If you’re thinking about teaching English in Korea then you’re in the right place! We’ve created a super information, nonsense free, guide to walk you through the entire process from start to finish. It’s pretty long so remember to bookmark it in case you need to reference it again later.
– Why South Korea?
– Thousands of Jobs
– Interesting Statistics
– Are you eligible for a work visa?
– Do you qualify for jobs with schools?
– Can you acquire the paperwork?
– Types of Teaching Jobs in Korea
– Public & Private School Differences
– Salary & Savings Potential
– Recruiters, Job Boards, EPIK Office
– When You Need to Start Applying
– How to Prepare – Top Tips & Advice
– Stop Thinking, Start Doing!
– Get TEFL Certified
– Useful Resources
…here we go!
South Korea has been a top English teaching destination for western grads since the late 1990’s. Why is South Korea such a popular destination?
Simply put, Korea is a safe country with modern amenities and a ‘western friendly’ attitude. These aspects are quite enticing, especially when you combine them with great benefits which
include rent free apartments, competitive salaries and free airfare.
Oh yeah, we almost forgot…they also issue thousands of English teaching visas every year in order to keep their public and private schools topped up with western teachers!
There are more than 15,000 westerners from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and NZ teaching English in Korea right now!
As you can guess, teaching, learning and promoting the English language is a big deal in South Korea. It’s so important that many prominent Koreans have debated whether or not to adopt English as their second official language. Koreans believe that understanding English gives them a competitive advantage culturally and in the international workplace and guess what, they’re right!
Full-time paid teaching jobs are available from coast to coast. The majority of jobs are in the large metropolitan centers like Seoul, Incheon, Daegu and Busan, however, there are lots of positions in the smaller cities and rural areas as well. Alright, let’s dig in and get you started!
2. ARE YOU ELIGIBLE?
If you’re going to teach in Korea then you’ll need to qualify for a work visa with Korean Immigration and meet the hiring requirements of schools and programs. Meeting both are necessary for landing a paid teaching job.
2A. Are you eligible for a Work Visa?
You’ll need to meet these 4 simple requirements in order to qualify for an English teaching visa (E2 visa) with the Korean Immigration Office.
You must have citizenship and a valid passport from one of the following seven countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States.
Korean Immigration will only issue English teaching visas to candidates from these 7 countries.
A bachelor’s level degree in any discipline from an accredited university or college.
CLEAN CRIMINAL RECORD
A clean criminal record, verified with a criminal record check report from your respective country. Don’t worry, speeding tickets and traffic violations won’t impact your visa application.
CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
Adequate physical and mental health which you’ll need to verify with a self-assessment health statement.
And that’s it! Now let’s check the school hiring requirements to see if you qualify for the actual jobs with Korean employers.
2B. Do you qualify for jobs with schools?
Before you continue please note the following point. Qualifying for a work visa is different than qualifying for jobs with Korean employers because schools have their own hiring policies. Good news though, the huge demand for English teachers in Korea means that schools hire 1000’s (yes thousands!) of first time teachers with unrelated majors every year.
NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER
You’ll need to be a native English speaking person or demonstrate English speaking skills that are equal to a native English speaker. Most employers define a native English speaker as being someone who completed all of their education in one of the designated English speaking countries from the start of grade 7 through the university level.
Schools won’t hire you simply because you’re a native English speaker with a degree. Schools are interested in candidates who are outgoing, friendly, open minded and speak clearly. Make sure to read through the ‘How to Land a Job’ section for great tips and advice.
TEFL or TESOL CERTIFICATION
Having a TEFL certification is mandatory for all public school positions, unless you have an education major or a valid teaching license. Private schools don’t have a unified TEFL certification policy; some want it others don’t. Either way employers obviously prefer candidates with some type of teaching credential.
Public schools have a 62 year age limit. Private schools don’t have age limits but many of these schools prefer candidates in their 20’s or 30’s.
