안녕하세요! (Korean for “hello!” pronounced “annyeonghaseyo”)!
Because of its plentiful jobs and their relatively high salaries, South Korea is arguably the #1 Asian destination for ESL teachers. See our full list here.
Let’s dive into the ins and outs of teaching English in South Korea so you can determine if this East Asian gem is right for you.
About teaching English in South Korea
South Korea constitutes the southern geographic half (give or take) of the Korean Peninsula, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean from mainland China.
Not to be confused with authoritarian “hermit state” North Korea, South Korea is exceptionally well-developed economically, politically, and socially.
Here are a few key statistical facts about teaching English in South Korea:
- Average teacher’s salary is $1,350-$3,100 USD per month, varying by school type (more on that later)
- At about $38,000 per capita GDP, South Korea ranks #36 in the world for this metric, generating 227% of the global average. What this means for ESL teachers is that schools have plenty of money to expend on English education (and they do).
- The ESL sector in South Korea is a $50+-billion industry, and will likely continue to expand barring unforeseen circumstances. Because English is the international business language, and Koreans are, generally speaking, obsessed with economic development, the nation invests more in ESL than almost any other country.
If you’ve spent time in ESL circles, or have lived abroad, chances are you know a Westerner (likely several) who have spent time teaching English in South Korea. There are good reasons for this, as we’ll explore here.
What are the requirements to teach English in South Korea?
Requirements vary from institution to institution. Some requirements advertised are flexible and others are rigid. As a rule of thumb, here’s what you need to nab a teaching job in Korea:
- Native English speaker (taken to mean UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada passport holders)
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited Western university
- Clean criminal background
- TEFL certification. Increasingly, TEFL (which stands for “teaching English as a foreign language”) certification is a baseline requirement in the competitive Korean market.
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Teaching in South Korea: Salary and cost of living
Let’s survey the salary, benefits, and cost of living to give you a window into the economics of teaching English in South Korea.
Benefits for Teachers in South Korea
To attract top talent, South Korean schools tend to offer greater benefits, in addition to the higher salaries, than competing regional host nations. Examples of such teacher benefits include:
- Paid vacation
- Health insurance (South Korea has a top-tier healthcare system)
- Flight reimbursement (huge if you’re coming from North America or Europe which can cost thousands in airfare)
- Contract renewal bonus
How much do teachers make in South Korea?
Pay can range widely from $1,350-$3,100 USD per month. The pay depends on:
- Teacher’s experience
- Teacher’s negotiating tactics
- The type of school
- The location of the school (urban vs rural)
What’s the cost of living in South Korea?
For a single person in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, per Numbeo as of May 2022, the cost of living was $1,112/month for all expenses except rent, plus $837/month for an apartment in the city center for a total of roughly $2,000/month.
As you can see, rent in the urban centers is high. That’s why free housing as part of the employment package can be so valuable.
The cost of living in rural areas – particularly rent – is lower in smaller cities and towns. So, if nature is your thing, and you want to save more of your monthly take-home pay, factor the lower cost of rural living into your job search. There are still plenty of jobs outside the city, although they are less concentrated and often less visible.
For those looking to boost their income while in South Korea, you can consider tutoring students after school or on weekends or consider any of these online schools to teach English to Korean students.
Types of English teaching jobs in South Korea
Here we’ll dive into the three main types of ESL positions available in South Korea – private schools (aka ‘hagwons”), public schools, and universities – and their respective salaries, requirements, etc.
Job type #1: Private schools (Hagwons)
Private language schools – called “hagwon” in Korean and otherwise known as “cram schools” or other names in different countries – are typically devoted entirely to a single subject such as math or ESL.
They’re ubiquitous in South Korea. Education is extremely important in Korea, so many parents send their kids to these nighttime and weekend schools in hopes of seeing a bump on their test scores.
Here are a few stats and facts on hagwons:
- Pay is usually around $2,000 – $2,200/month
- 35-hour workweeks on average
- Most classes are on nights, late afternoons, and weekends (great fits for night owls and/or party animals)
- Schools hire year-round, so you can get one of these positions regardless of the season
Below is a job offer from June 2022, for a hagwon called Spot On English School in the southern city of Ulsan.
(2.1m won/month equals roughly $1,600/month. As noted in the ad, the salary is negotiable, so it’s possible to leverage your professionalism and experience to get more. Plus the school provides housing.)
Job type #2: Public schools
The Korean government invests heavily in English education to complement the large private investment in the industry.
Several government programs pair teachers with public schools. Some are national in scope and others focus on specific metropolitan areas. See our breakdown of the biggest programs in the “where to start” section.
Work hours for the nationwide EPIK (English Program in Korea) are 8/day Monday-Friday (i.e., regular school hours of operation). Medical coverage, airfare, and free housing are standard inclusions. The pay can range widely from 1.8-2.7m won/month ($1,380-$2,000/month).
