South Korea comprises the southern half of the Korean peninsula and is bordered to the north by North Korea. The country is located between China and Japan. In the past few decades, the country has become an economic powerhouse and as such, the demand for English teachers is still quite high.
Overview of South Korea
|South Korea Quick Facts|
Major Cities: Seoul, Busan, Incheon
Capital City: Seoul
Primary Language(s): Korean
Official Currency: South Korean Won (KRW)
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Working in South Korea
Private Language Schools (Hagwons)
Also known as Hagwons, these private language schools serve as a place for students to receive extra instruction outside of their normal schooling. Private language schools are very popular in Korea much like in other countries in East Asia. Much like their counterparts in Japan, the Eikaiwa schools, and in China, the enrichment schools, Hagwons can be great places for new teachers to find employment because they are a private business and may have less barrier to entry than at public government-run schools and universities. The curriculum is generally created by the schools and classes are well structured. Because these schools cater primarily to students in school, the work hours are generally in the evenings and on weekends. It should be noted that since these are private companies you should make sure that any benefits or salary promises are in writing. Experiences at Hagwons are wide-ranging and there are many teachers who have had an amazing time and many others who have had horrible experiences. By making sure everything is in writing you will have more options should your experience fall into the latter category.
- Class sizes at Hagwons can range from private lessons with one to three students all the way up to between 8 and 20 students for larger classes. The average class size tends to be between 8 and 14 students with larger and more popular schools in larger cities tending to have the larger classes.
- The requirements for working at a Hagwon school will be different depending on the companies with some having more strict requirements than others. Generally speaking a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any subject will be required. Some places will also request teachers to have a 120-hour TEFL certification(online, blended learning, or onsite). Teachers with prior experience will have an advantage in getting hired.
- Hagwons operate throughout the day, however, the majority of classes will be in the evenings on weekdays after school hours or on the weekends. Classes can last all the way up till 9 or 10 pm in order for each student to be accommodated.
- Salaries at Hagwon schools will vary depending on the school you are working for. The average range for salaries at these schools is between 1.9 – 2.3 million won each month. Many schools will also have extra benefits such as providing accommodations or a monthly housing allowance as well as flight reimbursement. Any benefits should be in writing before signing your contract to ensure there are no miscommunications.
The public school system in South Korea has been rated as one of the best in the world. As such, foreign English teachers who are hired to work in the countries public school system are going to be expected to be highly qualified with experience in the relevant grade level. Foreign English teachers in South Korea are hired under one of four programs which are EPIK (English Program in Korea), GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea), SMOE Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, and TALK (Teach and Learn in Korea). Teachers will be expected to come up with their own lesson plans and manage their classrooms. The hiring process is quite a bit more stringent than at the Hagwon schools and the level of competition is much greater as salaries and job security can be higher.
- Public schools in Korea have a relatively high standard that must be met in order to be employed. Teachers who wish to work for the public school system in Korea must have a bachelor’s degree or higher and will be required to have past experience in the area and level they are wishing to teach in which must be verified before acceptance. Teachers are also required to hold a 120-hour TEFL certification (blended learning or onsite).
- Teachers working in the public school system in South Korea can expect to work between 20 and 24 hours in the classroom each week. Teachers may also be expected to participate in extracurricular activities such as hosting after-school clubs and participating in school festivals as well as attending staff meetings when required.
- The salary a teacher receives will depend on the program that they are hired under. Each program has their own method for determining salaries usually drawn from the cost of living in a particular area. Overtime opportunities are available at many schools. The average salary for each program type is:
- EPIK – the EPIK program is conducted throughout the whole of South Korea and as such teachers could find themselves placed in almost any public school throughout the country excluding the Seoul and Gyeonggi areas. This program is the largest in South Korea and is less competitive than other public school programs. Teachers in the EPIK program can expect an average salary of 1.8 to 2.7 million KRW per month commensurate upon your experience as well as the location of the school.
- GEPIK – this program is designed to serve the Gyeonggi province which completely surrounds the city of Seoul. The level of competition in this program will be higher due to the fact that many of these jobs were cut owing to budget. The average salary for a teacher in this program is between 2 and 2.5 million KRW per month depending on experience.
