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Teach English in Korea – Your Complete Guide

Are you interested in teaching English in South Korea? Here’s your ultimate guide to becoming an English teacher in the Land of Morning Calm.

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It may be known as the Land of Morning Calm, but if you teach English in South Korea you’ll soon discover it’s anything but boring! Home to more than 50 million people and with one of the most densely populated capitals in the world, South Korea offers a fast-paced mix of modern cities, centuries-old traditions, captivating culture and beautiful countryside.

Whether you’re looking for your very first teaching job or hoping to take the next step in your teaching career, there are endless opportunities to TEFL in South Korea. From positions within private schools and universities to government-backed teaching programmes and language academies, English teachers are in high demand throughout the country.

If you’re interested in teaching English in South Korea but aren’t sure where to start, read on to find out everything you need to know with our ultimate guide to teaching English in South Korea.

Korea: An Overview

One of Asia’s most underrated countries, life in South Korea is not to be confused with that of its controversial northern neighbours, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). South Korea – also known as the ROK (Republic of Korea), or often simply as Korea – occupies the Southern end of the Korean peninsula, separated from the DPRK by the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Unlike the reclusive DPRK, visitors to South Korea will discover that they are very much welcome. Locals are excited to share their country and culture with foreigners, and those who move to South Korea will soon find themselves with countless Korean friends.

You’ll not be short of expat company either, with an estimated 24,000 English teachers reported to be working in South Korea each year. The majority of these are based in the capital, Seoul, or the bustling Busan, but there are teaching jobs to be found right across the country.

Let’s take a quick glance at some of the main things you need to know about living and teaching English in South Korea:

  • The most popular places for English teaching jobs in South Korea are the country’s two biggest cities – Seoul and Busan. However, there are TEFL opportunities in all cities and many rural locations for those looking for a more laidback South Korea experience.
  • A typical salary for a full-time position is usually in the region of 2 million – 2.5 million Won (£1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000) per month. Meanwhile, those with previous experience can earn up to 2.8 million Won (£1,800 / $2,345) per month.
  • Alongside your base salary, English teachers usually receive a benefits package that will often include round-trip airfare, accommodation, bonuses and discounted medical care.
  • To teach English in South Korea, you will need a bachelor’s degree, a TEFL qualification and a clean background check. Some employers also require experience and native-English-speaking teachers.
  • The maximum age for teaching in South Korea at a public school is 62.
  • The academic year in South Korea runs from March to July, and August to February.
  • Teaching opportunities range from public schools to private schools, language academies, universities and teaching programmes.
  • You can secure a job in South Korea by following one of three following routes: a government-sponsored programme, a private recruiter, or external job posting sites.
  • In South Korea, you’ll be paid in South Korean won (₩)
  • The official and national language is Korean; specifically, South Korean or hangugeo (한국어) instead of North Korean or chosŏnmal (조선말). You won’t be expected to speak the language when you arrive but it’s always helpful to learn a few common phrases before you go!

Download our teaching English in Asia guide

Requirements for Teaching in Korea

What are the requirements for teaching English in South Korea? You’ll need a bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate with at least 120 hours of learning experience, and in some cases, you’ll need to be a native English speaker, and have some teaching experience – though some employers will prioritise qualifications over experience.

If you’re hoping to join a specific teaching programme, make sure that your TEFL qualification meets the minimum number of hours required. For instance, the EPIK programme requires a TEFL or TESOL certification and 100 hours of experience.

Don’t forget that these are just the requirements for getting your E-2 teaching visa from the Korean government. Individual employers will still have their own set of conditions, just like public schools and hagwons will have their expectations for teachers.

Generally, public schools and universities will require the following credentials and documents:

  • Proof of full-time teaching experience (if required)
  • Copy of your TEFL certificate of at least 100 class hours (either online or in-person classes)
  • Copy of your teaching licence or certificate

To sum up, the basic requirements you’ll need to teach in South Korea are:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college
  • A TEFL certification
  • Citizenship from an English-speaking nation such as the US, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, or South Africa
  • A background check showing a national-level criminal record without any charges or convictions
  • A clear health check and drug test

To learn more about the specific requirements, please explore our guide on the requirements for Teaching English in South Korea.

