A Guide to Teaching English in Korea

Do you speak fluent English and have a flair for teaching? Then, why not teach English in South Korea?

If you’re looking to discover the fascinating Korean culture, make some good money, friends, and enhance your personal and professional experience, teaching English in Korea provides an incredible opportunity.

For ESL (English as a second language) instructors, South Korea is a perfect destination for many reasons. This ultimate guide will help you find everything!

Let’s get the ball rolling!

The popularity of English in South Korea

South Korea is primarily a monolingual country.

However, English has become quite popular in the past few decades. Many also use the local variety of English — Konglish.

Despite the focus on English education in Korea, English is still not widespread in the suburbs and smaller towns.

But you can easily find an abundance of English speakers in Seoul and tourist areas.

South Korea has always been one of the most popular countries and an ideal place to teach English abroad. The reasons are apparent.

There are thousands of international and public schools for different age-groups that impart English education right from the start.

Besides, Hagwon, a private school-after-school system, is mushrooming at every nook and cranny of the South Korean peninsula.

Many colleges and universities also offer English courses.

As an ESL teacher, Korea is a lucrative nation to work for both freshers and experienced teachers.

To sum up, English is everywhere, and the scopes are infinite!

Pros and Cons of Teaching English in Korea

There are several benefits and drawbacks associated with teaching English in Korea.

Here is a list that will give you a better idea of what to expect once you’re finally ready to make a big step into your career.

Teaching English in South Korea

The Top 4 Benefits

Let’s begin with some obvious advantages!

A Lifetime opportunity to see Korea

From the beautiful island of Jeju and the scenic beaches of Busan to the stunning capital Seoul and the historical city of Jeonju, Korea has plenty to offer for foreigners.

There are tons of parks, lakes, villages, museums, mountains, and palaces to explore. It is hard not to enjoy yourself to the fullest in South Korea.

If you visit the country as a tourist, you have a limited budget and time to enjoy countless things.

It is simply not possible to see 30 different places on a 7-day trip. Plus, you will mainly focus on visiting famous destinations and not less-talked yet exciting sites. It leaves much to be desired.

But as an English teacher in Korea, you’re on a feast.

You’ll have a profusion of times, at least weekends to yourself, to appreciate every aspect of Korea.

You can also visit neighboring countries like Japan, China, the Philippines, to name a few, during the extended weekend and long vacation.

Korea isn’t just a land of K-pop, K-drama, Kimchi, and K-beauty.

The delicious barbecue, folklore traditions, enjoyable nightlife, colorful festivals, enchanting cherry blossoms, and the list is endless.

You will have a gala time and enough on your plate during your stay as an English trainer.

A one-of-a-kind personal and professional experience

South Korean are incredibly welcoming and friendly people. The crime rate is also relatively low, and the country is extremely safe.

Even if you don’t speak a single word in Korean, locals are more than willing to cover an extra mile to help you out.

Teaching abroad is always a giant leap in anybody’s life, though this might sometimes be challenging.

The good thing is, you’ll become more accustomed to all these after a few months.

This can harness and improve your teaching abilities.

You earn documentary experience and testimony for mentoring students. That can assist you in your next target country.

Living and working in a place like South Korea with a distinct language, practices, and culture is a life-changing experience.

You will get unforgettable memories that you won’t find anywhere on the planet.

During your stay, you will meet many professionals from different parts of the world. The experience you gain from these interactions and meetups can play a vital role in your career path as an ESL educator.

You will make and save lots of money

Beyond the definite perks of traveling and unique Korean experiences, money is a big motivation for teaching English in Korea.

And, the good thing is, you can earn a decent paycheck and some privileges too.

The average salary for teaching English in Korea can range between 1,800-3,000 USD per month, depending on your profile, location, and educational institution.

A typical job contract includes a free one-way or return ticket, free or subsidized furnished housing, paid vacation, and national health insurance coverage.

You can also earn a 1-month bonus remuneration and some other incentives at the end of your tenure. This entirely depends on your performance.