No more guessing, now you know whether or not you qualify for jobs and a work visa. Let’s take a look at all the documents you’ll need in order to land the job and acquire the visa!
2C. Can you acquire the paperwork?
In order to secure a job and acquire your work visa you’ll need to attain a number of documents. Your documents will eventually be sent to Korea for visa processing purposes. FYI: All candidates, regardless of their nationality, need to acquire the same documents.
6 Official Passport Photos
Recommendation Letters (for Public school applicants)
A valid passport from: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States
Degree Certificate (Diploma)
You’re not required to send your degree certificate (diploma) to Korean Immigration but you will need the original in order to have a ‘notarized copy’ made.
Steps: Bring your original diploma to a notary public (i.e. lawyer with a notary license) and ask them for a notarized copy of your degree certificate. After you diploma must be notarized and authenticated with an Apostille for Korean visa processing purposes.
Sealed Transcripts (Academic Records)
You will need 1 or 2 (depends on the jobs you pursue) sets of officially sealed transcripts. You can acquire sealed transcripts from your universities registrar.
Criminal Record Check (Federal Level)
Depending on where you’re from a federal level check may be referred to as: Criminal History Reports, Police Checks, CPIC Searches, Subject Access Forms, Criminal Background Searches, Criminal Clearance Letters, other. You’ll need to have the check authenticated with an Apostilled Seal from your respective government office as well.
Teaching Credentials (If you have any and plan on using them when applying for jobs)
If you have teaching credentials and you plan on using them when applying for jobs then you’ll need to provide some form of verification to valid the credential(s). Related credentials may include a valid teaching license, teaching certificate or PGCE, a TEFL or TESOL certification or proof of full-time teaching experience with another employer.
Self-Assessment Health Questionnaire
All teachers must submit a signed self-assessment health statement questionnaire to Korean Immigration. FYI: All new teachers entering Korea are required to undergo a brief medical exam shortly after arriving.
By the way, you can’t apply for a visa and then go looking for a job, it doesn’t work like that. In order to apply for a visa you’ll need a job offer from a registered school first, kind of like a sponsor.
3. JOB DESCRIPTION
3A. Types of Teaching Jobs in Korea
There are many types of English teaching jobs in South Korea; public schools, private schools for children, private schools for adults, international schools, after school programs, colleges & universities, corporate offices, English camps and more. However, most positions (over 80% of the jobs available to westerners) fall into one of the following categories: Public Schools or Private Language Schools. The reality is International schools, university jobs, corporate office teaching, etc. simply aren’t accessible or attainable to most candidates, therefore, we’re not going to cover these job types in this guide. Instead we’re going to focus on the primary job options (Public & Private Schools) where the large majority of opportunities are found.
Public schools are exactly what you’re thinking – government funded schools with standardized curriculum just like public schools in the West. There are 3 types of schools in this sector, public elementary schools, public middle schools and public high schools.
Unfortunately many of the education offices have cut foreign teachers from the high schools so most jobs are with elementary & middle schools.
As of 2016 there were 11,543 public schools in Korea with roughly 60% of them employing a native English teacher. That means there’s around 6,800 foreign teachers in the public school system right now.
FYI: Having a TEFL certification is mandatory for all public school positions unless you have an education major.
PRIVATE LANGUAGE SCHOOLS (a.k.a. HAGWONS)
Hagwon is the Korean word for private school. These schools are literally scattered across the entire country and are also referred to as language schools, English academies, English institutes & cram schools. To make things easy to follow we’ll simply refer to them as private schools.
Believe it or not, private language schools constitute the majority of teaching jobs in Korea.
Many of the big private schools in cities like Seoul, Incheon and Busan will employ 10-15 western teachers at a single school! Public schools only hire 1 foreign teacher per which is a big difference.
