“How do I get a job teaching English in South Korea?”
This is one of the most common questions that I get asked by readers of my blog. It seems like a lot of people out there really want to pursue a career in ESL but aren’t sure where to start. It’s understandable. There’s so much information on the web that it can be overwhelming and you might not be sure exactly where to look or who to listen to. Plus, the teaching industry here has changed a lot over the past few years. If you’re looking for up to date, trustworthy advice about teaching English in South Korea, then you’ve come to the right place! I’ve tried to fit as much useful information as I can into this bumper post so, grab yourself a cuppa and let’s get stuck in!
One of the first things that people ask me about teaching English in South Korea is whether or not they need teaching experience and, to be honest, the answer is yes and no. Having some sort of experience isn’t necessarily required, but it will definitely make your application stand out from the crowd.
Before I came to Korea, I had done a placement working in a school for children with additional support needs. This experience was invaluable because it made me really consider becoming a teacher in The UK. I had always flirted with the idea…. but didn’t want to go back to university so quickly and instead spent a couple of years working in an office after I graduated. When I realised that I wasn’t on the right career path, memories of that experience spurred me to try teaching English in South Korea.
When it came to actually applying for jobs, that experience ended up being useful for even more reasons. For starters, I had some sort of experience to talk about in my interviews. But, most importantly:
It made me realise that I actually like working with children.
A lot of people come to Korea, bright eyed, bushy tailed, ready to meet other expats and go on soju-fueled adventures. Then, they touch down and realise that they actually have to teach children.
As a teacher, you’ll be spending between 20 and 30 hours a week teaching for a full year. If you don’t like teaching or you don’t really have the right personality for the job, that is going to be hell, my friend!
Look for volunteer groups in your local area to get a taste of teaching before you commit. Youth clubs and Scout groups are always looking for extra support. Even if you just volunteer once or twice a week for a month or 2, you’ll quickly realise if teaching is for you.
Get TEFL Certified
Much like having experience, getting TEFL certified isn’t exactly a must but it is useful. I got my first job here without having any TEFL certification. However, competition for jobs is becoming fiercer in Korea. There’s been a lot of government funding to English education in the last few years so vacancies are getting slimmer and slimmer. I ended up having to get my TEFL between contracts and most of the things that I learned on it would have been useful to have known in my first year.
If you want to shine and excel in your job, getting a TEFL is the best way to go.
I recommend doing your course with i-to-t TEFL. With an abundance of TEFL courses available on the web, it’s difficult to know which ones are reputable and which ones aren’t. i-to-i are a globally recognised name with hundreds of thousands of graduates. Recruiters will instantly know from seeing their name that you’ve had a high standard of training. Plus, their support team is awesome and they have training centres all around the world!
It should be noted that a B.A degree is required for all public teaching jobs in South Korea. This can be in any subject area and doesn’t necessarily have to be teaching. I studied music and ended up teaching grammar and phonics for a living!
Do you Want to Work at a Public or Private School in Korea?
Ah, the much-heated debate! To go public or private. I’ve done both and, to be honest, I much prefer working at a hagwon. Both jobs come with their pros and cons, though which I’ll go over.
Pros and Cons of Working at a Hagwon in South Korea
- Smaller class sizes
- Wide variety of material to teach
- Can teach a mix of elementary, middle school and high school
- It’s possible to find jobs teaching business English to adults
- Pay is usually higher
- Most hagwons have more than one foreign teacher, so it’s an easy way to make friends
- Potential to work in big cities
- Fewer holidays
- Longer teaching hours
- Less job security (there are a lot of shady hagwons operating in Korea. Do your homework before accepting any job!)
- Some jobs require teachers to do a lot of admin on the side (although, I don’t see this as a con since you’re getting paid to do it)
- Usually you’ll be teaching alone with no support from a Korean co-worker (Again, this isn’t really a con for most. I much prefer teaching independently but everyone is different!)
The starting salary for a first-time teacher is 2.1 million won.
Pros and Cons of Working at a Public School in South Korea
- Shorter teaching hours (but much longer office hours)
- Much more job security since you’re working for the government
- 4 weeks of paid holidays on top of public holidays
- Have the support of a Korean co-worker (this can be good or bad. It’s not unusual for Korean co-teachers to take full control of the class and give you 4 minutes at the end to do your activity. If you don’t like doing a lot of work then this would definitely be good. If you actually care about teaching, this isn’t great.)
