Moving to Korea has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Here’s all the information you need to find yourself a job teaching english in Korea
Spoiler alert: This is a lengthy post providing information for anybody interested in teaching english in Korea. As always, if you have any questions then please feel free to get in touch with us.
Why Choose Korea?
I cannot tell you how many times we had to answer this question prior to leaving the UK.
For most people when they hear the word Korea they think of a) North Korea or b) absolutely nothing at all.
Small in size but large in population, imagine the authenticity of China mixed with the modernity of Japan. You can spend the day wandering around seven hundred-year-old palaces and spend the night partying in Seoul until the sun comes up (something we’ve experienced far too often.)
Now I know what you’re thinking – what about North Korea? Is it dangerous?
Yes North Korea is dangerous – but it doesn’t mean that South Korea is dangerous. Dave and I have visited a number of countries in Asia and both agree that Korea is the safest we’ve ever felt – in fact, we feel safer here than in the UK.
It’s a shame that media outlets in the West have scaremongered us into believing Kim Jong-Un is a mere button-press away from blowing up the world! The reality is in fact, decades of empty threats and warnings to which South Koreans have become bored of and unresponsive to; instead they are happily and safely getting on with their lives.
For us, finding a 9-5 job in the city after graduating from university just wasn’t an option. We both had a desire to travel and knew that teaching abroad would give us an opportunity to see the world whilst making money.
After hours spent researching possible locations (China, Thailand, Dubai to name a few) we became more and more intrigued by the ‘Land of the Morning Calm.’
Google the top places in the world to teach english and you’ll start noticing a recurring theme, Korea. The benefits and lifestyle available to english teachers is considered by many to be better than anywhere else across the globe.
Sure the pay may be slightly lower than teaching jobs in the Middle East, but we believe the lifestyle that’s available to you in Korea earns the country it’s reputation of being the best place in the world to teach english.
Fully furnished paid apartment, medical insurance, round-trip paid airfare, a bonus of one month’s salary on completion of your contract – just a few of the benefits we receive for being teachers in Korea. There’s information about teaching contracts, salary and benefits later in this post.
But first, here are the basic requirements for teaching english in Korea:
- You must be fluent in speaking english and have a valid passport from one of the following countries; the UK, Ireland, South Africa, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (anywhere where english is the first language)
- A university degree (minimum of three years – doesn’t matter what subject, my degree is Broadcast Journalism)
- A clean criminal record check
- A TEFL certificate (this is only necessary for public school jobs, not private)
- Keep in mind that all teaching contracts in Korea are for 1 year, extensions are negotiable after completing your first year of teaching
You don’t need to be able to speak Korean but we’d recommend trying to learn the basics; reading hangul is really easy and will come in handy.
Public School or Private School?
Learning english in Korea is a big deal – in order to get into university Koreans must pass an english test.
There are two types of teaching jobs available in Korea, public and private. Public schools are owned by the Government and similar to those in the western world.
Those who can afford it send their kids to private after-school english lessons in addition to public schooling. These schools are privately run businesses known as hagwons and are extremely popular in Korea (it’s like going to piano/dance lessons etc when you were younger, except most kids visit their hagwon every day.)
Public School Pros & Cons
+ ‘Normal’ working hours (around 8:30am-17:00) Monday – Friday
+ At least 6 weeks of vacation time per year during Summer and Winter, plus national holidays
+ There will be a Korean co-worker in the classroom with you
+ Public school jobs offer stability (you’ll be paid on time and don’t need to worry about your contract being terminated early / not receiving any of your contract benefits)
– Larger class size (usually at least 30 kids)
– You could be the only foreign teacher in the school
– Most public schools only offer starting dates of March or September
– You can’t choose your location or what age you’ll be teaching (you can write down your preferences during the application process but there is no guarantee they’ll be adhered to)
Private School Pros & Cons
+ Smaller class sizes, around 10 kids or less per class
+ There’s often other foreign teachers working at your school
+ Your boss will probably be able to speak english, which is not the case in some public schools
+ Hagwons hire teachers all year round making it easier to find a job
– Less vacation time, around 10 days plus national holidays
– Hagwons are run like a businesses, your manager’s priority is making money
– Working hours vary as kids visit hagwons after their day at school, e.g. 12:00 – 21:00, 14:00 – 22:00
– Parents are paying to send their kids to the hagwon, thus the school wants to keep the parents happy whatever this may entail
What Would We Recommend?
