Teaching English in Korea: Everything You Need to Know

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As a couple, we were able to save $40,000 by living abroad and working at a hagwon in Seoul and only living off of one paycheck.

Megan

Founder, Bobo and ChiChi

About Teaching in Korea

Korea is often recognized as the most popular ESL teaching destination for good reason – the pay is above average, the benefits can be great (can you say “free flight”?) and there are ample opportunities for both new experienced teachers.

Korea was my first stop as an ESL teacher nearly a decade ago – I remember arriving in Seoul back in 2008 and being elated.  It was not my first time abroad but teaching English in Korea would be my first time living in another country.  What followed was an incredible 12 months filled with experiences that continue to influence my life nearly 10 years later (want to read the rest of my story about working in a hagwon?  Click here.)

Want to compare Korea to other countries in the context of ESL?  Start here.  Or browse jobs in Korea here.

Requirements to Teach in Korea

If you’re interested in how to teach English in Korea then one of the first things you should be concerned about it are the requirements you must meet in order to get a job.  Korea has hosted thousands if not millions of ESL teachers over the years and their eligibility guidelines reflect what an appealing (and competitive) place it can be to teach.  Luckily, the requirements to teach in Korea are straightforward and are applied evenly across the board regardless of city, province, or school type (though some schools do ask for a bit more).

There are 5 major teaching requirements for those looking to work in Korea, and they all impact your ability to obtain an E2 visa, the visa required for those looking to teach legally.

 

Basic Requirements

  • Native Speaker from an Approved Country
  • Bachelor’s Degree (at the least)
  • No Criminal Convictions
  • No Outstanding Health Issues
  • TEFL/TESOL Certification (only for public schools)

 

Native Speaker from an Approved Country

Currently, only residents from the following countries are eligible to teach legally in Korea:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • The United States of America

While this is sure to disappoint a lot of potential applicants, rest assured that there are plenty of other countries out there that will hire teachers from outside this list.

 

Bachelor’s Degree (at the least)

Anyone applying to teach in Korea must have graduated from a 3 (non-USA) or 4 (USA) year university.  When applying for a visa you will be required to hand over a copy of your degree and sealed transcripts and they will be scrutinized.  If you did not graduate from with at least a bachelor’s degree it’s best to cut bait now and seek out another position.

 

No Criminal Convictions

Korea is extremely strict when it comes to who they allow to work as a teacher.  This is evidenced by the required background check that is often one of the most tedious parts of the application process.

The government requires each applicant produce a federal or national background check.  For Americans, this means using the FBI and not a State check that you can acquire online or in an afternoon.  ANY conviction, no matter if it’s a misdemeanor or felony, is grounds to have your visa rejected.

Teachers get turned away every day for things like DUI, DWI, possession, and minor assault, so it’s best not to even try if you believe your record will not come back clean (it can take 3 months to process).

 

No Outstanding Health Issues

A health check is another one of the requirements to teach in Korea and is applied in two parts:

The first is a brief questionnaire you answer before applying for a visa.  It is done without a doctor and is simply meant to provide an overview of the state of your health.

The second is a more thorough check administered once you arrive in Korea.  This check is a comprised of blood work and a physical and looks for things like drug use, communicable diseases, and overall physical well-being.

While this check isn’t as black and white as the background check, it’s in your best interested to make sure you pass.  Do not use drugs before coming to Korea, do not try and hide any underlying health issues, and do not attempt to enter the country if you’re infected with a serious disease.  You will be found out and run the risk of having your visa and position terminated.

 

TEFL/TESOL Certification

A teaching certificate is not required for most schools in Korea.  However, if you are pursuing a job in the public school system (EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE, TALK), then you are required to have a valid English teaching certification.

 

Requirements by School

As there are a few different types of schools in Korea (each with varying requirements) it’s worth looking at what it takes to land a job at each one in a bit more detail.

