Guide to TEFL in South Korea
If you seek teaching opportunities abroad that combine a great international experience with an opportunity to make and save good money, South Korea will be hard to beat. With a population of 50 million crowded into a landmass the size of Indiana, South Korea is relatively small by the standards of East Asia yet it represents one of the largest and most lucrative job markets in the world for teaching English abroad.
English teachers in South Korea can typically expect to receive benefits like free housing and a salary that enables most to save $1000 a month after expenses. In addition, English teachers get to experience life in the one of the most dynamic and modern societies on earth that combines thousands of years of history and culture with ultra-cosmopolitan cities like Seoul and Busan. Tack on benefits like paid vacation and easy proximity to other countries in Asia and you can see why Korea has become one of the most popular countries for teaching English in Asia.
What types of English teaching jobs are there in South Korea?
Foreign English teachers in South Korea almost always work under contract, which is usually agreed to and signed in advance of the teacher’s arrival in Korea.
Public School Jobs
There are a several major government programs that recruit several thousand qualified native English speakers each year to teach grade school and high schools students in public schools. EPIK (all of Korea, except for metropolitan Seoul), GEPIK (suburban Seoul area), and SMOE (within the Seoul city limits). Public school opportunities are highly coveted and the application process is competitive and lasts several months. Applications are due at least 6 months in advance and there are typically 2 main start dates in the fall and the spring.
Private School Jobs
The majority of English teachers in South Korea work at private language schools and academies, famously known as hagwons. Private language schools and academies often provide supplementary English classes to children or adults after usual school or business hours.
Here are just some of the differences between working in a public school compared to a private language school:
- Public school programs typically recruit and hire twice a year; different private schools are hiring year-round.
- In public school programs, accepted applicants are placed in a school; for jobs in private schools, you can typically choose which specific jobs in specific schools you interview for and accept.
- In many cases – though not always – you will work with a group of foreign teachers at a private language school (some people like this because it is easier to meet other English speakers). In public schools, there is often only one foreign teacher, or a small handful.
- Salaries tend to be slightly higher (see below) at private schools (hogwans), but teachers receive less vacation and typically work slightly longer hours than teachers in public schools
- In public schools, teachers can expect to work a typical school day. Many private schools provide classes after the school day or work day, so many teachers work primarily in the afternoon and evening.
Other opportunities to teach English in South Korea
Many English teachers in South Korea will take on side jobs giving private lessons. This is a great way to make extra money and meet locals one-on-one. Be aware, however, that your visa may not technically grant you permission to work independently and some school directors prefer that their teachers not give private lessons, so be discreet or discuss the matter with your boss upfront.
Also, teachers with several years of experience can sometimes get a job teaching at a university, which is preferred because pay is good and hours are fewer. In addition, some teachers will find gigs teaching English in the corporate sphere.
What are typical salaries and benefits if you teach English in South Korea?
Certainly, the great pay and benefits are big draws if you teach English in South Korea. Because almost every teacher receives free housing and earns a good salary, even first-time English teachers in South Korea are typically able to save $1,000 a month after expenses and sometimes even more. This makes Korea a great teaching destination for those with student loans or other financial obligations, or if you just want to save a good chunk of change for extended travel after your contract.
Salaries will vary based on the job and your level of experience and credentials, but you won’t encounter the big variations in salaries that are common in China or even Thailand.
Monthly Salaries teaching English in Korea:
- First-year teachers: 1.8 – 2.0 million KRW (approximately $1,600 – $1,800 USD) per month.
- Experienced teachers: 2.0 – 2.7 million KRW ($1,800 – $2,400 USD) per month.
- First-year teachers: 2.0-2.1 million KRW ($1,800 – $1,900 USD) per month.
- Experienced: 2.1-3.0 million KRW ( $1,900 – $2,750 USD) per month.
Other benefits: access to national health insurance (most teachers pay the equivalent of $25 a month), end of contract bonus (typically one month’s pay), paid vacation (2-6 weeks plus national holidays – this will depend on the school).
What do I need to teach English in South Korea?
- 4-year degree (exception is TALK program for college students that requires 60 hours of college credit)
- Citizenship from USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand or South Korea.
- Native English speaker
- Clean criminal background (FBI Background Check is required for Americans)
- TEFL Certification is not technically required for all jobs, but if you want to qualify for good jobs at good schools in desirable locations, it is key. Besides, you owe it to yourself and to your students to possess basic teaching skills in areas like lesson planning and classroom management.
How do I apply and interview for teaching positions in South Korea?
Whether you’re looking to teach English in public schools or private academies, you will almost always interview and apply for positions in advance from home. Many schools use recruiters to interview and hire teachers. Very often you can expect to interview for jobs over Skype (or some other video conference) or the phone. Once you agree to a contract, you will need to interview and apply for a visa at the nearest South Korean consulate in your country. Typically, your school and/or recruiter will assist you with this process in terms of providing any necessary documents (like proof of employment). Most contracts are 12 months with an option to renew.
What’s life like as an English Teacher in South Korea?
Teaching English in South Korea offers a lot more than just a good paycheck and a free apartment. Cities like Seoul and Busan are highly cosmopolitan and modern metropolitan centers offering world class shopping, dining and nightlife. Korea’s technology and infrastructure are literally among the most modern in the world. With large expatriate populations, including thousands of English teachers, it is typically quite easy to make English-speaking friends and your Korean colleagues, friends and students will be welcoming and eager to introduce you to Korean culture and cuisine. Almost certainly within days – if not hours – of your arrival, you can expect your colleagues to take you out for an introductory evening of Korean barbecue, karaoke and soju (the national spirit). Koreans are known for their hardworking and disciplined disposition but few people enjoy life as much either. Eating, drinking, sports, music, enjoying the outdoors – these are all common passions for most Koreans.
Certainly one perk of teaching English in South Korea is travel. Despite its pint-sized stature, South Korea offers a stunning array beautiful nature and diverse topography ranging from sub-tropical islands to grand mountain ranges (the resort city of PyeongChang will host the 2018 Winter Olympiad). With thousands of years of history and culture, you will never run out of festivals to attend or ancient pagodas to visit. In addition, fantastic destinations like Japan and China are easy plane rides away and during extended holidays, you will probably find yourself backpacking through Thailand, scuba diving in the Philippines or exploring other regional highlights like Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia.
The key to getting started is to enroll in a high quality TEFL certification course so that you can gain the skills and qualification you need to get hired. Also, do as much research as possible. Check out videos on Youtube, visit the websites of recruiters and read blogs of others like yourself who are teaching in South Korea – a quick Google search will reveal hundreds.