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Teaching ESL in Korea

Updated on August 05, 2015

Interested in Teaching English in Korea? There are plenty of English teacher jobs. Come and have the experience of a lifetime!

Have you ever thought about English teaching abroad? Why not consider Korea? The pay is good, housing is free and you'll usually get your airfare paid for. Teaching ESL in Korea can be a very rewarding experience and you'll leave with many memories of your time in Korea. On this site you will find insider tips about the kinds of jobs you can get, requirements to get them and what life in Korea is like.

Types of schools where you can teach ESL in Korea

Do you want a job teaching English in Korea? Here are your basic choices for kinds of schools you can teach ESL at:

1. Hagwon (private Institute). Most of these involve teaching English to children, but there are a few that deal exclusively with adults. The advantages are that you'll have small class sizes, and some of them involve you only being at school for 5 or 6 hours/day. The disadvantages are that you might get ripped off and you'll only get 2 weeks vacation with very few sick days.

2. Public school. Ranging from elementary to high school, these kind of jobs are increasingly popular these days. The advantages are overtime opportunities, and a decent amount of vacation. You'll also have plenty of days where classes will be canceled, so you'll have time to pursue outside interests during work hours. The disadvantages are classes of 40 kids, having to work with a co-teacher and desk-warming during vacation.

3. Universities. The holy grail of jobs in Korea, these positions often offer 15 hour weeks, with 4 months paid vacation. Of course, they are difficult to get and you need a Masters degree to even be considered for a position.

4. Working in a corporate office as an in-house English teacher. These jobs are very rare and impossible to get without the right connections and some experience in Korea.

Public vs. Private schools

Hagwon vs. Public School

A question from a reader:

"(I see that you're in South Korea)...Do you enjoy it? Should I work at a hagwon with more english teachers or be the only english teacher at a public school?"

The first question first...Do I enjoy teaching in Korea. I've been here for 6 years now, so obviously I enjoy it to some degree. Because I work at a uni, I get a relatively high salary for the amount of hours worked and I also get significant vacations so I can travel and also do courses and stuff. The culture holds no real fascination at this point, but it was fun for the first couple years exploring the country and learning Korean. But let's just say that if I worked at a hagwon or crappy public school for 6 years, I might be contemplating desperate measures.

The second question. I think hagwons are a good place for your first year. Expectations will be low, in terms of teaching, which is a good thing if you have no training or experience. You'll only have 8 kids to control instead of 40 at a public school. Everyone will speak English. You'll have other foreigners to hold your hand. In the big hagwons, you'll even have a foreign manager. On the down-side, you'll probably get ripped off.

Public schools probably won't rip you off (but some do), but you could have a much more stressful year. Huge classes of unruly kids, and your co-teacher is nowhere to be found. Office politics that leave your head spinning. Not a single person in the school speaking English. Etc, etc.

Tough call!

Where do you teach ESL in South Korea?

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Basic Requirements for teaching abroad in South Korea

These requirements seem to be constantly changing, so make sure you check with your employer or recruiter for the most up to date ones.

1. From one of the following countries: Canada, USA, England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand or Australia.

2. A Bachelor's degree from an English speaking university

3. A clean criminal record check.

4. Valid Passport

5. Good physical and mental health

6. In possession of your diploma and sealed transcripts.

How much money can I really save English Teaching in Korea?

The basic salary in Korea is 2 to 2.5 million Won. This is around $2000 US Dollars, depending on the exchange rate. Taxes are quite low at around 3%. For health care, you'll pay about 1% and pension about 2%. You won't have that many bills, if you're easy on the air con and heating. Internet and phone costs are cheaper than North America. And of course, your apartment won't cost you anything except a small maintenance fee every month. So in one month, your taxes, deductions and bills should never be more than 500 000 Won. Often, it's a lot lower. Assuming you make 2 million a month, you'll be left with 1.5 million Won to spend or save.

Some people are very frugal and live on as little as 300 000/month. This is possible if you don't have much of a social life and live in the country-side where things are cheaper. More reasonably, people spend 600 000 or 700 000. This involves some drinking, eating out at foreign restaurants, English books, shopping, and a night or two out in Seoul with friends. As a general rule, it's quite easy to save 1 million Won/month.

Of course, you can always bolster your income with private teaching. It's technically illegal but everyone seems to do it. The going rate is between 30 and 50 000 Won/hour. Just be discreet and never, ever tell anyone your real name or where you work. And of course don't brag about it to your coworkers. People have been known to make over 1 million/month doing this teaching on the side. The key is to get a good schedule at your main job (ie: leaving your evenings after 6pm free).

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Can I Bring My Family?

The quick answer is that yes, it is possible. I don't know all the details, but I do have friends here who are with their spouse and are not teachers. And there are plenty of foreign teachers around who have kids. There is a spousal visa of some sort that is very easy to attain.

The only drawback is that some places won't want to provide housing for 4 people. Most unis (understandably so) would rather provide a little one-room hovel than proper accommodation for an entire family. You might have to prepare yourself for just taking the housing allowance and finding your own place to stay. You''ll either have to pay monthly rent that is more than the housing allowance, or put down a substantial amount of "key money," which can be upwards of $10 000 US.

39 ESL Speaking Activities for Teenagers and Adults

Why Korea?

There are plenty of countries you can teach in, so why should you come to Korea? Well, Korea is a fascinating place, filled with history and intrigue. They are one of the most Confucian countries in the world, so you can experience a totally new way of thinking and doing things. Expats find themselves confused about the place, even 10 years after living here and so you'll never be lacking something new to explore or wonder about. As far as jobs go, there are lots of good things:

1. Korean schools will often offer free airfare, sometimes pre-paid.

2. There will be free housing with your school.

3. The kids and adults are respectful and well-behaved towards teachers.

4. Money saving potential is high because your salary is quite good and your bills will be low.

Why not check it out?

