Teaching at private institutes and public schools are by far the most popular options for TEFL teachers in South Korea. There are some opportunities teaching at universities as well, which are known for few working hours and good pay. These positions are generally offered to candidates with at least one year of teaching experience in South Korea, but if you have a Master’s degree, you qualify to apply too.
Work Visa in advance
Cost of Living
Phone / Video call
What Kind of Teaching Jobs Are There In South Korea?
There are two main types of teaching jobs in South Korea: working at a public school and working at a private institute (hagwon). You’ll notice that these two types of teaching work keep popping up in almost every TEFL destination. However, public school work and private institute work arguably have the most differences in South Korea. Public schools have a rigid, formal application process, whereas private language centres are more flexible. And public schools employ very few foreign teachers – usually one or two in each school – whereas private centres can have up to 50 foreign teachers!
Teaching in South Korea at public schools
Working at a public school in South Korea, you can expect to have relatively large classes, but you’ll also get help with your classes from a local co-teacher. Often, you’ll be the only foreign teacher in the school – which is a pro or a con depending on what you’re looking for!
Finding a job
To find a job at a public school, you’ll usually need to go through a government-sponsored programme, such as EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE or TaLK. You’ll have to fill out an application online and interview via video call, or in person if you’re already in South Korea.
When to apply
New TEFL teachers in South Korea tend to start work at the end of August or the end of February. However, the hiring process starts months in advance, with some schools hiring English teachers up to six months beforehand! Generally, though, schools begin taking applications for an August start date in April and for a February start date in October.
Teaching hours & Class sizes
Teachers at public schools have considerably fewer teaching hours than those at private institutes. Although you could have up to 40 contracted hours per week, you may only teach for 22 hours.
Class sizes are larger than at private language centres but still very manageable, with between 20-30 students per class.
Salary & Bonuses
Salaries at public schools usually start at $1,750-1,900 with higher wages for those with more experience and qualifications. Some schemes offer a monthly stipend of slightly less if you’re a student and teaching abroad as part of your course.
You can also expect to have your inbound and outbound flight to South Korea covered by the school. In some cases, teachers are paid a lump sum of up to $1,000 for each flight, no questions asked about the destination. And most positions offer a completion bonus in which you’ll be paid an extra month’s wage after completing your contract!
As a public school teacher, you’ll get a generous 18 days of holiday as well as up to 15 days of national holidays – both paid!
- Fewer teaching hours than private institute jobs
- Long holidays in between term times
- Free accommodation, flight costs reimbursed and a completion bonus
- Lower pay than private institute work
- More competition to find a job
- Larger classes than at a private institute
- Perhaps no other foreign teachers working at the same school
Teaching in South Korea at private institute (hagwons)
Working at a hagwon is a great option if you want to save lots of money and are also willing to do lots of work! These private institutions are extremely popular in South Korea and often have great facilities and resources. There’ll usually be lots of other foreign teachers – usually at least 10 – working at the same school too. So, there’ll always be someone to show you the ropes!
Finding a job
The application process is much less daunting than that of a public school. You can start applying a few weeks before you want to find a job rather than months beforehand. However, bear in mind, you’ll still have to allow some time to get a visa. You can speed up the process of this by requesting your criminal record and getting your documents notarised or apostilled in advance.
When to apply
Private language centres operate year-round with very few breaks, so there’s no particular time to search for work. The best way to apply for work at a private institute is online, through a reputable jobs board or recruiter that specialises in jobs in Korea for foreigners. It helps to apply for jobs at larger, well-known schools, as they’ll have systems and support in place for hiring teachers from overseas. However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore jobs in Korea at smaller institutes – just make sure to do your research on the companies first!
Teaching hours & Class sizes
Teachers at private institutes are generally expected to work 35-40 hours per week, though some of these hours won’t be active teaching hours. Working hours are generally in the afternoon and evening, generally starting after 13:00 and ending before 21:00.
