Teaching English in South Korea

By | March 3, 2017

South Korea is located in East Asia in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. It shares a land border with North Korea and maritime borders with China and Japan. Over half of the 50 million strong population lives in and around Seoul making it the 2nd largest capital city in the world.

Known as one of Asia’s tiger economies, South Korea went through a process of rapid industrialisation in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, this developed country is currently ranked as the 8th biggest economy in the world.

South Korea has both a humid continental and subtropical climate. The summers can be hot and humid and the winter months are extremely cold with temperatures as low as −20 °C.

Read more about South Korea from Wikipedia.

Why Teach English in South Korea

Rainbow Fountain Bridge

Rainbow fountain Seoul” by Gu Gyobok (photographer) – Seoul Metropolitan Government. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.

South Korea is one of the most popular destinations in the world for TEFL teachers. Relatively high salaries, the ability to save money, a very high standard of living, eager students and more make this a good destination for English teachers.

There is a huge demand for native English speaking teachers and as a result there are many jobs available. There is a growing competition for jobs especially in Seoul, but if you have a degree and a teaching certificate, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to secure a job.

Eastern culture is totally different to western culture and you’ll notice the differences as soon as you step off the plane. You will always come across something that is completely new to you, even if you stay there for a few years.

In you spare time you can explore technologically advanced cities, enjoy Karaoke in the evening, and look around Buddhist temples when you want to get away from it all!

Where to Teach English in South Korea

You will find that most of the teaching opportunities are in the larger towns and cities with Seoul and Busan having the most jobs available.

Types of Teaching Jobs in South Korea

Public Schools

Deoksugung Palace

By Chamberikore (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These government sponsored programs often have a slightly lower starting out salary than private schools (hagwans), but there are other benefits that make these types of jobs more competitive. You will have better job security, less teaching hours, paid vacations, and you will be working with a local co-teacher.

Different programs require a range of qualifications. Some require that you are currently studying for a bachelor’s degree whilst others require that you have a bachelor’s degree and some will require that you have a teaching certificate such as a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA.

Government sponsored programs include SMOE, GEPIK, EPIK, and TaLK. These can easily be found with a quick Google search.

Private Schools (Hagwons)

Generally speaking most private schools offer higher pay than public schools and most people start out in one of these types of school. Hagwons often have prepared lesson plans that the teachers must follow and some like the free time that this provides whilst others don’t like the that fact that it limits creativity.

You’ll generally be working later in the afternoon into the evening and at weekends. You don’t get as much paid holiday as public schools provide, but if you’re looking to work and save money then a hagwon can be a good choice. Usually a normal working week in a hagwon is around 35 hours.

Beware that there are schools with a good reputation and some that have a bad reputation and treat their teachers badly. There are stories of late salaries, being fired before the contract ends (so they don’t have to pay the contract bonus) and other inconveniences. However, this shouldn’t put you off because there are a number of reputable schools.

It’s important that you do your research before accepting a position.

Schools also have varying requirements for their teachers. A number of schools don’t require any teaching certificate or experience whereas others do. Usually, the schools have higher requirements offer better teaching conditions and higher salaries.


Universities also employ native English speaking teachers. However, they will require that you have a master’s degree. In return, you will have lower working hours and a similar (if not higher) salary when compared to a hagwon.

One of the downsides is that they don’t provide accommodation and this can be expensive especially in Seoul. You’ll often need a large deposit of quite a few thousand dollars and you’ll need to pay the rent by yourself.

Private Lessons

Most teachers usually get an E-2 visa and this visa doesn’t allow you to teach private lessons, however, this doesn’t stop most teachers. In most cases, teachers take private lessons for friends or a friend of a co-worker. As it is illegal, you should be discreet about taking private lessons.

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Teaching Requirements and Qualifications

The minimum requirement for teaching English is a bachelor’s degree. Usually native English speakers are preferred for jobs, but a highly qualified non-native English speaking teacher might find some opportunities.

If you want to work in a public school then it would be better if you had a teaching certificate such as a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA. Competition for jobs in the public schooling system is quite high and this will help you to stand out from the rest.

When it comes to hagwans, there are schools that don’t require a teaching certificate and others that do. Usually, teachers that have more qualifications and experience will be offered the higher paying jobs.

Another reason why South Korea is so popular with TEFL teaches, especially first time teachers, is that a number of jobs don’t require any previous experience.

Expected Salary and Living Costs

[sociallocker id=”2106″]Teachers that are just starting out can expect to earn between $1800 and $2000 (USD) per month. Teachers with good qualifications and experience can expect to earn a little higher. If you stay in the country working as a teacher, you salary will gradually increase and you can earn more than this amount.

Moreover, most public and private schools will provide accommodation, airfare (both at the beginning and ending of your contract), and a contract completion bonus which is usually equal to one month pay. Therefore, when you finish your contract, you can expect a nice lump sum.

Beware, that not all schools offer the same salary and benefits for their teachers. There are stories that some hagwans even sack their teachers after 11 months to get out of paying. So make sure that you do your research before you accept a job.

The cost of living is quite cheap when compared to western countries and as your accommodation is usually paid for; you only need to pay for your utility bills, travel costs, food and other personal expenses.

Therefore, it’s very easy to save money because you only have minimal expenses. The ability to save quite a lot of your salary is one of the reasons why teaching English in South Korea is such an attractive option for university graduates.

Read more about the cost of living from Numbeo.[/sociallocker]

Visa Requirements

Most teachers will qualify for an E-2 working visa which is sponsored by your employer. This generally allows you to stay for one year with a single entry (although it can be changed to multiple entries for a fee).

After you have secured a contract, the school will start with the visa process. You will need to have a criminal background check, and original notarised certificates for your qualifications. Moreover, you will usually need to do this when you are in your home country. Schools will often make all the arrangements for you, and you will just need to supply the necessary documents.

After your contract has expired, you can apply for a new job or a sign another contract with your current school and a new visa can be issued.

How to Find a Job Teaching in South Korea

Seoul at Dusk

Seoul dusk2” by en:User:Patriotmissile – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Seoul_dusk2.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Most teachers find jobs before they arrive in South Korea and most of these go through recruitment agencies that specifically deal with TEFL teachers. You will see many jobs advertised online on ESL jobs boards and most of these advertisements are placed by recruitment agencies.

If you want to apply for one of the public school positions, you can apply directly from their website.

It’s unusual to go to South Korea and then start looking for work because you need to apply for your working visa from your home country. Usually, you will complete the recruitment process online and your new employer will help you with applying for the relevant visa.

If you plan to stay after your contact has finished, you will need to arrange a new contract either with your current employer or your new employer before your contract has expired.

Teach English in South Korea

South Korea is one of the most popular destinations for English teachers for a number of reasons. Although competition for jobs is steadily increasing, there is a huge demand for native English speaking teachers. There are often very good benefits and the salary is high enough to enable you save quite a lot of money.


Although I have never worked in this country, every effort has been made to ensure that this information is correct. This blog post has been written after extensive research online, interviews with teachers who have worked or are working in the country, and local schools have been contacted. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. If you have worked or are working in South Korea, we would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment and share your experiences with us.

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