 

Private Schools / Hagwons

The requirements to teach at a hagwon in Korea are quite straightforward and the most basic of all teaching opportunities in Korea:

  • Native speaker from an approved country
  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Clean criminal record
  • Clean health check

 

Public Schools

Public schools in Korea can be quite selective about their teaching requirements (and usually have plenty of applicants from which to choose), but here are the most common:

  • Native speaker from an approved country
  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • ESL or TEFL teaching certification
  • Clean criminal record
  • Clean health check

 

Universities / Colleges

Universities are the most selective of all schools in Korea and their requirements for teachers ensure they can provide experienced and capable professors for their students.

  • Native speaker from an approved country
  • Master’s degree in a related subject
  • Previous experience in a similar teaching environment
  • Clean criminal record
  • Clean health check

 

International Schools

Due to their curriculum, almost all legitimate international schools (note: not every school with ‘international’ in its title is a true international school) require their teachers to be certified in their home country.  This is not an ESL or TEFL certification but instead a license to teach in schools back home.

  • Native speaker from an approved country
  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Certified teaching degree (not ESL or TEFL)
  • Clean criminal record
  • Clean health check

 

The Job Application Process in Korea Explained

This is covered in far greater detail on our visa section but assuming you’ve met the requirements to teach in Korea, the general hiring and application process is as follows:

  1. Interview and receive offer from school
  2. Compile necessary paperwork and signed contract and send to your school
  3. Apply for visa at your nearest Embassy or Consulate
  4. Receive visa and travel to Korea
  5. Perform health check upon arrival
  6. Start work!

Korean E2 Visa Process

The Korean E2 Visa is granted to those looking to teach English in South Korea.  It is awarded only after strict requirements are met and is the first step towards becoming a temporary resident of Korea.  The visa is placed in an applicant’s passport (it requires an entire page) and allows them to enter South Korea in order to work.

The E2 Visa is ONLY available to residents of the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • The United States of America

It’s also worth mentioning that your E2 teaching visa is linked to your employer, meaning you will not be able to job-hop, tutor, substitute teach, or work anywhere else legally.  There are procedures in place if you do want to change jobs legally, but that is outside of the scope of this guide.

 

The Korean E2 Visa Process in a Nutshell

What you’ll need to get started:

The visa process in 5 steps:

  1. Gather all necessary paperwork and send to your future school (only send after they have offered you a job and provided a contract).
  2. Receive a visa confirmation number in return (assuming all of your paperwork is in order) that you will use to apply for the physical visa.
  3. Take more paperwork (including the E2 Visa Application Form) to your local Korean Embassy or Consulate and apply for your visa.
  4. Book your travel to Korea upon receiving your visa
  5. Perform your Health Check once you arrive in Korea.

 

How Long Is the E2 Visa Processing Time?

If you do everything yourself, the E2 visa processing time is 2-4 months on average.  This includes gathering and submitting all necessary E2 paperwork to Korea and scheduling an appointment to receive the physical visa (assuming everything has gone well).

Applicants that are in a hurry can reduce the average E2 visa processing time by using services to speed up parts of the application.  This will be discussed in more detail later, but for now know that you can pay extra for help with:

  • Obtaining a background check
  • Receiving an Apostille on your background check

 

What Are the Requirements for a Korean E2 Visa?

Korea is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to visa requirements for its teachers and compared to other countries in Asia they can seem downright overwhelming.  Let’s look at what it will take to get an E2 teaching visa and breakdown each requirement in detail:

  • Degree from a 4-year University
  • Transcripts from a 4-year University
  • Criminal Background Check
  • Health Statement (download here)
  • Valid Passport & Photos
  • Resume
  • School Contract

 

Degree

No surprises here – in order to work legally in Korea you first need a valid degree (in any subject) from a 4-year university.  You will use a copy of your degree (do NOT send the original) and it’s going to need 2 things:

  • It must be notarized by a notary public (available in almost all banks)
  • It needs an Apostille Authentication from the Secretary of State in your home state (this can be done via mail, contact the office for details)

 

Transcripts

You will need 2 authentic transcripts from your university – these must be sealed with a stamp or signature over the seal – DO NOT OPEN THEM.

One version will be sent to Korea with your initial paperwork and the other will be turned into the consulate when you apply for your E2 visa.

 

Criminal Background Check

This is by far the most time-consuming step of this entire process and it’s paramount that you plan ahead as it can derail your entire timeline.

