Teach English in South Korea – A Beginners Guide

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 11/01/21 •  Teach Abroad

South Korea (along with Japan) is one of the most developed and modern countries to be an ESL teacher in. They pay is good (you’ll be able to save $1,000 a month easily), you can also expect to receive a bonus, free housing and airfare reimbursement.

Be aware of the Korean work ethic though. Like Japan, they work hard, operate in a strict hierarchy and expect you to do the same. This strictness is off set by the stable work and good pay. Seoul South Korea is also an amazing international city.

About Teaching English in South Korea

Teaching English in South Korea is still a lucrative idea and Korea is still a top destination in the ESL industry. If you’re looking to get started in ESL, South Korea is an excellent first country due to the job prospects, salary and quality work experience.

Where Will You Work?

Teachers mostly work in privately owned education centers known as Hagwons or they work at public schools. International schools and universities are also an option, but are only available to those with experience and a background in education.

Which is better? Public schools are much better. Better pay and less teaching hours. For these position there is more competition so a Hagwon is always a good first job for new ESL teachers.

Legal and Educational Requirements

South Korea has numerous hurdles to jump over to become an English teacher:

These are legal and educational requirements needed to obtain an E2 visa so you can legally live and work in South Korea.

Native English Speaker

Filipinos and non-native English speakers need not apply. You must be a native English speaker from:

If your country is not on this short list, you won’t be able to obtain an E2 visa to work as an English teacher in South Korea.

Bachelors Degree

You need to have graduated from a 4-year university (or 3 year if you’re non-US). No exceptions. Some teachers have fake credentials and while this can get you a position in Thailand because they don’t check sources, in South Korea they expect certified proof that you have completed a university degree.

I have a 2 year degree, is this acceptable?

No, you need a bachelors degree to obtain an E2 visa. This is a legal requirement and there is no way to get around this. If you have an associates degree or are currently studying for a bachelors degree check out the Teach and Learn (TALK) Program for South Korea.

No Criminal History

South Korea requires the completion of a federal or national background check. For Americans, this means you need to contact the FBI so set aside the required time to complete this as it’s not something you can finish quickly.

If you have a record, even a misdemeanor your application may denied. Again, it’s always up to the immigration officer and how long ago your misdemeanor happen, but generally there is no middle ground. You have a clean record or you do not.

No Health Issues

A health check is required in South Korea. This is normal as most countries expect a health check, it’s just that South Korea is more strict. The process is two-fold. Part one is to simply fill out this form and submit it to your school with all your other paperwork when going through the visa process for South Korea.

Part 2 happens after you obtain your E2 visa and fly into South Korea. You’ll undergo a physical and they will do blood work to check for diseases and drug use. So don’t do drugs before coming to South Korea and don’t try to hide any health issues. It’s grounds for having your visa revoked and your position terminated.

TEFL/TESOL – Checkout Teach and GO’s Program

For Hagwon’s, this certification is not required. A Hagwon is a private after school students attend after the finish their day at public schools.

For public schools and international schools you’ll need a TEFl or TESOL certificate. These are the best jobs in Korea for new teachers and it’s worth doing the required work to be eligible for work at a public school.

All the teachers we’ve talked to who loved working in Korea worked at public schools. The ones who hated it worked at a Hagwon.

Lastly, for University positions a TEFL is not required, though at this level they expect you to have relevant work experience and a masters degree in a relevant subject area.

South Korea Teacher Salary

South Korea with Seoul as the capital is a culturally interesting place to live. It’s a city and country that is on par with any city in America. The pay varies depending on where you work obviously, Hogwans or public.

While the actual salary is not that high and is on par with most other countries where you can teach English, it’s augmented with some of the best benefits in the ESL industry that enable you to save money.

What does the average English teacher Make?

The average English teacher in South Korea makes about $2,000 USD a month, or 2.1 million Won. Though, again it varies based on your experience, qualifications and where you work.

Types of School to Work at

Hagwon 1.8-2.3 million $1,500-2,000
International 2-3 million $1,700-2,600
University 2.2-3.5 million $1,900-3,100
Public School 1.5 – 3.2 million $1,300-2,800

Hagwon: 1.8-2.3 million Won

Hagwon’s are where most new teachers in South Korea work simply because public school and universities can be more selective. This is not to say Hagwons are bad in any way.

