10 Benefits of Teaching English in South Korea

Teaching English in South Korea

Korea is one of the highest paying countries to teach English in. But it isn’t only money that is good. There is a plethora of other benefits of teaching English in South Korea.

After I left university, one of my desires was to teach English abroad. I looked up every possible country that I could imagine, ranging from big cities in the Middle East, through to small Polynesian islands, isolated for thousands of miles. I weighed up all the pros and cons of each country, read through mountains of online material, and in the end, I finally settled on teaching in South Korea.

I spent one year teaching kids of all ages and a few adult classes. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t go back to teach in Korea, here are my top ten benefits of teaching English in South Korea. Sometimes I miss it.

Money

Although teaching is an experience, it is still a job. From a job, we get money. In Korea, that money is rather good. Typically salaries start from around two million won a month, although even as a first timer it isn’t difficult to get 2.2 million (or 2.3 with a TEFL). University jobs can get just over 3 million a month (look up the exchange rates on xe.com). On top of this, if you complete a 12 month contract, they will also pay for your airfare in both directions AND give you a one months bonus; this totalled over £2000 for me. Tax is incredibly low (around 3%) and as detailed below, the cost of living is very low compared to Europe, Oceania, and North America. A lot of teachers also make extra money by teaching private classes outside their regular classes; this is illegal and can lead to you losing your job, your bonus, and your airfare. Although some employers will turn a blind eye to these activities, I have seen people lose everything. Another bonus is that all national holidays are paid and if you are lucky, your school may also offer you extra vacation time. It varies between nothing (my school) and a month, although university teachers sometimes get several months paid vacation each year. [Note: Increase your potential salary by studying for a TEFL certification.]

E-2 Visa Sponsorship

To legally work in South Korea, it is essential to acquire an E2 working visa. Many countries won’t help you acquire a visa because the supply of teachers matches the availabiltiy of teachers. Because Korea is very keen on getting more (good quality) teachers into the country, they will fully aid you with the visa application process. Upon arrival, my school took me to my apartment and then to the hospital for my health and drug tests (if you are found to have drugs in your system, you cannot get your E2 visa). Shortly afterwards I received my residency card and became a fully fledged legal alien.

Medical Coverage

Your employer will contribute half of your medical insurance, while the other half is deducted from your wages, along with your pension contribution. This ensures that you will receive free medical treatment all year round, as long as you keep your alien residency card on you (I had a slight problem splitting my head open in a batting cage when I didn’t have my card on me). As a UK citizen, the pension money cannot be touched until retirement in the UK (although other countries receive it as a lump sum upon departure), so I arranged with my school to cancel my pension. This also meant that my medical insurance had to be cancelled as they are paid together. I arranged my own travel insurance with a UK company and the total cost was considerably less than if I had continued with the combined cost of Korean medical contribution and pension.

Pre-arranged jobs

Using one of the many agencies online, it is very easy to arrange a job before you leave your own country. Interviews will be done over the phone and when you arrive, your life will be ready to go. You don’t need to waste time organising housing or setting yourself up. In fact, sometimes the time is a little too short. Many teachers will arrive on a Saturday or a Sunday, only to start teaching or observing on the Monday morning.

No Teaching Certificates Required

Although a CELTA / DELTA / TEFL certification can make it easier to find a job and increase your wage, it is not necessary to have one in order to obtain a job.

Free Fully Furnished Housing

Although they are not the most luxurious of apartments, housing in Korea is generally spacious enough for single people (or couples when in a couple apartment), and includes everything that you need to live. Check the specifics with your employer before you arrive, but generally housing includes all bedding, cooking utensils, a fridge, and a washing machine. I also had a table and chairs, a sofa, and a large television. Normally the housing doesn’t include an oven because most food in Korea is cooked over gas rings.

Low cost of Living

Coupled with all the money you have after tax, the cost of living in Korea isn’t too bad. Like all countries, it is much more expensive in Seoul (because it’s the capital). However, you will comfortably have enough money to go out for dinner (Korean restaurants are very cheap), take taxis when you need them, and spend weekends away. In my experience, I would generally go out for dinner and drinks several times a week, then go away every other weekend. Unfortunately, groceries in South Korea are not cheap. If you like to drink alcohol, beer is typically around £1.50-£2.50 a pint, but you can get Korean drinks for very small amounts of money. These include makgeolli, soju, and fruit wines amongst others.

