After getting into K-drama, the idea of moving to South Korea became an itch that wouldn’t go away. Even more so when I thought about the idea to teach English in Korea. I realised my dream could become a reality.
The only thing holding me back was the fact I didn’t know where to start. Ahead of me was a long flurry of Google searches, forum scouring, and various other forms of research. To say it was a tedious experience would be to put it lightly. However, it meant I had the chance to save others the need to do so. I thought to myself, “if I create a guide for others based on my research, they won’t have to suffer the same coffee-fuelled interneting that I’ve just had to go through, and I know I would have appreciated that myself however many hours ago it’s been since I began.”
And so without further ado, here’s my guide on the top six things you need to know before committing to teach English in Korea.
1. Types of Institutions Available
First things first, getting to know the Korean education system should be a priority. It consists of Hagwons, EPIK programs, and private schools — each of which asks you to commit to at least a one-year contract.
During my research, I quickly learned that Korean parents are deeply serious about their children’s grades and spend lots of money on private tutoring. This is where Hagwons come into play. A Hagwon is a private institution or ‘cram school’, which in most cases, students are sent to by their parents to improve their scores.
Some large chains of Hagwons include YMB, POLY and SLP, each of which claims to offer solid score-raising opportunities. They must be registered with the Ministry of Education. However, I found various sources that say independent Hagwons also exist. These are Hagwons that don’t register teachers with the Ministry of Education. As a result, you should always research the Hagwon you’re considering before applying.
The more research I did on Hagwons, the more I wanted to know how easy it is to get into one and what comes with the job. I found that you could earn between 1.7-2.1K USD (converted from Korean Won) with two weeks of paid holidays, as well as housing depending on contract hours and previous teaching experience. While one of the best perks is that you get to choose the city you want to live in.
But although no experience is required, you must have an E2 visa and hold a citizenship in either the US, Canada, Ireland, the U.K., South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand to teach English in a Hagwon.
When I first thought about teaching in public schools, I was worried the regulations would be too complicated. But with the EPIK (English Program in Korea), the policies are rather straightforward. The EPIK works with the Korean Ministry of Education, recruiting English teachers and distributing them across the country to various schools.
Unlike with Hagwons though, you cannot choose your location. But the EPIK makes up for this as teaching in public schools comes with a lot of benefits and the pay scale is very fair with three weeks’ holidays granted. A further plus is that housing is provided, which helps a lot when you are new in the country.
Finally, working in a public school requires you to hold a Bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate, and an E2 visa. We’ll dive a little deeper into TEFL certifications later.
Unlike Hagwons and EPIK schools, private schools don’t provide housing. They do offer housing allowance, but you’ll have to find a property to rent by yourself. I can definitely see the good side of this, but if I were to move to a country I had never been to before, I would feel much more comfortable if housing was provided for me.
The biggest upside to teaching English in a Korean private school is the 4-10 weeks of holiday that you get. The salary ranges from 1.6K to 2.5K USD per month. This is great for those who would like to travel around Korea or the surrounding countries alongside their teaching.
As for requirements, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree, TEFL, and an E2 visa (although an F visa is preferred). However, if you want to teach adults, you’ll also need a CELTA or DELTA certificate, which I will explain later.
2. Lifestyle in Korea
I was eager to learn about the lifestyle in Korea as I’ve always imagined that living in another country can be made much easier once you blend in. So, I started reading forums to compare working in a big city to working in a rural area.
Working in a Big City
Coming from a small town, I was a bit scared by the thought of living in a big city in Korea. Sure, cities like Busan and Seoul offer a lot of job opportunities. But the pollution that everyone online seemed to be talking about concerns me.
However, living in a big city would offer rich nightlife and it would be easy to travel around. Then again, rental costs and the cost of living in general are much higher than in rural towns.
Pros: Lots of job opportunities, good public transportation, social events
Cons: Air pollution, higher costs
Working in Rural Areas
When I first considered the idea of moving away to teach English in Korea, I doubted that rural areas would be recommended for expats. But I soon found out that life in rural Korea is much cheaper (although the pay is typically lower) and much healthier than in big cities.
What’s more, a lot of people online agreed that it was much easier to meet people in rural areas than in big cities as the people are friendlier. I’ll assume it’s because they’re surrounded by mountains and beautiful landscapes all day long.
Pros: Great environment, lower costs, nicer people
Cons: Lower pay means possibly less savings
While I look forward to meeting locals, I also hope to find friends who are also in my situation. Perhaps they can guide me to western diners, soothing my homesickness when necessary.
When it comes to popular cities among expats, I found Jeonju, Incheon, and Gwangju to be great options. They are rich in culture and lack the noise and chaos that Seoul has. There are so many festivals and small community events here too.
However, the place I fell in love with is Jeju Island – the nature, the medieval architecture makes it an attractive place for both teachers and tourists.
3. Certification Requirements
By this point, my desire to teach English in Korea had grown immensely, and I was looking forward to finding out about the requirements.
There are also some in-class TEFL programs that seem to provide a very decent service. These are excellent if you have no teaching experience whatsoever. However, keep in mind that most schools in Korea look for teachers that at least hold a bachelor’s degree.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with TEFL, it actually stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and you are most likely to learn some classroom methods. This will certainly help you if you are an inexperienced teacher.
CELTA, on the other hand, stands for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This certification is recognized by schools and governments around the world. The CELTA course can be done partially online, but there are also some practical parts that must be done in-class.
The most advanced course for teachers of English is DELTA. It actually represents a Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It’s quite similar to CELTA, but it is mostly meant for teachers who want to work on their professional development, as the practical part of the exam takes place at their own workplace.
4. Do I need to Speak Korean to Teach English in Korea?
The next thing I asked myself was whether I needed to learn some Korean to be able to teach English in Korea. While it’s not required by the programs or for visa application, I thought I definitely should. What could be more motivating for the students than seeing their teacher trying to learn their language?
Many told me I should try LingoDeer to learn some Korean. So I did, and I was very positively surprised! The lessons were very well structured. I learned to say a few sentences in just 20 minutes of playing with it.
Also, the app offers a pretty reasonable payment plan when compared to other apps, and I was very thankful to find out Korean uses a phonetic alphabet.
5. Do I need a Visa to Teach English in Korea?
Yes, you do. However, it’s much simpler than I expected it to be. Feel free to visit the Korean government website where you can find all the latest information about Visas and how to get them, since it depends on the country you come from.
6. Places to Visit for More Insights
When researching how to teach English in Korea, I stumbled upon a lot of useful subreddits, Facebook groups, job boards, expat communities, and blog posts. Below are some of the highlights.
- Every Expat in Korea
- Expat Women in Korea
- Meet up communities
- Friends in Korea
- Teaching in Korea
- Expat experiences
Blog posts for learning more about teaching and life in Korea in general:
- What it’s really like teaching English in Seoul
- First-hand advice on teaching in Korea
- The complete guide to getting a teaching job in South Korea (for American citizens)
I hope you found my guide useful and now feel much more equipped to teach English in Korea. If you’re not ready to move, you can also consider becoming Udemy instructors and teaching completely online. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section below!