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How to Teach English in South Korea

You want to teach English in South Korea, but it feels like there are SO many steps to take until you board the plane. Or maybe you’re not even sure if teaching in Korea is right for you. Either way, you’ve come to the right place!

I want to first say, congrats! You are about to embark on an exciting journey. You are brave for just thinking about jumping on a plane and living in a new country.

Okay, let’s jump in!!

NOTE: I chose to apply to private schools (hagwons), so my process could be different than yours! If you are going the public route, some of this will not apply to you.

This post is sponsored by Worldpackers and may contain affiliate links. If you use my links, I get a small percentage without costing you a thing. Thank you for using my links and supporting my blog! xoxo

First off, Are You Eligible to Teach in South Korea?

hiking outside of Busan, South Korea

To teach English in South Korea, you need:

  • A Passport
  • A Bachelor’s Degree
  • TEFL Certification
  • A clear background check (no DUI/DWI)
  • Pass a drug and medical exam upon arrival

What Are my First Steps?

Take this process one step at a step. Finish one task and move onto the next. Again, it seems like a lot and it can move slowly, but you will get there!!!

1. Do Your Research.

This might sound like the obvious, but make sure to research South Korea and know what you are getting into. Reach out to people who are currently teaching or have taught English in South Korea. Talk to an advisor at a TEFL academy.

2. Get Your TEFL Certification.

This process would NOT have been as easy if it weren’t for The International TEFL Academy, where I got my TEFL certification. If you work with them, they practically walk you through the entire process. I HIGHLY recommend them. I was able to meet with an advisor in person to go over the pros and cons of the different countries on my list.

Note: you do not NEED a TEFL certification, but it helps. If you want a cheaper route and don’t care about quality, there are $30 TEFL certifications off Groupon. If you do not have any experience and want to be walked through the process, I recommend The International TEFL Academy ($$$$). It’s expensive, but for me, it was worth it.

3. Reach out to recruiting companies.

Note: this is for hagwon teachers.

Recruiters will (hopefully) help you with the ENTIRE process! It makes things so much easier. You could find jobs yourself, but I think working with a recruiter is the easiest option!

Here are a list of recruiters I used and others I know have used (for public schools):

Bonus Tip: If you are applying with private schools, work with 2-3 recruiters. I worked with the recruiting company ESL101 first and later realized the company was only working with one school. I received an offer and said I was interested but would like to interview a few more schools to be sure. My recruiter then informed me that he only works with one school. THIS IS NOT OKAY! Your recruiter should send you MULTIPLE schools to interview with!

Remember, you have options. I wouldn’t recommend going with the first school that gives you an offer. Interview with multiple schools and use multiple recruiters!

Should I Apply with Public or Private (Hagwon) Schools in Korea?

Public schools: Epik, GEPIK, JLP, GOE, TALK are all public school programs. If you go the public school route, you are the English teacher for multiple classes (think US elementary schools/high schools).

Pros

  • Often times less work
  • Less pressure/stress (fewer teaching hours)
  • Variety of classes
  • Option to work at multiple schools
  • More freedom
  • Often times you are an assistant teacher (good if you don’t have experience)
  • From personal experience and meeting loads of teachers in Korea, public school teachers tended to like their jobs more and overall happier than hagwon teachers

Private schools: A private school (aka Hagwon) is a for-profit private institution. Hagwons are for students who are looking for supplemental learning opportunities outside of their normal school. For example, an after-school program, a pre-school, a tutoring company, or a private small school. Hagwon’s hours can be all over the place from “normal school hours” to nights and weekends. It depends on the school.

Pros

  • You choose your location and school
  • Work with other foreign teachers
  • Higher pay (on average)

Why I chose private:

I chose to the private school route for a few reasons. First, I wanted to choose my location. I’ve lived the nomad life for 6 years now. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve been so spontaneous that for once I wanted to choose. Secondly, I wanted to be picky about which school I worked at. I wanted to talk with the school beforehand, talk to teachers, and know exactly what I’m getting into. With that being said, you will never have full control.

