Out of all the good decisions I’ve made in my life, taking the plunge and coming over in 2011 to teach in Korea was easily in the top five.
Sounds pretty dramatic, but for a (painfully) shy 24 year old kid from the suburbs of Canada, who’d never travelled alone, spent most of his adult life living with Mommy and Daddy, and could barely make it to the grocery store without getting lost, packing up and moving to the other side of the world was absolutely the right move.
But it was also downright terrifying. Not only was I scared shitless to leave my parents basement (sad, I know), but when it came to teaching in South Korea, I basically didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground.
And it didn’t help that all the information I found online was a.) scattered all over the place, b.) outdated, and c.) completely contradictory.
You may not be the shy, timid mess I was, but chances are if you’re thinking of coming over to Korea to teach, you’re just as confused. Despite it now being 2017, most of the information online about the ESL industry is still a.) scattered, b.) outdated and and c.) contradictory.
And it’s occurred to me as I’ve been writing articles on this subject that a lot of you could use a good, condensed, no bullshit crash course.
Which is exactly what I’ve put together for you in this article. The following post is going to be a complete rundown of the fundamentals. These are the basic essentials, outlining the ESL industry in Korea, how it works, and a few of the things you need to know if you want to come over to teach English.
Really, I want this post to be ground zero for all my articles and videos on teaching English in Korea. Having spent over five years teaching in Asia (with almost two and a half of those being in Korea), I’ve got A LOT of experience with this.
So, if you’re thinking of teaching in Korea, are completely new to this, and are trying to get good information, BUT you’re tired of scouring the internet aimlessly, this is for you.
If you’re thinking of teaching in Korea, and are tired of going through article after article, only to realize that it was written in 2009, this is for you.
And finally, if you’re thinking of teaching in Korea, but you want a non-sugar coated guide from someone who’s actually been in the game for a while, knows what’s up and won’t pull any punches, then this is definitely for you.
So, without further adieu, let’s crack into it (and if you’re going through and do happen to already know all of this stuff, check out my more detailed articles on the topic here)
What Are The Requirements To Teach In Korea?
As of 2017, in order to legally teach English in Korea full time, you’ll need an E2 visa, issued by Korean Immigration.
In order to obtain that visa, you’re required to have the following:
- A 3 or 4 year degree in any subject from an English speaking university/college. And no, it can’t be a diploma or certificate, it needs to be a degree.
- You must be a citizen of and have a passport from one of the following countries: Canada, the UK, the USA, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, or South Africa.
- A clean criminal record (you’ll have to send a criminal background check into immigration before you’re issued a visa).
- You must pass an HIV and drug test on arrival (and yes, they test for marijuana).
These requirements are set by the Korean government, not potential employers, so they’re basically non-negotiable.
*Note: I’ve been told that, as of July 2017, the HIV test has been scrapped by Korean Immigration (they still make you take a piss test for weed though)
You may have guessed that obtaining a visa involves a lot of paperwork, and unfortunately, you’re correct. The following is a list of documents you’ll need in order to get your visa (current as of July 2017). You’ll need:
- Your passport (duh)
- A copy of your university degree with an apostille
- A criminal background check (at the federal level), also with an apostille
- 2 (official) copies of your university transcripts
- 6 passport sized photos (for the labyrinth of application forms you’ll be filling out)
You’ll also need to submit a copy of your resume and to fill out a “self assessed medical check” form, but you don’t really need to worry about those until you actually have a job lined up.
*Note: I’m writing this as a university graduate from one of those 7 counties (Canada). If you’re someone from another English speaking country and are interested in coming over to teach English, there MAY be other options for you…I just don’t know what they are. And since I try to avoid discussing topics I’m ignorant of, I won’t be covering them. But I’d encourage you to look into it from who’s more knowledgeable about your particular situation (a lot of the information in my articles will still apply to you though, so keep reading).
Also, if you’re of Korean descent (Korean American, Korean Canadian, etc.) you can skip the E2 visa and apply for an F4 visa, which is specifically for overseas Koreans…but again, I don’t enough about that process to comment on it, and it’s something you’ll have to look into yourself (I do know that it’s a WAY better visa than the E2 though, so for sure check it out).
How Long Are Contracts For Teaching Jobs?
98% of teaching contracts in Korea are for a one year period. You may find the odd 6 month contract, but that’s definitely the rare exception (and usually for people who are already in the country).