The cost of living is also economical. You can easily manage all essential expenses like groceries, transportation, mobile connection, etc., between USD 700 to 1000 per month.

The lifestyle expenses are, of course, pretty subjective. If you spend wisely, you will have a nice bank balance at the end of your assignment.

You certainly can’t beat it if you want to earn and save a large percentage of your salary.

Even if you save nothing and instead enjoy the most, that still is worthy. Isn’t it?

You will learn Korean through immersion

There are many benefits of studying Korean, and your job enables you to learn and improve the Korean language in an authentic manner.

You can live in Korea without speaking Korean. However, your experience would not be the same if you know the local language.

This makes your stay more comfortable and assists you with more genuine interaction.

There is a well-established consensus among linguists that full immersion is the best approach to study any foreign language.

This is how everyone gains their mother tongue by spaced repetition technique, loci method, and mimicking all the time.

And a teaching position in Korea encourages you to achieve that with no additional cost and effort. You will have ample time practicing with native speakers in natural settings.

When you’re there, you can also take one of the Korean language tests like the TOPIK test or KLAT to gain recognized certifications that confirm your Korean ability.

The frequency and the number of testing centers are many times more in Korea than in any other country.

The Top 2 Disadvantages

Despite some known benefits, there are some shortcomings you should understand before diving deep into it.

This article reflects the viewpoint that I’ve heard and read stories from those who worked as teachers in South Korea.

Let’s find out the drawbacks.

Teach English in Korea

Work pressure and stress is pretty high

South Korea is one of the most education-obsessed countries.

The pressure on students in Korea is overwhelming. The high-stakes testing that emphasizes competition is prevalent.

From a very early age, parents sent their kids to kindergartens centers and other extra-curriculum classes.

These students are one of the least happy and highly pressured among developed nations.

This all has also attributed to a high rate of youth suicidal behavior. According to Statistics Korea’s report, it is the number one reason for death for Korean youth since 2007.

This also puts a lot of pressure on educators to do their best.

As an ESL teacher in Korea, your performance is one of the deciding factors for nearly everything, such as work extension, perks, and your satisfaction.

In the end, you have no choice other than to grin and bear it.

The long stretch of work is common in Korea. Although public schools have a fixed schedule, Hagwon’s hours are often very demanding.

Sometimes, they ask for additional work beyond your fixed shift and even on the weekends.

You might not get enough summer or winter holidays as most parents send their kids for off-campus study at private institutes.

You are at the mercy of school administrations

Most foreign teachers in Korea are on an E2 visa. They have to abide by signing the employer’s 50-page legal contract that is usually valid for one year.

What if you don’t like your overbearing boss or the unpleasant workplace?

Regardless of whether your manager is making illogical and unnecessary requests, it is not that easy to disagree with him or her.

Accept and go with the wind. The stark difference because of culture and habits also plays a vital role.

In a nutshell, be Yes Sir, Yes Madam, all the time.

Most of the contracts comprise free accommodations for teachers. If you leave the job or fire you for any reason, they will revoke all the facilities.

In that situation, getting housing and a new job is challenging. These things require money and time. Things will become terrible if you don’t speak Korean or lack reliable references.

Everything about getting English teaching jobs in Korea

There are many things you need to know before applying for teaching English positions in South Korea.

Let’s get started!

Types of teaching work in Korea

There are two broad options for teaching English in Korea: public schools or private academies called a hagwon.

You can also teach in colleges or universities, but the number of openings is limited. They all have a separate hiring process and guidelines.

Public school – EPIK, TaLK, GEPIK, SMOE and GOE

ESL teachers in Korea

Suppose you intend to teach at any public school.

In that case, you have multiple choices:

  • EPIK (English Program in Korea),
  • SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education,
  • GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea),
  • GOE (Gyeongsangnamdo Office of Education), and
  • TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea).

These are the government bodies that operate under the Korean Ministry of Education.

You can also apply to more than one program at the same time. However, you need to submit a set of documents for each one.

Let’s get into more details.

English Program in Korea (EPIK)

EPIK offers teaching jobs in all the metropolitan cities and regions in South Korea, except for the Gyeonggi-do province.