It’s just that you’ll be paid roughly the same amount as other teachers in public schools, international schools and universities roughly, but will have to work longer hours and have fewer days off. Think of it as paying your dues if that helps. Once you’re situated in Korea with your job I would recommend you start the job search for public schools.

What is a Hagwon?

A Hagwon is a private learning center. During the day you’ll teach kindergarden. In the evening you’ll teach after school classes. Teaching hours can be up to 6 hours a day. This is quite a bit as you should normally expect to teach 3 hours a day if you work at a public school in any country (China, Thailand and so forth). 

Because Hagwon’s are private, they do not fall under the same regulations as public schools. This is why they’re the place to go for new teachers looking to get situated in South Korea.

International Schools: 2-3 million Won

International schools are institutions from abroad that have set up in Korea to teach a curriculum based on another countries standards, completely in English. International schools are for experienced, qualified teachers only.

The advantage of working at an international school is that you have an opportunity to teach subjects like math, computer and science in English.

University: 2.2-3.5 million Won

University positions are some of the best position in South Korea. Good pay, all the benefits of the other school provide and a 4 months vacation? If you meet the requirements I would go after a University position first and foremost.

Be prepared to work hard though. Again, Koreans work long hours and expect the same from you. They have no problem dismissing you if you’re not up to the standards they expect.

Public Schools: 1.5-3.2 million Won

Public school are the ideal place to work for teachers who already have a few years experience teaching English. The public school system is well funded, organized and professional.

Because of this the competition to obtain a position at a public school is competitive but worth it because you’ll be paid more than a Hagwon typically, work less hours and have more time off. To get started pursuing a public school position check out:

EPIK (English Program in Korea)

The most popular program in South Korea. EPIK can take upwards of 6 months to get accepted into. The advantages are good pay at a government school and bonus pay if you work in remote locations. The downside if you do not have control over where you are placed. If you’re looking a for a position outside of Seoul, EPIK is the way to go.

GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea)

Gyeonggi is the area around Seoul, not Seoul itself. A good option if you want to have access to the city but not live in it.

SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education)

This program focuses on placing you in the public school system in Seoul. The goal of the program is to have a native English speaker at every public school in Seoul South Korea. As such this program is very competitive and you’ll need to have experience, a TEFL cert and some education background to get accepted.

TALK (Teach and Learn in Korea)

TALK is a program for those teachers who want to get into ESL but only have a 2 year degree OR are currently in University pursuing a 4 year degree. If that’s you, look into applying for TALK. It’s a unique opportunity.

Your salary is capped at 1.5 million WON and you’ll only have to teach 15 hours a week (after school). But you’ll get all the other benefits of flights and free housing.

English Teacher Benefits

South Korea offers some enticing benefits to attracted native speakers to live and work as English teachers in South Korea. Here are some of the benefits:


South Korea pays for your ticket to come to South Korea (but not for a return flight). Some school buy your ticket, other reimburse you.

Free Housing

A clean, modern apartment for free (not including utilities)? Apartments are small by American standards, but it still acceptable because housing tends to be newer and well maintained. If for the odd reason your school does not provide housing, you’ll receive a stipend to get your own place.

Bonus Pay

Schools typically pay a bonus equivalent to 1 months pay at then end of your contract. This combined with rent free living allows teachers to save money easily or have money for travel.

Cost of Living in South Korea

South Korea is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Rent food and transportation can really add up. However, as an English teacher at a public school for example, you have a lot of costs taken care for you.

Rent free apartment, free flights, free food provided by the school for lunch and you will live close to where you work. As a tourist in South Korea, I was spending $50 a day just on food and travel. It’s quite expensive but the teachers we’ve talked at public schools says it’s quite easy to save money working in South Korea.

How Much Can I save?

You can save $500-1000 USD a month roughly. It really depends on your spending habits. If you’re focused on saving money, South Korea is the place to work as by the end of your contract you could have thousands of dollars in savings. Particularly when you factor in the end of contract bonus.