A lot of you may be reading this thinking that a year is a long time. I definitely thought so when I first got started.
Trust me when I tell you though, a year goes by quick.
At least, it goes by quick if you’re making the most out of your time in Korea (travelling, exploring, meeting new people, going out, etc.)
Do I Need Teaching Experience Or A Teaching Licence To Get A Job?
This is one of the most common questions I get, and the answer is absolutely NO, you do not need teaching experience to get a job, and no, you definitely do not need a teaching licence.
Now, if you have teaching experience, that will help you get a better job, as good schools are always looking for more qualified candidates. But in terms of the actual number of jobs within your reach, having teaching experience really doesn’t help you as much as you think.
In fact, when it comes to your basic entry-level jobs, a lot of these places prefer candidates with no experience (mainly because they think teachers who know what they’re doing will “rock the boat”).
What Are The Benefits/Pay?
As of 2017, these are the standards you can expect from an entry-level teaching job in Korea.
- A salary of about 2.1-2.3 million won/month (about $1800-$2000 USD). Any more and you’re doing well, any less and you’re getting screwed
- A furnished, rent-free apartment paid for by your employer
- A plane ticket to Korea (or reimbursement on arrival), and a return ticket home at the end of your 1 year contract
- A “severance bonus” of about 1 months salary at the end of your 1 year contract
- Your employer should sign you up for both National Health Insurance and Pension contributions
- 2 to 4 weeks vacation depending on the type of job you’re working (more on that in the next section).
What Are The Different Types Of Jobs Available?
For 95% of new teachers in Korea, there are 2 types of jobs you’ll most likely end up working. These are public school jobs and hogwan jobs.
Foreign English teachers (i.e. you) are hired by a public Board of Education (or “Office of Education”) in Korea to work in public schools.
Basically, if you work at one of these jobs, you’ll be teaching either elementary, middle or high school students, and you’ll be teaching in a classroom with a local Korean English teacher.
There are a few different ways you can get a job teaching at a public school. One is to apply for the EPIK program, which places new teachers in schools all over the country.
Another option (and a better option in my opinion) is to apply directly to the Educational Office of the part of Korea you want to teach in. The main way you go about that is to apply for the job via a “recruiter” (more on that later in the article).
*Important Note: Over the last 5 years or so, most of Korea’s Educational Office’s have faced large scale budget cuts, and have cut back dramatically on the number of foreign English teachers they hire. And with every year that goes by, these positions get scarcer and more competitive.
They also get more rural, as the Ministry of Education seems to think that students from non-urban areas will benefit more from exposure to a native English speaker.
“Hogwan” is just the Korean word for “private academy”. These are private businesses that offer supplementary education in a number of different subjects (math, science, English, etc.). As an English teacher, you will (obviously) be working at an English hogwan.
Hogwans are different than public schools in that a.) they’re private, for profit businesses, and b.) their curriculum isn’t set by the Ministry of Education.
Parents typically send their children to these places after normal school hours have finished, so if you work at a hogwan, expect to be working later in the afternoon.
There are a number of differences between teaching at these two types of schools, and I encourage you to check out this article for more details. But one of the main differences is the fact that, at a hogwan, you won’t be teaching with a local Korean teacher, and you’ll be the one running the class.
Again, in 95% of cases, a new teacher in Korea without any experience will be working at one of these two types of jobs.
With that said, these aren’t the only jobs available…they’re just the most common in Korea, and likely will be the only jobs available to you. If you do decide to stay in the country for a few years, you’ll start getting access to some of the “top tier” positions.
- Teaching positions at Korean universities (awesome if you’re looking for low teaching hours and a ton of paid vacation)
- Independent, higher-end hogwans that pay FAR above the average 2.2 million won/month
- Teaching positions with Korean corporations (Samsung, Pohang, Korean Air, etc.)
What Are The Different Age Groups I Can Teach?
More than likely, teaching English in Korea for a first timer is going to involve working with kids. And for those of you that don’t work well with children, that may not be what you want to hear, but unfortunately, that’s the nature of the ESL industry here.
There are a few English hogwans that specialize in teaching adults, but a.) the numbers are small, and b.) they prefer to hire candidates with experience who are already in Korea.
That’s not to say that you can’t get hired by them, it just means that the odds are stacked against you.
