While the capital city of Seoul and the bustling city of Busan (home to Haeundae Beach) are popular destinations, South Korea is full of hidden gems when it comes to finding a place to live. If you get a job working in a public school, you might be the only foreign member of staff, and if you don’t mind quieter locations away from the big cities, this can be a great way to immerse yourself in Korean culture and language, making plenty of local friends.
With the situation between North Korea and South Korea being as it is, there is of course some element of risk in accepting work in this divided part of the world. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Korea could be the location of a modern war, but for the adventurous TEFL teacher, this risk is a small one and easily outweighed by the benefits of living in Korea. On the plus side, there is a very low crime rate in Korea, even in the bigger cities.
Life in Korea is a marmite thing for many expats – while it doesn’t suit everyone, some love the working culture (high pressure, with a lack of flexibility from the boss, and with frequent last-minute changes to schedules, but with a great social aspect of having drinks with co-workers, who are often friendly) and building relationships with locals (sometimes shy, but also keen to make friends). With such beautiful scenery and wonderful cultural places to visit, Korea is certainly an adventurous destination for any TEFL teacher.
- Popular locations for TEFL jobs: Seoul, Busan, Bucheon
- Average salary for EFL teachers: The basic monthly salary for full-time positions is likely to be in the region of 2 million – 2.5 million Won (£1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000) per month. Experienced teachers can earn up to 2.8 million Won (£1,800 / $2,345) per month. Part-time positions with fewer teaching hours are available.
- TEFL qualification requirements: A 120-hour TEFL qualification will be required for most positions
- Prerequisite university degree: All positions require you to have a degree, some may require your degree to be in an English or educational field
- Term times: March to July, and August to February
- Currency: Korean Republic won (₩) (KRW)
- Language: Korean
- Teaching programmes: Public School, Private Language School, Business English, Freelance, Kindergartens, Bilingual Schools and International Schools, Summer Camp
- Age restrictions: Must be under 62 for public school positions
- Previous teaching experience: Not always required, but some positions ask for previous teaching experience
In South Korea you can find work in both public and private schools. In a public school, you might be the only native speaker working there, and the job will be fairly stable regarding your teaching hours. Working in a public school, your salary is usually lower but so are the total hours you’ll be working each week. If you work in a Hagwon (private language school) you can expect a higher rate of pay, but the workload is heavy – often around 30 teaching hours per week.
A staggering 83% of 5-year-olds 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. With so much pressure put on the children to achieve, it’s no wonder that many private language schools encourage unscrupulous practices such as awarding fake marks to underachieving students so that parents will be happy with their progress. Any complaints from professional teachers are largely ignored – these educational institutes are often more interested in turning a profit than the wellbeing of the students.
There are also a high number of secondary school students who sign up for TEFL classes because they must pass an English proficiency test to gain entrance to university. The Korean government spends more per capita on English language education than any other country in the world, demonstrating the high importance they assign to this skill. Business English is increasingly popular in South Korea, too.
Requirements for teaching English 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|
|Cambodia||£680 - £1,000
($900 - $1,300)
|China||£1,000 – £2,000
($1,300 – $2,575)
|Yes||September||No||Yes||Yes, if degree obtained from an English-speaking country||Under 55|
|Hong Kong||£1,550 – £6,300
($2,000 – $8,380)
|Yes||August||No||Not usually||Yes||Under 60|
|India||£120 – £775
($150 – $1,000)
|Indonesia||£565 – £1,030
($745 – $1,355)
|Yes||July||No||Not usually||No||Under 60|
|Japan||£1,600 – £2,000
($2,100 – $2,675)
|Kazakhstan||£360 – £470
($465 – $600)
|Malaysia||£550 – £1,450
($720 – $1,900)
|Myanmar||£600 – £1,500
($800 – $2,000)
|Mongolia||£630 – £1,000
($875 – $1,400)
|South Korea||£1,280 – £1,600
($1,670 – $2,000)
|Taiwan||£1,335 – £1,735
($1,700 – $2,220)
|Thailand||£740 – £980
($1,000 – $1,280)
|Vietnam||£920 - £ 1,500
($1,200 to $2,000)
With many TEFL positions in South Korea coming with free accommodation (as well as reimbursed airfare, severance pay at the end of contract, health insurance and other benefits), most TEFL teachers find that they’re able to save a large portion of their salaries while also having a decent social life. Many teachers can live on around 1 million won per month, and with most jobs paying over 2 million won, you can see how easy it is to save money. Apartments can be pretty small, but they’ll usually be comfortable enough and there’s always the option of finding your own place when you renew your contract or change jobs. The further you get out of the city, the bigger the apartments are. Wherever you live, you’ll be in a modern, even futuristic setting.
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. Cosmopolitan cities will also have the benefit of a good expat community where you’ll find it easy to make friends. Korean locals can be quite shy, and don’t be surprised to find people staring at you. If you live somewhere rural, it can be hard to make friends, especially if you’re the only foreigner in a town, but if you have an adventurous side and love immersing yourself in the culture of the country it won’t be long until the locals warm to you.
- Accommodation: £429 – £1,056 / $560 – $1,378
- Utilities: £215 / $281
- Health insurance: Cost of typical visit to a GP: £138 / $180
- Monthly transport pass: £48 / $62
- Basic dinner out for two: £25 / $33
- Cappuccino in expat area: £3.18 / $4.15
- A beer in a pub: £3.73 / $4.87
- 1 litre of milk: £1.66 / $2.17
- 2 litres of Coca-Cola: £1.68 / $2.19
(living costs sourced from Expatistan)
“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 8am when we arrive at school after walking through our neighborhood. 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 teaching 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.”
Sarah, TEFL Org graduate, taught in South Korea with her husband
Discover more student stories from TEFL Org graduates.