You’ve completed the most important part of the process by merely making the decision to go. You’ve decided to take the leap and move to another country (Korea, in this case!) to teach students your native language of English. What next? How do you make the transition from living at home to teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea? In this guide, I’ll try to give you some insight on how to make that ambition of yours a reality.
Public School or Private Academy?
Before you start applying for positions, be aware that most TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) jobs fall into one of two categories: public schools or private language academies. Each category has its pros and cons, and many people swear by whichever one they prefer. So what can you expect from each?
With a public school position, you’ll generally be applying to Korea’s EPIK program. These positions are government funded and can lead to you being placed throughout the country. Pros and cons include:
|More vacation time||Morning classes|
|Raises after contract renewal||Deskwarming hours may be a drag|
|Co-teacher in class||Classes are much larger in size|
|Training before placement||Little to no choice as to where you’re placed|
Vacations not only include national holidays but the school holidays as well. Depending on how your test schedule shakes out, you just might have a huge chunk of time off from work right after Christmas. The longer you stay with EPIK the more you can make, though most positions have a salary cap at 2,700,000 won (some rural areas allow for more, and you can potentially get additional money for working at multiple schools. Thanks, Chris, for the info!) — which is a pretty comfortable salary for living in Korea. Another perk is having a co-teacher sitting in on your classes. With the larger class size, this can be very useful, and a good co-teacher should help with your administrative duties as well. Finally, new EPIK recruits are required to attend a training/orientation to not only familiarize them with teaching Korean students, but with living in Korea as well. For many, this ‘white-glove’ approach has appeal.
There are some disadvantages to working in a public school. Public school jobs mean morning shifts, which is a fate worse than death for some. I prefer to have my mornings free, but if you’re an early bird, go for it. Another oft looked over con is the desk-warming, which is exactly as fun as it sounds. Basically, it means you sit your arse down and keep your desk warm on days students don’t even have class. Sound boring? It is. The biggest con, in my opinion, is the matter of class size. Public school classes are usually much larger than those at private academies, sometimes upward of 40 students. Finally, teachers get little to no say on their city of placement. Once orientation is finished, teachers are assigned their new school and away they go.
Private language academy (Hagwons)
While public school jobs are pretty standardized, hagwon jobs can vary vastly depending on the academy. Pay, hours, age group, class size, and working conditions can all differ, so researching your academy beforehand becomes extra important to make sure you’ve got a reputable job. Pros and cons include:
|Convenient hours (if you’re a night owl)||Less vacation time|
|Less time spent desk-warming||No guaranteed raises upon successful renewal of contract|
|Smaller class size||Less in-classroom support|
|Greater control over location||Little to no formal training|
Hagwon hours can vary greatly, but some manage to hit the sweet spot, starting in the afternoons and ending in the early evening. I work from 1-8pm, giving me time to run to the post office/ bank if I need to while still being able to meet my friends for dinner. Though not all language academies follow suit, many try to utilize their foreign teacher as much as possible, which means less time desk-warming and more time teaching. That, along with smaller class sizes and a great deal more control over where you end up in Korea, makes hagwon jobs my preferred option.
Language academy jobs aren’t without cons, however. Most jobs only offer 8-10 days of annual paid leave, and teachers don’t necessarily get a raise if they extend their contract. Many TEFL teachers also end up teaching classes by themselves (I prefer it that way, but everyone’s different), and some are dumped into their roles the morning after arriving in the country with no training whatsoever. If you’ve never taught a day in your life — as was the case for me — it can be like a roundhouse kick to the face:
Finding a Job
The easiest way to find a job is to go through a recruiter. They will take care of finding jobs, scheduling interviews, and helping you get your paperwork in order/ prepare for moving overseas. A good recruiter will check in with you after you’ve started your contract, just to make sure things are going well. Here are some to check out:
Another great resource is Dave’s ESL Cafe. It’s one of the main authorities on teaching overseas and is a treasure trove of information. Just be careful to vet the school you’re applying to, as the Cafe’s job board can be a bit Craigslist-y.
If you’ve taken a TEFL certification course, they might be able to help place you with a school, though these jobs tend to be fairly entry-level. Still, it’s a good option!
Finally, search Facebook for community groups in the city you’re hoping to find work. Many job postings (especially for independent language academies) can be found in such groups.
Reviewing Your Contract
You did it! You’ve gotten a job offer, now you just need to figure out if it’s a good one. Here are some things to make sure are stipulated in your contract:
- The language of arbitration should be English.
- Check to make sure the pay is within your standards.
- Double check to make sure your salary is non-inclusive of rent, flight, etc.
- Verify that paid vacation days fall within your expected range.
- Examine the apartment and flight reimbursement sections carefully. Your school should pay upfront for your flights to and from Korea. They will usually find an apartment for you, and the cost of it should be completely covered by the school. Some may also give you the option to find your own place and provide you with an extra stipend to cover rent. You’ll usually end up paying for some utilities on your own, that’s normal.
- Make sure your school will be contributing to both your national pension AND your national health insurance. A portion of the contribution will come from your paycheck and should be matched by your employer.
- Read the sections regarding your teaching duties thoroughly to make sure they fall within your range of expectations. Some schools may have winter or summer camps they’ll expect you to cover for additional pay.
- What are the grounds and penalties for breaking a contract early? Read these parts carefully. Hopefully, they won’t be necessary, but it’s best to know what you’ve signed should you need to leave early.
Getting Your Paperwork Together
Once you’ve gotten a job offer and accepted it, you’ll need to get your paperwork in order to apply for your E2 visa. Some schools might require slightly different documents, so double check with your recruiter to determine exactly what’s required. Here’s a jumping off point for Americans:
- Original 4-year university diploma with Apostille Stamp from your Secretary of State (state-level)
- You may need a second, official copy of your diploma with its own apostille stamp, depending on your employer.