TEFL certification

A TEFL certificate with at least 120 hours of training is an absolute must if you plan to teach English in Korea.

Teaching programmes will ask for at least 100 hours of TEFL training. Make sure your TEFL certificate comes from an accredited, reputable provider, otherwise, employers in South Korea won’t take it seriously and you might struggle to find English teaching jobs.

Teaching without a degree

Can you teach English in Korea without a degree? The simple answer is no. You need a special kind of visa, known as the E-2 Teaching Visa, to work as an English teacher in South Korea. Unfortunately, the only way to get one of these is with a bachelor’s degree. You can find out everything you need to know about the E-2 Teaching Visa requirements further on in this article.

In the past, those hoping to teach in South Korea without a degree could apply for the TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) programme. However, as of February 2022, TaLK has officially closed its programme.

You should be wary of any recruiters or employers who tell you it’s okay to teach for them without a degree. Rules in South Korea regarding visas are strict and those caught without the proper documentation can find themselves in a lot of trouble.

Teaching with no experience

Happily, teaching English in South Korea doesn’t always require teaching experience! While some employers prefer their teachers to already have a couple of years under their belt, there are plenty of opportunities for new TEFL teachers in South Korea.

One of the best ways to improve your chances of landing an English teaching job in South Korea without any prior experience is to get yourself a TEFL certificate. Most schools will ask for a qualification of at least 120 hours, but if you really want to boost your chances and build up your confidence as a new teacher, we recommend a Level 5 course. It’s also worth considering an advanced TEFL qualification, especially if you’re hoping to work with young learners or teach business English to adults.

Remember that although it might be slightly harder, there are still plenty of opportunities to teach English in South Korea for those without experience but who show enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

E-2 Teaching Visa for South Korea

Visas for teaching jobs in Korea

Want to find out more about the E-2 Teaching Visa for South Korea that we mentioned earlier? Here’s everything you need to know before applying!

Most foreigners who work at public or private schools will qualify for a school-sponsored E-2 Visa, allowing them to teach in South Korea for one year. These visas are relatively easy to get, as long as you have the correct qualifications and the required documentation.

To qualify for an E-2 Teaching Visa for South Korea you’ll need:

  • A bachelor’s degree in any field
  • Be a citizen of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. There are a few exceptions to this rule, for example, if you are from another country but you hold a teaching license in English. 
  • Be able to pass a criminal background check.
  • Have a clean bill of health and pass a drug test. 

If you have all of the above requirements and receive a job offer from a school, the process for obtaining your visa to teach abroad in South Korea should be relatively simple. You’ll need:

  • A copy of your degree or diploma
  • A copy of your employment contract from your school
  • A valid passport
  • Passport photos
  • A copy of your background check

Your school or employer will often help you to get the right documents together for your visa application. You will then need to take all of your paperwork to your nearest South Korean embassy or return it by post if allowed within your area.

Don’t forget that an E-2 Visa is the only legal way to English in South Korea. Without one, you are leaving yourself open to scams, deportation and even the possibility of a lifetime ban from South Korea.

Salary and Cost of Living

Ever wondered how much you can make working as an English teacher in South Korea? Or just how far your wages will stretch when you live and teach English somewhere like Seoul? We have all the answers you need to understand the cost of living in South Korea.

Many people want to know if teaching in South Korea can make you a lot of money. The answer is… it depends! There’s no one rule for all teachers in South Korea and how much money you make, spend and save will vary greatly depending on several factors. These include where you work, how you want to spend your downtime and what kind of teaching experience you have. For example, a new TEFL teacher in Busan who likes to go out every weekend will have less left at the end of each month than a frugal, experienced teacher placed at a well-paying rural public school.

And it’s worth remembering that it’s not only about money – English teachers in South Korea are in high demand, which means that jobs are competitive and will often offer multiple perks like accommodation, bonuses and free flights to entice teachers in.

Let’s take a look at both salaries and the cost of living in more detail.

How much can you make teaching English in Korea?

An English teacher living and working in South Korea, with a bachelor’s degree in any field, can expect a basic monthly salary for a full-time position to be in the region of 2 million – 2.5 million won (£1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000) per month.