Large Foreign Teacher Community

There is a huge community of foreign teachers in Korea, primarily from the UK, US, and Ireland. There are also many teachers from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. If you ever feel a bit far from home, it is easy to find people who grew up in similar places to you. In my city (Daegu), I knew without fail, that if I walked into one of the five bars that foreigners frequented, I was guaranteed to find someone or a great many people that I knew. Within Korea, there are also a lot of foreigner sub communities such as vegan and eco-warrier groups. The national sports leagues are also a lot of fun, primarily football and softball although smaller leagues (Irish sports and ruby) are also catered for.

24 Hour Shops Everywhere

Wherever you are in Korea, you aren’t more than a two minute walk from a Family-Mart, GS25, or 7-11; the three main convenience stores that have flooded this country. Thus if you need another beer at 6 in the morning, look no further than the flashy lights.

Travel Opportunities

Korea is a small country and easy to get around. On regular weekends you can head to the mountains for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, or to the islands and beaches in the South. On a long weekend, it is very possible to go away to China or Japan by boat, or elsewhere in Asia by aeroplane. Upon contract completion, most teachers spend a few weeks or months travelling around Asia with the money that they have accumulated over the past year.

Life is Easy

OK, so I can’t count, this is eleven. Screw the maths degree, I was an English teacher for a year. I have to add this one. Teaching in South Korea was sometimes like being at University, but with more money than I had ever had and no homework. I started teaching around 4 pm and it was feasible to go out late in the evening, rest in the morning, and then teach your kids. Planning for classes isn’t difficult with a little practise and you will rarely get called out for being off your game. You look at the money you’re making for the amount of effort you have to put in and you think, wow, I have a good deal going here.

If you have any more comments or questions about the benefits of being a teacher in South Korea, please leave a message below, or contact me. You can also read about why I wouldn’t teach in Korea again and the best things to do when visiting Korea. If you want to teach in Korea, read about how to get a job teaching English in South Korea.

93 Comments

  • Hi. Well, teaching abroad sounds nice and for some it is a great experience, not so for a friend of mine. He got a job teaching in Greece, which unfortunately didn’t turn out so well. He had a lot of hours and the pay was low, he eventually found himself without enough cash to reach the end of the month. In the end he devised a plan, he convinced the owner of the school to give him an advance and with that he fled the country. By train he got as far as Istanbul where he was met by his dad who had an extra plane ticket. The moral is, before you go think of all the bad things that could possibly happen, and be ready to solve them. Good luck!

  • Hi,

    I’m from the Philippines and I am licensed English teacher here in our country although I haven’t been practicing teaching since I got my license. However, I am really interested in teaching in South Korea. Do you know where I can apply for jobs online? I am kind of scared of just googling about it cause I might end up getting scammed or something. Hope you’ll respond. I’ll be waiting. Thanks!

    • I worked Monday to Friday, normally 3-10pm. Wednesdays I sometimes only worked for an hour. My hours changed and at one point I was only working 4-9pm. Check with potential employers what your hours will be before signing.

  • I have just one more question 🙂
    Sorry to bother you!!

    Do they cater to couples working together? I am wondering if there are agencies out there that can guarantee both of us a job in the same area or school?

    Thank you so much

    • Yes, that is very much possible. All agencies should offer this – just make your needs clear when applying. Best of luck.

  • ***I live in Canada. Sorry about that.

    Also, do you have any advice for certain agencies we should stay away from??

  • Hi Jamie

    i was just wondering regarding the info on certification like TEFL etc… Do we just contact agencies and give out our resumes, if we do not apply for a certification??? I have just begun researching teaching opportunities in Korea, so I am not so sure. I like in Canada at the moment.

  • Hey,
    Just wondered whether you managed to save much money whilst teaching in Korea? I love to travel and am wanting to teach English in Korea so that I am able to travel for a year or so afterwards. If you did, do you mind me asking how much and whether you had to forfeit much budget wise in order to achieve this?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • I think it is hard to leave Korea without saving any money – the final pay (upon leaving) is around two months salary as you get a one month bonus for completing your 12 month contract. Thus, this is like a saving because it is money you have when you leave. I went out for dinner often, took taxis all the time, and went away on many trips, so I didn’t save much (compared to others), but I still saved a couple of thousand pounds. However, I have heard of people who have managed to save $10-15k in a year.