Salary & Bonuses
TEFL teachers at private institutes earn upwards of $1,900+ depending on experience and qualifications. Employers in South Korea take education very seriously, so the more relevant qualifications and experience you have, the better your benefits and salary will usually be!
Private language centres are open year-round so there’s no long summer break. However, you can usually expect one week of holiday during the summer and potentially one week of holiday over Christmas. You may also get up to 15 days of national holidays, though some private institutes remain open on national holidays.
- Lesson plans provided (in many hagwons)
- Higher salary than at a public school
- Ability to find a job relatively quickly
- Often better resources and classrooms
- Accommodation, flights and completion bonuses are not always provided
- Somewhat unsociable working hours
- Longer working hours than at public schools
- Pressure to keep parents happy, even if it might not benefit students in the long run
Other types of teaching work in South Korea
Am I eligible to teach in South Korea?
To teach English in Korea, you need to be a citizen of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK or the US. You also need a bachelor’s degree, a conviction-free police check, and clean health and drug tests.
For some of the more competitive positions, such as at international schools or universities, you might also be expected to have teaching experience, a TEFL certificate, and a teaching license.
How can I get a visa?
To get the E-2 working visa, you need to have a job offer in hand. Most TEFL teachers apply for work in South Korea from their home country, interview via video call, and apply for a working visa once they’ve secured a job.
To apply for your working visa, you’ll need the original copies of your degree and criminal record check. These will need to be notarised and apostilled in your home country (or the country the document was issued). You’ll also need a passport with at least a year of remaining validity, passport photos, and your job offer.
After your visa application is accepted, you’ll usually receive a one-year single-entry visa. This can be changed to a multiple-entry via for a fee if you’d like to be able to move in and out of the country freely. Once you arrive in South Korea, you’ll need to have a health check. After this, the final step is applying for a residency permit, which your employer should help you with.
Where can I teach English in South Korea?
Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular and competitive places to teach in South Korea is the exciting megacity of Seoul. The capital is arguably the most exciting place to teach, but it’s also more expensive and busier than anywhere else in the country. Some of the towns on the outskirts of Seoul, such as Anyang and Suwon, can be great options to teach rather than central Seoul if you want to avoid living in the thick of it all the time.
Located in southeast South Korea, Daegu is a great place to live if you would prefer to live in somewhere less chaotic than Seoul but that still has plenty of entertainment options. The city is also only a short ride away from the beautiful beaches of Busan and Haeundae. Incheon is ideal if you like to travel; not far away from the airport and a major bus station, it’s easy to travel around South Korea as well as drop into nearby China or Japan. And Daejeon is the place to be if you like learning, with interesting museums, cultural hotspots and technology hubs.
Bear in mind, if you apply to teach English in South Korea through an official programme or scheme, you may not be able to choose which location you’ll teach in.
What are the challenges of teaching English in South Korea?
A challenge that you may find at a hagwon is that some companies are run more like businesses than schools. There’s can be pressure on the teachers to please the parents instead of doing what’s best for the kids – which is unsurprisingly frustrating.
You’ll probably be asked to do private tutoring by many of your students’ parents, who often offer a generous hourly rate. It’s not uncommon for TEFL teachers to do this kind of work on the side, but keep in mind that it’s actually illegal to do private tutoring on the E-2 visa.
Cost of living in South Korea
South Korea is one of the more expensive TEFL teaching destinations in Asia. The cost of living is similar to that of Amsterdam, Netherlands or Toronto, Canada. However, with a decent starting salary and the cost of accommodation covered, you can expect to be able to live comfortably and make some savings too.
In Seoul, a three-course meal for two could cost $25-50, whereas a cheap meal costs $6-9. A one-way ticket on public transport costs about $1, monthly bills are $95+ per month, depending on usage, and a monthly gym membership costs about $60. Outside of Seoul, costs are considerably lower, especially in small towns and more remote areas of the country.
