Your Guide to Teaching ESL in Korea

startupkorea1The English as a Second Language (ESL) industry in Korea remains lucrative and has evolved over the last five years: the industry is becoming more competitive and the number of teaching roles have been cutback to force parents to spend less on the private education sector. For first time job seekers this translates to an over-supply of teachers. Government cutbacks to public school programs means that ESL jobs are not as abundant as they were.

That said, teaching ESL in Korea can still provide wonderful opportunities and make for an incredibly rewarding experience – although it is not without its challenges. If it’s your first time in Korea it can be a valuable opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most dynamic cultures in Asia while earning a little bit of pocket money along the way.

To help the prospective English teacher in Korea, we have compiled a series of handy tips and must-know sites collated from seasoned ESL veterans in Korea.

The Job Search

Most people arriving in Korea for the first time prefer to be based in Seoul. If you have a preference for teaching children then there is an abundance of schools and academies. Busan and its surrounding cities such as Ulsan are also good locations for ESL roles as the majority of government agencies are scheduled to move out of the Seoul area and the major shipping and oil companies are based around Busan / Ulsan, providing more opportunities and a quieter location.

Before you begin your job search, invest in a great headshot for your resume – professional with a smile works best! First impressions count and your image will play a role in the employer’s decision. Your headshot will be used to promote the schools English programs to parents and students. These shots will come in handy for later when you are required to register your residence in Korea.

The best place to start your job search is online on any number of the ESL teaching sites.  Some people have also used English recruiters. The best advice when approaching any English recruiter is to ensure they have a recruiter registration number, which is similar to a business registration number. If they are prompting a particular role, ask for photos of the school and to speak to any current foreign teachers at the school. Don’t feel rushed to take the first position that comes along as some recruiters will push you into taking a role.

Be prepared for some unusual questions. Take the time to research potential employers or recruiters on the Korean English teaching blogs and Facebook groups. If you are looking for ideas, check out our article on how to prepare a resume in Korea or look at our article on applying for a job in Korea.

If you google ‘ESL jobs in Korea’ you will get bombarded with results. We save you the trouble and picked out a few of the better ESL sites for teaching roles in Korea.

ESL Teaching Jobs

Worknplay – Many of the major ESL recruiters still use Worknplay as one of the main websites for teaching roles in Korea. The site allows you to upload a resume and photo to get your job hunt rolling. The majority of the jobs will be full-time roles.

Dave’s ESL Cafe – Dave’s ESL Cafe has been around for a number of years and is used by a number of ESL recruiters for all types of jobs ranging from adults to children. – Korea4home has a fair selection of teaching and non-teaching roles. Many schools in Korea will advertise directly on this site. – Waygook is a site similar to Dave’s ESL Cafe. It offers tips on teaching and there is a community board that will allow you to talk to other teachers about their experiences in Korea.

Craigslist Seoul – Craiglist has a wide selection of teaching jobs and general part time roles. You will also have access to non-teaching work as many entertainment companies look for actors through this website.

Salary Expectations

The minimum salary expectation for E2 teachers in their first year is 2.1 million won plus housing and a return flight to your home country. If you are being offered less than that then consider looking elsewhere. Any potential offer should include a salary, flight ticket and housing component.

A typical offer for a private or public teaching job will look like the following below:

Salary 2.1 million (KRW) to 2.3 million (KRW)

Housing: 500,000 (KRW) per month or partly furnished apartment provided.

Return flight ticket to country of origin.

Keep in mind that the above is the basic guide and depending on the school and the location, the salary and the conditions will vary.

Prepare Your Visa Package – The E2 Visa

The majority of people who come to Korea to teach English will have to apply for the E2 Visa – English Teaching. Over the years the conditions for this visa have tightened considerably. You can find information on the E2 visa on the Korean Embassy in Australia website.

Preparation is key. E2 Visa requirements for Australians now include a degree and a sealed copy of your transcripts. All of your documents will also need an apostle seal.  Criminal checks are mandatory for all teachers working with children or in private education institutes. You will need an Australian Federal Police Check with an apostle seal as well. You will also need your fingerprints taken from your local police station.  If you can, try and get more than one copy of your transcripts, degree and police check.

Scan everything and keep a digital copy on file. Schools and recruiters have been known to misplace items in the mail and things can go missing. Even if you change your teaching role or stay for another year in Korea, you will need to supply these documents every time you apply for a new role.  Waiting for a federal police check can take up to a month.

Before you enter Korea all teachers need to give a health statement. When you arrive, your employer may also require you to do a health check at a local hospital.

The Workplace

If you apply to a public school program you have the options of elementary and middle school. Most high schools are now phasing out their foreign English teachers. Class sizes can be up to 40 students for some middle school English classes. You will be assigned a co-teacher who will assist you with your classes. Be prepared for culture shock. For most Korean children, you may be the first foreign person that they have met so they are naturally curious.

Hagwons (학원) are the mainstay of private education in Korea. After completing their public school during the day, some children in Korea will study at more than one hagwon per night up until 10pm. Education is a competitive business in Korea and you are a part of the sales pitch to students and parents.

A Chance to Grow Your Network

You may start as an English teacher in Korea but look at the role as an opportunity to grow your network. Korea is a dynamic environment that is constantly evolving. Use your time in Korea to network, network and network. For long term Aussie residents, the majority of people started as an English teacher. Being an English teacher can give you an opportunity to gain personal access with people you would not have the chance to encounter in Australia. Its not unusual for teachers to have classes with CEOs of global companies like Samsung, LG or Hyundai. Approach every class as the opportunity to build a long term relationship, you may be surprised to what it leads to.

One Final Bit of Advice

Your E2 visa is tied to your employer, the labor rules are a little different if the situation is not working out.  if you do run into trouble or have questions about your situation, you can contact the local labor board and/or the global centers in Seoul for assistance. The Ministry of Employment and Labor have an English service that can also provide further assistance.

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Daniel Gardner

Korea Correspondent
Dan has been a business and corporate communication coach in Korea for more than six years. He currently resides in Seoul and is a commercial advisor for a major entertainment law firm in Korea. He is currently working with Seoul City Hall to create training programs to assist Seoul employees in dealing with the growing international community in Korea.

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