How to Work in South Korea as a Foreigner

Have you always dreamed of living and working in another country? Are you interested in Korean language and culture? South Korea is a small country with a thriving economy, especially in the automotive and technology spheres. While the job market in Korea is very competitive, jobs often come with good pay, benefits, and stability. Let’s learn more about getting a job in Korea as a foreigner.

Is speaking Korean necessary to work in South Korea?

The short answer is no; however, it really depends on the type of job you want.

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The most common type of job for foreigners in South Korea is English teacher. Some English teaching positions in Korea require zero Korean language skills. There are also a lot of part-time jobs requiring But knowing some Korean can will definitely make living in South Korea a lot easier.

On the other hand, many jobs will require a TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) score of at least 4 to be considered, which is also the typical requirement to enter a university in South Korea as a student.

That being said, having some knowledge of Korean will be helpful in any job and in your everyday life in South Korea. Having the ability to read 한글 (Hangeul, the Korean writing system) and exchange basic greetings will help your day-to-day life go more smoothly and will win you some points with your Korean co-workers.

So if you wish to work in South Korea someday, it’s better to start learning Korean right now. You can use Korean learning apps like LingoDeer to master Korean with 15 minutes a day.

Types of jobs for foreigners in South Korea

Teaching English

Teaching English is a very in-demand job in South Korea and there are many different types of teaching jobs available to foreigners. The most common teaching job is teaching English at a public school, private school, or academy (학원, hakwon). You may also be able to find a job teaching a different subject (such as: math, science, or social studies) at an international school where the primary language of instruction is English. 

The requirements to teach English in Korea are pretty strict due to the visa laws. Here are the requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • An English teaching certificate (TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, etc.) 
  • Citizen of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, or South Africa
  • Physically and mentally healthy

Apart from the requirements above, you also need to have a good command of the English language and enjoy working with children. Because most English teaching jobs in Korea involve teaching elementary-aged students.

It is also possible to find jobs teaching English at the university-level. These jobs have many of the same requirements as above with the addition of needing a master’s degree or Ph.D, typically in a related field such as: English, TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), or linguistics. If you are not a native English speaker, it may also be possible to find jobs teaching other languages in Korea, however, these jobs will often be at the university-level and will also require a master’s degree related to language or language teaching.

Office Jobs

If teaching is not for you, there are many office jobs available in Korea as well. South Korea’s largest industries are electronics, automotive, telecommunications, shipbuilding, chemicals, and steel. We also cannot forget the thriving entertainment industry. Typically, to work in these industries, you should already be an expert in your preferred field.

The job market in South Korea is highly competitive and you must be able to compete with Korean applicants who have the advantage of cultural awareness and Korean language knowledge. Many foreigners are able to find jobs with international companies in Korea, especially if the job requires working with international clients who also do not speak Korean. If you do speak Korean (and especially if you are able to obtain a TOPIK level 4 or higher) and you have expertise in a particular field, you can really increase your chances of finding employment.

If you are more advanced in Korean, you can also find work as a translator or interpreter. These jobs can be in any field so having some field-specific knowledge will be helpful. Translation and interpretation jobs will often require you to have a TOPIK level 5 or 6. Translating and interpreting between English and Korean is most common but there is a need for other languages that companies might do business with such as Chinese or Japanese. The requirements for these jobs vary a lot but you must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in your field and experience is always a plus. 

Part-time Work

Part-time positions are also available to foreigners who already have a visa. If you have an F-series visa (marriage or residency) you are allowed to take up any type of employment you want. If you are studying in Korea on a student visa (D-2 visa), or a language trainee visa (D-4-1, D-4-7) you also may be eligible for part-time employment.

Popular part-time work you can do in South Korea includes tutoring, translation, marketing, etc. These jobs are often a popular choice for students studying in South Korea at universities or Korean language schools.

How to find jobs as a foreigner in South Korea

Now that you know the types of jobs available to foreigners in Korea, you may be asking, how can I find a job in South Korea? As is the case in most places these days, the best place to start your job-seeking is online. You can search postings in online job boards or go to a company’s website directly and look through their job listings. There are even phone apps available for finding full and part-time work in Korea. If you want to teach English, you can search through job boards, find a recruiter, or apply directly to the government English teaching program, EPIK (English Program in Korea). 

