I seem to get emails about teaching in Korea almost daily now, and while I am happy to help future teachers find their way, I find that I am repeating myself a lot, so behold, a post for anyone thinking of teaching English in Korea.
Here are the answers to your most frequently asked questions about getting started as an ESL teacher in South Korea!
Do I need a degree to teach in Korea?
Yes, you do need to hold a bachelor’s degree in order to be able to legally teach in the country. What you studied in university doesn’t really matter, so long as you earned your degree from an English speaking institution. I have met people with degrees in English, Music, Theatre, Law, International Studies and even German – so all subjects are welcome.
What if English is not my first language?
Most employers are looking for native English speakers, which means you must be a citizen of an English-speaking country like Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, or the United States. It’s okay if you were born overseas, but you’ll need to show a passport from one of these countries to get the application process going, and you should be fluent in English.
Do I need any teaching experience?
No, you do not need any prior teaching experience, but of course, it helps to have an interest in working with children. Have you led summer camps, tutored students, or worked as a babysitter? Include that in your application.
Do I need to have a TESL/TEFL certificate?
No, you don’t necessarily need to have a TESL/TEFL certificate, but having one certainly makes you a stronger candidate as it shows that you have invested time and money into becoming a better teacher.
Where should I start looking for a job?
Dave’s ESL Cafe and ESL Employment are two of the most popular sites with new job openings posted daily. However, if you want to make things easier for yourself, I would suggest going through a recruiter.
Did you go through a recruiter?
Yes, I went through a recruiting agency and let them do all the legwork for me. I used Teach Away, but there are plenty of other reputable recruiting agencies including Footprints, Korvia, and Work N Play. (While I haven’t used all of these agencies, I have friends who have and they were satisfied with the results.)
Going through a recruiting agency is free because your future employer will be the one paying the recruiter for finding them a teacher.
Do I need to get a job in advance or can I just show up in Korea?
No, you cannot just show up in Korea and land a job. If you want to teach, you first need to secure a visa that will allow you to legally work in the country. This visa can only be issued in your own home country, which means the job hunt is done online and once you have a job offer you can begin the visa application process.
Where can I teach?
There are many different types of schools looking for native English teachers.
Let’s start with hagwons. Hagwons are private language academies and different hagwons cater to students of different ages. There are hagwons for kindergarten students, elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, and even adults looking to perfect their English for personal or business purposes.
You can also teach at public schools, including elementary, middle and high school. These positions are best sought out through EPIK (English Program in Korea) though you can also go through a recruiter. Keep in mind that while hagwons hire year round, public schools only hire twice a year so you need to monitor the application window closely.
There are also university jobs available, but these positions are highly coveted, which means you’ll often need a Masters degree as well as many years of experience in the teaching field.
Should I teach at a public school or a hagwon?
There are pros and cons to either of those environments, so it all depends on how much teaching experience you have and what type of setting you’d feel most comfortable in.
Hagwons have smaller class sizes than public schools. My classes ranged from 2-14 students, which I felt was a manageable number for a first-time teacher. Lesson planning was also quite minimal; I had to follow a strict curriculum which I supplemented with a few games and activities. The hours were a bit odd since we had to wait for our students to finish their regular public school hours. This meant that I worked from 1:30 pm to 9:30 pm.
The cons about working at a hagwon are that it’s a business first and an educational institution second – you want to keep the parents (who are paying customers!) happy. You may sometimes be required to work the odd weekend for special events, and your vacation time is quite limited (mine was 10 days per year but I couldn’t take it all at once).
Classroom sizes in the public school system are much larger that those at a hagwon, but you also work alongside a Korean co-teacher which makes it less daunting. You get about 4 weeks of vacation time during the year which means you are free to jet off to South East Asia or even fly back home for a visit.
The cons about working a public school job are that you’ll often be the only foreign teacher there, so you’ll want to work on your friendships during your first week of orientation and keep in touch with people. Public school hours mean you don’t have the luxury of sleeping in in the mornings, but it also means you’re done with work fairly early in the day.
Will I be the only foreigner at my school?
That depends on your school. If you are teaching at a public school, you’ll likely be the only foreign teacher there unless you teach at a very large school (in that case there may be 2 of you).
If you are teaching at a hagwon, there should be a few foreign teachers working at your school, but again, it all depends on the size of the hagwon – there could be 2 foreign teachers or there could be 10! My hagwon had 6 foreign teachers.
How much can I save teaching in Korea?
How many bottles of soju are you planning to kick back? How many noraebangs are you planning to hit up on the weekends? How many trips are you planning to take? There are so many factors!
You can save a lot of money teaching in Korea, or you can leave penniless at the end of the year – that will depend on how you spend/save your money. I was able to save $17,000 teaching for 1 year, but I was pretty determined to pay off my students loans and be able to travel.
What will my school cover?
If you are teaching full time, your school should provide you with return airfare from your home country, a fully furnished studio apartment for the duration of your contract, and a severance package (contract completion bonus) equal to 1 month’s salary at the end of your contract. They should also cover 50% of your medical insurance, and they should make monthly contributions to your National Pension Plan (American and Canadian teachers are eligible for a lump sum pension return at the end of the year). If you decided to renew your teaching contract for a second year, you should also receive a contract renewal bonus.
What if I don’t like Korea – can I leave early?
No one is going to hold you prisoner to your job, but you should seriously consider whether you are ready to commit to a year overseas or not.
While contracts will vary from one school to the next, the general rule is that if you leave before the 6 month mark, you will be required to pay back the airfare your school covered to get you to Korea.
If you leave after the 6 month mark but before the 1 year mark, you will not have to pay back the airfare that was covered by your school, but you also won’t be receiving the return airfare back home – you’ll be flying yourself back out of pocket.
Keep in mind that leaving halfway through the semester, or even worse, doing a ‘midnight run’, is a huge inconvenience to your students and your coworkers.
Do I need to speak Korean to teach in Korea?
No, you do not need to speak a single word of Korean. As a native English speaker, you will be expected to speak to the students in English only. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt to learn to read the Korean alphabet and pick up a few phrases to help you get by in your daily life.)
I want to move to Korea but I’m scared!
You’ll be fine! Moving to a foreign country is a big step, but all the other teachers are in the same boat as you, so you will make friends and you will have a memorable year!
Do you have more questions for me? Leave them in the comments below.