Everyone applying for an E2 Visa for Korea must undergo a thorough background check at the national level.  For Americans, this means the FBI and requires submitting a few things via mail and then waiting for up to 2 months for them to process it.

Full instructions can be found here but the gist is that you will send your fingerprints, form, and fee to the FBI and they will return your criminal history (or lack thereof).  If you don’t want to wait the 2-3 months for processing then pay particular attention to the section on FBI Channelers, they are a good way to speed up the process (but cost extra).

Please note that if you have anything on your FBI Record you will be denied a job in Korea, so it’s best to not even try.

 

Health Statement

The health statement is a simple form that you fill out on your own and covers your basic health conditions.  It is the precursor to the Health Check, which is a blood test and physical given once you arrive in Korea.

While the Health Statement is very informal, the Health Check is quite important and needs to be considered when going through the E2 visa process as you don’t want to get all the way to Korea and be denied because of your health.

The Health Check generally looks for drugs, communicable diseases like TB and HIV, and overall physical well-being.  If you think that you may fail this check for any reason it’s best to notify your school immediately – you can always postpone your trip until you’re well, but it’s very difficult to get a job if you have been listed as having health or drug problems.  The Korean government can revoke your visa if you fail your Health Check.

 

Valid Passport and Photos

In order to receive the E2 Visa, your passport needs to have at least 6 months of validity left and at least 1 blank page.  It’s important that you also have at least 6 passport photos as you will need them throughout the entire process.

You will need to send a photocopy of your passport’s information page (the page with the picture) to your school and hand over the physical version to the consulate (they will return it with your E2 Visa inside).

 

Resume

Make sure to print out a copy of your recent resume.  It doesn’t have to be fancy but it should be thorough and accurate.

 

Contract

Upon receiving an offer of employment, your school should send you no less than 3 copies of your contract.  Keep one copy for your records, keep one for your visa application at the consulate, and return the other one signed to your school when you send your paperwork.

 

Compiling and Sending Your Paperwork to Your School

Now that you have painstakingly compiled all the necessary paperwork (and received an offer from your school – if not, make sure to visit the Korean job board), it’s time to send everything back to your school so that they can apply for your visa (remember – all the school is doing is applying for your visa confirmation number, you are responsible for obtaining the physical visa at your local consulate or embassy).

All documents (signed contract, passport copy, Health Check form, degree, transcripts, background check, resume) should be sent via an international courier like UPS or DHL so that both you and the school can track the progress.  Expect this to cost around $50.

 

E2 Visa Instructions for the Consulate or Embassy

At this point, you should have sent all of your paperwork to your school in Korea, waited around 7 days, and been rewarded with a visa confirmation or reservation number.  You now want to take this number and input it in your Korean E2 Visa Application Form (available here) with the rest of your information.

With this form completed, make an appointment at the appropriate Korean Embassy or Consulate (see table below to learn which location is best for you) in order to have it processed.  Make sure to have the following items before you make your appointment (or use a service to act on your behalf):

  • Completed Korean E2 Visa Application Form
  • Passport with at least 6 months validity and 1 free page
  • Consul’s Checklist (download here)
  • 2 Passport photos
  • Money order for $45

Traditionally, those applying for a Korean E2 Visa are required to have a brief interview when visiting the consulate.  Recent reports suggest this is becoming less common, but it’s still a good idea to plan for it (don’t worry, it’s nothing serious, just a few basic questions).

After submitting the E2 Visa Application Form and completing your interview the only thing left to do is pickup your visa.  Depending on what you chose on your application form, this could be anywhere from 1 hours to 1 week.

 

After Receiving Your Korean E2 Visa

After you have received your visa from your local consulate or embassy you are home free!  All you need to do now is arrange a flight to Korea and pack your bags, congratulations!  Make sure to reach out to your school to notify them of the visa and begin planning for your trip.

How Much Can You Make Teaching in Korea?

The average salary for a teacher in Korea is around 2,100,000 Won (roughly $1900 USD).

South Korea is one of the top destinations to teach abroad for good reason – the country offers stable jobs, incredible benefits, and salaries that make saving money easy.  It’s no wonder why so many of those who teach English in Korea either stay for multiple contracts or talk fondly of their experience for years to come.

