South Korea is one of the top destinations to teach abroad for good reasons – 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.
How much can I make teaching in Korea?
The average salary for a teacher in Korea is around 2,100,000 Won (roughly $1900 USD).
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.
|Salary in Won
|Salary in USD
Want to know how much Korean Won is worth? Check out XE’s currency converter.
Unsurprisingly, the requirements needed to teach 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 Korean 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)
If you’re a teacher, South Korea has one of the best public school systems 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).
For those looking to pursue a job at a Korean public school, you have 4 established options:
- 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. Read the full guide to the EPIK program here.
- 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. Read the full guide to the GEPIK program here.
- 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. Read the full guide to the SMOE program here.
- GOE: If you don’t cringe at the possibility of ending up in a rural area, the GOE program represents a great option for those looking to experience life in South Korea. This program only caters to public schools in the southern Gyeongsang province and teachers can make anything between 2.1 and 2.7 million South Korean Won (KRW) a month (between $1700 and $2650 USD), depending on qualifications. Read our GOE guide here.
- 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. Read the full guide to the TaLK program here.
Universities: 2.2 – 3.5 million Won ($2,000-$3,100)
Universities are really the cream of the crop when it comes to earning potential and 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 most students being from abroad.
In addition, teaching for an international school in Korea is a great way to 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:
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 furnished. During my time in Seoul I got extremely lucky with 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.
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 you) and others repay you when you arrive or after the first pay period. Please check with your school to see what their policy is.
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 a 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 ever 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 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 saving some money.
Let’s look at some figures complements of Numbeo:
|1br Apartment in City
|Pint of Beer at a Bar
|Average Meal for 2
Here’s a nice video about the cost of living in South Korea from the perspective of an EPIK teacher.
Everyone is different but we’ve done our best to try and summarize a few common scenarios for people looking to teach in Korea.
I’m a new teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and no TEFL
Good news. Unless you were planning to work for a public school in South Korea, not having a TEFL certificate won’t impact your chances of finding a job in the country and, while that might mean you’ll be offered the lower end of the pay scale, you can still expect to make between 2.1 and 2.2 million KRW a month ($1730 USD – $1800 USD).
I have a Bachelor’s Degree and a TEFL
In the Korean public school system, holding a Bachelor’s Degree and a TEFL certificate are minimum requirements which, if met, will get you a 2.2 million KRW monthly salary (around $1800 USD).
If you’re looking to apply for a job in a private school instead, your negotiating power will definitely increase with a TEFL in your hands and, if you play your cards well, you could even end up making 2.5 KRW a month (that is over $2000 USD).
I have a teaching degree or license
Much like a TEFL certificate, having a teaching license or degree will definitely be reflected in your paycheck – not only could it help you land a job at an international school, where you could make up to 3 million KRW a month ($2700 USD), but it could also help you boost your pay at any given school.
Take the public school programs, for instance, in this case, having a teaching degree in addition to your TEFL will result in a monthly pay increase of about $100 dollars a month, a total of 2.3 million KRW ($1900 USD).
I’m a non-native speaker or don’t meet another requirement
Unfortunately, if you don’t meet all the main criteria (being a native speaker, holding a Bachelor’s degree and having a clean criminal record), your chances of finding a job in Korea are virtually nil. Luckily, though, there are many other countries in Asia, including China, that are a bit more flexible when it comes to their teaching requirements.
How to increase your salary
If you’re looking to increase your salary while teaching in Korea, here are a few things you could do:
- Obtain a TEFL certificate – this is one of the most useful tools, not just in the classroom, but also in the job market when it’s time to sit down with your employer and talk numbers.
- Get a teaching license – many schools will be happy to give you a higher salary for any additional certifications and qualifications you may have, and a teaching license or degree are no exception.
- Gain experience – understandably, most schools will pick a candidate who has prior work experience over someone who’s getting started, so the fuller your resume is, the higher your paycheck is likely to be.