The wider range goes from ₩1.6 million to ₩3.7 million ($1,350 to $3,100) per month, which is highly dependent on the institution where you teach English For instance, hagwons will generally pay the highest for first-time teachers (around ₩2.3 million or $2,000 per month), while public schools tend to offer lower starting salaries (around ₩1.6 million or $1,350 to ₩2.3 million or $2,000).

Intrigued by the earning potential in South Korea? Start exploring our guide on teaching English in Korea salary.

Benefits

On top of your monthly salary, you’ll also receive benefits like accommodation, travel allowances, flights to and from your home country, and other bonuses when you teach English in South Korea. For example, public and private schools will often provide a studio unit for your accommodation. Public schools and private schools alike might also provide comprehensive pre-departure support, by offering to repay your flight to South Korea, by giving you a stipend, or by covering the actual ticket cost, usually detailed in your English teaching job contract.

Remember that most contracts will also provide an extra month’s bonus upon completion. That means you’ll be paid twice for your final month of teaching. You can use this to explore more of the country, relocate to another country to teach, or even contribute towards paying off your student loans. In addition, annual leave for English teachers in South Korea tends to be very generous, with 18-30 days a year being pretty typical.

How much does it cost to live in Korea?

When it comes to the cost of living, South Korea is usually considered an affordable country in which to teach abroad. Those living in big cities like Seoul - the capital of South Korea - and Busan will find daily costs more expensive than teachers working in the countryside but on the whole, food, transport and other essentials aren’t going to break the bank. And, given that most teaching jobs will offer you an apartment or housing allowance, you’ll only have to pay for the utilities and mobile phone bill.

This means ESL teachers tend to pocket around 80% of a paycheque, which can go towards leisure, travelling or savings.

Take a look a the tables below to get a better idea of the cost of living in South Korea:

Utilities (Monthly)Cost
Won (₩)USD ($)GBP (£)
Electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage (for a regular apartment)₩174,540$144.87£110.67
Regular prepaid mobile tariff (per minute, local without discounts)₩165$0.14£0.10
Internet (60 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL)₩26,914$22.34£16.93

Source: Numbeo

In big cities, you’ll find a cosmopolitan vibe and there will be no difficulty in sourcing foreign restaurants if you want a taste of home. However, don’t forget to soak up the local culture while you’re in Korea, from the rich history and traditional practices to the local customs and unusual delicacies. Eating, drinking and shopping like a local are also some of the best ways to save money while you are living in South Korea.

Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Teach in South Korea £1,280 - £1,600
($1,670 - $2,000)
Yes March No Yes No Under 62
RestaurantsCost
Won (₩)USD ($)GBP (£)
Inexpensive restaurant meal₩8,000$6.64£4.93
Domestic beer (0.5 litre)₩4,000$3.32£2.47
Regular cappuccino₩4,522$3.75£2.80
Water (0.33 litre)₩868$0.72£0.54
MarketsCost
Won (₩)USD ($)GBP (£)
Regular milk (1 litre)₩2,469$2.05£1.54
Loaf of white bread₩2,976$2.47£1.86
Regular eggs (1 dozen)₩3,396$2.82£2.15
Apples (1 kg)₩8,006$6.64£4.92
TransportationCost
Won (₩)USD ($)GBP (£)
One-way ticket (local transport)₩1,300$1.08£0.80
Monthly pass (regular price)₩55,000$45.65£33.93
Taxi start (normal tariff)₩3,400$2.82£2.10
Gasoline (1 litre)₩1,559$1.29£0.97
Clothing and ShoesCost
Won (₩)USD ($)GBP (£)
Pair of jeans (Levis 501 or something similar)₩68,846$57.14£43.00
Summer dress in a chain store₩45,832$38.04£28.86
Nike running shoes (mid-range)₩93,641$77.72£57.63
Men's leather business shoes₩132,831$110.25£82.22

English teaching jobs in Korea

The demand for foreign teachers who want to teach English in South Korea is incredibly high, and it’s possible to find work in both public and private schools, as well as universities. In a public school, you might be the only native speaker working there, and the job will be fairly stable regarding your teaching hours. Salaries tend to be on the lower end of the scale but many teachers are willing to accept that in return for lower hours. Meanwhile, if you work in a hagwon (one of the thousands of private language schools in South Korea) you can expect a higher rate of pay but a heavier workload – often around 30 teaching hours per week.