We couldn’t recommend either – it depends on you.
If travelling is important to you, then you’ll be attracted to the extra holiday at public schools. If location is important, then the flexibility being able to choose where your hagwon is located will seal the deal.
What we’re trying to say is – both types of schools have their pros and cons, you need to decide what will suit you.
Unless you’re married, couple jobs are only available at hagwons and so that was the route that Dave and I took. We work together at a privately run kindergarten; we love our job and have a great relationship with our manager but unfortunately this is not the case for all private school teachers.
The internet is plagued with horror stories about hagwons, but don’t let that put you off – we are proof that you can find decent hagwon jobs in Korea.
In fact, the majority of our friends here work at hagwons and apart from a few niggles here and there, overall they’ve had a good working experience in Korea.
The rest of this post will explain the process of finding a job at a hagwon (if you’ve decided on the public school route; EPIK and GEPIK are the two main recruiters for public schools in Korea.)
Finding A Hagwon Job
Firstly, you need to decide what age kids you want to work with. Working at a kindergarten means we teach kids aged 3-6 years in the morning, and elementary students aged 7-10 years in the afternoon.
We have to make the lessons very visual and fun to keep the children interested; lots of singing, dancing and game playing. Sounds great I know, but keep in mind that it can be very tiring, especially with the language barrier.
Many of our friends teach middle and high school students and enjoy not only teaching them but being able to chat with them about day-to-day life. This age group doesn’t come without it’s challenges, they are still teenagers after all.
The easiest way to find a job in a hagwon is to use a recruiter and there are tons of recruiters to choose from. You don’t have to pay them, they are paid by the school if they are successful in finding a teacher.
Their role is to see if you’re suitable for a job, set up interviews and help you organise the documents that you’ll need to get your working visa (basically hold your hand through the job hunting process.)
Here are a few recruiters that we used during our job search:
Say Kimchi Recruiting
Gone 2 Korea
Reach to Teach
Teach ESL Korea
There’s also dozens of jobs posted on Dave’s ESL Cafe. If you have a specific location in mind, try searching for Facebook groups to check for job openings, for example, ‘Teaching jobs in Seoul.’
We were in contact with a number of recruiters at the same time; but it’s best not to let them know that you’re working with more than one. You’ll be asked for your CV, some recent photographs, what age you want to teach and where you want to be located.
Most communication is done via email but it’s likely they’ll want to set up a Skype interview with you to find out more about yourself and the type of job that you’re hoping to find in Korea (don’t stress, it’s more of an excuse for them to see what you look like and check that you can speak english.)
We were also asked to put together a short YouTube video introducing ourselves and why we would make good teachers in Korea.
You can then expect to be bombarded with interview requests at ungodly hours due to the time difference. Koreans are workaholics, try and reply promptly to your recruiter so you’re at the top of their list. Don’t be afraid to turn down interviews if it’s not the type of job that you’re interested in.
Remember; the recruiters are paid for successfully filling job roles, so they’re likely to send you a bunch of interview requests regardless of whether the job is well suited to you or not. Yes it’s good to be flexible, but don’t be pressured into accepting a job that you don’t want.
If you see a job that takes your fancy, the recruiter will arrange a Skype interview with somebody from the school – likely to be the manager or the current foreign teacher.
It won’t last long, be prepared for questions on why you want to teach in Korea and have some examples ready of any teaching experience that you have (if you don’t have any – make some up!)
Keep in mind that the person interviewing you may not speak fluent english so speak slowly, clearly and smile – appearance is important in Korea. It’s probably a good idea to cover any tattoos and take out any piercings that may be on show.
If you’ve been successful then you’re likely to hear very quickly from your recruiter as they’ll want you to make a speedy decision about accepting the job. Don’t feel pressured into rushing this process; instead play them at their own game – say you’re interested, buy yourself some time by asking to see the contract and putting forward any questions that you may have.
Things move quickly in Korea – you’ll be expected to make a decision within a few days. We were on a plane to Korea less than six weeks after our interview!