Schools in this sector are essentially for profit companies and their business is English education. In order to attend these schools students pay tuition on a month by month or semester basis. The industry is insanely ENORMOUS with Korean parents spending billions of dollars on private education every year. As of 2016 there were over 70,000 registered hagwons in Korea, WOW! However, not all private hagwons teach English, there are hagwon’s for every subject from math and science to painting and music. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any reliable stats on the number or percentage of hagwons that specialize in English education but it’s fair to say there are thousands of them.
The quality of private schools varies…A LOT! Most hagwons are decent, offering comfortable working conditions and good apartments, some are totally amazing and provide excellent conditions while others are rather horrible and will make you want to change jobs after the first month.
3B. Public & Private School Differences
Both sectors offer comparable salaries and benefits. There are a number of small differences, such as class size and starting dates which are compared in the table on the following page, although, there are a few major differences too which we’ll explain in greater detail.
Number of western teachers at the school: Public schools only hire 1 foreign teacher but private schools hire lots. The number of foreign teachers per private school varies, some have 5 to 10 while others have 20+. If you’re keen on having a support network around you with fellow Americans, Canadian, Brits, etc. then pursuing jobs in the private sector is recommended.
Co-teaching: All foreign teachers working in the public system will have a Korean co-teacher. Both teachers will work in unison and share mutual responsibility for lesson planning, classroom teaching, classroom management, marking homework and testing. Some foreigners prefer this system others don’t, it’s a personal preference. Private school teachers are on their own, meaning, they manage the classes independently. In case you’re wondering, private schools only have 10 – 15 students per class so classroom management is a little easier. Public schools have 30+ students per class, you get the idea.
Location: The last major difference is about location – where you will live and work during the duration of your contract. Public schools have a unique way of allocating new teachers to vacant positions. Candidates are allowed to make requests for specific cities or provinces but applications are approved on a first come, first served basis. Furthermore, because you’re applying to a program, not a specific school, you won’t find out where you’ll be living and working until after your visa documents are submitted and processed.
Locations with private schools are handled differently because you’re applying to specific schools, not a program or education office. As such you will know exactly where you’ll be living and working before you’re asked to submit your documents.
3C. How Much Can You Earn and Save?
Most people are able to save 1000 USD per month, obviously some save
more and others less depending on their lifestyle but 1000 is a reasonable
expectation. It’s possible to save this much each month, roughly half of your totally salary, because schools provide RENT FREE apartments and living costs, such as utilities, transport and entertainment, are substantially cheaper than the West.
Teaching privately on the side (tutoring) is technically illegal but most teachers do it anyways because it’s highly lucrative. Many teachers earn an extra 500 – 1000 per month (in cash) from one-on-one tutoring.
4. HOW TO LAND A TEACHING JOB IN KOREA
4A. Recruiters, Job Boards, EPIK Office & Referral
RECRUITING AGENCIES are still the primary ‘job fillers’ for Korean schools and the go-to method for the majority of people looking for paid teaching gigs. A recruiter serves two parties; the customer (per-se) which is people like you, the teacher candidate, and the schools which are basically their clients. Ultimately recruiting agencies are playing match maker by matching candidates who are searching for jobs with schools that are searching for teachers.
The benefit of using a recruiter is pretty straight forward, they collect a fee each time they place a new teacher at one of their clients’ schools. This means the recruiter has a personal interest in assisting you, because their incentive is getting paid, pretty simple concept.
The problem is, recruiting companies (and individual recruiting agents) aren’t equal and what you get in terms of support, assistance and job offers, will vary. If you decide to use a recruiter, which you should definitely take advantage of, make sure they have a good track record and have been in business for a few years, at least. The last thing you want is a fly by night recruiter who ends up disappearing (yes it happens in this industry) mid-way through your job or visa application. General rule of thumb, if you have a bad feeling, move on, there are countless recruiters that deal with Korean schools.
Two recruiting agencies we can recommend are Gone2Korea and Travel and Teach. In addition to knowing some happy customers who used their services, both agencies have lots of good reviews and feedback from credible online sources.