Things could go bad or amazing either option! I honestly don’t think you can choose wrong!

Update: If I could have gone back in time, I think I would have gone the public school route OR interviewed with more schools. Read my story here.

Valentine’s Day bunnies (we love crafts!)

Why I chose Busan, South Korea

First off, it was intuition. I went to my TEFL study abroad office and talked with an advisor about his time in South Korea. He told me about Busan and it immediately felt right. Busan has mild winters and hot summers. It’s on the coast with beautiful hiking areas nearby. Shortly after, I got an astrocartography reading and it validated my decision.

If you have NO idea where you want to teach English in South Korea and are down for whatever, I would probably go the public route. If you want to have more control about your location and school, go the private route.

Popular cities to Teach English in South Korea?

Here are some other popular cities to teach English:

  • Daegu
  • Suwon
  • Seoul
  • Jeju City
  • Lucheon
Busan, South Korea
Busan, South Korea

Update: I met teachers who taught all over Korea. Some of the teachers in remote places were just as happy as the teachers in big cities. The transportation system is great and you can visit anywhere easily! You can’t go wrong!

What is the Average Pay? Where Will I Live? Benefits? Time Commitment?

THESE are the questions I wanted to know before getting into the process! The pay depends on location and experience. The average is around 2.2 mil (about $1,850/month) which (usually) includes an apartment, benefits, contract bonus (upon completion), and flight reimbursement.

The apartment I will live in is a studio with a small bathroom, kitchen, and in-unit laundry about 5 minutes awhile from my school. This is pretty standard from what I’ve heard. Sometimes the apartments are furnished. This all depends on the school and are things you should ask in your interview!

It is common for teachers to save around $1,000/month or more teaching English in South Korea. I will keep you guys updated and share my numbers once I get there!

Contracts are usually one year. At my school it does not include the 2 (or so) weeks of training beforehand.

Resume & Interview Tips

Click here to view my teaching resume as a reference.

The most important things are consistency and to effectively highlight your experience. I recommend having an advisor review your resume before applying to recruiters.

I had three separate interviews and was accepted to all three schools. I’ll be honest, I’m not the best in interviews and I didn’t prepare as much as I should have. Good news! That doesn’t always matter! Personally, I think companies are looking for people with personality and excitement. My advantage is my teaching experience (one month in Colombia and teaching online) and my international experience. My online English teaching experience gave me more confidence. I highly recommend teaching online beforehand if possible! If you think you have no experience, you’re wrong! Highlight any experience you had where you were a leader, a mentor, a trainer, or taught something!

Know that TONS of new teachers are hired right out of college with no experience. Sometimes it’s even an applicant’s first time out of their country. I’ve also met retired people who are teaching abroad. Teaching abroad is not one size fits all!

Common Interview Questions:

  1. Why do you want to teach in South Korea? (all three schools asked me this and follow-up Qs about my interest in South Korea and Busan)
  2. Why are you interested in our school?
  3. Details on teaching experience (age/location/classroom setting/etc)
  4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  5. Do you have any special hobbies or abilities that you would bring to a classroom?
  6. How do you deal with kids acting out?

Bonus Interview Tip: Know key aspects of Korean culture and things to do in South Korea. Be able to clearly state your “whys.” Why Korea? Why teach? For example, I had met and talked with a bunch of teachers who taught in Korea and said amazing things. Everyone says Koreans are super nice and how beautiful the country is. There are great cities and hiking. Koreans work and play hard. I mentioned all of these things. I gave multiple examples of how I did my research and was confident in Korea being right for me. Things I did NOT mention but was thinking: the pay is great, it’s cheap to live, I need to pay off my student loans and credit debt. (lol)

In ONE of my interviews I was asked to create a short lesson plan and answer a set of SAT style questions. Having to create a lesson plan is not super common, but it can happen. I prepared a short lesson and the interviewer cut me off after 5 minutes. I stumbled a bit, BUT I was enthusiastic. Don’t worry about it going perfectly!

