If you’re into cheap fresh food, speedy public transport, readily accessible outdoor activities, and a thriving nightlife culture; look no further than Korea.
As is the case in a lot of countries, one of the easiest ways to get a foot in the door in Korea is to get a job as an English teacher. Becoming an English teacher in Korea comes with a lot of perks: typically the school will pay your rent, you’ll pay next to nothing for your commute, and you’ll have a lot of interaction with the fun and friendly Korean locals.
The coolest part? Some of your coworkers will be robots. Korea released its “R-Learning” program in 2010, and since then schools have become full of “automated assistants”. The one you’ll work with most regularly is EngKey, which comes in two versions. The first is a tall, moving robot with a TV screen that displays the face of a remote English teacher, and who teaches lessons live from distances as far as Australia. The other looks similar - think colorful R2D2 with a painted face on top - but functions differently; it’s equipped with voice recognition technology to help students with their English pronunciation.
If you’re ready to settle into a laid-back lifestyle and meet your robot colleagues, this guide will take you through the most important information for becoming an English teacher in Korea, including what salary you can expect.
Some exciting news about securing a teaching job in Korea is that there really aren’t many requirements for obtaining a position. If you meet the following criteria, you’re 99% of the way there:
- English is your native language
- You have a bachelor’s degree (in anything)
- You have a clean criminal record
You also need to hold a passport from one of the following countries:
- The United Kingdom
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Other than those qualifiers, the only thing you’ll need to work at a public elementary or high school in Korea is a work visa.
If you’re hoping to work at a private school or teach at a university in Korea, however, you may need to be a little better prepared. Private school positions often require you to have a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate. There are benefits to working at a private school, including a higher salary, so taking on the time and cost of obtaining the certificate could be worth your while. Even if you’re aiming for a public school job, you may be considered over other applicants if you have your TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification.
Plus, having your certification opens up many opportunities in teaching at international schools in Korea, where English teaching is much more stringent. If you want to do private tutoring or teach English to adult learners, a certification will be helpful as well.
Many UK residents choose to obtain their CELTA certification from the University of Cambridge. This is a more intensive and expensive process; but it could give you an advantage against competition. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the CELTA program page here.
Working in any position in South Korea involves obtaining a work visa. For teachers specifically, you’ll need the E-2 Teaching Visa.
There are some important things you’ll need to apply, including:
- A criminal background check
- A health certificate
- Your diploma
The most important piece of the puzzle, however, is a job offer. Your visa process is sponsored by your employer, so obtaining a position is crucial to getting your visa.
For more information about the Korean E-2 Visa process for U.S. citizens, check out the U.S. Embassy & Consulate in Korea’s website. If you’re applying as a U.K. citizen, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s website walks you through all visa types, including a page on the E-2 visa specifically.
One of the most common routes to obtaining a teaching position in Korea is applying with EPIK (English Program in Korea). EPIK is a government-run program, created by the National Institute of International Education (NIIED) in partnership with the Korean Ministry of Education.
The goal of EPIK is simple: make it possible for more Korean students to communicate in English. The program helps to place GETs, or Guest English Teachers, in public and private school in the hopes that foreign influence will help with conversation training for older students, developing textbooks and generally fostering cultural awareness.
EPIK teachers have one year contracts, and are provided with some great perks, such as:
- An apartment
- Help with visas
- An allowance for the cost or entrance and exit to Korea
- A “settlement” allowance to help adjust to the culture
- Severance pay upon contract completion
- Health insurance
- Very competitive salaries
Teacher salaries across Korea are fairly stagnant, meaning regardless of where your job is located or what grade you’re teaching, your salary is likely to be the same as anywhere else in the country.
It’s common for first-year teachers to earn between 1.8 and 2.1 million KRW per month - that’s roughly $1600-$1900 USD, or £1300-£1500 GBP.
If you have teaching experience, you’ll be paid accordingly - up to 3.0 million KRW per month. That’s about $2700 or £2150. Given South Korea’s generally low cost of living and the fact that you most likely won’t be paying your own rent, this salary can go a long way.
The answer here is that how much you’ll spend depends on how ready you are to adapt to the Korean lifestyle. Eating a burger, for example, will cost a lot more than eating kimchi. And if you want easy access to fresh fruit, this may not be the place for you - a watermelon can cost as much as $25/£20.
That being said, other things in Korea are very cheap; like the super accessible and useful public transportation system, which will cost you about $1 to use. Some other average price estimates in South Korea (based on a location in Seoul) are:
- Joining a gym: $56.50/£45 per month
- Buying a monthly bus pass: $52.50/£42
- Ordering a cappuccino: $4/£3.20
- Eating an (inexpensive) meal: $6/£4.75
These prices are estimates to help you with your budget. Upon arrival in Korea, you can check the equivalent cost of a product advertised in Korean won (KRW) against your home currency by using an online currency converter.
If you’ll be funding your bank account in Korea from yours back home, consider using an international transfer service like TransferWise to save money. This will not only help cut out expensive international transfer fees (money is sent by local bank transfers in both your home country and Korea), but will also give you the actual mid-market exchange rate. That means you’ll end up with more money to spend during your time in Korea.
If you’re ready to move, you’re sure to enjoy Korea’s comfortable lifestyle, great food, and friendly people.
To assist with your transition to Korea, you may want to check out this helpful checklist of things to consider beforehand, or these 5 avoidable moving mistakes. Once you land, this expat’s manual to living in Korea can help you get used to local customs and ways of life.
If you haven’t found a job yet, there are lots of agencies that may be able to help; including Teach Away, which is known for its super reputable programs.
With that, you’re all set! Good luck, or as they would say in Korea, 행운을 빌어요!