- Very little admin work
- Lots of deskwarming time. Again, this can be good or bad. I started this blog because of deskwarming so it’s not all bad. Some teachers finish online Masters degrees while working full-time thanks to deskwarming. Others binge watch the whole Netflix back catalogue. If you need your job to challenge you but aren’t very self-motivated, this could be soul destroying. If you can use your time productively, then it’s a nice way to get paid to pursue a hobby!
- This is pretty subjective but, in my opinion, public school textbooks are boring, repetitive and unchallenging. For both students and teachers.
- Much larger class sizes
- Pay is often lower than hagwon jobs
- Most public school jobs these days are for elementary as middle school and high school contracts have been cut in almost all provinces. They do exist, but they’re hard to find.
- Expect the unexpected. Every school is different- you could have an amazing co-teacher or a terrible one. Your experience greatly depends on your school and your co-teachers.
- Most public teaching contracts are in the rural areas of Korea. *Waves goodbye to Seoul and Busan*
The starting salary for a first-time teacher is 2 million won.
How to Find a Job
When you’ve decided what sort of teaching position you’d like to work in, the next step is to apply! I’m going to go over the different steps for each type of job, so keep reading.
Find a Job Teaching English at a Hagwon in South Korea
First things first, find a recruiter. I went through People Recruit and would recommend them. They were friendly, offered great advice, got me a bunch of interviews and ended up placing me at a really legit hagwon. There are lots of other great recruiters and some small ones who just deal with certain parts of the country. Some recruiters are good, some are bad. If you have friends teaching English in South Korea who are happy with their jobs, ask them who they went with.
Also, if there are any teachers in South Korea reading this who were happy with their recruiter, please leave their details in the comments!
Another great place to find jobs is on Facebook. If there’s a particular city that you’re interested in, it’s worthwhile seeing if they have a “Teacher’s Group” on Facebook and joining that. Usually, when teachers come to the end of their contracts, they’ll advertise their jobs on here if they were happy with their working conditions. Because let’s be honest, you’re not going to offer the hagwon from hell to your fellow expats! This can be a great way to find some of the best jobs from insider sources in South Korea. Ya know, the ones that get snapped up by the people already in the country!
When your recruiter has matched you with a school, you’ll be asked to do a skype interview. Sometimes this will be with the owner of the academy but sometimes it will be with a current teacher.
I did a lot of interviews before I finally found a decent school that would take me and my sexy Scottish accent and was even asked in a few if English was first my language on more than one occasion! Funny fact- I ended up removing the word “Scotland” from my C.V and putting on an embarrassing American/ Downtown Abbey hybrid accent in the rest of my interviews before I started getting job offers. So, if you’re Scottish and want to work in Korea, maybe try to be a bit less Scottish for your interview…
As for the rest of you who don’t have to worry about masking your own identity, here are a few tips from a woman who has done many interviews.
The interviewer is, of course, going to want to hear about how you would manage a classroom so do a bit of research about behaviour management techniques and drop that into your answers. (Even if the thought of being in a classroom with children is petrifying, fake it till you make it!)
Most importantly, though, they want to know how you will fit in living in a new environment. One of the biggest fears for employers is that you will freak out and do a midnight run. Think of life experiences you’ve had that prove your adaptability. They also want to know why you want to get a job teaching English in South Korea so try to learn a few things about the country. I recommend bigging up their education system because, as educators, that’s something they’re pretty proud of! They will also be very excited if you tell them that you love kimchi so FYI- it’s spicy (and that’s ok with you), delicious and you’re a pro at eating it with chopsticks! You’ve pretty much landed the job if you can nail that last part.
Do Your Homework
After you’ve interviewed with a school and been made an offer, you need to do a background check. As I mentioned, shady hagwons are common in Korea, so this step is extra important. First, use the hagwon blacklist website to search for the school you’ve been offered a job with. Any horror stories will be here- but use with caution! A lot of hagwons in Korea operate as franchises and every branch is different. As an example, just because an ECC hagwon in Gyeongju is on the blacklist, doesn’t mean that the ECC in Daejeon is going to be the same.
A better way to get inside info on your hagwon is, again, to use facebook groups. Most cities will have their own expat group- just type the city’s name and expats into google to find it. I recommend posting in there and asking if anyone knows about the hagwon and if it’s a good place to work. The likelihood is that you’ll end up talking to the current or previous teacher who will be pretty honest about the situation.