A staggering 83% of 5-year-olds in South Korea attend hagwons, where English lessons are extremely popular. Young children are often encouraged to learn English by their wealthy parents, especially the Korean ‘Tiger Mothers’ who are vicariously ambitious when it comes to academic study.

Private Academies (Hagwons)

Private language schools are called hagwons (학원) in South Korea and are an excellent option if you’re looking to spend a year in Korea and save a significant amount of money. They’ll usually hire any capable teacher with a strong command of the English language, a TEFL qualification and a bachelor’s degree. The level of students’ English won’t typically be that high, so Hagwons are a great place to see development in real-time.

What’s it like to teach in Korea at a Hagwon? Well, two of the primary reasons why teachers choose to teach in hagwons rather than public schools are because of their faster hiring turnaround - the recruitment process for teaching English in Korea at a Hagwon is comparatively speedy - and higher pay. Working hours are shorter than public schools, fewer overall (6 hours per day or 35 hours per week), and start later in the day (around 1 pm-9 pm).

The salary for Hagwon teachers in South Korea is around ₩2.3 million to ₩2.6 million ($2,000 to $2,200) per week for this workload. Most hagwons will also prepare the lessons on behalf of the teachers—ideal for most beginner teachers. However, this limits creativity and individuality for more experienced teachers. You won’t have a co-teacher either, which can be a benefit or disadvantage depending on your preference.

Public Schools

The most popular and preferred type of teaching job in South Korea is in a public school. You’ll have a regular 9-to-5 schedule where your actual teaching hours usually won’t exceed 22 per week. Pay scales and qualifications do vary, however, depending on the local office of education.

Usually, you can expect to receive a small settlement allowance, free or subsidised housing, severance pay, entrance and exit allowance, national insurance, national holiday leave, and 18 days of paid vacation days. These jobs are hard to land if you’re picky about which city you want to teach in.

Most of the teaching jobs in public schools are for elementary grade level, although you’ll find some for middle and high school as well. You’ll also have a co-teacher with you who can help spread the workload.

Teaching programmes in Korea

One popular route for teaching English in South Korea is to join a government-sponsored English teaching programme. If you’re looking for job security, paid holidays, and fewer teaching hours, a job teaching at a South Korean public school might be the right choice for you.

You’ll teach English alongside a South Korean co-teacher, coordinating classroom instruction times and creating lesson plans together. For any new TEFL teachers, this can be a great way to ease into teaching without the pressure of managing a class on your own.

The hiring times are around six months before starting dates, which are usually at the beginning of March and September. You can expect your salary to start at ₩1.6 million to ₩3.2 million ($1,350 to $2,700) which will give you a comfortable lifestyle in most places in the country.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, take a look at our recommended English teaching programmes in South Korea below.

English Programme in Korea (EPIK)

The EPIK programme, or Government (Public) School English Teaching Programs in Korea, is affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Education. The programme aims to improve the English-speaking abilities of both Korean students and teachers.

As a teacher, you’ll sign a one-year teaching contract (52 weeks) in a Korean public school once you complete the programme. While the EPIK programme is the largest employer for English teachers in South Korea, they won’t place teachers in Seoul or Gyeonggi provinces.

Requirements 

To qualify for the EPIK programme, you must meet the following requirements.

  • Citizenship: Be a citizen from one of the Big 7 English-speaking countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, or South Africa.
  • Education Level: Have a bachelor’s degree from a university located in one of the countries mentioned above. If your degree is not education-focused, the programme will require that you have a 100-hour TEFL qualification from an accredited provider.
  • Non-Native Speakers: If English is not your first language, you’ll need to provide proof that your education from junior high (or 7th grade) onwards was conducted in English.
  • Health: You must be under the age of 62 and in good physical and mental health.
  • Background Check: You need to have a clean criminal background check.

Benefits

With the EPIK programme, you’ll have furnished housing, roundtrip airfare, 18 paid vacation leaves per year, and a paid 9-day orientation once you arrive. You’ll earn an average salary of ₩2.0 million to ₩2.2 million ($1,800 to $2,000) on top of allowances. Beyond that, you’ll also have a monthly bonus if you’re assigned to a rural area or multiple schools.

