
But to give you a heads up, this is what you’ll do:
- Scan and send a signed contract to the school
- The school should then begin to file the necessary paperwork for the visa
- You will get all the notarized and apostilled documents that are required (see below)
- Send those documents to the school so they can submit them to the Korean Immigration Office to get a "Visa Issuance Number"
- Once the school gets the number, then you can apply for the visa to the nearest Korean Consulate office to you. You can either go there in person or mail your application and passport to them to get your visa
There is a lot of processing time with the documents travelling between countries and offices so its better to do it as soon as you can.
Here is the checklist of the documents you will need (in step 3) for the E2 Visa and how you can get them quickly:
- Signed Copy of the Contract
- 6 passport sized photos for the alien registration card (aka your Korean ID)
- Photocopy of the information page of the passport
- Apostilled (American) or Notarized (Canadians) Criminal Record Check: Get your fingerprints taken from the police station and then you can send them to the FBI (or your home country's equivalent) through this website
- Health Statement Form provided by the school
- Apostilled or Notarized photocopy of your University Degree. For Americans, check out US Authentication a for further information
Again, the school should help and guide you through all the steps. Stay in contact with them throughout the process to ensure you're taking care of everything they'll need to process your visa.
Whew, now you're ready to go!
That’s it! After the paperwork is done, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your life to change. If you make the decision to come to Korea, you will not regret it!
The experiences and relationships I made have not only enriched my life but changed me. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
Through the good and the bad, life in Korea has changed me as a person and I’m better for it. Come try the amazing food, meet great people, and experience a culture like none other. Whether you plan to stay or are just passing through, Korea is not a country you wanna skip.