The great thing about salaries for teachers in Korea is that most people are able to save a large portion of what they make.  No, you won’t be rich, but the average job is packed with benefits like free housing that makes it easy to save money while living comfortably (want to save more money?  Check out which items to bring from home in our guide to What to Bring to Korea).

However, what you really make is dependent on where you work and there are a variety of school types depending on your experience and financial goals.

 

Average Salaries

However, what you really make is dependent on where you work and there are a variety of school types depending on your experience and financial goals.

School TypeSalary in WonSalary in USD
Private/Hagwon1.8-2.3 million$1,600-$2,100
Public1.5-3.2 million$1,350-$2,900
University2.2-3.5 million$2,000-$3,100
International2-3 million$1,800-$2,700
Want to know how much Korean Won is worth?  Check out XE’s currency converter.

Unsurprisingly, the requirements needed to teach in each in each of these varies almost as much as what you can make.

Private Schools: 1.8 – 2.3 million Won ($1,600-$2,100)

Private schools, typically known as hagwons, are the most common type of job in South Korea.  They generally serve as a kindergarten and school for young learners during the day and switch over to older students in the afternoon once primary school is over.

As the name implies, these schools are all privately run and therefore not overseen or regulated by a government body.  That is not to say that there is something wrong with this, only that there is far less standardization when it comes to pay, hours, and overall working conditions when compared to public schools.  If you take your time and do your research, it’s possible to find positions in a great location with low working hours.

Hagwon jobs are usually heavily advertised on job boards as there is a seemingly endless thirst for foreign teachers.  Because of this, requirements tend to be a bit lower than other schools and it’s quite easy to get a job at a private school in Korea with no experience and a bachelor’s degree.  However, if you have experience and certifications, you can easily command higher pay with hagwons.

Despite the salary range, the benefits of working at a hagwon in Korea is on par with other institutions and typically consists of free housing, reimbursed airfare, and an end-of-contract bonus.

 

Public Schools: 1.5 – 3.2 million Won ($1,350-$2,900)

South Korea has one of the best public school systems (for ESL teachers) in the world.  They are well organized, thoroughly managed, and highly respected.  The public school salaries in Korea are also extremely consistent as they are determined by a set scale based on experience, location, and overall demand.

Because of this, teaching positions for public schools are highly coveted and the school system can afford to be a bit more selective with their hires.  Landing a job can be difficult if you don’t have a relevant degree, experience, or a teaching certification (though not impossible).

 

Universities: 2.2 – 3.5 million Won ($2,000-$3,100)

Universities are really the cream of the crop when it comes to teaching salaries in Korea as well overall teaching environment.  As long as you meet the requirements it’s quite easy to snag a job that affords great pay and nearly 120 days of vacation per year.

Be warned, though, Korean universities expect a lot from their teachers and have even been known to fire professors that underperform or just aren’t suited to the position.

 

International Schools: 2 – 3 million Won ($1,800-$2,700)

International schools are a great gig for established teachers looking to teach subjects other than English (though English is also taught).  Teachers can expect to make around the same as a private or public school teacher but typically find the work environment to be much more comfortable due to almost all of the students being from abroad.

In addition, teaching for an international school in Korea is a great way further your career both inside and outside of teaching as there is typically a vibrant community of expats with whom you can socialize and network.

 

Teaching in Korea Benefits

As I implied above, teachers in Korea are generally provided with some great benefits in addition to a competitive salary.  While each school is different, here are some that you can expect or easily negotiate for:

 

Free Housing

One of the biggest benefits of being a teacher in Korea is the free housing – expect schools to provide you with a private apartment in close proximity to your school.  This apartment will likely be a studio and small by western standards, but it will be free and it will be furnished.  During my time in Seoul I got extremely lucky with of my apartments, check out the video tour here.

If your school doesn’t provide housing, expect them to give you a stipend as well as help finding and renting an apartment.

 

Airfare

Korea is one of the few countries still offering some form of airfare reimbursement to its teachers.  While a round trip or return ticket is no longer the norm (though still possible), expect every school to pay for at least one leg of your trip.

