South Korea: Tips for Teaching English

We asked Melissa Barry – i-to-i’s work and holiday expert – to share her top tips for travelers who want to teach English in South Korea.

Books on a shelf in Seoul, South Korea Photo © Getty Images/Wansick Park / EyeEm

Immerse Yourself in the South Korean Culture

If you’re looking for an amazing experience, you should consider teaching English in South Korea! Not only do you get to live alongside the locals, eating what they eat, doing what they do, and having a whole lot of fun… but you get paid to do it!

If been thrown neck deep into another culture intrigues you, then teaching English could be the ultimate travel adventure for you… 

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in South Korea

Once a pawn between bigger and stronger Asian and Western superpowers, South Korea has laid its volatile past to rest and is on the rise, having developed from being one of Asia's poorest countries to one of its richest.

The country’s economic success is matched by its cultural richness, and nowhere is this more evident than in Seoul. Amongst the skyscrapers and hotels, centuries-old palaces and shrines remain intact and there’s a sense of history that goes back to the Joseon Dynasty of the 14th century. Added to all this is its lively social scene and breadth of shopping opportunities.

With a myriad of beaches, mountains, lakes and tropical islands within South Korea’s borders, life and excitement exist far beyond the capital. The cherry on top is that doable distances and good transport links make it easy to experience this fascinating country’s delights.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s on offer to all you TEFlers out there:

Demand for English Teachers

There is a huge demand for native English speakers in Korea, and while some schools prefer certain accents (e.g. North American & British), if you look English and speak it well you’re chances of finding work are very high. 

Where Are the Teaching Positions?

The majority of work for TEFL teachers is currently available in the regions of Seoul & Busan. However, there are opportunities to teach English in many other areas, but you will need to work a bit harder to find them.

What Kind of Teaching Work Is There?

There is a wide range of teaching work available in South Korea, ranging from one on one tutoring to teaching large classes. Here’s a list of what you can expect to find: 

  • Private English language institutes (hagwans): General English,
  • Business English University academic departments: General English, English for Specific Purposes (ESP)
  • Government & private research institutes: General English, ESP
  • Corporate in-house language programs: General English, Business English
  • State & private kindergartens: English for Younger Learners

Accommodation

Most employers offer accommodation at no cost for TEFL teachers, however as property prices are high in the big cities you can’t expect to be in the lap of luxury!

Flight Reimbursement

Many employers offer a generous payment towards your flights upon completion of your contract to encourage you to stay for the full term. This can be up to US$1250 so it pays to take this into account with any contract negotiations.

How Much Can You Earn?

As an English teacher in South Korea, your salary will be among the best for your profession anywhere in the world. While pay is proportionate to your qualifications and experience, as a general rule of thumb, someone with a degree and at least 100 hours of TEFL training should be able to earn in excess of $1700 per month.

How Much Will I Be Taxed?

Taxes are very low in South Korea with only 4-5% taken out monthly, which your employer will take care of. So you get to keep most of the money you make!

Cost of Living

Generally low, but it’s slowly on the rise as the economy strengthens. You can expect about 20% – 30% of your salary to go towards the cost of living.

Is There Potential to Save Money?

A lot of people come to Korea to save money, and while this is achievable it totally depends on your spending habits! Most teachers are well paid and the cost of living is low in comparison, so how much you save is up to you! While working, you can easily transfer some of your salary into your bank account at home if that helps!

How Much TEFL Training is Recommended?

As the demand for English teachers is very high, there are teaching opportunities available for degree holders that don’t have any TEFL qualifications at all. However you can dramatically increase your chances of getting the more sort after jobs and earning significantly more by completing TEFL training. You can do this with i-to-i before you head off or even while you’re on the road with one of their internationally recognised and accredited online TEFL courses.

What Kind of Teaching Conditions Can I Expect?

About 30 hours of teaching during the week, over 5 days. Lessons start later in the day compared to most western schools. Saturday lessons are rare but well paid. Classes in hagwans can be overcrowded, but the students tend to be serious about their studies and expect good quality teaching.

What You Need to Be Aware Of

You can avoid scams and faulty contracts by checking how long a recruitment agency or hagwan has been in business. If you choose to go through an agency, it’s best to use a well-known one that ensures good wages, accommodation, and in-country support. The wages for private tutors are very high, which can tempt those without visas. But Koreans are rewarded for reporting any illegal activity, so don’t risk being deported for the sake of some extra money.

Want to Know More?

You can get your TEFL credentials or find a work placement through i-to-i’s work and holiday website.

Do you have any tips for teaching English in South Korea?

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