South Korea is colloquially referred to as the Land of the Morning Calm, but for the millions of people who live, work and teach English there, it is the land of Korean BBQ, K-pop, and stunning natural beauty. Where else can you explore a secluded Buddhist monastery in the hills and, 20 minutes later, be in the center of one of the world’s largest and most vibrant metropolises?
Plus, Korea is home to some of the best food on the planet - a fact that Koreans themselves will be happy to remind you of at every opportunity! (Be warned: You will develop a serious kimchi addiction when you are there!)
South Korea has long been one of the most popular places to teach English abroad. For ESL teachers, Korea is like the goldilocks of countries. It boasts just the right balance of great pay, reasonable visa requirements and plenty of perks and benefits, even for first-time ESL teachers.
Given all that, along with a seemingly insatiable demand for ESL teachers, Korea is a great place to work both for new and experienced instructors.
What requirements do I need to meet to teach English in Korea?
If you want to teach English in Korea, you will need to apply for an E-2 (teaching) visa through your nearest Korean embassy or consulate. To qualify for an E-2 visa there are four minimum requirements that you absolutely must meet:
- Possess a bachelor’s degree/diploma from an accredited institution.
- Be a citizen of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. (Note: citizens of India may also be eligible if they have a teacher’s license in English. Also, if you are from Quebec then you may need to show that you are fluent in English, such as by possessing a degree/diploma from an English-speaking CEGEP or university).
- Pass a health and drug test.
- Have a clean national-level criminal record.
Remember that these are the minimum rules set down by the Korean immigration authorities simply to obtain a visa. Your employer may have additional requirements. For example, if you want to teach at a public school through EPIK, there are a few other basic criteria you must meet.
What paperwork do I need to teach English in Korea?
Sure, nobody likes filling out paperwork, but if you want to teach in Korea then you’re going to have to get your documents in order. To meet the above requirements, you will have to submit a these documents to your nearest Republic of Korea consulate or embassy when you apply for your E-4:
- A copy of your diploma/degree. If you are a non-Canadian or non-US citizen, you will have to get your diploma/degree apostilled. Canadian and US applicants will have to get their degree/diploma certified through a notary public.
- Sealed university/college transcript. (Please, don’t try to use unofficial copies you printed out at home!)
- Passport photos.
- Your original passport.
- Copy of your employment contract, which will be supplied by the school or recruiter.
- National level criminal background check. In Canada, this is obtained through the RCMP, while in the US it is through the FBI. Non-Canadians will need to have their background checks apostilled. Canadians need their background checks certified through a notary public.
Wondering how your salary teaching English in Korea stacks up against other countries worldwide? Find out with the help of our free teach abroad salary calculator!
Teaching English in Korea through EPIK
When looking for an ESL teaching job in Korea, you will need to decide whether you want to teach at a public or private school. If you plan on teaching at a public school, you will likely do so through EPIK (English Program in Korea). The application process for EPIK is a bit more complicated and restrictive than it is for working in a private school.
You can apply for EPIK either directly or through a recruiter. Be aware that because EPIK is for public schools, teaching positions are only available for the beginning of the school semesters. So all EPIK positions start in either February or August.
When applying for EPIK, you will need to provide all of the documentation outlined above that you will need for the E-2 visa. Additionally, you must be TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certified, although this requirement is waived if you hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education. You will also need to complete an interview.
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What do I need to teach English at a private school in South Korea?
The vast majority of ESL teachers in Korea teach at private schools (called “hagwons”). In major cities in Korea, it is hard to walk down any street for five minutes without passing one (or a dozen!) hagwons. Korean parents place a lot of value in their children’s education, especially when it comes to learning English. As a result, most Korean children are enrolled in hagwons, which can range from small schools with just a handful of teachers to nationwide chains.
Each hagwon is different and sets its own application requirements. As with any job, you will need to submit your resume and complete an interview (usually conducted over the phone or online). When submitting your resume, keep in mind that it is normal in Korea to include a picture of yourself with your application.
While some hagwons may require that you meet additional requirements, so long as you have all of the documents you need for the E-2 visa and you aren’t too picky then you can probably find a job at a hagwon somewhere in Korea. Higher paying jobs may require that you have a certain amount of teaching experience or TEFL certification. Hagwons in popular destinations, such as Seoul or Jeju, may also be pickier about who they hire.
EPIK vs Hagwons
There is no clear advantage of teaching through EPIK as opposed to in a hagwon. The hours tend to be similar, although you are more likely to be teaching during school hours through EPIK whereas in hagwons you may be asked to do more morning and/or evening shifts. The pay is also similar at both. You will also need a degree to teach as an ESL teacher in Korea, regardless of whether you work at a hagwon or through EPIK. Both hagwons and EPIK also provide similar perks, such as roundtrip airfare and basic accommodations.
Hagwon jobs are generally easier to get simply because there are so many hagwons in South Korea in the first place. Even if this is your first time teaching ESL, you can still get a job at a hagwon in Seoul or another large city. Hagwons also hire throughout the year. The downside to hagwons is that because they are private and there are so many of them, the quality can vary quite a bit.
If you’ve already researched ESL jobs in South Korea, then you may have come across quite a few horror stories about working at hagwons on ESL discussion boards. You should probably take these stories with a big grain of salt. While there are certainly some bad apples in the hagwon business, the vast majority of schools are professionally run and treat their teachers very well. Those happy teachers are more likely to be enjoying their time in Korea rather than posting to ESL discussion boards! So remember, for every bad hagwon you read about, there are probably a dozen good ones that don’t get talked about nearly as much as they should.
One potential downside of EPIK, on the other hand, is that you may have to settle with working in a smaller city or even a rural area (which can still be a great experience, but it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea!). EPIK also hires only twice a year, so it may not be a great choice if you’re itching to get over to Korea as soon as possible.