Reimbursement comes in a few different forms – some schools pay up front (or buy the ticket for your) and others repay you when you arrive or after the first pay period.  Please check with your school to see what their policy is.

 

Bonus/Severance Pay

Another awesome benefit of teaching in Korea (as well as in other countries around Asia) is the bonus or severance pay you receive at the end of your contract.  Expect the amount to be the equivalent of 1 month’s salary and to be paid when you receive your final paycheck.

If you’re trying to save money this is a great perk to look forward to, but lots of other teachers use this amount for traveling after their contract.

 

Paying Taxes as Teacher in Korea

The tax laws are extremely favorable to teachers in Korea with most teachers paying an average 3% of their total salary per month.  Schools deduct this tax automatically so there is very little work for the teacher to do in order to stay in compliance with the law.

If you work for a public school or university the news is even better – you are not required to pay tax at all during your first 2 years of employment.  To take advantage of this exemption you must file obtain a ‘Residency Certificate’ from your home country and file it with the Korean government.

 

How much money can I save teaching in Korea?

With some planning and determination, it’s easy to save ½ of your salary.

When I taught in Seoul my goal was to save $1000 per month – this was just under half of my pre-tax salary and I met that goal about ⅓ of the time.  This money was split between my savings account and student loans, but I’ve met people who were able to pay down debt, save for a house down payment, and even fund their master’s degree by teaching in Korea.

If you are able to take advantage of the benefits afforded to you (free housing, free meals at school, etc) in addition to your teaching salary, then it should be easy to walk away from Korea with a good chunk of money saved (or debt paid down).

Want more proof?  Check out what Megan from Bobo and ChiChi had to say about saving money:

“As a couple, we were able to save $40,000 by living abroad and working at a hagwon in Seoul and only living off of one paycheck. Our rent was taken care of by our work, and the cost of living in Seoul was way less than at home. The best part would be that we were only taxed 3% and were able to take home almost our entire paycheck while being exempt from US taxes.”

 

Cost of Living in Korea for Teachers

Korea is a moderately expensive city to live in and the prices tend to be similar to those back home.  Luckily, with your housing being paid for, most teachers find that they can live quite comfortably in Korea while also save some money.

Let’s look at some figures complements of Numbeo:

ExpenseKorean WonUSD
1br Apartment in City915,000$815
Pint of Beer at a Bar3,000$2.75
Latte4,500$4
Average Meal for 240,000$35
Bus Ticket1,200$1

Teaching Programs for Korea:

EPIK (English Program in Korea): EPIK is the best-known program in Korea and operates in all cities except for Seoul.  The average pay for an EPIK teacher is 2.3 million won and teachers that work in overly remote locations are eligible for regular bonuses.

GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea): As the name implies, GEPIK is a cousin of EPIK but is limited to only the area around Seoul (think ‘suburban Seoul’).  GEPIK pays its teachers an average of 2.2 million won and most have the benefit of being located near the Korean capital.

SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education): For teachers looking to work in the heart of Seoul, SMOE is the answer.  This is the most popular public school position in Korea due to the location and teachers can expect to earn 2-3 million won per month.

TALK (Teach and Learn in Korea): TALK is relatively unknown when it comes to teaching in Korea, but it is an incredible option for a select group of applicants.  The TALK salary is capped at 1.5 million won and teachers are only permitted to teach 15 hours.  The work, however, is done at rural schools and the program targets applicants that only have a 2-year degree or are still enrolled in college.

Resources for Teaching in Korea

  • Waygook: The ultimate forum for anyone living, working, or traveling in Korea
  • Korea Herald: One of the leading English newspapers in Korea
  • r/Korea: A section of Reddit dedicated to life in Korea – filled with advice, questions, and other people living in the peninsula

Common Questions about Teaching in Korea

Can You Teach in Korea with a Criminal Record?

   

 

Can You Teach in Korea without a Degree?

   

 

Can You Teach in Korea without a TEFL Certificate?

Yes, you can teach in most schools in Korea without a TEFL.  However, if you are looking to work for a public or government school, your chances will go down significantly if you don’t have a teaching certificate (though not impossible if you have some real experience).

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