Founded in 1995, the NIIED (National Institute for International Education) administers EPIK. Their primary purpose is to promote English language abilities in Korean students.

Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE)

SMOE, also referred to EPIK-Seoul, recruits English teachers to work in Seoul through EPIK.

Started in 1956, SMOE covers over 2,000 public schools in the capital region of Seoul. If your dream goal is Seoul, then SMOE is for you.

They allocate the placement on a first-come, first-served basis.

Over 1.4 million students study in these educational institutions and are considered the most sought-after public school programs among five.

Gyeonggi English Program in Korea (GEPIK)

In comparison, GEPIK provides opportunities exclusively in the Gyeonggi-do province (surrounding region of Seoul).

With approximately 13 million people, it is the most populated local autonomy in South Korea.

Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education sponsors this program, and the rest of the things are more or less similar to EPIK.

GOE (Gyeongsangnamdo Office of Education)

GOE is another government-associated program only meant for the Geyongsam province in the south.

Unlike the four other alternatives, they accept the application throughout the year. Most of the benefits are like EPIK and GEPIK.

TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea)

TaLK differs from other Government initiatives.

This is more like a scholarship or internship opportunity for students without undergraduate degrees looking for a personal, professional, and educational experience in Korea.

If you intend to study in Korea, TaLK is an excellent choice.

Both EPIK and TaLK function under the Department of Foreign Language Education Support of NIIED.

NIID developed TaLK to promote English teaching in rural areas, where access to higher-quality educational resources is confined.

The salary and other added benefits are relatively less than other programs.

Private learning centers (Hagwon)

Korean parents emphasize a lot in their children’s education and English, which has led to the opening of thousands of post-school Hagwon across the country.

Although there are thousands of hagwons, most of them are franchises or part of big businesses. 10-15 such groups own and run over nearly two-thirds of the private education sector in Korea!

A vast majority of foreign English teachers work in South Korea at hagwons.

Most work in major cities like Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Suwon, Daejeon, Ulsan, Jeju, etc.

These private learning centers operate once the schools are over, so the timing is usually from 2 pm to as late as 10 pm.

Difference between public and private institutes

There are a few fundamental differences between Hagwon and public schools.

Unlike private setups that hire round the year, you can only apply for public schools twice a year in February/March or August/September. The start of spring and fall is typically the beginning of the school semester.

Another principal difference between public and private schools is the hiring process.

The government manages all public schools, and you can apply through various centralized selection procedures like EPIK, GEPIK, and GOE.

On the contrary, each Hagwon has different setups, application requirements, and criteria.

You know in advance where you’ll be working in private centers.

For government programs, you will only know once you arrive there. Your location preferences and target age-group might not hold the water.

While most prefer getting an assignment in Seoul, but getting one is hard unless you have a stellar academic record and years of experience.

The location can be anywhere in the country, even in a remote rural area. In the end, it’s all luck!

The pay is similar. You might earn more if you hold more experience and certification on your resume.

The teaching hours and timing also vary.

For example, you most likely to teach in government schools during regular school hours. It comprises a fixed number of 40 hours per week and is subdivided into 1:1 — teaching hours and lesson planning.

In comparison, Hagwon’s timing is typically after school up to the late evening and has more working and teaching hours.

The shift at private centers might be rotational and change, depending on the batches and resources. The work is also often more demanding.

Eligibility criteria

To teach English in South Korea, most instructors will need a Bachelor’s or master’s degree. It usually requires them to take one of the English tests like TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certification.

Native English speakers from countries like the UK, the USA, Australia, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa can apply.

However, if you speak English fluently, fulfill all the eligibility criteria, and possess a teacher’s license from India, you can also apply under the CEPA agreement.

As a foreign teacher, you must have a clean criminal background from your home country. You also need not have any mental or health problems.

Submit the application form well in advance, preferably 6 months.

Finally, fill the lengthy application, appear for the interview, and undergo a medical test.

Once selected and you sign the contract with the school, you’ll apply for your E2 visa.

Do you need to speak Korean?

