Teaching English in Korea (or anywhere for that matter) is an amazing way to experience a new country. It’s challenging and the days are varied. Working with kids of another language and culture was so much more exciting and fun and difficult and rewarding than I ever imagined.
Getting a job as an English teacher in Korea is becoming an increasingly popular way to save money to travel. Many teachers I worked with would often work for a year, save tons of money, go traveling until the money ran out, then return to Korea and repeat the cycle.
Luke and I nearly reached that mark. We saved just over $15,000 each.
I hope this is an extensive resource on: what you need to teach English in Korea, how to find jobs, which are the best (public vs private), what to expect from the recruiting process, and which TEFL course I recommend.
If you came here looking for information on the visa process, check out this post instead.
I will try to be objective while also giving you my honest opinion about my experience as well as the experiences of fellow teachers that I met along the way.
Requirements for Teaching English in Korea
- Have a valid passport from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand
- Have a bachelor’s degree from an English speaking university (in any discipline)
- Background check with a clean record
- Clean health check (they are very serious about not having any disease brought into the country)
- TEFL certification (required for public schools, recommended for private) Click this link and enter code 35ETERN at checkout to get 35% any purchase.
Teaching English in Korea can be incredibly lucrative. Most jobs pay a minimum of $2,000 USD per month and include free housing. Upon completion of your contract you will receive an additional month’s wage as a bonus. They will cover your journey into and out of the country by paying for your flight or they will simply give you a flat rate payment to cover your costs. You get free health insurance as well as all visa fees paid for. American teachers do not pay tax and instead receive it all back at the end of the their contract.
Luke and I were lucky enough to find a job where we could live together and teach at the same school. We shared bills (gas was sometimes as low as $9 a month) and when we left Korea after a year we had saved just over $30,000 between us.
Private Academies Vs Public Schools
My experience was in a private, after-school academy also known as a Hagwon. These are privately owned businesses, not schools. I worked from 1pm until 9:30pm Monday to Friday in a small town about an hour outside of Seoul.
Hagwons are notorious for their directors. Korea is a very hierarchical society. Whether it’s age, social status, or job title, those above you have all the say and those below don’t question, just do.
At my academy, we focused heavily on listening and writing with our students, but every hagwon is different. Truth be told, you never know what you’re walking into in a private academy until you get there. Some people have incredible experiences while others leave in the middle of the night.
Hagwons have class sizes of only 12-15 students, never more. The focus is on getting them the highest possible score on their school English tests. If they don’t score well, parents move them to a different academy and the director loses money.
Most students are in classes with people at the same level of English as they are, so you can work at a pace that suits the classroom. In a hagwon, you’ll likely teach almost every moment that you can. Most days, I taught solidly from 1pm-8pm and then had about a half an hour to eat before I had to be back in the classroom until 9:30. I had assignments and tests to grade every day. Depending on the size of the hagwon, there can be anywhere from 5-25 “foreign” teachers working there.
At my hagwon we received eight days holiday per year. This depends heavily on the director and academy you work for, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting more than two weeks. These are times when the academy is closed, you do not choose your holidays. We were also not allowed paid sick days, although this is increasingly rare among hagwons. If we called in sick we were deducted $12 for every class we missed (which in one day could be up to 10).
Public schools are a little bit different. For the most part, you have your own classroom, you work regular school hours (usually 8-4) and you’ll have a “partner” teacher who sits in the room with you in case there is a language or behavior issue. You can have anywhere between 30 and 40 students at a time. They all have different levels of English. The class isn’t separated by ability, but by age.
You have a curriculum to work your way through, but how you interpret it is mostly up to you. Again, this varies by school. My friends that worked at public schools only had two or three classes a day. The rest of the time was spent alone in their classroom planning lessons. They had almost no tests or assignments to grade (because they aren’t the ones giving tests or assignments). There is usually only one “foreign” teacher for every public school.
My friends at public schools got five weeks off during the school year (a long summer vacation and a few weeks over winter). They were allowed up to 10 paid sick days a year.
Many of my friends who taught at public schools used powerpoint presentations, classroom games and hands-on activities that never would have been allowed in my classroom.