Here’s how the age groups usually play out by job type:
In public school, you’ll be teaching either
- Elementary: 8-12 years old (English education starts in the 3rd grade)
- Middle School: 13-15 years old
- High School: 16-18 years old
Although high school is technically a possibility, you will more than likely be working at an elementary or middle school. Like I said, Korea’s education system is phasing out the foreign English teacher programs, and the biggest area they’re cutting is high schools. The rationale is that early exposure at a young age to a native English speaker will be more effective than with older students.
Also keep in mind that with most public school positions, you don’t get to actually choose which school you want- you’re hired by the Office of Education and “placed” in a school.
Much like a public school, chances are you’ll be teaching young children at a hogwan.
There’s a few different hogwan business models, but two of the most common are:
- Kindergarten/Elementary School: Working at one of these “kindy” hogwans typically means you’ll teach kindergarten kids in the morning, anywhere from 9:00am to 2:00pm, followed by elementary school students in the afternoon, anywhere from 2:00pm to 7:00pm (the actual hours vary between hogwans).
- Elementary/Middle School: The other setup is teaching a mix of elementary and middle school students in the afternoon, anywhere from 2:00pm to 10:00pm.
While these are the most common setups (and the ones you’ll probably end up in) there are a few others as well.
If, on the off chance you end up getting a job teaching adults at a hogwan, you’ll often work a “split shift”, teaching early in the morning, taking a break in the afternoon, and then teaching again in the evening (basically before and after regular office hours).
Of course, you’ll always find odd positions that don’t conform to these models.
How Do I Apply For Hogwan Jobs?
Alright, so you’ve got all your documents together, you’ve decided which type of job you actually want, you’ve written your resume, and you’re ready to start firing off applications…so how exactly do you find these jobs?
Well, the most common way you find jobs is by going through…
Schools in South Korea rely heavily on third party recruiters to do most of the grunt work of getting teachers through the door. About 90% of the hogwans (and a decent amount of public schools) out there use recruiters. And if you want to teach in Korea, chances are, you’ll have to go through a recruiter as well.
Basically, Korean recruiters are middle men. Schools go to them and say “we need X number of English teachers at Y salary”. The recruiting agencies then put out ads (in English) for people like you looking for teaching jobs.
You then apply for a job through one of these agencies. They set you up for an interview with the school (usually over Skype).
If the school wants to hire you, they then pay the recruiter a fee. In turn, that recruiter is responsible for acting as a liason between you and the school, assisting both of you with the paperwork, visa, plane tickets, etc.
(If you’re interested in more details about how exactly recruiting works in Korea, check out my guide on how to find a “good” recruiter here).
There are a few different ways you can go about applying to work with a recruiter. One is to simply apply directly with their agency. The following is a list of a few of the biggest recruiting companies in Korea (notice how I said “biggest” and not “best”. I’m not necessarily vouching for any of these. I’m just pointing out that they’re some of the bigger ones, and therefore offer the greatest number of job options).
Those are just a few of the big ones. There are tons of others as well (just google “ESL recruiters in Korea”)
Once you apply, the company will get back to, discuss what you’re looking for, and start pitching different positions they have available with different schools.
Usually they “interview” you first, but 9 times out of 10 they’re just trying to make sure that
a.) you meet all the legal qualifications for a visa (university degree, etc.),
b.) you have, or can get, all your documents together, and
c.) you’re not a complete mess.
Korean Job Boards
The other way to go about this is applying “directly” for jobs you’ll find on job boards.
Now, I put quotes around “directly”, because a lot of recruiters advertise the specific jobs they have available on the job boards…in other words, you’re applying for a specific job, at a specific school, but you’re applying through a recruiting agency.
As you’ll soon learn, recruiters are a fact of life in the ESL industry here, so you’re just going to have to get used to them.
While most of the jobs you’ll find on job boards are posted by recruiting companies, you’ll also find the odd job that’s posted directly by the school.
Personally, I’d much rather go this route. The more interaction I have with the actual school I’ll be working for early on, and the less I have to rely on a middle man, the better.
Not only does it reduce the chances of running into a miscommunication, it also lets me “screen” that particular school better to see if they’re really a place I want to work at (for more information on how to screen hogwans during the interview process, check out this guide).
