Working as an English teacher in Korea (How to find & How's it like) - IVisitKorea
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Working as an English teacher in Korea (How to find & How’s it like)

Teaching English in Korea

With the rise in popularity of South Korea in the form of music, film, cafes, confectionary treats, and lots more, it isn’t surprising more people want to come to see, experience, and explore this great nation. One neat way to visit Korea is to come over as an English teacher. But of course, packing up and moving to a new country to live and work has some important information to consider. Keep reading to discover about teaching English in Korea, what it is like, and more.

Where to begin?

Working as an English teacher in Korea

There may be some big questions for those interested in teaching English in Korea. The first question people usually ask is, “do I have to speak Korean?”

No, there are no Korean language requirements to come to Korea. But certainly, familiarity with Korean will be invaluable when you come to Korea. If learning Korean sounds a bit too daunting, don’t worry. The only language requirement to teach English in Korea is, of course, English. 

First, you must be a citizen of English-speaking countries, including the USA, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Or someone who has lived in an Anglophone country and has the necessary certifications and education. Assuming you have all that covered, your next step is to choose whether you would like to work in a public school or a private English academy, known as hagwons.

Public schools vs. Private schools

Teaching English in Elementary School in South Korea

If you want to teach English in Korea, you have two main avenues. One is going through the Korean government’s official program, English Program in Korea, also known as EPIK. The other option is to go through private recruiters to land a job at a private academy. Though these roles might sound similar, teaching English in Korea at private and public facilities is very different.

Teaching in Korean Public Schools

Let’s start with the EPIK program. EPIK is a lengthy process, with lots of screening and requiring lots of documents. EPIK only hires during certain times of the year, usually for the spring and autumn sessions. Spring is when school starts in Korea, so when you apply, try to begin looking for positions in winter into spring. But if you are eager to teach English in Korea as soon as possible, visit websites like Koreabridge, Dave’s ESL cafe, and several others that host job boards for private academies.

Korean Public School Documents & Visa

Public and private schools require documents and records that may differ from country to country. Usually, you will need proof of a clean criminal background search, your college transcript and diploma, certified and notarized, and potentially a few others these days, like proof of vaccination, etc. Assuming you have all your documents, you are set to get your E-2 visa!

Other visa types exist; I have a different one, but I initially came to Korea with an E-2 visa. You can change your visa type depending on your job or marital status. The E-2 visa is for teaching English in Korea at your designated place of work, and you are sponsored by your employer. This means that you can only teach and work at your school. Things like working elsewhere or tutoring are technically illegal. If your employer finds out about you doing that, it could result in you being fired, losing your visa, and potentially having to return home. But assuming you don’t do that, you should be fine!

Korean Public School Housing for Native English Teachers

But now let’s talk about housing. The EPIK program will provide an apartment with some basic amenities or 400,000 Korean Won (about $300) monthly housing stipend. Private academies will also offer housing or a 300,000-400,000 KRW monthly housing allowance. Housing and apartments sound challenging, but since your school or academy will likely cover those, housing will not be as big of a concern as one might assume.

In my years of teaching English in Korea, I’ve never had a school not provide housing or assist in finding accommodations. But it is important to note that big destinations like Seoul will most likely result in smaller and, to be honest, less desirable accommodations. More remote regions may be offering some bigger and cleaner places to live.

Also, to be clear, housing isn’t free. It is taken from your monthly paycheck, and you only have to pay utilities. Utilities are usually pretty cheap, too. But speaking of pay, let’s take a look at pay scales.

Native English Teachers Pay Scale

Native English Teachers Pay Scale

The EPIK program offers a pay scale of 2,000,000 KRW (about $1500 USD) up to 2,700,000 ($2000 USD) Korean Won. If you have more teaching experience, opt for a more remote region (not Seoul or Busan), and have taught at the same school consecutively for a year or two, you can expect a higher pay scale.

Meanwhile, private academies may offer anywhere from 2,000,000 Korean won ($1500) to upwards of 4,000,000 Korean won ($3000). Interestingly, while EPIK offers more if you are willing to live and work in less population-dense areas, pay scales at private academies that offer 2,700,000 to 4,000,000 Korean won are mainly situated only in Seoul. 

These high pay scales are mainly aimed at experienced teachers with lots of experience and credentials. The risk with private academies, too, is the recruiters. I have dealt with many recruiters, and while they can help find you a job, they may send you to less desirable positions and pressure you to take a lower pay scale than you deserve. Recruiters are out to meet quotas and place teachers. So expect to be pressured to teach at a kindergarten for 10 hours a day or so for the lowest pay scale.

