Teaching English in Korea

When I originally wrote about teaching English in Korea, I said the ELT situation was good despite the global recession. The situation has changed, and an over-supply of teachers has meant a stagnation – and often a drop – in salaries and conditions.

There are still English teaching jobs in Korea, but it isn't what it was.

"Korea elicits the strongest emotions from TEFL teachers," was a comment I read on an online forum on teaching English in Korea. This is something anyone who spends time talking to teachers who have taught there will understand.

Love/Hate are the usual emotions elicited. And many teachers do stay for a long time, but it's a country where you'll always be a foreigner. The 'hermit kingdom' has few immigrants, and the people are not used to non-Koreans, although this is changing. However, many teachers do enjoy teaching English in Korea, and many have been living in the country for many years or decades.

teaching english in korea

The average starting salary for teaching English in Korea is around 2–2.5 million won a month. Many advertised salaries (even for MA/PhD holders) are around 1.7 million, which is too low. Some schools provide housing, some don't. If not expect to pay over 600,000 won for a simple room in a cheap hotel (hogwan), or 1.1 million to 2.8 million for a modest apartment.

Some apartments in Korea have a system of key money, where you pay a years rent in advance for your landlord to invest as he wishes. This is - in theory - returned to you at the end of your contract. The sums are large - much larger than a normal rent would be. It's a system with risks and if possible get your school to pay this - or share with other people. 

Qualifications and Experience Needed

For teaching English in Korea legally you need a degree. You will need this to get an E2 visa which English teachers need. Many teachers do work illegally without any form of qualification, but this means taking the risk of deportation and fines - as well as working in less desirable institutions.

TEFL certification is seldom asked for, and unlikely to make you any more money. It might help with getting work in the better schools. It's main value is to give you some techniques to help you become a better teacher. And give you an easier escape route if you decide to teach in another country.

If you want to work at university, then you'll need an MA TESOL or other related master's (sometimes a PhD is required) and usually 2 years experience teaching at university level. 

Types of ESL Jobs Available

Most teachers teaching English in Korea do so in hogwans (private language schools). These are sometimes big chains, or sometimes small privately run institutions. They typically give teachers about 20-30 hours of teaching a week, and have classes early in the morning and again in the evenings - when students are free to study. Some of these school offer housing. Class sizes are often around 10-25. There s also some work available in public schools.

As I mentioned above, it's also possible to teach in universities in Korea. The pay and conditions used to be quite good. No longer. Many now offer low pay and high expectations. I've seen university jobs offering around 1.7 million. Much more is possible if you've already been there for years, but for newcomers it's low. And it's hard to see how this will improve in the near future because of the high supply of teachers in the country. Paid vacation time varies, but is often 8 or 10 weeks – the rest of the vacation is sometimes used for teaching summer courses.

There are two intakes for teaching English in a university: February and September. Jobs are advertised around 4 months before the beginning of the semester. 

Part time teaching is also possible, but teaching outside your contract is illegal - although many teachers do this.

teaching english in south korea

How to Find ESL Jobs in Korea

As in any country the best ESL jobs are to be found through contacts on the spot, after you've arrived, and probably after you've already been teaching there for some time. Nevertheless, there are jobs advertised online, and some are quite good for a first job in the country. However, avoid agents wherever possible. They're not all bad, but you're usually better contacting schools directly.

As far as it's possible, choose a reputable school - use online forums to try to discover this. And try to obtain a fair and clear contract. Although some Korean bosses are known to freely interpret the contracts in their favor, it's still a good start to have a good clear contract. For many teachers it's a choice between teaching English in Korea, or teaching English in Taiwan Read the opinions of one teacher below. 

What's the difference? - Korea & Taiwan - A teacher's view. 

teaching English overseas 

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