It’s no stretch to say that Seoul is one of the world’s most unique, fascinating cities. A big claim, yes, but consider the landscape of the capital of South Korea. It’s high-tech, filled with skyscrapers and cutting-edge transport. There’s also, though, a real reverence for tradition, with Buddhist temples, busy street markets and a range of palaces dating back hundreds of years.
Its forward-thinking aesthetic won Seoul the WDO’s Design Capital honours in 2010, while Seoul City Wall has long been a UNESCO Heritage Site. Before we venture into clichéd territory – “Seoul is a land of contrasts” – it is important to note how varied and exciting the capital of South Korea truly is.
Seoul, and South Korea in general, has always held lustre, but the country’s cultural offerings have arguably never been hotter. K-pop is utterly dominant, with groups like BTS and BLACKPINK scoring huge hits. 2012’s ‘Gangnam Style’ was about a district of Seoul. So, you get the idea – Korean culture isn’t just having a moment in the West, it’s here to stay. Little wonder, then, that so many people want to teach English in South Korea specifically in Seoul.
With a fantastic climate, and so much to see and do, Seoul is continually listed as one of the best places to live worldwide. It was already popular before the 2002 World Cup, hosted by Japan and South Korea, but Seoul was beamed to TVs worldwide in the early 2000s and has enjoyed enormous interest from tourists ever since.
So, what’s the job market like in South Korea and Seoul? Are there programmes for prospective TEFL teachers? Can you make a comfortable living as a TEFL teacher in Seoul, and are competitive salaries available? Realistically, can a new TEFL teacher launch a teaching career in the most populous city South Korea has to offer?
Let’s explore one of the most exciting cities the world has to offer.
Seoul: An overview
So you want to be a teacher, with a job imparting the rules of English in Korea. You want to work in schools with keen students, have a job with benefits, and build on your teaching experience. In that case, let’s look at Seoul more closely.
South Korea, more broadly, is one of the most popular TEFL destinations. Seoul, the nation’s biggest city with around 10 million residents, is the jewel in South Korea’s crown, and of course, the demand for teachers is substantial.
The demand from teachers is also considerable. There’s no surprise there; from the incredible street food, fantastic transport and immense nightlife, there are plenty of reasons why Seoul is attractive as a teach abroad destination from a living perspective. In terms of teaching, you’ll find countless public schools, hagwons (for-profit private educational institutions), international schools, elementary schools, other private schools and adult learners who are desperate to learn more English.
Given its status as a technological capital, with several huge international companies boasting Seoul postcodes, you won’t struggle to find work with people who work in business. The likes of Samsung, Amazon, IBM and PwC are big employers in Seoul, with thousands of employees. Given English’s status as the lingua franca of business, and the continual emergence of South Korea as a global power, plenty of workers in Seoul see English literacy as a crucial step towards a lucrative promotion. Finding opportunities teaching English, then, shouldn’t be hard.
South Korea, however, doesn’t score particularly highly in terms of international English Proficiency standards. According to EF’s EPI Index, Korea scores 36th out of 110. Seoul is the highest-ranked city, but that doesn’t point to a particularly high level of English ability. While the South Korean government is keen to up its game in terms of English proficiency, it won’t do it at the expense of learning Korean, especially at the youngest ages of education.
So, there are some mixed messages, but the headline is this: there are plenty of opportunities in Seoul for ESL teachers, fantastic reasons to go there and teach English, and an incredible city to explore.
Requirements to teach English in Seoul
To teach English in Seoul, you will need:
- 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
The maximum age for new English teachers in South Korea is 62. These requirements are often what’s needed to attain an E-2 teaching Visa from the South Korean government. Individual employers will have their own requirements, which can include proof of full-time teaching experience, a copy of your TEFL certificate of at least 100 hours (either online or in-person classes) and, if applicable, a copy of your teaching licence or certificate.
Salary & cost of living in Seoul
An English teacher based in Seoul, with a bachelor’s degree in any subject, can expect a basic monthly salary (for a full-time position) of around 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 dependent on where you work. 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). The majority of jobs for newer teachers tend to be in hagwons, rather than in public schools.
How far do those teaching jobs wages get you? According to Numbeo, a user-generated cost-of-living aggregator, a one-bedroom living space in Seoul will set you back £642/$777 a month within the city centre. That goes down to an average of just under £500/$604 if you’re willing to live outside the main hubs of Seoul. However, keep in mind that many employers in South Korea will include accommodation as part of your contract.
How about utilities? For a 915 square ft living space, you can expect your monthly bills to reach £154/$187 per month, with internet costing around £19/$23. A three-course meal for two people in a medium-priced restaurant should rack up a bill of around £42/$51, while a monthly pass for public transport costs about £35/$43. Contrasting all of these costs against a monthly salary of £1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000 shows that Seoul can be a bit pricey, but you’ll certainly have enough to live on comfortably.
