Want to Teach English in South Korea?

A common theme in the stats, comments, Facebook messages and emails sent to LiveTravelMore is teaching English in South Korea. Instead of constantly writing what feels like the same responses over and over and over and over again for many people, I’m writing this post to help you and anyone else who may come along in the future. I will update it occasionally as new information is obtained that may be relevant.

Some things to note before we get started. 1) I don’t know everything and I didn’t know much when I started this process a year ago. We all have to start somewhere, but please remember that Google and other search functions are very useful resources. I’m sure someone has asked and received an answer to your question on the internet. Do as much research as you can. 2) Policies change very quickly in Korea, so it’s on you to ensure that you are following the most up to date information – no matter what you read on blogs. 3) I won’t post what I don’t know. Anything listed below is based on what I have actually experienced myself as a GEPIK teacher from March 2013 – February 2014.


Am I eligible?

To teach English in South Korea (on an E-2 visa) you will need to meet some minimum qualifications:

Be a native English speaker with citizenship from 1 of 7 English speaking countries  (USA, Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland).

Have a university degree. While a Bachelor’s is the standard for most positions, there is a program called TALK that accepts applicants who have an Associate’s degree or are enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program (2nd year student).

– If you don’t have a degree in English, Education, or Linguistics and are not a licensed teacher in your home country, then you may need to obtain a TESOL/TEFL or CELTA certificate (100+ hours).


Private vs. Public?

For every horror story about private schools (“hagwons”), there are likely just as many stories of success and triumph. You’ll have to do some due diligence and research the company you receive offers from to know whether this is the best decision for you. Likewise, there are public schools that do just enough to honor the bare minimum of the contract and there are schools that are lovely places to work. Only you know what will suit you best. Talk to a range of people who are currently and formerly employed by both schools to get an idea of what’s out there. In the meantime, here are some things to consider:

– Public school hours are typically 8:30 – 16:30 Monday through Friday, but you’re usually done teaching by 14:00. Furnished housing is provided at a rate/stipend set by the government. Barring a major SNAFU by the government or admin, you will always be paid on time each month. You will likely be the only foreign teacher at your school. Class sizes can vary from 28+ in urban settings to as few as 5 in rural settings. In addition to national and school holidays, you are entitled to a number of paid sick and vacation days that will vary based on your province/program. The 2013 Gyeonggi province contracts entitled 10 paid sick days (taken as needed) and 20 paid vacation days (only taken when classes/camps are not in session). You will be required to teach English camps during school vacations. Your salary is set based on government standards in relation to your education level and teaching experience (abroad and/or in Korea). Moving into an administrative role is highly unlikely, but not impossible after several years.

– Private school hours vary based on the institution. Some people work afternoons, split-shifts, and up to 6 days a week. Housing may or may not be provided and may or may not be furnished. You may or may not be paid on time (most of my hagwon teacher friends are paid on time). You will be one of several foreign teachers at your school. Class sizes will be small – probably no more than 10-15. In addition to national holidays, you may be entitled to a few sick and vacation days – the number of which will vary depending on your company. Most of my hagwon friends have no paid sick days and 10 vacation days that can only be taken at designated times approved by the company. Since private schools often supplement the public school curriculum, you will most certainly be working year-round. Your salary may be higher than that of a public school teacher’s and is at the discretion of your company/boss. Moving into an administrative role is likely in the right company after some time and accolades.


Public School: EPIK vs. GEPIK?

Many people want access to Korea’s biggest city, Seoul. If you’re one of them, this next bit is especially for you. If you don’t care about access to Seoul, then your options and perspective put you in a great position. Way to be flexible, but keep reading anyway.

– EPIK places teachers in public schools throughout Korea. You may end up in Seoul, but it’s more likely you’ll be placed in a province a few to several hours away from Seoul. Don’t worry. Korea’s not that big and public transportation is efficient and inexpensive.

– GEPIK places teachers in public schools in the province surrounding Seoul called Gyeonggi. It’s one of the biggest provinces in Korea, so a placement on the edge might mean a 2 hour commute into Seoul depending on your area. A special note about GEPIK… Major budget cuts have been occurring in this program for the last 3 years. The most recent round of budget cuts, made in January 2014 and effective for contracts beginning March 2014, saw most of the Native English Teacher positions eliminated in urban areas. This means that teachers already in Korea who have at least 1 year experience are back on the job market. Competition is stiff, so come correct. This also means that the majority of open positions for March and September 2014 are in elementary schools in rural areas.