JOB BOARDS are another way to begin job hunting. There are 2 ways to utilize a job board; post your profile along with your employment preferences and wait for recruiters or schools to present you with opportunities. Or browse the active job listings and apply to the listings you’re interested in.
The downside to using job boards is that your personal information is totally public (assuming you post your profile) so you’ll end up getting contacted by a lot of dodgy recruiters and employers. If you don’t mind filtering through all the noise, using a job board will likely do the trick, if not, stick with a small group of hand selected recruiters or consider the next option through the EPIK office.
The English Program in Korea, commonly known as EPIK, is a government funded program that’s responsible for interviewing and screening applicants for public school teaching jobs. They’re also responsible for allocating successful applicants to the different Education Offices around the country. To be clear, EPIK is NOT a government funded recruiting agency and the people they employ have zero incentive for helping you land a job. It’s essentially their responsibility to conduct ‘quality control’ on candidates to ensure the Education Offices get the best teachers possible.
If you’re only interested in pursuing public school jobs then you will need to go through EPIK in one way or the other. The first way is to apply directly to the EPIK office. Applying directly means you’re on your own and will need to prepare your application materials and conduct the interviews without advice or consultation. The only other way to apply for public school jobs, and the method we recommend, is using a recruiter who specializes in EPIK. It’s obviously your call to make but using a recruiter will ensure your application has the best chance of success.
The final way to job hunt is by REFERRAL or WORD OF MOUTH. Unfortunately this scenario only works if you have a trust worthy contact with someone who is currently teaching in Korea. If you have a reliable source that’s willing to introduce you to a reputable school then it’s definitely worth pursuing as long as you’re interested in the student age groups and location of the school. You’ll still need to conduct an interview in this scenario but it does eliminate the ‘hunting’ part of the job hunt.
4B. When You Need To Begin Applying
There are two factors to consider here; when the jobs begin and when those jobs become available (i.e. when you need to start applying).
Public schools bring in new English teachers at the start of each semester, March 1st and September 1st (typically referred to as the spring and fall hiring sessions). However, in order to land one of these jobs you’ll need to apply 4-6 months in advance. Basically, if you pursue the March hiring session then you should plan to apply in August or September of the previous year. Likewise, you’ll want to apply in February or March of the same year if you decide to pursue a September start date. Make sense?
Private schools hire new teachers all year long but the lion’s share of opportunities are available in March and September just like the public school gigs. There are usually decent private school job prospects in April/May and October/November as well. Applying 3-4 months in advance of your chosen start date is usually adequate.
4C. How To Prepare – Top Tips & Advice
Before we fire off some tips it’s important to understand a crucial part of the process. You cannot apply for a work visa and then go looking for a job – that’s not how it works. Korean Immigration will only issue English teaching visas to candidates who have job offers from registered schools. To sum it up, you need a sponsor (i.e. a school that wants to hire you) before you can apply for the visa, not vice versa.
The resume you send to schools and recruiters is very important. Both parties (schools and recruiters) will automatically make assumptions about you (it’s inevitable) based on your resume & photo. Before you send your resume out, make sure it’s up-to-date, formatted in a way that’s easy to read (Koreans aren’t native English speakers) and highlights any teaching related experience you have. Teaching, tutoring, mentoring and coaching (paid or volunteer gigs) are all relevant so make a section at the top of your resume that says ‘WORK RELATED EXPERIENCE’ and put it in!
Make sure you look your best in the photo you decide to use. Your photo should say ‘friendly and professional’ (metaphorically speaking) to potential employers.
Remember, unless you majored in education at university, or you have a valid teaching license, you’ll need to get TEFL certified in order to qualify for public school positions. TEFL certifications aren’t mandatory for private school jobs but schools in this sector obviously prefer candidates who have a basic understanding of English teaching. In short, having a TEFL certification on your resume will make you’re application more appealing to recruiters and schools.
