Gone Working

How to teach English in South Korea: A Beginner's Guide

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Hannah Ruppert
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What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Korea? K-pop? K-drama? The food? The unique cafes?

Many people don't know what to expect before coming here. I know I didn't. So, I'm here to give you a little insight on what to expect, how to get a job, and why you should come to this one of a kind place.

Understand the requirements to get hired

  • A Bachelor's Degree in any subject
  • Native English Speaker (ideally but some schools will make exceptions)
  • TEFL/TESOL or Equivalent Certification (if your degree is not in teaching)
  • Criminal Record Check (with clean record)
  • Ability to Pass a Health Check (upon arrival in Korea)
  • Ability to Sign a 1-Year Contract (typically)

Still in need of a TEFL/TESOL certificate? 

Get an online or in-person certificate from ITTT (International TEFL & TESOL Training)! Kat, the Girls Gone Working founder, took their 120-hr online course with tutor when she first started her journey abroad. Their course gave her the confidence she needed to teach classrooms of children around the world. Since then, she has used their certificate to get work visas in 3 countries around the world so you'll never have to doubt the authenticity of their training! 

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Why Choose Korea compared to other countries

Many expats come to Korea for jobs, but why? What’s the appeal? Why is it so enticing?

In short, a few of my favorite perks to teaching in Korea are:

  1. The easy transition from university to the "real world."
  2. The competitive salary
  3. The huge expat community
  4. The culture (Hello, K-Pop and K-Dramas!)
  5. The delicious food
I think so many people choose Korea because after university, it’s hard to jump right into adult life and responsibilities. Many of the schools will assist with “adulting” (rent, insurance and visas, etc). The salary alone makes it a great way to pay off those student loans.
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Korea is also appealing to those who still want that sense of community like they had in university. The expat community is huge here and it is great to be around like-minded people. Also, a lot of us grew up listening to K-Pop or falling in love to K-Dramas. If not, the sweet and spicy food should be enough to convince you!

The Han River in Seoul, Korea at sunset in spring with high rise apartments and cherry blossoms
Enjoying a stroll down the Han River


People come here for many reasons and do various jobs, but the majority of (western) foreigners come with the purpose to teach. I would love to pretend that I know about other occupations in Korea, as I am curious myself!  However, it is only fair that I write about what I know and have experienced. 

There is a "non-teaching Korea" group on Facebook that puts up various job posting daily, but many of those jobs require you to already be in Korea and have a visa. Trust me, all expats wish we could be voice actors, models, musicians, and more, but you will have to do more digging to figure out how to achieve visas that support these jobs.

Check out this post to learn how to get a job other than teaching English in Korea.

The easiest and most beneficial way to live in Korea is to teach. You'll get:

  1. A paid flight to Korea
  2. Paid housing (or rent allowance)
  3. Visa Assistance
  4. Medical Check Assistance
  5. Tax Assistance
  6. A competitive monthly salary
  7. Pension & Severance at the end of your contract

Pension is money that is set aside every paycheck and then will be doubled for you when you leave the country. Severance is a 1-month bonus paycheck you receive when you finish your 1-year contract. Keep in mind not all schools provide these things but they should.

Don't fall for a school that doesn't offer you this.

Tips to finding a job as an English teacher in Korea

1. Browse job listing platforms

I found my first job on a website called teachaway. But the most useful way to find a job is on Dave’s ESL Café

On Dave’s, there is a “Korean Job Board” with a long list of public and private schools that are looking for teachers. Many of the posts are recruiting companies so you can choose if you want their help, but if you don’t, you can find plenty of posts that are directly from the school. There are always so many jobs that are posted and it can be quite overwhelming if you don't know what you're looking for.

Pro Tip: Dave's ESL Cafe it's a great way to find teaching jobs all over the world but it can be a little overwhelming if you haven't decided on which country you'd like to teach in. Browse through Girls Gone Working first for teaching jobs all over the world to see which country is best for you before applying.

An English teacher in Seoul, Korea in her classroom interacting with her young students
A peak inside my classroom

2. Decide if you prefer a public or private school

As you're skimming through job posts, you'll need to choose between a public school or a hagwon (private school).

Many people have told me that public schools are better, but I have found that it is not always the case. A lot of public schools have a lower starting monthly salary, but more vacation days. It really does not matter what you choose, public or hagwon. Just find one that fits your needs and wants.

Don't find yourself teaching at a Blacklist School!

3. Do a lot of research about a school before signing a contract

Apply to many places and see what your options are. DO NOT SETTLE!

