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.
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.
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.
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.
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.