- FBI Criminal Background check with Apostille Stamp from State Department (national-level)
- Must be less than 6 months old.
- Can take up to 2 months to process directly through the FBI. Many private agencies can get your background check in less than a week for an extra fee.
- Health Statement
- Ask your recruiter for this self-evaluation form. You must fill it out and submit it with your paperwork. After arriving in Korea, you will be obligated to submit to a health screening — which includes a blood test.
- Photocopy of your passport
- Passport photos
- Check with your recruiter to see how many they need.
- Signed copy of your contract
- (Possibly required) Official university transcripts
- Order two sets from your university and DO NOT OPEN THEM. They must be sealed to be valid.
Applying for Your Visa
Mail all of your paperwork to your school and wait. They will have to apply to the South Korean government for your visa issuance number. Once they’ve received it, your school will provide it to you. That issuance number is the final piece of the puzzle. Make an appointment at your nearest Korean embassy and head over with the issuance number to get your shiny new E2 visa!
Visa applications can take a few days to process, so make sure to double check the expected wait time. You don’t want to come this far and find out you won’t get your visa before you leave. If it comes down to that, however, stay tuned for my next post… I’ve got you covered!
Congratulations on your new job and your new life in South Korea! Hopefully, this guide helped you through the process. Is there anything that needs to be changed or updated? Do you have any tips for people considering teaching English in South Korea? Share it all in the comments below!
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I wish that I’d had this guide when I was applying for jobs in Korea. So helpful! I have taught at both public school and hagwon and am one of the few people who prefers hagwon. I found public school pretty boring and unchallenging (both for teachers and students.) I like the variety of English material that I taught at my hagwon and having a full schedule. Kept me busy and I made better bonds with my students. Plus, I hated compulsory volleyball at public school, ha!
I started with hangwons and stuck with them — I just like so many aspects of the job (class size, hours, flexibility, etc.) that I never felt like I needed to change. I’ve been pretty lucky with hagwons as well, so that’s a bonus.
Convenient hours if you’re a night owl at a hagwon? Not exactly! I work 9-6 (there is deskwarminf at this hagwon) and my last job I worked 12-730 and I didn’t even have to stick around if I wasn’t teaching. Hagwons are great if you get a good director! Teaching in Korea is always a gamble…
Is yours a kindergarten hagwon as well? I guess yours wouldn’t be great if you’re a night owl, haha
I like how concise you have written this post. Very handy in looking up information about teaching English in Korea. Maybe you could have listed the most common Facebook groups, since there are a lot of them.
Thanks for the input! It was hard to keep the post concise and still fit in the information I wanted. Definitely a bit of a balancing act.
Though I am not a target reader for this post, good job on this. Apparently, many is in need of this kind of guideline and will be benefited coming from someone who has a first-hand teaching experience here in Korea,
Hopefully so! Thanks for reading anyways, Wendy 🙂 In the future, feel free to jump to another post if the one I share isn’t a good fit.
What a great resource for anyone looking to apply! My boyfriend and I joke about how we have the wrong jobs – I’m a qualified elementary school teacher and he is a physics graduate with work experience in business. I’ve got the “cushy” public school job teaching from 9 to 12 and blogging and editing photos afterwards. He teaches at a hagwon, that serves as a kindergarten in the mornings, before English after school classes! I love my benefits but think his job sounds more fun, to be honest!
Strycenkay (Kirsty Mac)
Hello Nathan, I just want you to know that you have made my life so much easier. I have tons of friends always asking me the difference between the two (so now I can send them here). In Hagwon’s they usually take a teacher with just a 4-year degree. Is it the same with EPIK? Do you need an official teaching qualification?
It’s the same with EPIK 😉 Having a teaching qualification just makes it easier to find a job!
Thanks for reading Kirsty!
This is so useful for anyone looking to teach in Korea! I was forever trying to find information when we were applying for our couple’s job. A great way for somebody to see the pros and cons of hagwons and public schools, we’ve been super lucky with our hagwon job but I know many others who haven’t!
Nice!! Yeah, I’ve also had great luck with my hagwon jobs. *knocks on wood*
Great guide to teaching in SoKo. It would have been nice to have something similar before I came here. I thought that kindy jobs is all they had with 1 month or 1 year contracts, can you say “bait and switch.” Either way, everyone should know that you don’t have to be stuck in your own situation, if you’re patient and eager, you can work your way from a Kindergarten to a Hagwon and finally to the best one of all – a Uni job. Some go straight to Uni, but what’s the fun in that if you don’t have experience of crying children and angry parents haha
I’d love to score a uni job… hoping to do so in the next couple years!
Great introduction for people starting out as teachers in Korea! I am an EPIK-er and couldn’t be happier with my choice. I like the fact that I only teach from 9am-12pm and then I have the afternoons to prepare (or blog if I have the downtime haha). Thanks for posting!
That’s a pretty cush sounding schedule! There’s a lot of appeal to EPIK, that’s for sure 🙂
Nathan, this is great for anyone interested in teaching in Korea, we will be sure to share with people who ask us about it! I always wondered if I would prefer public schools, we actually loved our hagwon job and how much freedom we had in our classroom. Although, each hagwon is different and some people have horrible experiences. I think the worst part of this entire process is waiting on that dang FBI background check!
Agreed! I actually didn’t know you could expedite it until my little sister told me it was possible. It’s absolutely ridiculous how long it takes.
I prefer hagwon gigs as well 🙂 I like the flexibility, the late start, and the small class sizes. And I’ve had 3 pretty good ones, so I can’t complain!