When I first came, I only applied to one school and took their offer right away. I later regretted not exploring my options more. Don’t get me wrong, coming to Korea is the best thing I ever did but the school that you choose is very important. It can make or break your Korean experience. 

Some schools are not exactly what they say they are and it is best if you know what you are getting yourself into. Don’t fully trust the outward appearance. Ask the principal/recruiter if you can contact several teachers that are already working there. If only one teacher responds out of many, then you should think about why the other teachers didn’t respond. If the school is too eager to hire, take that as a red flag. If they are desperate, then maybe they have many teachers that are leaving and for a good reason.

There are many good schools in Korea so don’t be discouraged. My first school was not what I had hoped but I stayed a second year and later found a school that was better. I am just encouraging you to do your research. There are good jobs and bad jobs in every country. 

There are sites called “Korean Blacklist” and “Hagwon Blacklist.” CHECK IT! When you are interviewing for a job, search their name on these pages to make sure that you won’t dread your experience in Korea.

Not sure if moving abroad is right for you?

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This course will walk you through 10 questions that I personally ask myself each and every time I plan another international move. These questions are geared to get you thinking about what it is exactly that you want and also, what you don't want. It'll let you know what areas you're confident in and what areas you need a little push.

You'll receive the guidance needed to reflect on those non-negotiables & equally what isn't as important to you.

Along with the downloadable worksheet to answer the questions, you'll also receive a resource guide with over 15 websites that will help your planning and job hunting process that much smoother. After you've completed the course you'll continue to receive tips, worksheets and guides to keep you on track.

After this course, you'll feel confident & eager to pick your new home, pack your bags & go!

Follow this link to get 2 free months of Skillshare to complete this course and any others on the site!

Choose which Korean city fits your needs/wants

Personally, I chose to live in Seoul but there are plenty of other great places to live and work in South Korea.

Another thing to consider is location. You can find jobs all over Korea but think about the kind of place that would best suit you. If you like the city, like me, Seoul or Busan is your best bet. The jobs will be more competitive for sure, but there is so much to do in these areas. 

If you're more motivated to live and work in a smaller city, check out our Expat Guide to life in Jeonju, S. Korea. As a culinary capital, it has a lot to offer!

An American teacher living in Seoul exploring the city by foot
Seoul has so much to offer! Get out there and explore!

If you don’t mind the suburbs or smaller cities, awesome, you will enjoy Korea just the same. Just make sure you google the location before you come here.

I was told that mine would be 20 minutes from Seoul, but in fact it was 55 minutes by subway. Just do some research before you sign a contract. I've heard similar stories of recruiters telling their candidate just what they want to hear, regardless of truth, to get them to sign at the X.

So, you found a good school, in a good location, with good benefits. What’s next?

The school should help you with the necessary paperwork and the series of steps to go through to be rewarded an E2 visa. The E2 visa is the visa awarded to language teachers in Korea.

But to give you a heads up, this is what you’ll do:

  1. Scan and send a signed contract to the school
  2. The school should then begin to file the necessary paperwork for the visa
  3. You will get all the notarized and apostilled documents that are required (see below)
  4. Send those documents to the school so they can submit them to the Korean Immigration Office to get a "Visa Issuance Number"
  5. Once the school gets the number, then you can apply for the visa to the nearest Korean Consulate office to you. You can either go there in person or mail your application and passport to them to get your visa

There is a lot of processing time with the documents travelling between countries and offices so its better to do it as soon as you can.

Here is the checklist of the documents you will need (in step 3) for the E2 Visa and how you can get them quickly:

  1. Signed Copy of the Contract
  2. Resume
  3. 6 passport sized photos for the alien registration card (aka your Korean ID)
  4. Photocopy of the information page of the passport
  5. Apostilled (American) or Notarized (Canadians) Criminal Record Check: Get your fingerprints taken from the police station and then you can send them to the FBI (or your home country's equivalent) through this website
  6. Health Statement Form provided by the school
  7. Apostilled or Notarized photocopy of your University Degree. For Americans, check out US Authentication a for further information

Again, the school should help and guide you through all the steps. Stay in contact with them throughout the process to ensure you're taking care of everything they'll need to process your visa.

Whew, now you're ready to go!


That’s it! After the paperwork is done, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your life to change. If you make the decision to come to Korea, you will not regret it!

The experiences and relationships I made have not only enriched my life but changed me. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. 

Through the good and the bad, life in Korea has changed me as a person and I’m better for it. Come try the amazing food, meet great people, and experience a culture like none other. Whether you plan to stay or are just passing through, Korea is not a country you wanna skip.

xx,
Hannah

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