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esl teacher in japan still deciding between teaching english in japan or south korea

If you’ve decided you want to teach English in East Asia, adventure awaits you.

The TEFL market is huge, and there are plenty of opportunities for English-speaking teachers.

Two of the most popular countries to teach in are Japan and South Korea.

Both offer a wide range of jobs, the potential for a great salary, and a unique cultural experience that you’ll never forget. 

But how do you choose between them?

Here’s a breakdown of the main considerations to help you decide between teaching English in Japan vs. Korea:

  1. Am I eligible to teach English in Japan or South Korea?
  2. What types of TEFL jobs are available?
  3. What is the salary and lifestyle like for TEFL teachers in Japan?
  4. What is the salary and lifestyle like for TEFL teachers in South Korea?
  5. What is the culture like in Japan and South Korea?

1. Am I eligible to teach English in Japan or South Korea?

The entry criteria for English teaching jobs in Japan and South Korea are the same.

In order to get a work visa, teachers must:

  • Be a native speaker with a passport from the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand.
  • Have a Bachelor’s degree in any subject.
  • Have a clean criminal record.
  • Be under the age of 60 (in Japan) or 62 (in South Korea).

Many schools also require teachers to have a TEFL certificate or even a Bachelor’s degree in Education.

When you apply for a visa, it is also possible you will have to pass a health and drug test.

2. What kind of TEFL jobs are available?

There are generally plenty of jobs for English teachers on offer in both Japan and South Korea. 

TEFL teachers can choose between various kinds of teaching jobs, depending on interest and availability.

Types of English teaching jobs in Japan

Below are a few examples of teaching jobs that English teachers can do in Japan. But there are countless additional programs you can apply for

While the competition for jobs in Japan can be tough, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Teach with the JET program

The JET program is run by the Japanese government to place recent college graduates in teaching assistant roles in the elementary and junior high schools throughout Japan.

Teaching assistants typically work for around eight hours a day, teaching four lessons to classes of 35-40 students. 

Contracts usually start in April or September and last until March the following year.

Teach at a private language school

Also known as English conversation schools or Eikaiwas, private language schools in Japan cater to children, teens, and adults taking English lessons outside of school or work. 

Hours can be variable, and classes are typically in the evening with 1 – 15 students. 

Most teachers work five days a week for around 26.6 hours. Contracts normally last for 12 months and include a completion bonus. 

Teach at a university

Teaching English at a university in Japan generally means higher pay. 

Teachers often start teaching through specific programs that place them in university positions.

Hours can vary, and some teachers work part-time contracts at multiple universities. 

Types of English teaching jobs in South Korea

We have compiled a list of teaching jobs that English teachers can do in South Korea. 

As there are plenty of teaching roles available, finding a position in South Korea is relatively easy for applicants who meet the entry criteria.

Teach with the EPIK program

The EPIK program is run by the Korean Ministry of Education and places teachers on one-year contracts in public schools throughout the country, assisting Korean teachers and helping to deliver lessons to classes of 25-30 students.

Working hours are typically eight hours a day, five days a week, with weekends off. Contracts normally begin in February or August.

Teach in a private school

Teaching in a Hagwon, or private school, involves teaching kids, teens, and adults often out of regular school or work hours. Class sizes are normally around 10-15 students.

Hours can be up to 30 a week but are often flexible, and salaries can be competitive. 

Benefits for teachers such as free flights and accommodations, make hagwons a popular choice for many English teachers looking to teach in South Korea. 

Teach in a university 

Typically, universities have a preference for highly qualified candidates who have completed a master’s degree or higher level of education. 

Pay is competitive and teachers are often given generous holidays. 

3. What is the salary and lifestyle like for TEFL teachers in Japan?

Teaching English in Japan typically earns teachers in public or private schools a salary of ¥260,000 ($2,200) – ¥300,000 ($2,625) per month, with the highest salaries found in private schools.

This amount should be enough to afford a comfortable lifestyle in Japan, with money left over for eating out and leisure activities. 

However, teachers wanting to save money while living in Japan will have to spend more frugally.

There is also a big difference in costs for teachers who live in the countryside or in the capital, Tokyo, which is more expensive. 

4. What is the salary and lifestyle like for TEFL teachers in South Korea?

English teachers working in public schools or hagwons in South Korea can expect a salary of 1.8 million KRW ($1,468) – 3.0 million KRW ($2,445) per month. 

The highest salaries can be found in hagwons, for experienced teachers, meaning those who have worked there for more than one year.

Life in South Korea is generally affordable!

This means that even lower teaching salaries are generally enough to afford a comfortable lifestyle, especially if free accommodation is included in your contract. 

Of course, your salary will go further if you live in a smaller city or rural area. 

But teaching English in South Korea should leave you with money for eating out, shopping, travel and plenty left over at the end of the month to add to your savings.

5. What is the culture like in Japan and South Korea?

Japan and South Korea have their own distinct cultures.

However, they do offer some of the same benefits to ex-pats living there. 

Both cultures have deep historical roots and thriving modern subcultures.

Japan and South Korea also have their own unique cuisines, with a wealth of delicious dishes and snacks, from ramen and sushi to kimchi and bibimbap.

Japan has a huge range of natural landscapes from snowy mountains in the north, to tropical beaches in the south. Throughout the country, you can find stunning temples and traditional architecture alongside cities filled with cutting-edge technology. 

Japan’s high-speed rail network makes travel around the country easy.

South Korea is smaller than Japan, but there is still plenty to see. 

Traditional temples and palaces are dotted throughout the country and there are also stunning natural sights, including the volcanic Jeju island. 

For a vibrant nightlife experience, be sure to visit the capital of South Korea, Seoul. 

An extensive bus and train network makes travel around South Korea easy and affordable!

Ready to teach English in Japan or South Korea?

The similarities between the types of contracts and working conditions offered in Japan and South Korea mean that making a choice between the two could come down to the details. 

Which culture do you feel more drawn to? Is saving money a priority? Are you keen to pick up the Japanese or Korean language?

Whichever you choose, one thing is for sure: there are plenty of exciting job opportunities for English teachers in both Japan and South Korea. 

All that’s left for you to do is to start applying!

Find more teaching jobs around the globe at Teach Away.

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