FYI: Most TEFL courses aren’t very difficult and can be completed from the convenience of home (online courses) during your free time. We’ve included some TEFL info in the resources section.
If your resume, photo and credentials are very important, which they are, then interviews are paramount! You’ll need to impress during your interview(s) otherwise you won’t receive offers, it’s as simple as that! Preparing for your interview in advance is an important part of the process. Ultimately Korean employers are looking for candidates who will be able to adapt to Korean culture and control a classroom filled with students, therefore, it’s key to demonstrate clear and confident speaking skills in a friendly but professional manner. FYI: Most interviews are conducted via Skype with video, make sure you look your best when conducting video interviews.
ONE EPIK APPLICATION
You can only apply for public school jobs through EPIK once per hiring session and this includes using a recruiter – because public school candidates get filtered through the same pipeline. This means you can’t apply directly with EPIK and then apply again through a recruiter, you need to decide which method you’ll use in advance.
NO LIMIT ON PRIVATE SCHOOLS
There is no limit on how many private schools you apply with. Similarly, there is no limit on the number of recruiters you work with for private schools. However, don’t overdo it because many recruiters work together and/or have the same clients (schools generally work with multiple recruiting agencies in order to draw from a bigger pool of candidates) and if they know you applied with 10 other agencies they’re not going to spend much time working with you. Our advice, start off by applying with 2-3 agencies. If things aren’t working out then apply to a few more.
AVOID ‘PROGRAMS’ THAT REQUIRE FEES
By all means, avoid companies that promote teaching jobs as ‘teach in Korea programs’ that require some type of fee. Businesses that require fees for helping you land a job are complete nonsense and a waste of time and money. These so called programs are nothing more than B2B referrals, you apply with them and they immediately pass your application over to a partner recruiting agency.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED
Failing an interview is totally normal and part of the process so don’t stress it, seriously! It’s important to remember that most schools are interviewing multiple candidates for each job opening but they can only offer 1 job to 1 person. Failing doesn’t mean the school thinks you’re a poor candidate, it just means they felt one of the other candidates was a better fit. Who knows, maybe you’re a boy but the school wanted a girl teacher this time, maybe you’re an Aussie but the school preferred someone with an American accent, etc. There are countless reasons for failing an interview but again, it’s totally normal so learn from it and move on to the next one.
There’s one teaching program in Korea, called the TALK Program that accepts applicants who haven’t completed their bachelor’s level degree. In order to qualify for this program you need to have a college certificate, or some university courses.
4D. Job & Visa Process – Start to Finish!
COMMIT TO A START DATE
Decide when you can start a teaching contract in Korea and start planning accordingly.
DECIDE ON A SECTOR
Applying for jobs in both sectors (applying for public and private schools simultaneously) is possible but job offers come and go very fast in this industry so having a preference for one or the other in advance will make things easier come decision time!
START PREPARING YOUR DOCUMENTS (2 Parts)
PREPARE YOUR RESUME & PHOTO
Update your resume so it’s tailored for teaching English as a second language and choose a good photo that says I’m friendly & professional. Reference letters may also be needed depending on the kind of jobs you pursue. Now’s the time to start thinking about potential sources.
BEGIN ORGANIZING YOUR VISA DOCUMENTS (to apply for your visa later on)
Acquiring your criminal record check, notarizations, sealed transcripts and other documents isn’t complicated but it does take time. Determine how much time will be needed for each document and make a time table to stay on top on things.
DECIDE HOW YOU WILL APPLY FOR JOBS
Will you be using a recruiting agency, if so which ones? Maybe you’ll use job boards instead, or apply directly to the EPIK office (if your goal is a public school gig), either way it’s best to get your ducks in a row before you go job hunting. If it’s your first time teaching abroad then using a reputable recruiter is recommended.
It’s go time now! Submit your application to the recruiter(s) you selected, post your profile on some job boards, or apply to the EPIK office. Some recruiters will want to speak with you before they begin presenting you to Korean schools. This is the perfect time to ask questions and take notes.