  • Hi Jamie!

    I’m currently studying Teacher Education in Primary/Elementary at a university in Australia. There will be a group of us that will be going to Korea in late-Aug this year in teaching at a couple of elementary schools in Gangnam-Gu, Seoul for two weeks.

    This is an exciting opportunity to do this in teaching abroad for a short-time.

    I’m very curious to how the teaching style is like with the Korean teachers teaching English language. What was the teachers and students’ level of English from your first experience in walking into a new school in Korea & your interaction with them? What kind of class schedules or structure do they have each day in elementary school? Also, what kind of activities did you do and use to effectively learn English?

    Sorry I am asking a lot of questions but it would be great to hear from someone like you with a insightful view and perspective in teaching abroad to Korea.

    • I found it completely varies from school to school as I worked in / visited six different schools in Korea. Generally everyone is very friendly and polite which is nice. As for activities, each teacher finds what works for them, but I often liked to tell stories and engage the kids by getting them to ask questions. I often pitched them creative writing / speaking tasks which I think is lacking in the Korean curriculum. Of course, they love games, so if you can find a way to play and learn at the same time, kids enjoy that.

  • We’re there a lot of other foreigners teaching at your school that you could hang around with? How long did it take you to meet people?

    • My particular school had three foreign teachers in my first branch and six in my second branch. There are huge foreign teacher communities in cities in Korea and I found it really easy to meet people.

  • Hi Jamie. Thank you for posting this article, very informative and helpful. I am British citizen and hold a bachelors degree from the UK. I want to teach abroad, preferably in South Korea or Malaysia, but I’m only available until mid-July due to other commitments. Most recruiters offer contracts that last no longer than a year. Is it possible to negotiate a shorter contract, or to even break contract before its expires? How strict are the schools on contracts, and what are the consequences of breaking one? I am also keen to teach in rural areas or small towns, away from the major towns and cities. Are there any agencies out there that specialize in advertising teaching jobs in certain areas of a country? Thanks.

    • Almost all contracts I encountered were one year. Once (literally) I met someone on a six month contract. I think it would be difficult to find a short contract, but you might get lucky. If you break your contract you lose your contract completion bonus and airfare (worth up to about 4 to 5 million won), but nothing more serious than that. Most agencies have jobs in cities and in rural areas. Try contacting Joseph here, a recruiter I work with – hopefully he should be able to help you out. Best of luck.

  • HI Jamie, I am planning on applying for August semester. I am currently a Education major senior at an american university. I will also be certified in English as a second language. The issue is all of certifications will most likely not be available until July. Can I still apply to start in August? Thanks.

  • I am currently going through the visa process to teach in South Korea. How did you get your visa? Do I apply for my visa in the UK or can I receive my visa once arrived in Korea? Please help shed some light.
    Thanks

  • There aree countless ways to make money online but there is a lot to
    leafn as well.

  • Hi there,

    I am considering teaching English in South Korea, and I wondered, in your experience, are women culturally treated any different to men?

    I don’t think that the answer would impact my desicion, but it would be good to have a heads up if there is anything massively different to life in the UK?

    Thanks,

    Rachael

    • Yes, but for foreigners, not in any largely negative way as far as I can tell. Boys and girls seem to like it just as much, so I don’t think you would have any big shock as a female. Try contacting Leah as she will be able to tell you more about this (as a girl).

  • Hie!!!! very informative post indeed. I wanted to know, since the contract is only for 12 months. What if you want to work for a period of 10 years does that mean you would have to look for new job offers or contracts while still in South Korea or you would have to re-apply from your home country

    • You have to renegotiate a new contract each year, but this is done in Korea. Assuming your school likes you and they are closing down, this shouldn’t be a problem and many of my friends have stayed for many years. Applying through a government school is a good way to have a long-term, secure job, although working in the private sector gives you more room for negotiation. Best of luck to you.