Contract & Benefits
Here are the common benefits you should expect to see in a hagwon contract:
- Round-trip airfare paid by the school
- 10 days paid holiday (excluding national holidays)
- A rent-free furnished apartment (you’ll probably have to pay your utility bills, ours come to around 30,000 won per month)
- One month’s severance pay (a bonus equivalent to one month’s salary when you complete your contract)
- Health Insurance
- 3 days sick leave
Hagwons may offer extra benefits to entice you to their school, for example, we get 2 weeks vacation in the Summer and Winter which is almost unheard of in Korea.
One of the bonuses of applying for a hagwon job is the ability to negotiate; remember if you don’t try you don’t get. If the school is desperate for a teacher or really like the look of you, they may adjust to your needs.
As we previously mentioned, all teaching contracts are for one year. If you’re not enjoying your time and want to terminate your contract early, you usually have to give your manager 1-2 months notice (this will be stated in your contract.) If you terminate your contract you will not receive your return air fare or bonus.
Starting salary at a hagwon is usually between 2.1-2.2 million won per month (approx £1500) but this is negotiable if you have teaching experience.
Less than you were expecting? Bare in mind that practically the whole of your wage is going straight into your pocket.
The cost of living in Korea is cheap and you’re living rent free. We eat out 2-3 times per week, spend most weekends travelling the country or partying in Seoul and still manage to save one of our pay cheques each month.
We have better social lives in Korea than the UK, and we are still managing to save money.
Of course we could save more! We know people who came to Korea specifically to save; living off just 300,000 won (approx £200) per month. It’s possible yes – but we wanted to experience Korea to the fullest, even if this means spending a little more money.
Before You Sign The Teaching Contract..
We must’ve read over our teaching contract a million times before we signed.. moving halfway across the world to a foreign country with no teaching experience – it’s only natural to be nervous.
Check your contract thoroughly – there are tons of detailed threads online stating what should be in your contract. Don’t be alarmed if you see spelling and grammar mistakes, this is common and nothing to be worried about as they are often written by Koreans.
If you’re concerned or have any questions about something in your contract, talk to your recruiter. If they are uncooperative and unhelpful, this could be a warning sign.
It’s also important that you speak to the current foreign teacher at the school; ask them questions about the working environment, the apartment, their time in Korea. If you’re not allowed to do this, alarm bells should be ringing – what are they hiding from you?
Try and research the name of the school but don’t jump to conclusions. We like to go with the theory that no news is good news; people are far more likely to rant about bad experiences they’ve had in Korea rather than the good ones.
We couldn’t find any information about our school on the internet, but we spoke to the current foreign teacher who’d worked there for two years and decided that was good enough for us. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
Don’t be pressured into signing a contract; regardless of what your recruiter says to you. If you’ve got a bad feeling or it’s not the position that you want then keep looking.
Preparing Your Documents
You’re nearly there! You’ve chosen a school and signed the contracts. The final step is collecting your documents so you can get your hands on your working visa. Here’s a list of the documents that you’ll need (this may vary if you’re not British):
- 2 sets of your university transcripts sealed properly by your university with a stamp, sticker, signature etc.
- A criminal record check (don’t apply for this too early as Korea only holds them valid for six months; we used Disclosure Scotland and it took less than three weeks to arrive.) When you apply for your criminal record check, you need to request for it to be notarised (basically a stamp or signature confirming that it’s not a fake document.)
- Korean Immigration will not accept your original degree certificate, so you need to photocopy your university degree and get the photocopy notarised (this can be done by a solicitor.) Once both your criminal record check and university degree have been notarised, send them together to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be apostilled (follow the instructions on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.)
- Four passport photos and a photocopy of the photo page in your passport
- Fill out the health questionnaire provided by your recruiter
Once you’ve collected all of your documents you’ll have to send them to the Korean embassy where you’ll receive a Korean working visa in your passport. Don’t worry if this sounds super confusing – your recruiter will guide you through the process and can help you with any questions (that’s what they’re paid for after all.)
Our recruiter booked our flight to Korea, but it’s not uncommon for you to pay for your own flight and have your school reimburse you once you’ve arrived in the land of kimchi.
If you’ve taken the leap to teach in Korea – congratulations! We’ve had an amazing experience living and teaching in this diverse country and I hope that you will too.
If you have any questions about teaching english in Korea, get in touch or check out our post on what to expect once you arrive in Korea.
Here’s a short video we filmed over a week at our kindergarten in Korea, it really is the best job in the world.
Have you taught english abroad? How was your experience?
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