REVIEW JOB OFFERS & CONDUCT INTERVIEWS WITH SCHOOLS
Your initial efforts are starting to show results now. Review job offers and accept interviews with the respective schools. If you’re interviewing with private schools, ask the school or recruiter for one of the current western teachers contact
details so you can fire him/her some questions. If you’re interviewing with EPIK, for public schools, you’ll have time at the end of the interview to ask questions.
ACCEPT A POSITION & SIGN A CONTRACT
It’s really happening! If your private school interview is successful, the school will make a job offer and provide you with a contract. Sign the contract and send it back to the school or recruiter. If you didn’t pass the first interview, don’t sweat it, you’ll do better on the next one. If you interviewed with EPIK for a public school gig, you’ll receive a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ status. If you pass, you’ll be asked to submit your visa
documents for processing. If you fail, don’t sweat it, there are lots of great jobs in the private sector.
SUBMIT YOUR VISA DOCUMENTS
It’s time to make it official! Submit all of your visa related documents to Korean Immigration for processing. This includes your background check, notarized copy of degree, transcripts, etc.
RECEIVE VISA ISSUANCE AND APPLY FOR YOUR WORK VISA
Almost done! Once Korean Immigration finishes processing your work visa you will receive a ‘visa issuance number’. Take or send your visa issuance number along with your passport to the Korean consulate in your area. The consulate will place the work visa right in your passport and send it back. Congrats, now you’re ready to teach in Korea legally, wooo-whooo!
PREPARE FOR YOUR DEPARTURE
Pack your bags and book your ticket! If you landed a private school job then chances are the school will pay for your flight in advance. Public schools will give you an entrance allowance after your arrive.
And that’s it, you’re now teaching in Korea!
5. MAKE IT HAPPEN
To make this happen you need to stop thinking and start doing! The fact is, becoming a teacher in Korea is not that hard, 1000’s of people just like you do it every year. If you already have TEFL or you majored in education then you’re already good to go for the majority of jobs in Korea. If not then why not kick start your overseas teaching aspirations by starting a TEFL course. Not only will it qualify you for most of the positions and prepare you for the role, it will literally get you motivated and itching to go!
5A. Get TEFL Certified
Is having a TEFL certification really necessary for teaching at a Korean Public School? It actually depends on your other credentials. We’ll explain. Getting your TEFL is only mandatory for these jobs if you have an unrelated major. To qualify for these opportunities, you’ll need to meet one of these qualification levels:
– Bachelor’s degree in Education
– Or, Bachelor’s degree in any discipline + TEFL or TESOL certificate
– Or, Bachelor’s degree in any discipline + Teacher’s License
As you can see, unless you majored in education or have a valid teaching license, you’ll need to get TEFL certified to qualify.
Private schools don’t have a unified policy on applicant credentials like the public schools do – these schools set their own requirements. It’s safe to say, some private schools hire candidates without TEFL, although they obviously prefer candidates who have it. Basically, it’s not mandatory for all schools in this sector but it’s definitely advantageous because it will qualify you for more/better opportunities. FYI: Having TEFL is pretty standard for landing jobs with schools in the big cities like Seoul where competition is higher.
Are the any TEFL requirements, such as number of course hours, or am I free to choose any TEFL course I want?
You’re free to choose any online, in-class or combination course you want, obviously, as long as it meets the following criterion.
– The course must be accredited
– The course must consist of 100 hours or more (courses under 100hrs are not accepted by schools in Korea)
FYI: The EPIK office (public school program) said they prefer it if candidates have a TEFL certification that includes a 20hr in-class or teaching practice component, however, online only courses are still widely accepted.
Compare different Online CoursesOnline TEFL Courses
Compare different Combined CoursesCombined TEFL Courses
Thanks for reading, we hope it was useful!
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions about teaching in Korea or TEFL certification ~ we’re always happy to chat about these things!