While your recruiter can put you in touch with the current teacher, I’d avoid doing that for a few reasons. For starters, that teacher now has the pressure of selling the job to you. The chances of them giving you an honest portrayal of the job might be slim. There’s also the chance that you’ll be made to speak to them over the phone on loudspeaker while their boss is in the room!
As hagwon jobs recruit year round, the application process is quick! I interviewed for my job at the end of February 2014 and was on the ground teaching by April. This is great if you don’t want to be weighed down by regimented recruitment dates.
Find a Job Teaching English at a Public School in South Korea
The most famous public school teaching programme in Korea is EPIK, although there are others.
To apply to EPIK, you can either apply independently through their website or through one of their approved recruiters.
EPIK places teachers all around the country and applicants are asked to list the top 3 areas that they would like to work in. I should note that there is no guarantee over where you work with EPIK. You could be in the middle of Gangnam or you could be in the back of beyond.
The hiring period for EPIK is March and September and applicants are advised to apply between 2 and 7 months in advance.
You’ll need to have a skype interview for public school jobs so scroll up to see my interview tips!
Gyeongnam Office of Education
Personally, I chose to teach English through the Gyeongnam Office of Education. I had already been teaching at a hagwon in the Gyeongnam Provence and knew that I wanted to continue teaching in the same city.
I went through a small agency called MnJ who managed to get me the job, but their service wasn’t amazing. Much like EPIK, GOE only works with approved recruiters. You can see the list in this document: FirstTimeGOETeachers
The salary for GOE teachers is typically higher than that of EPIK teachers since most schools are in more rural locations. There’s also a bit more control over where you can teach since the programme is much smaller. I was able to list the top 3 available schools that I wanted to teach in so I knew that I could be in my preferred city. It’s also possible to apply all year round, although most (but not all) teaching contracts typically start around September and March.
Alternative Teaching Programmes in South Korea
Most people who come to Korea tend to either work in a hagwon or at a public school however, there are some other options.
For experienced teachers who have Master’s degrees, the absolute holy grail of teaching jobs are at universities. These are sometimes advertised through word of mouth, or on job boards like ESL Cafe. These jobs are highly sought after with their long holidays and short working hours.
Qualified teachers with a teaching permit have the option of working at international schools in Korea.
For undergraduates wanting to take a year out, there is also the possibility to work on the TALK programme. TALK is like EPIK’s little sister, and people on this programme work 15 hours a week teaching afterschool classes in public schools. You don’t need to have a degree to teach on TALK but you do need to have completed at least 2 years of university. TALK Teachers get paid a salary of 1.5 million won, which isn’t bad for 15 hours of work!
After Accepting your Offer to Teach English in South Korea
Get an E2 Visa
So, you’ve signed your contract. What next? You should then go through the visa procedure. I’m not going to go into too much detail about this here because it’s pretty lengthy and varies from nationality to nationality. Plus, it’s your recruiters duty to assist you with this part. You just made them a lot of money by accepting a job so the least they can do is help you out with your visa!
Now that you’ve got your job and your visa, you’re gonna need to get yourself out to South Korea. My first hagwon job paid for my flight upfront and some companies will do this for you if you ask. More commonly, though, you’ll need to pay for your flight yourself upfront and get reimbursed 6 months into your contract.
If you’re working for a public school, you’re responsible for booking your own flight. The good news is, however, when you arrive in South Korea you’ll get an entry allowance of 1.3 million won. I ended up finding a cheap flight from Barcelona to South Korea for 400,000 won in a flight sale so I was able to pocket pretty much all of that money!
I find the cheapest flights using Kiwi. Click here to find cheap flights to Seoul!
Almost every teaching contract in Korea comes with accommodation, and I would not work for a school who didn’t offer this benefit. Most apartments are 1 room studio flats but some teachers do luck out and get spacious apartments with separate bedrooms and living areas. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask about your apartment after you’ve been offered a job and before committing to your contract.
I hope this post has helped you make more sense of the steps that you need to take to get a job teaching English in South Korea. It might sound daunting, but honestly, it’s easier than you think when you get the ball rolling. If you have any more questions at all, please don’t hesitate to send me an email or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP!
Going to Korea soon? Don’t miss these posts!
- Ultimate Guide for Female Expats in Korea
- How to Pack for a Year in Korea
- Why You Should Consider Teaching English Abroad
- How to Rock your Open Class
- Why I Miss Working at a Hagwon in South Korea
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own.