About South Korea
South Korea is a compact country that boasts both tranquil countryside and buzzing urban hubs. Traditional parts of the culture and architecture come from ancient dynasties and nomadic tribes, including colourful royal palaces and oversized hanboks (vibrant dresses often worn for festivals). The modern side of South Korea has developed at speed in recent years and the country now has one of the largest economies in the world. It also has an impressive education system and finding teaching work is more competitive and formal than much of the rest of Asia, though not quite as tough as finding work in Japan.
South Korean culture
South Korea has an intriguing blend of modern and traditional elements to its culture. While the country is quickly advancing in many modern aspects, such as technology and economy, it maintains a traditional viewpoint on social etiquette. You can expect to find all the latest technology at your fingertips – and often in your classroom! – while also having to stick to some old-fashioned rules of showing respect, such as bowing your head when meeting your superiors. This unusual combination can make understanding the local culture both interesting and a little confusing!
South Korean cuisine
You can expect to eat lots of rice, vegetables and meat in South Korea. The cuisine ranges from very healthy sautéed, fermented or seasoned vegetable dishes to comforting, cheesy fried food. Barbecued or marinated meat is a common staple of many popular dishes, but there are lots of vegetarian options too. Most dishes are hot, colourful and full of flavour – often with a healthy dollop of spiciness!
Must-try meals include: bulgogi – marinated grilled beef served with a variety of vegetable sides, kimbap – a Korean-style sushi filled with all sorts of ingredients, from pickled vegetables to spicy meat, tteok-bokki – chunky rice cake cylinders (a bit like gnocchi) with spicy, sweet sauce, and bibimbap – a mixture of rice, vegetables and minced meat with a fried egg on top. Kimchi (fermented vegetables) is a popular side that often appears alongside meals, usually made of cabbage or radish – and it’s much nice than it sounds! And when it comes to local tipples, you can’t go wrong with soju – a local spirit that costs just over $1.50 a bottle in convenience stores and comes in a variety of flavours. Just don’t try to keep up with locals – the Koreans are one of the biggest liquor drinkers in the world!
Accommodation in South Korea
Finding accommodation in South Korea can also be quite a challenge. Not only is there a certain amount of competition to find a place, it’s not uncommon for deposits to be extremely high – often over £4,000!
The cost of accommodation can be cheap in South Korea if you’re willing to live a bit further away from the centre or in smaller accommodation. And conversely, accommodation can be expensive if you want convenience and luxury! A one-bedroom apartment in Busan usually costs between £150-400, depending on location and size. Whereas a one-bedroom apartment in Seoul could cost anywhere between £250-800. So, as with many TEFL destinations, if you find your own apartment. your expendable income is dependent on your lifestyle!
It helps to find a job that includes accommodation (or that at least offers support to find somewhere) and fortunately, most teaching positions in South Korea offer this service! All public school jobs in South Korea should offer free accommodation and many private language centre positions do too. You’ll generally be provided with a small to medium one-bedroom apartment or studio.
Weather in South Korea
The weather in South Korea is hugely varied across its seasons with a particularly long summer. The season runs from May to September and comes with scorching sunshine, heat and humidity as well as some heavy rainfall. In Seoul, the average daily temperature in August is 28°C with around 400mm of rain over the course of the month.
There’s a very brief Autumn in October when temperatures drop and rainfall subsides. This is a particularly pleasant time to be in South Korea as there are clear blue skies and vibrant autumn leaves!
From November to January, the country has a freezing cold winter with sub-zero temperatures and plenty of snowfall. However, the country is well-prepared for the cold, with many apartments donning underfloor heating and cosy coats on sale everywhere. The cold weather also gives you the opportunity to go skiing in several high-quality resorts, such as Yongpyong, High1 and Phoenix Park!
Springtime is from February to April and, like autumn, has clear blue skies and fresh greenery. However, it’s usually slightly warmer than autumn with much less rainfall, averaging at 17°C in April in Seoul. This is arguably one of the nicest times to be in South Korea!
Please note: The information in this guide is accurate as of the time of writing. However, the laws and requirements to teach abroad can often change. Make sure to check the latest advice from the local authority of the country you plan to work in.