Private vs Public English Schools in Korea

This is not compulsory as your work involves teaching English and introduces kids to a native accent, conversational skills, and western culture.

If you want to teach English as a second language (ESL) at a school, you may need some Korean knowledge to understand student’s questions if they know nothing in English.

This matters, especially in high school graduate or second-year student. Some Korean understanding can make classes go more smoothly.

Beyond the classroom, the Korean language can be a real advantage to make a conversation with natives, as most of them don’t speak English.

Your stay in Korea also allows you to learn with no formal course through the immersion method, adding more value to your CV.

I’d certainly suggest you attempt to learn at least the elementary level of the language. It isn’t that difficult.

How to apply?

The English teaching market in South Korea is one of the largest in the world.

There are round-the-year job opportunities, but first, you have to take the interview in advance, and employers conduct online through Skype or other online meeting platforms.

How to apply for a teaching job in Korea

It will help if you prepare well ahead of time, research questions, and practice answers commonly asked for this kind of work.

It would help if you ideally research the place you’re going to work.

Connect with people who are there for similar positions and at the same location. Many online communities can help you talk to them.

Job recruiters and resources for teachers

There are two ways to apply — either directly on the official websites or find a consultant or recruiter who can help you in everything (from C.V. modification to preparing the right documents for submission).

You can find tons of websites, job boards, craigslist, and agencies seeking to recruit new teachers.

Some popular ones are Korvia, Gone2Korea, CIEE, Teach Away, Footprints, Greenheart Travel, Reach to Teach, Korean Horizons, Teach ESL, Hands Korea, Work N Play, English Work, Education Adventure, and much more.

There are many job boards, too, like Dave’s ESL Cafe.

If you’re hunting for teaching material, expatriate communities, and other resources, you can check out sites like Waygook, Genkienglish.net, mes-english.com, get epic, Pinterest, ESL games world, etc.

You can also check several Facebook groups to find jobs and help you with all relevant information for foreigners.

Duration of the contract

Nearly all the contracts last for 1 year. If your school likes your performance and you wish to continue, you might get an extension of another 6 months.

Based on what I heard, a 1-year contract is standard, and there is seldom any further extension.

Conclusion: Should you teach English in Korea?

The demand for English education in Korea is pretty high, and your ability and adventure can help you land a lucrative job there.

You have an incredible chance to travel beautiful places, try mouth-watering foods, learn how to speak Korean, meet new people, understand their culture, and make money too. Overall, I think it is worth it.

I’ve tried my best to write all information as accurately as possible. But a few things are quite dynamic and might change later. Do check and verify with the concerned official websites and authorities.

Are you planning to apply for teaching English in Korea via various programs? Share your thoughts in the comment below!

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Vikash Gupta
I’m a linguist, lifelong learner, educator, blogger, and fun-loving guy. I write at studyfrenchspanish.com, languagenext.com, and joyofkorean.com.

6 Comments

  1. Hello, I am currently working in an organisation for their social media team. Have completed my B.Sc in life sciences and pursued PG diploma in English Language and Teaching. Is it possible for me to get a teaching job in South Korea? If yes, would you please guide me through the process? If no, what else would I need to get one? Looking forward to your response 🙂

    • It will help if you have relevant degrees, experience, and English teaching certifications like TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA. Then, you can apply for various options. I have covered nearly everything in this article.

  2. I am a student who is about to give the 12th boards and also I’m willing to choose my career as an English Teacher. Can you please guide me through the process like what exams are compulsory rather than ILETS, TEFL, TOPIK-I, TOPIK-II?

    • The first thing you need is a relevant degree in English, like Bachelor in English. Later you can take English certificates like TEFL, CELTA, or TESOL. IELTS and TOPIK are not required, though TOPIK can add some benefit to show your Korean ability.

  3. Hello sir, I am a 12 standard student and next i want to get in a korean university with scholarship. Where and how i can apply and should i start giving topik test from now on?

    • You can check the KGSP documentation for complete details. I’ll write soon about that. All TOPIK exams are canceled, and the next one is scheduled for October.

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