That being said, many people PREFER to work in an academy. Once you have some experience under your belt you can earn a lot more money at a hagwon than you can at a public school where getting a raise isn’t really going to happen. Hagwons also give you much more freedom to choose where you want to live. If you work with a few recruiters you can be more specific about where you live and what age you teach. Academies open you up to kindergarten, university and adult ages that you would never get by applying for and EPIK or GEPIK job.
Also, if you plan on coming to Korea with a friend or as a couple, public schools may not be a viable option. They cannot promise that you will be at the same school or even in the same town. They do not offer family accommodation unless you are married.
Recruiting Process for Private Academies (Hagwons)
It is incredibly simple to apply for hagwon jobs in Korea. I simply posted my resume on Dave’s ESL cafe with some specifics about where I wanted to be and within days I had an inbox full of emails from recruiters.
Once they contact you, they will screen you with a few questions before putting you in contact with the director. If the director is happy with you, they’ll set up a phone interview. Some directors will simply have the recruiter interview you. Our director called us and asked us some (weird) questions and then later that same day we received the offer from our recruiter.
Private academies will hire teachers throughout the year. There is no specific date to apply. We started our job in April even though the semester starts in February.
We filled out the contract and then it was all about applying for our visa.
Recruiting Process for Public Schools (EPIK/GEPIK)
The two largest recruiters for public schools in Korea are EPIK (English Program In Korea) and GEPIK (Gyeonggi-do English Program In Korea – this is specifically for the province that surrounds Seoul).
EPIK offers programs in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan, Jeju and Gangwondo. If you want to work in or near a major city, this is the program you’ll want to apply for.
If you’re looking for something a bit more “rural” and “real”, GEPIK recruits for schools in the towns and suburbs surrounding Seoul.
While you cannot outright choose which age level (elementary, middle or high school) or location you would like, you are able to specify a preference in your application, but nothing is promised.
There are two intake dates for jobs in Public schools – one in winter and one in summer. Sometimes you can find a job in the middle of the school year if someone has left before their contract is up. Here are some great places to start looking:
- FT/PT Jobs in Gyeonggido
- English Teachers in South Korea
- Teach Away EPIK Application
- EPIK Facebook Group
- Reach to Teach EPIK Recruitment Page
- Gone2Korea EPIK Recruitment Page (I spoke to them during my recruitment process and they were very nice and incredibly helpful, all for free!)
What to do First?
The first thing you should do is take a 100+ hour TEFL course from an accredited website. It is required if you want to teach at a public school. It is highly recommended if you want to teach at a hagwon and some in the major cities won’t even consider you if you don’t have one.
I always recommend myTEFL because it’s one of the most popular and therefore most widely accepted around the world. There are SO MANY websites that sell TEFL courses and it can be so hard to figure out which is legit. This one is very reasonably priced (especially with my 35% discount code) and is accepted in Korea among many other countries.
Even if you aren’t sure if Korea is the right place for you, once you take the course, the whole world opens up to you. You are more eligible to teach English in European countries, other Asian countries and in South America, too!
If you use the code 35ETERN, you’ll get 35% any course or program on the site*
Don’t forget to enter the code at checkout!
For every purchase made a donation is made to either a Canadian charity, Little Footprints Big Steps, that helps with children in need all over the world or to a Nepalese charity, Trek to Teach, which helps with educational opportunities around Nepal. Work around the world AND give back. What could be better?
Do Your Research
It’s perhaps my second biggest piece of advice. It can be easy to jump into a teaching job, be it in Korea, Japan, Thailand or elsewhere, without really asking yourself if it’s something you truly want to do.
Do you like kids? They can be incredibly difficult to deal with. You will be an entertainer, a therapist, a mediator, and a disciplinarian (when they feel like listening). It’s going to be hard. Unless you are fluent in Korean, you’ll likely have no idea what’s going on in your classroom most of the time.
I wrote a post about my experience teaching English and how I felt about it. It changed my life for the better, but it wasn’t all perfect. You can read that post here.
Once you get an offer from a school, be sure to speak to current AND previous teachers. This is a very common thing to ask for and if they are not willing to give you these contacts, that’s a massive red flag. Ask to see pictures of the accommodation you’ll be living in, ask what will be expected of you on a day-to-day basis. Ask tons of questions because this will be a commitment you sign your name to for at least a year.
If this still sounds like something you want to do, then get applying.
*This is an affiliate code, but I do genuinely believe in this course and the doors that it will open for you. Using this code also guarantees a donation to charity, which is pretty damn cool.