Other General Interview Tips

  • Dress Professionally
  • ALWAYS ask questions (prepare questions beforehand)
  • Have someone proofread your resume (send yours to hello@courtneytheexplorer.com and I’ll look it over!)
  • Interview with multiple schools!
  • Research the school and area beforehand
  • Be confident! (YOU ARE QUALIFIED! They need you.)
  • Know your worth! Don’t be afraid to negotiate or ask for what you want!

Important Questions to Ask in Your Interview

  1. Do you offer free Korean classes? (=do they invest in their teachers)
  2. What is the provided housing like? What is the transportation like? Is transportation paid for?
  3. What is the schedule like? Weekends? Overtime? Are you paid extra for overtime?
  4. Is there a dress code? (=relaxed work environment or not)
  5. What resources are available to teachers? (printer, copier, books, library, etc.= again, tells you if they invest in their teachers)
  6. Do teachers get their own classroom?
  7. How many hours of class time per week? How many hours of prep?
  8. Is there paid sick days?
  9. Are lesson plans provided? (bonus: ask if teachers are given flexibility with lesson plans)
  10. How are the relationships between Korean and foreign teachers?

Most important: what other tasks are teachers expected to do besides teach? Ask if there are open classes (THE WORST) and phone teaching outside of class hours. Ask if you are expected to write the syllabus for your classes. These are all red flags. Run from any hagwons that will drown you in outside work. There are plenty of other hagwons where they care about teachers and do not overwork them!! You have been warned. (lol) If you do end up working for a hagwon like this, make sure you are paid accordingly (ask for 2.3/2.4 mil or more).

Things You Need For Your Work Visa (E-2)

Short answer: patience and time. (lol)

Again, your recruiter should help you through the visa process. You will need:

  • Copy of your Passport
  • Original notarized and apostilled Criminal Background Check
  • Photocopy of original college diploma notarized and apostilled (Bachelor’s degree or higher in any subject)
  • Resume
  • 6 passport-sized photos (I got them from Walgreens)
  • Application (given to me by my recruiter)
  • Signed contract

Once I obtained all of these documents, I sent them to my recruiter.

Note: you cannot apply for a visa before you get a job. Also, you must wait to buy your plane ticket until AFTER you receive your visa.

When Should I Start Applying?

For Hagwons, any time between 2-5 months is sufficient. The hiring season is year-round. I started searching in April for an August/September start date (5 months).

For public schools, it’s completely different. You can start applying 7-9 months beforehand. The start dates are either summer (March 1st) or fall (September 1st).

Final Thoughts

Just know, things won’t always go smoothly! You are moving to a completely different country to live and work! There will be hiccups and some days you may want to pull out all your hair (many days). I’ve already made a million mistakes and I’m not even in Korea yet!!!

I promise you will get there, one step at a time. Sending love!

2020 Update!

I taught English in Korea for 8 months. Check out the links below for my journey of teaching English in Busan, South Korea!


Cheers to your journey! Thanks for reading! xoxo

Save for later:

How to Teach Abroad in South Korea - how to get started, how to pick a school, public vs. private, interview + resume tips, help with your E2 visa, and more!

4 Comments

  • […] August 2019, I moved to South Korea to teach English. I chose to teach abroad so I could save for travel AND travel at the same […]

    Reply
  • Sam
    October 21, 2020 at 9:49 pm

    This entire post was so helpful!! I am planning on teaching in Korea next year, so I’m on the hunt for info!

    Reply
  • Quynh Anh Nguyen
    January 21, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    Do you need to be the citizen of english-speaking country? Or is it unnecessary?

    Reply
  • Silviya
    January 26, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    Is it necessary to hold a passport of an English speaking country to teach English in South Korea???

    Reply

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