Understanding the Korean E2 Visa Process for English Teachers
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Buckle up, kids – understanding how the Korean E2 Visa process works is not an easy task and countless teachers have had to start the process over because they missed a step.
Some of you might not know this, but I once taught English in Korea and have gone through this process once before (and remember how tedious it was). Luckily, some steps have been made easier since then, but the overall process is pretty much the same.
We will be looking at all of this through the lens of an American applicant, but I will do my best to point out how different nationalities should approach things whenever possible.
What is an E2 Visa?
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:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- 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 we’ll get into that later.
The Korean E2 Visa Process in a Nutshell
If you’re looking for a brief overview of the visa process for teachers in Korea, I’ve done my best to break it down into 5 steps:
- Gather all necessary paperwork and send to your future school (only send after they have offered you a job and provided a contract).
- 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.
- Take more paperwork (including the E2 Visa Application Form) to your local Korean Embassy or Consulate and apply for your visa.
- Book your travel to Korea upon receiving your visa
- 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?
If you’re looking for general teaching requirements you may view them here.
Korea is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to visa requirements for 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
- School Contract
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, you can contact the office for details)
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 for a bit more money.
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.
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.
Here’s a great video to get an idea of what the physical will entail.
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).
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.
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 check out the newest ESL jobs in Korea), 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 pick up your visa. Depending on what you chose on your application form, this could be anywhere from 1 hour 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 long does the process take?
The process to obtain an E2 Korean visa is quite lengthy and could take anything between 2 to 4 months.
Before accepting a job offer, it’s best to have already gathered the necessary documents or, at least, be in the process of putting them together.
Can I change my visa from something else to E2 if I’m already in Korea?
This isn’t entirely clear, while some claim they have either heard of someone or know someone who was able to change their visa to E2 while in Korea, nobody is able to provide an explanation on how to do it.
Your best bet, in this case, would probably be to contact the immigration office closest to you and ask them directly.
Can you transfer your visa if you’re changing jobs?
As mentioned earlier, your work permit in Korea is linked directly to your employer, which means that if you intend to start working at a different school, you will have to transfer your E2 status.
Luckily, the process isn’t very complicated and it’s usually quick and can get done in just one day at a local immigration office.
Once you’ve booked an appointment, you’ll just need to show up and bring a few documents with you, some of which you’ll have to obtain from your current employer – you can find the complete list of documents here.
What if I don’t meet one of the requirements?
Unfortunately, if you don’t meet one of the requirements, your chances of finding work in Korea are slim to none. Korea is one of the strictest countries in Asia when it comes to setting their requirements to teach legally in the country and you will need to meet all of them in order to be eligible for a teaching job.
What if a company offers me a non-E2 visa?
If you really want to teach in South Korea but don’t meet all the requirements, the thought of teaching on another type of visa can be tempting, but you should avoid doing that at all costs.
If caught, the consequences can be dire – not only you could get deported and fined but may even end up in jail if you are unable to pay the fine.