Job-related expressions in Korean

Work culture in Korea can be quite different than in other parts of the world. Let’s look at some polite ways to address your co-workers and other work-related words you can use to help you integrate more easily into your workplace.

Job Titles in Korean

Workplace culture and hierarchy is very important in Korea. You must address people by their correct title and never use terms like 오빠 (oppa), 형 (hyung) , 누나( noona), or 언니 (unnie) in the workplace. In fact, it can even be rude to call someone by their name! This is because Korean has strict speech levels.

Here are some job titles you should know. When using them to address the person directly, especially if they are older than you, you can add -님 (-nim) to the end of the title (for example, to say “hello” to the company’s president, you could say: 사장님, 안녕하세요? sajangnim, annyeonghaseyo?)

  • 회장 (hoejang): chairman or CEO. The person holding the highest position in a company.
  • 대표 (daepyo): This position is very similar to 회장 but it feels younger. Younger companies tend to use this title more than 회장. You may hear this a lot in modern K-dramas.
  • 사장 (sajang): president/COO. This person is also typically pretty high up in a company. Someone who is an independent business owner can also go by this title.
  • 전무 (jeonmu): This is the CFO or finance director. 
  • 상무 (sangmu): This person is a senior director and the head of a department.
  • 이사 (isa): This person is also head of a department, but usually younger and/or has less experience than the 상무.
  • 부장 (bujang): This person is the head manager or team lead. Typically, 10 years of experience is required to hold this position.
  • 차장 (chajang): This is also a team leader or senior manager but with less experience.
  • 과장 (gwajang): This is a manager who typically has at least 7 years of experience. They are typically the project leaders.
  • 대리 (daeri): This is the assistant manager. They assist with projects and perform administrative duties.
  • 사원 (sawon): This is a regular staff member but may be considered slightly higher up than a entry-level employee.

If you are in a higher position, you can refer to people who are lower than you with their first name plus their title. If your name is 박서준 (Bak Seo-Jun) and you are an assistant manager (대리) your team lead (부장) can call you 서준대리 (Seo-Jun daeri). You would call the team lead 부장님. In some bigger companies or more modern-leaning companies, people have begun to call each other by their first names plus -님. However, in other companies, this could be considered very rude so it is important to pay close attention to how people address each other and, when in doubt, default to using job titles and -님. 

Work-related vocabulary in Korean

Here are some basic words related to work and jobs

  • 직업 (jigeop) : job/occupation
    • 직업이 뭐예요? (jigeobi mwoyeyo?): What do you do?/What is your job? 
  • 직장 (jikjang): workplace
    • 제 직장은 서울에 있어요. (je jikjangeun seoure isseoyo.): My workplace is in Seoul.
  • 일하다 (ilhada): to work
    • 저는 현대에서 일해요. (jeoneun hyeondaeeseo ilhaeyo.): I work for Hyundai.
  • 쉬는 날 (swineun nal): day off 
    • 오늘은 쉬는 날이에요. (oneureun swineun narieyo.): Today is a day off.
  • 그만두다 (geumanduda): to quit
    • 회사에서 스트레스를 많이 받아서 제 직업을 그만뒀어요. (hoesaeseo seuteureseureul manhi badaseo je jigeobeul geumandwosseoyo.): I received a lot of stress from my job, so I quit.
  • 회사원 (hoesawon): office employee
    • 우리 동생의 직업이 회사원이에요. (uri dongsaengui jigeobi hoesawonieyo.): My younger sibling is an officer worker.
  • 경력 (gyeongryeok): work experience/career
    • 저는 학생이라 직업 경력이 없어요. (jeoneun haksaengira jigeop gyeongryeogi eopseoyo.): I do not have any work experience because I am a student.
  • 승진하다 (seungjinhada): to get a promotion
    • 드디어 승진했어요! (deudieo seungjinhaesseoyo!): I finally got a promotion!
  • 은퇴하다 (euntoehada): to retire
    • 지난달에 우리 아버지는 은퇴했어요. (jinandare uri abeojineun euntoehaesseoyo.): Last month, our father retired.
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