Teachers get a full 28 days of paid vacation time as well as a month’s salary severance pay after finishing the year-long contract.
The bottom line: a position at a public school is generally more secure and there are greater benefits than one in a hagwon, but the pay is comparatively lower and it requires a year-long commitment.
Tayler with an E does a decent breakdown of her experience with the EPIK program:
Job type #3: University
The pay for working in higher education is a tad higher than jobs at lower levels, usually between $2,050-$3,100/month.
This advertised ESL instructor position at Chungnam National University in Daejeon offers a generous housing stipend, overtime pay for hours exceeding 20/week, medical insurance and a national pension.
Like many similar institutions, the university offers increased pay for master’s degree holders, so if you have such an advanced degree, you might consider looking for a position in higher education.
Where to teach English in South Korea
Here are the top destinations for ESL work in Korea, home to the greatest concentrations of jobs:
- Seoul, the national capital and largest city in Korea, with a population of nearly 10 million
- Busan, Korea’s second-largest seaside city on the southeast coast, with a population of roughly 3.5 million
- Daegu, the “Apple City,” with a population of 2.5 million
How to find an English teaching job in South Korea
Let’s start you off right on the path to employment by exploring where and how to look for work.
Where to start
Recruitment agencies are one of the easiest ways to secure a position for newcomers unfamiliar with the Korean ESL job market. Just make sure, if you go this route, you vet the recruitment agency for quality and reliability before signing on to avoid falling victim to a scam.
Several government programs, as we mentioned before, place teachers inside public school classrooms to assist Korean teachers with their English lessons. Examples of the most prominent such programs include:
- EPIK (English Program in Korea), administered by the National Institute for International Education (NIIED) in association with the Korean Ministry of Education, in operation since 1995
- SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education), administered by the Seoul municipal government
- Gyeonggi English Program in Korea(GEPIK), administered by Gyeonggi Provincial Office
CIEE Teach English Abroad, an alternative to government placement programs, is a private program that connects teachers with hagwons throughout S. Korea.
You can also utilize job boards to look for positions at hagwons, international schools, adult education centers, and other institutions:
- ESLcafe.com (the largest aggregation of Korean ESL jobs anywhere)
How to get hired
Here are a few tips to get hired:
- Step your credentials game up and make yourself more attractive to potential employers by becoming TEFL-certified.
- Create a strict job-search plan (for instance, a minimum of two online applications per day) using the resources linked above and stick to it.
- Follow up with schools or recruiters if you don’t hear back after a week or so – it’s possible they misplaced your application in a sea of incoming emails
What visa do you need to teach English in South Korea?
In most cases, you’ll need an employer-sponsored E-2 visa. Good schools will take care of the process for you, or at least assist you in navigating it yourself, so be sure to ask about this during your interview.
What’s it like being an English Teacher in South Korea?
To get an idea of what the daily grind is like in Korea, here are a few handpicked videos from various teachers’ perspectives.
Maurie Proffit offers a walkthrough of her life as a hagwon teacher in Seoul.
Jackie Bolen, who lived and taught in Korea for ten years, offers insights into the ESL work-life experience:
Adrienne Hill does a walkthrough of how she became a teacher, starting with her decision to make the move while living at home in the US to where she ended up (Busan):
East Asian employers expect – demand, in fact – a lot from their employees, bordering in many cases on fanaticism. The good news is that they generally cut foreign guests, whom they often acknowledge come from different work cultures, more slack in this respect than they grant to their native workers – but only to a degree.
For hot tips on thriving in such an environment, check out my article How to Navigate Sticky Cultural Issues While Teaching English in Asia.
Now, 가세요 –– (“go in peace,” pronounced ga-se-yo.)
Other Asian countries to teach English
- Teaching English in Japan
- Teaching English in China
- Teach English in Vietnam
- Teach English in Vietnam
- Teach English in Taiwan
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about teaching English in South Korea
Let’s put to rest a few of the more common questions regarding the ESL industry in South Korea.
Can I teach English in South Korea without a degree?
Not likely. The job market in South Korea is competitive and a degree is a baseline requirement. You may consider teaching in Thailand without a degree.
Can I teach English in South Korea without any prior experience?
Yes. In fact, many schools prefer recent college graduates (who often have limited or no experience) because of the perception that they have higher energy.
Is teaching in South Korea worth it?
Yes. The work environment can be demanding but the pay is relatively high and the standard of living in Korea is likewise.
How much money do you need monthly to live in South Korea?
The cost of living in urban centers is $1,112 for all expenses except rent, plus $837 for an apartment in the city center for a total of roughly $2,00/month.
Are English teachers in demand in South Korea?
Yes. Take a look at the job boards linked above to get an idea of how abundant South Korean ESL jobs are.