The Requirments to Teach English in Korea: How to Teach Legally

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.

Check out the Korean visa requirements for instructions on getting your visa.


Teach English in Korea 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
  • 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 to 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.

Looking for a TEFL certificate?  International TEFL Academy has a coupon that lets you take $50 off your course with this link!


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!


FAQs About the Requirements to Teach in Korea

Is there a minimum or maximum age for teachers in Korea?

As long as you have graduated from an accredited university there is no minimum age for teaching in Korea.  However, when it comes to a maximum age, a lot of teachers have found it increasingly difficult to get a job the closer they get to retirement age (around 60 years old).  Though not explicitly stated by the government, many schools prefer younger teachers and older applicants should keep that in mind when applying.


Do I need a TEFL or TESOL certification to teach in Korea?

No, regular applicants to hagwons or non-public schools are not required to have a teaching certificate of any kind.  However, such certificates are mandatory for public school programs like EPIK and SMOE and are beneficial no matter where you are teaching.


Can I work in Korea with an associate’s or 2-year degree?

No, unfortunately, the government will only grant visas to graduates of a 3- or 4-year bachelor’s program.  This is non-negotiable and employers do not have any say in the matter.


Can I teach in Korea with a conviction on my record (even if it’s a misdemeanor)?

No, it’s not advisable to even start the application process if there is anything on your record (no matter how minor).  Obtaining a background check can take months and Korea is incredibly strict when it comes to their teaching requirements – nobody with a conviction of any sort is permitted to teach.


  1. This was very helpful.Thank you

    I have a question though. Would I still be eligible if I am originally from an approved country but have acquired my degree from non-approved country?

    Your assistence will be highly appreciated

    • If your passport is from an approved country then it shouldn’t matter where your degree is from as long as it’s a recognized 4 year diploma.


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