The Korean E2 Visa For Teachers

Obtaining an E2 visa so you can live and work in South Korea is a process. You MUST meet certain strict requirements. The strictest in all of ESL teaching in Asia. One of these visa requirements is a national background check (not local). If you have any sort of criminal history you can not work in South Korea. With that out of the way, let’s get started covering the basics.

The E2 visa explained

The E2 visa is the class of visa you’ll need to be a temporary resident of South Korea so you can be legally employed. The E2 is linked to your employer so switching from one employer to another is it’s own process but can be done. It’s also illegal to work anywhere else technically (tutoring, private students etc) when you’re on your E2 visa.

The E2 visa is designated for teachers and applicants for English teacher positions must be from a country where English is recognized as the first language of the country:

How to Obtain an E2 Visa

Obtaining the visa from start to finish takes about 2 months. You’ll be submitting numerous documents via mail to your prospective employer. On their end they will send back a visa confirmation number. Once you have this number it’s time to obtain the actual visa from your Korean embassy. Once you receive the visa, fly to South Korea. Undergo a health check and being orientation for your new job.

The documents needed to obtain the E2 visa:

Degree from a 4 year university

You need a bachelors degree in any subject to legally obtain an E2 visa. This is just the first step however. South Korea does NOT want your original copy. Instead, you’ll need to obtain a COPY of your degree. This copy needs a few things to prove it’s authenticity.

1 – You’ll have to get the copy of your degree notarized. You can do this at any bank, UPS or USPS. Done? Great.

2 – Next step is to either visit your Secretary of State or mail them the copies of your degree so it can be Apostilled by Your Secretary of State.

Certified Transcripts

You would think the process of obtaining a notarized copy of your degree that is also apostilled by the Secretary of your home State would be enough. But South Korea demands another layer to prove you actually completed a bachelors degree.

You’ll need to get 2 transcripts from your University. The University must seal and stamp the transcripts in an offical envelop. Do not open these envelops. The seal must be in-tact otherwise they won’t accept them. One copy you’ll take with you to the embassy, the other goes to Korea with all your other documents.

Background Check (National, not State or Province)

Most countries demand a local background check. This is a simple document that can be obtain in a day from your local police station. South Korea however demands that you obtain a national background check.

For Americans this means you’ll need to contact the FBI. The process involved requires fingerprints, fees and patience. Expect this to take upwards of 2 months alone.

E2 Applicant Health Statement

The health statement is the first step of completing your health check. It’s a form you simply fill out on your own that you will need in South Korea. When you arrive in South Korea you’ll have to undergo a health check. They’ll draw blood to check for diseases/drugs and give you a physical. The goal is to assess your overall physical health.

You MUST pass the health check. If you fail your visa will be revoked.


To complete the visa process you’ll need your contract from your school. You should recieve 3 copies. One that you can keep. One that goes to the embassy as part of your application and one copy signed that you will return to your school.


Yes, you’ll need a print out of your resume. Nothing special here. A standard, professional and accurate resume is all that is needed.

Valid Passport with photos

Your passport needs to have at least 6 months validity left on it. This is standard for immigration in any country. You’ll also need a lot of passport photos. Simply send a scanned copy of your passports picture page to your school and submit your passport to the Korea embassy so they can put the E2 visa in the passport.

Mail Required documents to the School

The next step is to mail all the above documents via UPS or DHL to your school so they can apply for your visa confirmation number. It can take anywhere from 1-2 weeks to obtain your number.

Visit your local South Korean Embassy

Complete the E2 form and make an appointment with your South Korean embassy or consulate. You’ll need to bring with you a few things:

Simply submit your documentation and pay the applicable fees. The embassy will process your visa and inform you when it is ready for pick up.

Pick up your Visa

Once you have your visa you’re ready to go to South Korea to begin work. Notify your school when you have your visa and they will instruct you on when you should arrive in South Korea.

Congratulations! You completed the most difficult visa process in the ESL industry successfully.


Teach English in South Korea – Conclusion

So that’s it for this Teach and GO guide to teaching English abroad in South Korea. If you enjoyed it, consider bookmarking this page or sharing it with someone it could help.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.

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