Why teach in Korea?

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What about a TEFL job in other Asian Countries?

Korea vs. Taiwan vs. Japan vs. China

There are an outrageous amount of choices when it comes to choosing a country to teach in. And they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Take my advice for what's it worth, since I've only ever taught in Korea BUT I have traveled to all of the above countries for as least a few days.

Things I like about Korea:

1. The free airfare (in general if you work at a hagwon or public school).

2. The free housing. This is the case for almost all jobs.

3. Money saving potential. Tax and health care expenses are very low. You can save 80% of your salary here if you are thrifty. And starting salaries are not so shabby. If you like to eat, drink and travel around, it's cheap and you can do that every night and every weekend and still save 50% of your salary.

4. The ease of getting a job. For a hagwon, just a phone interview will usually suffice. Of course, you have to jump through all the hoops for immigration, including criminal background checks and interviews and stuff. But there are more jobs than applicants usually.

Things I don't like:

1. The stares. You are like a zoo animal/celebrity here, unless of course you look Asian. People always staring, always wanting to talk to you on the subway and say hello. It's fun at first but old after a while. Seoul is not so bad as the countryside, to be fair.

2. How weird of a place it is. And actually I kind of like it. Korean culture is way, way, way, way different from anything in the West and some foreigners just can't adapt to it. I can and have, which is maybe why I've been here for 5 years. And it seems that those can adapt reap the rewards with jobs (such as mine!) that are amazingly sweet.

3. The difficulty in making Korean friends. I've only had 2 sincere, good friends here in my 5 years. Maybe I have some sort of defect, but to be fair, this often seems to be the case with foreigners. I think Koreans have a very hard time thinking outside their Korean box and outside of their own Confucian circle of family/coworkers/classmates and just don't know how to interact with foreigners. Maybe it's me who doesn't know how to interact with Koreans. Whatever.

4. You are tied to your school for one year by way of your visa. It's like indentured servitude if your school is crap. Everyone gets ripped off here at some point. And the government has a kind of toothless labor board to "help you." I can tell you from experience that's basically worthless. Buyer (or foreign worker) beware.

Anyway, other countries all have their good and bad.

Japan: you own your visa, which means you can switch jobs easily. The bad is how expensive it is, and how much you have to watch your money. Also, it's not so easy to get a job there.

Taiwan: is a very chilled out place. No stares or weirdness in dealing with foreigners. The bad: no free rent or airfare. And the hourly pay is only okay.

China: More of the wacky, "There's a foreigner" kind of thing. And the pay for now is not comparable to the other places listed. And the air. It really is polluted, as least in Beijing. And coming back to Korea was like a breath of fresh air, which says a lot. But hey, you want culture, it's all there. In abundance.

Will the CELTA Help You Get a University Job in Korea?

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risk.jpg

Is Korea Worth the Risk?

There are lots of mixed reviews about Korea because it really is a bit of a crap-shoot as to what you're going to get your first year. Most hagwons are kind of sketchy at the very least and not a few are completely sketchy. You will get ripped off in your first year at a hagwon, almost without fail. It's just a matter of degrees. If you escape just a bit ripped off, count your lucky stars.

Public schools are another matter. Most of them are not so sketchy but you will have lots of cultural issues and misunderstandings. Your year could be amazing or a nightmare, depending on your co-teachers. And there are plenty of stories of teachers working camps, but not getting paid for them, or being stuck in terrible housing. And these jobs are getting harder to come by.

My advice is that Korea is not really the place for someone looking to just do a year abroad. It's just not worth it, because most people have some sort of bad experience. However, there are plenty of good jobs in Korea that require some connections and experience to get. If you're willing to put up with a bad first year, then you will be able to find a better job in your subsequent years, which is when Korea can really pay off. You'll be able to get more vacation, better pay, or both.

teaching esl abroad
teaching esl abroad

And how exactly do I get an English teacher job?

There are 3 main ways to go about it.

1. Search some websites that have esl job ads. Sites I like are ESL Cafe and ESL Teacher's Board. Apply directly to the schools.

2. Use a Recruiter. Some of the more reputable ones include: Footprints, Say Kimchi Recruiting and ESL Planet.

3. If you want to teach English at a public school, you can apply directly to the government agencies responsible for hiring. Some examples of programs include: Epik (nation-wide), Some (Seoul) and Gepik (Surrounding Seoul).

City or County? What interests you most?

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What do you think about teaching abroad in Korea?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I seriously considered teaching English in Korea in my younger days, but chickened out. :-)

    • profile image

      GabrielaFargasch 6 years ago

      I used to be an ESL teacher in Brazil! It was great!!

    • garrekds profile image

      garrekds 6 years ago

      I'm applying to teaching jobs in Japan. Right now I teach English to Koreans using Voice-over-IP. It's pretty fun!

    • profile image

      Trireme 5 years ago

      This lens is packed with solid helpful info, i have taught Koreans and would someday wish to spend some time there

    • turtleface profile image

      turtleface 5 years ago

      Teaching in Korea has been something I've been looking into for quite some time. I have a friend that was going to do it for one year and now he's still at it a number of years later. He loves it. I keep pondering one year to the next to just leave everything and take a turn in my life

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      No way can you live on 300k a month; I can spend that in a week and not notice. Living frugally I could live on 5/600k a month but it wouldn't be a whole lot of fun.

    • profile image

      BenGlickman 3 years ago

      If you want to read about the day to day experiences of teachers living in Korea, read blogs by teachers currently teaching and living in Korea on ESL101: https://www.esl101.com/teacher-blog?field_country_...

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