  • I love your blog! My husband and I both have degrees and are native English speakers but we have a 2 year old and an 8 year old. Would a school likely be willing to accept both of us as teachers and provide us proper housing, and other common needs we may have for our family? Did you meet any families teaching in Korea? Thank you!

    • Several of my friends went to Korea and ended up staying for so long that they had children there. I also knew lots of couples who got ‘couple jobs’. I don’t know how immigration responds to dependents, but I shouldn’t think it would be a problem, so try getting in contact with some agencies and asking them, as they should be able to provide you with a better answer. You can also choose to take a monthly housing allowance (instead of having housing provided) and find your own house. If you don’t speak Korean, this may be a little tricky at first. Good luck to all four of you!

    • Regarding using recruiting agencies, make sure you do your homework! Not all recruiters are created equal. I used Reach to Teach Recruiting and they were by far the worst recruiter I could have used. It’s bad enough to be pushed toward jobs that you don’t really want (a lot of them do this), but to be lied to about the job is beyond crossing the line. Stay away from Reach to Teach and approach recruiters with skepticism- there are good ones and bad ones out there.

      • Sorry about your bad experiences Monica, agencies really can be a minefield can’t they? I used to get called in the early hours of the morning by agencies who hadn’t even bothered to read I was in European not American timezones, offering me jobs that were completely contradictory to what I was looking for.

  • Your article is too good. Some amazing place listed in my mind so i was confused where to teach English.The article for benefits of teaching English in South Korea is vry helpful to me.Though i was thinking what i will do, where i will go to teach English in abroad. You have solved my confusion. Some points are vry helpful related money also.i have read your article it is good that many angiencies are arranging jobs before we reach there. Also life becomes very easy. I think i would love to teach in South Korea.
    Thanks for sharing an wonderful post and ideas to teach at South Koreais one of of the best place. Loved to read your article and even like to read some comments on this post.

  • Hi Jamie.

    First of all, I enjoyed reading the article.

    I would like to find out if it is a requirement to have a university degree to teach in Korea?

    Thank you, looking forward to your reply.

  • Hi,

    I actually taught English last year in a very remote city in the jungles of Borneo to students in grades 1-8. It was by far one of the most difficult and amazing experiences of my life. I’ve been back in the US for about 8 months and finding myself not enjoying living here as much anymore. I have the adventure itch and am trying to figure out a new game plan. Like you, I realized teaching wasn’t really for me, but it doesn’t mean it’s something I can’t do. I recently sent my resume to a link I randomly found online and they called me within a day or two. I haven’t made any decisions but am curious if you think some cities would be better than others? Are the children difficult to teach? How strict are they in being on top of you for lesson plans and whatnot? Do you have to write your own tests? I struggled a lot with the younger children in Indonesia but they couldn’t speak or understand English. I had a much better experience with the older kids. Sorry for the essay, just looking for some insight. Thanks!

    • That sounds like a pretty awesome place to be teaching. If you are going to Korea, I would highly recommend Jeju Island, ideally not in the main city. I lived in Seogwipo and I liked it there. If you are in a city on the mainland, Gyeongju would probably be my pick. These thoughts are based upon my dislike of living in big cities so you may feel differently. I found the kids super easy to teach and the Koreans mostly let you get on with whatever – however this varies from school to school as I worked in the private (hagwon) sector where there is no standard mode of practice. In my school, the Korean teachers wrote the tests and English teachers were there mostly for speaking practice. Little kids were my favourite because they were yet to have their souls crushed by the oppressive education regime.

  • Hi there! I see that this post is two years old, but I still found it to be very valuable (as well as your reasons not to teach in South Korea) – so thank you. I have been working in marketing since I graduated college in 2012 and to be honest, the boring desk-life is killing me. I need some adventure, but I still need to pay my student loans. Teaching in South Korea seems like it could be a great option for a year or two. Do you have any programs that you could suggest for finding a job? Or even, how the heck to I get started!? There are so many sites, but I want to make sure I find the best organization to maximize my experience/pay. Thanks! Good luck and stay safe on your travels!

    • I used TEFL.com, Dave’s ESL Cafe, and agencies that I found through Google. Send out applications, pick the best options from the responses that you get. Best of luck.