- SMOE – the SMOE program caters to students in the city of Seoul and the greater metropolitan area. This is the highest paying of all of the programs due to the higher cost of living in the city of Seoul in comparison to other parts of South Korea and is also the most competitive of all of the programs. Teachers in this program can expect to make between 2 and 3 million KRW dependent on the level of experience.
- TALK – the final program is the lowest paid as it is not technically a full-time employment position but instead an internship of sorts serving as after-school instruction in the rural areas of Korea. Teachers with an associate degree or current university students in their second year or higher are eligible to teach in this program which allows for up to 15 hours per week. Salaries for the TALK program top out at 1.5 million KRW per month.
Just as in many other countries in Asia and around the world, university jobs in South Korea are the most desirable and the most competitive. This is because of the generous vacation time, higher salaries, and low teaching hours. The majority of universities in South Korea are outside of the main city of Seoul so competition for positions at these universities is going to be much greater. Teachers will need to come up with their own lesson plans which are appropriate to the level of speakers in your class. Most jobs will be for freshman and sophomore level students with the primary focus being on conversational skills and writing, debate, and presentations being ancillary.
- The basic requirements for teaching at a South Korean university are at the least a Masters in Education (with some exceptions) and at least 2 years of university-level teaching experience. Unlike the public school system and the Hagwons, many universities will not ask for a TEFL certification though some do and it will always be advantageous to obtain a TEFL certification to stand out from the competition.
- Teachers can expect to work between 9 and 18 hours per week in the classroom. Outside of the normal classes teachers may be expected to participate in faculty meetings, student advisory meetings, and other duties. Overtime is available and may be required at some universities. Some universities will ask teachers to conduct summer or winter classes or camps.
- Salaries at South Korean universities range between 2.5 and 3.5 million Wan with some teachers making as high as 5 million Wan and higher at the upper end of experience levels. Aside from the normal pay teachers can expect to be paid an allowance for housing or be provided free housing and can look forward to a generous 2 to 4 months of vacation time each year. Other benefits may include split health care coverage and flight reimbursement depending on the university. Overtime pay for teachers can range anywhere between 15,000 all the way up to 45,000 Wan per hour.
Increasing Your Chances of Securing a Job
Many schools in South Korea are going to be looking for teachers that have past experience at the level they are applying to teach. While this isn’t true everywhere, especially when it comes to private language schools, it is going to hold true for the public school system as well as universities. Aside from past experience having a teaching certificate is going to go a long way in helping you to secure a more desirable position. One of the best things you can do to ensure you have an edge over the competition is to become TEFL certified. But, you will need to make sure you get the right certification. For most jobs in South Korea, an online TEFL certification isn’t going to cut it. Most schools, and especially the higher paying schools, will be looking for you to have at the very least a 120-hour blended learning or on-site site TEFL certification from a reputable institution. Some schools will require a certification, but, the ones that don’t will certainly look more favorably on you if you do have one. Lastly, you want to make sure that you have everything in order in terms of reference letters, crafting a solid resume, and proper presentation. Remember that appearance is extremely important in Korea so appearing at your interview wearing a t-shirt and jeans, whether it is in person or through video conference, will almost certainly guarantee you will not have a successful outcome. Also, be aware that reference letters go a long way in South Korea so make sure if you have any past experience teaching that is applicable to what you want to do that you request reference letters from those schools. If you make sure all of these things are in order then you will most certainly have a leg up over the competition assuming they have not made the same preparations.
Teachers looking to work in South Korea will need to be on either the E1 or E2 visa. The E1 visa is for university-level professors teaching English or other subjects and the E2 visa is for people teaching language (any language) in South Korea. In order to apply for the E2 visa, the applicant must be from a country where the language they are wishing to teach is the native language (ie. English teachers from the United States, French teachers from France, German teachers from Germany, etc.). A bachelor’s degree in any field is a minimal requirement for teaching receiving an E2 visa. The school you are applying to may have other requirements such as a TEFL certification. Applicants are required to submit their application to the Korean embassy in their home country are required to participate in an interview before being accepted on an E2 visa. All applicants are required to submit to a criminal background check as well as a medical check at an approved facility in Korea which is paid for by the applicant and not the schools. It should also be noted that teachers over the age of 55 may find difficulty obtaining the visa and finding positions as this is the age which teaching is capped off in public schools. E2 visas are issued for a period of up to 13 months with 12 months being for the contract and an extra 30 days following.