Teaching English in Seoul

Want to immerse yourself in non-stop Korean culture while you TEFL? It’s easy to see why teaching English in Seoul is the first choice for many teachers arriving in South Korea. The city is crammed with exciting sights, flavours and experiences to get stuck into. From endless street food options to all-night karaoke rooms, UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites to colourful markets, museums and mega-malls, you’ll never be short of things to do with your time off in Seoul.

The city boasts one of the best modern transport systems in the world, with the KTX high-speed rail and the Seoul Subway whizzing residents between work and play.

Additionally, you’ll never have to worry about losing touch with friends and family back home – Seoul is known for having the world’s fastest fibre-optic broadband and internet speed.

You’ll find it easy to make friends too  – the capital city is home to a small, tight-knit community of expats and English teachers. Because Seoul is so popular with foreign teachers, schools are often quite picky when it comes to hiring new teachers. Competition for the best jobs and schools can sometimes be tough but, for those who do secure a position, a good salary and perks like free accommodation can be expected.

While teaching in Seoul is so rewarding, and it’s an amazing place to live, there are a few things worth considering. The population density of Seoul is twice that of New York, making it one of the most cramped places on the planet. With so many people, it goes without saying that space is something of a commodity. Small studio apartments are the norm, while all those cars squashed into a tiny area mean pollution levels are the highest in the country. And, while wages in Seoul tend to be high, the cost of living in the city is more than that of other areas, often making it difficult to save money.

Those looking to squirrel away their wages, rather than spend them, might be happier in a smaller city or rural school. In the end, it’s all about individual preferences. So what will it be? 24-hour Korean culture… or a quieter life in the country?!

TEFL Org Teacher Story

Before you decide if teaching English in South Korea is right for you, have a look at what Sarah and her husband - two of our TEFL Org graduates - had to say about their experience of working in the country:

“I think we have such an amazing job and I love our school and all the little munchkins we’re lucky enough to teach. In my previous job, I worked as an administration manager for a health care company, and I was under a massive amount of stress that was really affecting my mood. I was working long hours each week, with barely any time or energy left over to spend time with my husband. My schedule couldn’t be more different now, especially as we are the only native teachers at our school so we spend pretty much all of our time together!

My working day starts at 8 am when we arrive at school after walking through our neighbourhood. I enjoy a coffee in my classroom and get ready for the day. First up is my “morning class”; a group of 10 third and fourth graders of mixed ability. I teach these guys four mornings a week for 50 minutes, and it’s an elective based on teaching English through science. We do a lot of experiments and games as well as teach vocabulary and quizzes to check their understanding of the material. The textbook we’re using for this semester comes with a teacher’s guide so the lessons are really easy to plan, but I can also add in any extra activities or materials that I think would be of benefit to the kids.”

You can find more student stories from TEFL Org graduates about South Korea and other teaching destinations in our Student Stories blog.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. How much can you make teaching English in Korea?

    A typical full-time salary for a TEFL teacher in South Korea is between 2 million – 2.5 million Won (£1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000) per month.

  • Q. How hard is it to get a job teaching English in Korea?

    Provided you meet the requirements for an E2 Visa, you shouldn’t find it too hard to move to South Korea, teach English and earn a decent wage.

  • Q. Does Korea pay teachers well?

    Compared to other nations in the region, Korean teaching salaries are excellent, with employers offering a range of benefits that aren’t often found elsewhere. If you want to save money while holding a teaching position, South Korea is a great option due to its competitive salaries and vast job opportunities.

  • Q. What qualifications do I need to teach English in South Korea?

    You’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certification with over 120 hours’ worth of training to meet the requirements for English teaching positions.

  • Q. Do you need to know Korean to be an English teacher in Korea?

    No, but it would help to know some basic Korean before heading there.

  • Q. Can I teach English in South Korea with TEFL?

    A TEFL certificate is very helpful for teaching in South Korea, but you’ll also need a bachelor’s degree.

  • Q. What is the age limit for EPIK Korea?

    You must be under 62 years of age to apply for EPIK.