Should I use a recruiting company?

– Recruiting companies can be helpful when they’re good companies. In essence, they act as middle men in the hiring process to make your life a bit easier. They earn a commission each time one of their recruits is placed in a public or private school with which they have an agreement. Once you contact the recruiter, they will screen you for your desires and suitability, then feed you a few schools that are looking to hire teachers. Your recruiter sets up your interview with the school and they will tell you whether or not an offer was made post-interview. Once you get an offer, you submit your paperwork to the recruiter who then handles the visa process between your school and the government on your behalf. They do all of this for FREENEVER PAY FOR A RECRUITER. The recruiting company I used was Korvia Consulting, but there are several other reputable recruiters.

– If you’re organized and know how to network, a recruiter may not be necessary for you – assuming you have the time to do your own legwork in the hiring process. Pro tip: the best way to snag a job on your own is to know someone who is already in Korea who is currently at a school or is leaving one soon. Use these people to figure out which schools or companies are hiring and you can often beat the crowds of applicants that come after a job ad is posted. Besides, people like to hire people with whom they have some positive connection. Reach out to bloggers and/or people on Facebook, present yourself in the best possible manner as a great fit for the job,then impress the hell out of the powers that be on an interview.


Where can I get a TESOL/TEFL  or CELTA Certificate?

At the time of my application to GEPIK for March 2013, all certifications were required to be 100+ hours. That’s it. No other limitations were placed. I took advantage of a $69 Groupon deal for a 150-hour TESOL/TEFL Certification course. Groupon offers this deal (using different companies) every quarter, it seems. You can read my review of one course and the comments of others here.


What can I do to make my application stand out?

Create a lesson plan (or modify one created by someone else on waygook.org) and start filming yourself. Here’s my post on how to create a kick-ass introduction video to supplement your application packet. You can read all about it and view the video I created, here.


What types of documents do I need to obtain and how long will it take?

If you’re a US citizen, then you’re in luck because I’ve already written a series on how to obtain the necessary documents to get your E-2 (English teacher – non university) visa in Korea. You can read the series here. If you are a citizen of 1 of the other 6 countries on the list, you would do well to look elsewhere to learn how to obtain an apostilled criminal background check and copies of your degrees. The timeline can range from 4 weeks using expedited services to 10 weeks, so plan accordingly.


What should I bring with me? What should I pack?

There are plenty of blogs and websites out there giving advice on how to prepare for your move. You’ll see a variety of suggestions, but one thing holds true for most… DO NOT BRING A YEAR’S WORTH OF ANYTHING. Pack smart. Check out my post and video about what to pack and what not to pack here.


What’s it like being Black in Korea?

I haven’t had any issues with racism or discrimination as a Black woman in Korea. This doesn’t mean that these issues don’t exist. Ignorant and hateful people populate many places throughout the world. Your experience may be different, but mine has been pleasant. You can read my post specifically addressing this issue here, but I encourage you to get the perspective of others as well. One group that may be of help to you in this quest is called Brothas&Sistas of South Korea (BSSK). Just note that some people are miserable and tend to attract misery as a result, so their experience in Korea has been maddening and difficult as a result. If you survive being a Black person in the US, I’m fairly certain you’ll be just fine in Korea with the right attitude. Again, check out the BSSK group and have a look for yourself. There are thousands of Black and brown folks thriving in Korea.


Want to know anything not covered in this post or any of the posts linked here? Feel free to leave a comment below.


7 thoughts on “Want to Teach English in South Korea?

  1. I’ve been doing a bit of research on teaching English in S. Korea – and this is probably the most helpful page I’ve found so far with real, insider info. Thank you, Timah, for being so informative and willing to share your experiences, tips, and wisdom with us. Your blog is inspiring!

    • Happy to help, Justine. I remember doing the same when I first considered moving here and poring over many blogs, company websites, and other social media to get information. Glad to add my perspective among the many voices out there.

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights. They were thorough and uncomplicated. Are you familiar with any families (black or other) that have participated in the program? My husband and I are interested in applying and we’d be bringing our daughter, too – looking for feedback from a family’s perspective as well…Many thanks in advance!

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