  • An intriguing read indeed !
    After completion of my graduation I was really looking forward to teaching English in either South Korea/Russia and this post really makes the decision quite easy.

    How could I apply to schools/universities up there ? Did you directly contact schools or was it through a job portal ?

    Does a potential teacher need to know basic Korean or does this factor form a prerequisite ?

    I am from India, a diverse land which recognizes 38 officially spoken Languages. Will I have any difficulty in finding a teaching role ?

    • I used TEFL.com, Dave’s ESL Cafe, and agencies that I found through Google. Knowledge of Korean is not at all necessary. In Korea, to obtain a visa, I believe you need a passport from one of 7 countries (UK, US, Oz, NZ, Ire, SA, Ca) which is a stupid rule, but a pain if you are from India. Contact agencies, see if they can help maybe. Best of luck.

  • Would it be any more difficult for me to get a job teaching if I’m not a native English speaker? I was born in Colombia, but have lived in the United states for almost 10 years. I am an US citizen and hold a degree in environmental science from a school here in the us

    • As far as I am aware, the Korean immigration requires a passport of a ‘native English speaking country’ although their list excludes many native English speaking countries. Unfortunately there are some very silly rules in Korea.

  • Is it a requirement at the places to shave? Are people with beards looked at the wrong way? May sound silly but I’ve heard they will look at you strange…

    • Facial hair is not really approved of in Korea (children tell you it is dirty), but generally they don’t force you to shave. Each school is different however and they do request that you maintain a professional appearance. As many people have groomed facial hair as part of their ‘image,’ they are becoming much more accepting.

  • How did you go about speaking to your school about cancelling your medical insurance to use a private insurance, or did you just have to do it yourself?

  • Hello! I heard that foreign hagwon teachers get paid more than the Korean hagwon teachers. Is this true? I was just wondering what the benefits for me would be because I am fluent in both Korean and English (I’m a Korean citizen in the U.S. studying to become a teacher). Thank you!

    • Sadly, as far as I am aware, foreign hagwon teachers get paid almost double of what the Koreans get paid. However, as someone fluent in both English and Korean, I hope that you will be able to find a good job. Best of luck.

  • so my dad told me that english teachers in korea only teach for a certain amount of time before retiring and ending up jobless. i would really like to teach in korea but im worried about this. do teachers really only teach for like a year or two or three?

    • People sign one year contracts, then resign at the end of the year. Most people only stay for a few years although some stay for many decades. With the demand for jobs as it is, I can’t see the job market drying up for a long time yet.

  • Koreans are not racist.

    They’re staring and talking about you because you’re not Korean.
    This doesn’t mean they’re racist.
    I’ve had people stare at me in different parts of the world. We stare when we see something different. Koreans are very blunt people and this can get easily misinterpreted but they are very nice when you get to know them.
    Also, the younger generation are not racist and a lot friendlier than their parents.

    Remember that there are rude and racist people in every country.
    Please don’t stereotype them as racists.

    If you’re visibly foreign, then you can expect to be stared at any time you’re in public. Older Koreans especially will not be shy about watching you go about your mundane, day-to-day activities as if it were a movie. But don’t worry; it’s out of genuine curiosity and not any ill will.

    • There are indeed rude and racist people in every country. In Korea, I am generally treated very well. However, I stand out and get stared at for being different and attract attention when walking down the street. Using the word racist is maybe not correct, but we don’t really have a word in English – what I wanted to say was that people on Korea notice foreigners and make a point of paying attention to them and treating them differently from Koreans (not badly, just different). And yes, the younger generation are much friendlier. After Daegu, I spent nearly six months on Jeju island (not teaching) and very much enjoyed my time on the island.

  • Hey, so about teaching on the side. By lose everything you mean they lost their job or their heads to the headsman’s axe?
    I would like to be able to teach a few private lessons to supplement my income. It is a great gig if you are single, but I have a wife and 2 yr old. We would be fine in a two bedroom apartment. Do you think we could do this? thanks!

    • Yes indeed – I believe the punishment is deportation or at least a two million Won fine (I may be wrong though). If you ask your employer for a housing stipend instead of free housing, you should be able to find your own place to live which will be appropriate to your family – if you don’t do this, you will probably be given a one room studio.