Standard of Living
The standard of living in South Korea is extremely high and one of the highest in East Asia. The country has experienced an economic boom of the past few decades driven by manufacturing, mining, tourism, and other sectors. In just one generation, the country was transformed from one of the poorest in the world to one of the richest. This transformation has driven the need for English teachers in order to sustain growth and help the population stay competitive in the global marketplace.
Typical ESL Teacher Salaries vs Cost of Living
The single biggest living expense in South Korea is almost always going to be housing. However, since most ESL employers provide housing as well as other benefits to their teachers, it is possible to save between $1,200 – $1,600 per month.
|Monthly Salary (USD)|| Typical Cost of Living|
$1,800 - $2,500+
$700 - $1,000
South Korea has excellent infrastructure, so getting around and connected is relatively easy and inexpensive. For example, one can easily get around Seoul by subway due to its extensive subway lines.
Living in South Korea
Things to Do
Teachers in South Korea should never find themselves with a lack of things to do. Aside from the rich history of the country and the plethora of historical sites to behold, teachers are within a few hours from Japan and China by air travel. There is something for everyone in the country from outdoor enthusiasts to country lovers and urbanites.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace, built-in 1395 and located in northern Seoul, was the primary residence of the kings of Joseon as well as the primary government building for the dynasty. Most of the palace was destroyed during the Imjin War but was completely restored by the Prince Regent Heungseon during the 19th Century. The palace was destroyed once more by the Japanese Imperial Army during the 20th century. There is an ongoing process to completely restore the 7,000 plus rooms of the palace and its grounds. Visitors can see the palace between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm Wednesday through Monday.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Another relic of the Joseon dynasty, the Bukchon Hanok Village is a traditional village area in Seoul that has been preserved to show an urban environment as it would have appeared 600 years ago. The area was historically a neighborhood for high-ranking government officials and noblemen in the Joseon dynasty but later became used by average citizens due to the effects of war. The village area is located near both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces and is easily accessible via public transportation by taking the Seoul Metro to Angug-Yeog station and from there around a five to ten-minute walk. The narrow streets and corridors of the village area can be viewed every day between the hours of 10 am and 5 pm. Admission into the area is free for tourists and locals alike.
Seoraksan is the tallest mountain in the Taebaek Mountain Range and the third tallest mountain in South Korea. The mountain is a part of the Seoraksan National Park in Eastern South Korea in the Gangwon Province. The national park is designated as a UNESCO biosphere and is popular year-round for hiking, sightseeing, and camping. There are over a dozen different hiking trails available. The most popular time for visiting the park is in the fall due to the changing color of the leaves. There is a 3,500 KRW admission fee for entrance to the park.
Haeundae is the most popular beach in South Korea. The beach is located in the southern city of Busan which is the second largest city in the country. The beach stretches for 1.5km long and is in the eastern part of the city. For teachers that like the beaches but can’t spare the time for a flight to South East Asia, this can be a perfect destination. Be forewarned that because of the immense popularity of the beach and the area in Korea it has become one of the most expensive areas in all of South Korea with urban development projects dotting the area to keep up with demand.
N Seoul Tower
For teachers in love with the city life and looking for the best photo spot over Seoul, there is no better place than the N Seoul Tower. Located on Namsan Mountain in the central part of Seoul, the tower is primarily a communications tower and stands at over 200m in height. The observation deck located offers a 360-degree view of Seoul and is the second highest point in the city. The tower is host to multiple restaurants, a museum, a high-powered telescope, and other attractions for visitors to enjoy. The tower is open between the hours of 10 am and 11 pm Monday through Sunday except on Saturday when it closes at 12 am. Visitors can get to the tower via cable car at the base of Namsan Mountain.