Can teachers save money while working teaching jobs in Seoul? Yes, absolutely! Accommodation is included with most teaching jobs, whether in Hagwons or public schools, which cuts costs considerably. Many schools provide incentives and bonuses when you’re teaching in Korea, including health insurance, help with accommodation, meals and reimbursement for flights.
English teaching jobs in Seoul
English teaching jobs in Seoul are far from scarce if you’re TEFL certified and have all the teaching credentials necessary. If you have designs on teaching English, whether at elementary schools, middle school, public schools or any student age group, you’re likely to find a teach abroad opportunity in Korea with plenty of teaching benefits thrown in.
The majority of teaching jobs in Seoul, especially for newer English teachers, are in hagwons, with a wide age range of students, although there are often public school jobs available. There are some jobs in areas like business and universities, although hagwons are more readily employing teachers purely as a function of the type of school they are.
A hagwon is a private, for-profit school for both kids and adults, generally for learning specific subjects. Think of it as something akin to a college or community college, where you study subjects as diverse as gaming and K-pop. The most popular function of hagwons, though, is arguably learning English. Hagwons, especially early on, were either run by predominantly English-speaking teachers, or had extensive English learning departments. These schools earn a collective $15 billion annually, such is their popularity.
In a sense, hagwons can function as private language schools, and be covered more broadly when discussing private school jobs. They are certainly an idiosyncrasy in terms of teaching in Korea.
You can also go freelance, of course. With the nature of work in Seoul and the number of prominent businesses, it’s easier than you’d think to run your own small business as an English teacher, and earn a decent salary while teaching in Korea. An important part of being a freelance English teacher for adults in Seoul is adaptability; most lessons will need to be before and after the working day. A good online presence with prominence given to your qualifications and your working hours should find you work with relative ease.
English teaching programmes in Seoul
There are fantastic teaching programmes in Seoul, and South Korea more broadly. You can apply for a teaching internship in Seoul through The TEFL Org, by following this link. Seoul is just one of the locations on offer, with 12-month minimum contracts, a wage of US$20,000-25,000/£15,000-18,000, furnished housing for your entire stay, paid holidays, 50% healthcare coverage, flight reimbursement and more!
There’s also GEPIK, which specifically covers the teaching of students in Gyeonggi province, and has a range of fantastic features. You’ll be working at least 22 hours a week, with 20 days of paid holidays, a 12-month contract, free accommodation and airfares reimbursed. Hiring periods are just before the beginning of school semesters in September or March, although other dates are negotiable. While it’s not necessarily working in inner-city Seoul, it’s great for those who want to commute, or work in the surrounding area.
EPIK in Seoul
You’ve probably heard of EPIK: it’s the most established English teaching programme in South Korea, and it sends a wealth of talent to Seoul and the surrounding area. The EPIK programme is affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Education, with the aim to improve the English-speaking abilities of both Korean students and teachers. SMOE – the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education – uses EPIK to recruit teaching talent, so you should expect to find yourself working in a public school with experienced teachers.
As a teacher with a TEFL certification, you’ll sign a one-year teaching contract in a public school in Seoul once you complete the programme. There are several benefits included – as is often the case when finding a job teaching English in Korea.
Requirements of the EPIK Programme
To qualify for the EPIK programme, you must meet a list of criteria.
Your citizenship is crucial. You can only apply if you’re a citizen from any of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, USA or South Africa.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree from a university located in one of the aforementioned nations. If your degree is not education-focused, the programme will require that you have a 100-hour TEFL certification from an accredited provider. A TEFL certification like The TEFL Org’s 120 Hour Premier Online Course will absolutely fit the bill.
If English is not your first language, you’ll need to provide proof that your education from junior high/7th grade/Primary 7 onwards was conducted in English.
You must be under the age of 62, in good physical and mental health, and have no criminal record. Students in Seoul schools – from elementary to high schools – are known to be focused and understand the benefits of English.
Benefits of the SMOE-EPIK Programme
With the SMOE-EPIK programme, you’ll have furnished housing, roundtrip airfare, paid holidays 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. There are also salary bonuses if you work in multiple schools, although this isn’t necessarily common.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How much do English teachers make in Seoul?
English teachers with a bachelor’s degree, the corect visa documents and teaching credentials should expect to earn a salary of 2 million – 2.5 million won (£1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000) per month on a full-time basis.
Q. Is it hard to get a teaching job in Seoul?
No, it’s not hard to find teaching jobs in Seoul. The majority of teaching jobs are in the city’s hagwons; for-profit educational institutions which serve kids and adults alike. Work can also be found in the public sector, at Universities, and with some English teaching businesses. Schools in Seoul are constantly involved in ESL recruiting, and you’ll find a streamlined employment process and excellent working hours.
Q. Can a non-native speaker be an English teacher in Korea?
Yes, non-native English speakers can teach in South Korea, however, they must be able to prove that a significant portion of their education was in English.
Q. Can I work in Seoul through the EPIK programme?
Yes. The -EPIK programme puts TEFL teachers into the public school system across Seoul. These jobs are 12-month contracts, with excellent bonuses, including health coverage, accommodation, flights, paid holidays and more.