Choose Your Place of Work

I advise anyone reading this and trying to come and teach for the first time. You choose your place of work, not recruiters. Recruiters will often be (or pretend to be) very friendly and try to get you to trust them, and some are very genuine and have helped me and other people I know get nice positions, but there are still too many that are just trying to meet quotas. You don’t work for them and have not signed any contracts with the recruiters, so feel free to disregard some recruiters if you aren’t comfortable with them. Never sign a contract if you have not read it thoroughly or are not fully satisfied with it. If you choose to work with EPIK, you won’t need to worry about that!

Differences between EPIK and private academies (hagwons)

EPIK

  • Through the government
  • Focus on education
  • The lower pay scale comparatively
  • Don’t get to choose where you are sent (you can list a place of preference, though!)
  • You get much more vacation days.
  • Students might have a lower level of English- but your role and duties may be much simpler.
  • Very official, and your position and title will gain you more respect
  • Offer lots of settlement allowances, contract renewal bonuses, and other financial incentives

Hagwon

  • Might have to navigate through recruiters, but you can contact schools directly, too.
  • The pay scale may generally be higher.
  • Hagwons may be more concerned with pleasing parents and maintaining student numbers to make money.
  • Unfortunately, many have become more like daycare centers where classes are supposed to be “fun,”-which sounds cool but can be very tiring and frustrating. This usually leads to more roles and duties, like doing lots of work in your personal and free time, which won’t be financially compensated.
  • Hire year round, and it is easier to find a position with a hagwon
  • You have more freedom to choose where to work, and if a hagwon hires, you can work there!
  • Fewer vacation days

Living in Korea tips

Seoul Night View

I’ve been living and working in Korea and abroad for a long time, so some of this information results from trial and error, firsthand experiences and misadventures, and anecdotes and stories from friends and acquaintances. Hopefully, these tips and little facts will save you some future headaches!

Korean Wifi and internet

Korea is one of the countries that provides the best internet access in the world. Free internet access is available when using public transport and in the park. Please contact your employer for internet access at the property.

The difficult thing would be a mobile SIM or WiFi to temporarily use when entering Korea. Please refer to our article comparing all SIM and WiFi products for you.

Korean Banking

Luckily, these days, major banks like Shinhan and Woori (pronounced “ooh-ree”) have become much more foreigner friendly. Setting up a bank account and transferring money is free and pretty simple. Usually, banks will have an extension to an English-speaking representative if need be.

Korean Food

Korea is a real gastronomic capital of the world. So if you like Korean food back home, Korean food here is on another level! If you are less adventurous, Korea has Western brands like Subway, McDonald’s, and many others. For those not keen on Korean food or Western chain food, supermarkets offer affordable and healthy produce and food you can make at home.

Traveling in Korea

Nami Island Travel
[ Nami Island ]

Getting around is easy and efficient in Korea, too. Public transportation is a great way to get around, with buses, subways, and of course, KTX, and there are tons of taxis to be grabbed if you want a faster and more direct way to get around. IVisitKorea helps you can find the best things to do in South Korea at the lowest price.

Utilities in Korea

They are usually relatively cheap, but winters in Korea are long and very cold, so bring some warm clothes and lots of layers. Summers are very hot, so you may use more energy in winter and summer. Check out the weather and temperature in South Korea.

Healthcare in Korea

Another great benefit of living in Korea is the efficient, cheap, and high-quality healthcare here. Your school will usually help shuffle you through all the necessary procedures and doctor visits you will need when you arrive: nothing too crazy, usually an overall physical exam, blood, urine, drug test, etc. If you get sick, You can walk into a hospital or clinic and get treated that same day, and it won’t cost you an arm or a leg. As of writing this, you don’t have to quarantine, too. But keep your eyes on any travel warnings or changes.

Setting up and getting started in Korea

EPIK offers a nice settlement allowance while most hagwons will not. That said, the minimum amount of money I’d suggest you come to Korea with to get started will be about $2000 USD.

Feel free to bring more, but you will need to pay for some things when you arrive and receive your first paycheck.

Legal things in Korea

When you first arrive, you must check in with the Korean government by visiting immigration. Once again, you will get some assistance from your employer and the staff at your new place of work. Though not a requirement, it would be a good idea to contact or at least be familiar with where your country’s closest consulate or embassy is located. Just a quick legal note, too. All drugs are illegal here, even if they are legal in your home country, so if you partake in legal drugs, detox and abstain for a month or so because you may be drug tested here. If you test positive for drugs, you may be sent back home!

Packing up and moving overseas may sound like a big move and a bit daunting. But luckily, the path to teaching and living in Korea is much simpler than meets the eye. Having done the process several times, it is pretty simple, and as long as you have all your documents (make copies and copies of copies), you will be teaching English in Korea before you know it! So, good luck, and happy travels.

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