  • Hi Jamie, thanks for the information.

    I read somewhere that South Koreans are very nationalistic to the extent that they can often be racist towards foreigners. Would you say that there’s any truth in this?

    • Yes, this is quite true from my experience. It is common to be stared at and talked about, but nothing worse than this.

  • Hey, I was wondering what school did you teach? Do you miss Korea? Was it worth the time being a teacher in South Korea? Also did you make a good living?

    • My school has closed now and I have returned to Korea for a few months, but not to teach. Some people love teaching, but it wasn’t my lifelong passion. You do make a good living here though.

  • Hi,

    I skipped university and did my qualifications at work. I’m still currently working in Tech support for my company but say If I were to take a different direction and do this, how would this affect the application process?

  • Hi I have a degree in Psychology,I use to teach part time,I’m 23 currently working as Project coordinator in events,I need to apply,When is the best time to contact the agencies?

  • Hi Jamie, I really enjoyed reading about your experiences in South Korea. I’ve always been interested in doing something like this, and as a 22 year old recent graduate I’m still trying to figure out what I want from life. I’m curious as to what your experience was with staying in contact with family/events from back home. I’m sure with modern technology like Skype that keeping up with family isn’t too much of a problem, but I’m just curious as to what your experience was like in that respect. What was it like being away from a familiar culture for that length of time?

    • With Skype, it is super easy to stay in touch with people. However, I did find a year a long time to be away from family. The culture is very different in Korea, but you soon adjust and there were lots of good people around to share in those experiences. Most people get on fine here, although occasionally (quite rarely) there are those who don’t make it through the year. If you go, I hope that you enjoy it.

  • Can you roughly sketch out how much you pay medical insurance and bills during your stay in Korea please?

    • I cancelled my medical insurance and bought travel insurance. Bills range from a couple of thousand won a month in summer to a couple of hundred thousand won in winter, dependent upon your electricity, gas, and water usage.

    • For the Korean visa I believe that you need a degree in any subject and to be from a country where English is an official language.

  • are Africans also allowed to teach in Korea.for example am coming from Ghana with a degree in English and 5 yrs experience. can I get a work there?

    • I believe that you need to be a native English speaker, so coming from Ghana, you shouldn’t have a problem. Contact some agencies to make sure, they know the visa process much better than I do.

  • I was wondering….because of the language barrier etc, is it easy to feel isolated in South Korea or is it fairly easy to meet people and make friends?

    Thank you!

    • Depends where you are: in Daegu I knew hundreds of foreigners, in Seogwipo I know very few. It also depends what you are looking for from your time here.

  • Great Article! I was wondering if you knew of/ had any suggestions about specific agencies that are better for getting favorable placements in terms of pay, vacation, etc. Also is there any chance of getting other part time jobs while you are in country (does the visa allow for this?)

    Thanks again for the great info!

    -Noah

  • Hi,

    If you don’t mind me asking, how much money can a teacher make, doing private lessons?

  • Hi!

    I was wondering, how much Korean do you need to be able to speak and understand? Are you required to be very fluent? And do you need to be able to read it as well?

  • I am currently a student and want to teach in South Korea during my Winter break, is this possible? Are there any programs like this? Please email back.

    • Difficult because most contracts are a year long. However, there are winter camps where you work for only one month, but they might not match up with your university dates.

  • Hey! How are you? I wonder if South-Korean schools would give a chance to non-native English teachers?

    Regards from Brazil.

  • I’ve heard from other blogs that the children can be difficult, not mean-spirited, but that you NEED a sense of humor to teach in South Korea. The name calling seemed most common, although at 5′ 1″, I don’t know if they can call me a giant. Did you experience anything similar?

    • I actually loved the children. However, my teaching style is very easy going and I push the kids to talk lots more than anything else (as opposed to being strict and focusing upon reading / writing). The most difficult thing about the children, was trying to get the older ones to enjoy themselves. By the time they reach high school, their spirits have been broken by the excessively high amount of schooling that they are subjected to. PS Koreans are pretty small too!

    • I worked for a Hagwon named Yale. Wonderful people and a decent school, but I believe that the school has largely de-sized or discontinued altogether now. English teaching is a fast moving business in Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve this if you are not a robot *