Here’s a quick list of some of the more popular job boards:
Craigslist Seoul (surprisingly good for ESL jobs)
How To Apply For Public School Jobs
Applying for public school jobs is slightly different than applying for a hogwan, and you have a few different options:
Basically, EPIK is a division of the Korean Ministry of Education, and effectively functions as one of the largest teaching programs for public schools in Korea.
EPIK hires twice per year, once for the spring, and once again for the fall (the beginning of the second semester in Korea). Candidates can apply directly though EPIK’s website, or they can apply through a few selected recruiters (this changes every year, and some years they don’t even use recruiting agencies).
After you’ve filled out and submitted the application, EPIK will contact you (if your application makes the cut) for an interview over Skype. Following the interview, they will then notify you if you’ve been accepted into the program or not.
If you made it in, you’ll then work with them on getting all your paperwork ready for your visa.
During this time, EPIK will take your application and match you up with an Office of Education within the country. This is important to note, because you don’t actually choose what school you work at.
In fact, you don’t even choose which BOE you work at. Applying for EPIK means you can end up almost anywhere in South Korea.
(If you’re still confused as to what exactly EPIK is (because a lot of people are), check out this article.
Office of Education (Direct Application)
The other option is to apply to your desired Office of Education through various recruiting agencies. Each province in South Korea has its own Provincial Office of Education, and the bigger cities like Seoul and Incheon have their own Municipal Office of Education.
Different recruiting agencies work with different Educational Offices. For example, I know that Korvia works with GEPIK (Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education), SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education), and GOE (Gyeongnam Provincial Office of Education).
These recruiter/Educational Office relationships change constantly, so you’ll have to look around to find out which province or city is using which recruiter.
*Note: In addition to all the other documents I mentioned in this post, in order to teach at most public schools, you’ll need letters of recommendation from professional sources (former employers, professors, etc.). EPIK has a decent guide on what these letters should specifically look like.
How Do I Get My Visa?
Alright, so you’ve applied for a job (or public school program), decided that it sounds good, and signed your contract. Awesome. Now it’s time to get your visa.
This is probably the most complicated (and stressful) part of the process. I’ll be putting up a guide on how to get your E2 visa shortly, but for now, here’s a brief rundown of how it works.
Please note that either the school or recruiter you worked with should be helping and advising you on this process. That said, it is your visa, so it’s important that you remain knowledgable and proactive about this.
There’s really two parts to the visa process. The first part is getting what’s called a “visa issuance number” from the immigration department in Korea. The second part is getting the actual visa itself stamped in your passport. This is done at the nearest Korean Consulate to you in your home country (or wherever you are in the world).
Visa Issuance Number
Once you’ve signed your contract, you’ll need to send your documents to your employer. The specific documents required changes CONSTANTLY, and your employer will advise you on which ones they need, but you’ll most certainly have to send them your degree copy (with apostille), criminal background check (with apostille), a photocopy of your passport information, and your resume.
As someone who’s gone through this a few times, I’d recommend using the most expensive FedEx option you can to get it there quick and avoid any potential screwups. Getting your visa is time sensitive, and the last thing you need is your shit getting lost in the mail because you cheaped out on a courier.
With that said, it should take them about two weeks to process your documents and give you your visa issuance number.
Ok, so now that you’ve got that little number, take it with your passport, an application form, and any other required documents to your nearest Korean consulate and apply for your visa (required documents and procedures vary hugely by consulate, so call the one closest to you well in advance so you know exactly what to expect).
If the nearest consulate doesn’t happen to be in your city, in most cases you can send your passport and application in by mail (again, don’t try to pinch pennies with your courier).
Processing times vary by consulate, but generally speaking, it take about two weeks. That means that the whole visa process will take about a month of your time.
*Note: For public school jobs, the process is slightly different. Your recruiter or coordinator will advise you on what you need specifically.
Once you have your passport with your visa stamp in it, you’re good to go. You and your employer will work out details for your flight, and you’ll be off to Korea.
Happy times are ahead (hopefully).
What’s The Next Step?
Hopefully this has answered some of your questions and given you a better sense of how teaching in Korea works.
However, you’ve probably still got a lot of questions. And one of those questions (the usual next step in most new teachers decision making process) most likely is:
“Which type of job should I get?”
Glad you asked, because I’ve got you covered with this little article right here:
I’ll be periodically adding to this list, but for now, here’s a few more articles on teaching in Korea in general to get you going: