Teaching English in Korea: How to Get Started

Making the decision to move abroad is huge, especially when you also have to make decisions about where you want to work. When looking into teaching in Korea, the number of choices is absolutely overwhelming.
Here’s some basic information to help guide you through this intimidating decision-making process:
First, why should I teach in Korea? Is it really that great? 

Excellent question. “Why Korea?” I still get asked that regularly. For most people, when they hear “Korea,” they think of a) M*A*S*H, b) Kim Jong-un and the bizarre hermit North Korea, or c) absolutely nothing at all. Korea is often dismissed or overlooked, which is a shame, since it’s an amazingly modern, interesting country with a wonderful culture and incredibly kind people.

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Korea is well on its way to surpassing Japan in fancy technology. Plus, it’s super inexpensive to live there, especially when you compare the cost of living to the salary you’ll make as a teacher. I’m in debt from my student loans, a car loan, credit card payments… etc. Each month, I can send over $1000 home to put towards payments and still have the money to eat out for dinner most nights, go shopping, pay my iPhone bill, and take trips around the country.

So, yes, Korea really is that great.

Teaching English in Korea: How to Get Started
What do I need to get a job teaching English in Korea?

First, you need to speak English fluently. If it’s your first language, you’re golden. Actually, even if it isn’t your first language but you speak it fluently and with little to no accent, you’ve still got a chance at getting hired.

The second thing you need is that fancy piece of paper that says you graduated from a 4-year university/college with a Bachelor’s degree. Some jobs prefer an English-related degree, but for the most part, it doesn’t matter which degree you earned, simply that you did.

Also: have strong verbal skills. Speaking to a group is an important part of this job, so make sure you can see yourself in that role.

What kinds of teaching jobs are out there?

While you’ll find a variety of English teaching jobs out there, I’m going to cover the two most common types: public school and private English academy. (If you’ve got an MA and/or substantial teaching experience, look into university jobs. I don’t know much about those, so I’m not going to cover it, but I hear it’s a pretty sweet gig.)

What to expect from a public school:

  • “Normal” school hours, being something like 8am to 4pm, Monday through Friday.
  • Larger classes, usually at least 20 kids, many of whom you only see once or twice a week, for about an hour at a time.
  • Vacation time generally reflects when the students are in school, meaning public school teachers often have more time off than private academy teachers.
  • The big hiring times are geared around the start of the school year in February and then the mid-way point in August.
  • It’s likely you will be one of a small number of foreign teachers at your school, if not the only one.
  • Check out the following links for information about the big government programs that hire for public schools: EPIK, GEPIK, and SMOE.

What to expect from a private academy, or hagwon:

  • After school hours, typically starting around 3pm and ending around 10pm, Monday through Friday. Some academies have Saturday classes, so keep an eye out for that too.
  • Smaller classes, usually no more than 15 kids.
  • Depending on the academy, you might have a different class each hour, or you might have one group of kids for two or three hours.
  • Vacation time really varies between academies. Mine only offers 5 unpaid vacation days per year, plus two of the biggest holidays, whereas others cancel classes for every national holiday and offer excellent vacation time.
  • Academies don’t have specific hiring periods — it’s pretty much a continuous/monthly thing.
  • When looking into academy jobs, recruiting agencies are the popular route. Browse the following recruiting company sites for more information: Aclipse Recruiting, Footprints Recruiting, and Pegasus Recruiting. (All three of these are legit — I got my job through Aclipse and I know people who used Footprings and Pegasus — good experiences all around.)
Okay, you keep mentioning recruiters… Should I use a recruiting agency?

Ah, the big debate. Personally, I liked having a recruiter to guide me through the entire process, making sure my paperwork was in order and that I didn’t miss any deadlines. Other people just branch out on their own, contacting schools directly about a job. It’s really up to you. Overall, nearly everyone I know used a recruiter to find their job and they were happy with the process. Using a recruiter won’t cost you anything — the schools hire and pay them to find teachers, so don’t worry about that part.

Do I need to do a TEFL/CELTA certification course?

It depends on where you want to teach. For public school jobs, it is sometimes a requirement, such as with EPIK. SMOE seems to prefer you have it, whereas GEPIK doesn’t seem to care. When it comes to working for an academy, it could be helpful, and might get you a nice little pay bump, but it’s unlikely it will be required.

How exhaustively should I research a potential job?

Research until your brain can’t handle any more information. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. I’ve been lucky with my experience in Korea because my academy has been honest and (so far) hasn’t taken advantage. But it does happen. Doing thorough research won’t necessarily give you an immunity to shady behavior, but it should decrease the chances of having a miserable experience with a stingy school director.

The wonderful Internet is a great resource for you, so use it. Type something like “expat Korea blog” into your search engine of choice and see what pops up. Message bloggers — most of them are super nice and happy to answer questions. As you’re looking into specific schools or areas, look it up! Try to get in contact with a current teacher and ask a million questions.

One resource that I was pointed to by a friend, which is very popular, is Dave’s ESL Cafe. Lots of great information, including a page of job postings and a forum. Though be warned, there are a lot of bitter, grumpy people out there, and an internet forum is just the sounding board they need… Find all the information you can, but use your judgment and take some of it with a grain of salt. When in doubt, keep researching and asking questions.

Above all, remember that if one job doesn’t work out, there are tons of others. These schools need you, and with the right amount of digging, you’re sure to find a school that’s a perfect fit. For more information about this process, leave a comment or check out this GGG post from a couple of years ago — it covers some of what I wrote and also goes into depth about what happens once you’ve been offered a job!

Do you have sage advice to add? An experience worth sharing? Leave it in the comments below!


About Author

Kelly Lewis is the founder of Go! Girl Guides, the Women's Travel Fest and Damesly. She's an optimist, an adventurer, an author and works to help women travel the world.


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  2. Great post! I taught in China this year and made pennies and I’ve been hearing Korea is the best country to save the most teaching English. I visited Korea a while back and I was surprised how few foreign tourists (besides the Chinese) were there. Korea is actually a really cool country with a vibrant culture and amazing food.

    It’s also great to know that you can get a job teaching at a university with a master’s degree and teaching experience. I’m getting my master’s next year so I might consider teaching in Korea to pay it off. I’d love to teach at a university because you get to work with older students who speak English well, you have long classes where you can do a lot of activities, and you get extremely long breaks! I had about 50 students to a class in China for a 40 minute period and I taught 20 classes with a total of 1,000 students! Way too many students and too little time with each kid.

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