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Seoul by TylerDurden1. Feature photo by Stinkie Pinkie

Are you a recent college graduate in search of employment? Do not despair! There is hope for you in Korea.

Make that liberal arts degree finally work for you! Come join the best and brightest of a generation and teach English in South Korea!

All you need is a college degree, a passport from a first-world English speaking country, the willingness to adapt to a foreign culture.. and a pulse.

Pusan monks by Ryuugakusei

In this time of economic uncertainty, teaching English as a second language abroad has suddenly become an attractive career option, or at least something to do while waiting for a dream job to materialize.

And what better place to teach ESL than South Korea – “The Land of the Morning Calm” – which is one of Asia’s strongest economies?

Koreans are crazy about learning English. They recognize that it’s the only way to economically move their country forward. And they’re willing to pay top dollar – or won – to learn.

The salaries, along with the relatively low cost of living, make Korea one of the most attractive options for teaching in Asia.

But before learning to like kimchi and jumping on that next plane to Seoul, take a look at the three main types of teaching jobs that are available to foreigners over here:

Teaching by Kai Hendry

1. Hakwons

Hakwon is the Korean word for “academy.”

You can’t throw a soju bottle without hitting a language hakwon in this country, and it’s likely the first place you’ll end up teaching.

English Hakwons mainly cater to kindergartners and elementary kids, though there are also some for adults.

The hours can be long and the erratic changes in curriculum maddening, but they’ll pay for your round trip airfare to and from your country, provide you with an apartment, and give you a contract completion bonus equal to one-month’s pay.

It’s not uncommon for someone to sock away between $10,000 and $20,000 (USD) after a one-year stint at a hakwon – perfect for paying off your student loans or financing a backpacking trip around the world.

Just know this: Hakwon’s are businesses first and educational institutes second.

The academy directors will always have their eyes on the bottom line. Start losing too many students or garnering complaints from the notoriously fickle mothers, and it could mean the end of your job.

Also, like Korean barbecue restaurants, the quality of these academies varies immensely.

Some hagwons have modern facilities and provide you with a nice, new apartment, while others are dilapidated, lacking heat and/or air conditioning.

The apartment provided by bad schools is invariably as small and nasty as the school itself.

Beware of sketchy hagwon directors!

The majority of teachers have a decent experience working in hagwons, but there are some greedy, psychotic, and downright evil directors operating on the peninsula.

Horror stories abound of teachers being paid late or not being paid at all, having to live in roach-infested hovels, being cheated out of bonuses or airfare – generally being shat upon and jerked around.

Just know that in this case Korean law IS on your side, but the best thing to do is to check out your school before you sign the contract. Talk to other teachers and read any feedback you can find on the net.

2. Public Schools

In recent years there has been a big push to place native speakers in the Korean public school system, mainly through what’s called EPIK (English Program in Korea).

Public school gigs are definitely a step up from hagwons. The hours are better, the pay’s decent, and you are usually guaranteed at least two weeks paid vacation per year, though this often translates into much more.

EPIK also gives you a housing allowance and end-of-contract bonus. There is the opportunity (or requirement, often) to work “camps” over the schools’ winter and summer vacation periods.

These are intensive English courses, for which you are paid extra, of course. It’s a good way to pad your salary.

Korean market by Giladr

Beware of boredom!

Many public schools require you to come into the office all day during their vacation periods, whether you have classes or not.

Consider this paid time to hone your writing skills or delve deeper into the raging hell mouth that is facebook.

3. Universities and Colleges

These are the holy grails of Korean ESL gigs, and also the most difficult to get.

Generally, universities want at least three solid years of English teaching experience, or both a masters degree and experience.

Jobs are often landed through reference: like the rest of the world, it’s not necessarily what you know, it’s who you know.

Universities generally like new hires to be ushered in by someone they already trust.

Why all the fuss?

University jobs usually require about 12 hours of classes each week, and provide you with at least 2 months of paid vacation a year, the dream job of a habitual traveler.

Some schools give you 3 or 4 months of vacation time. There are also plenty of opportunities to pick up extra classes which, of course, translate into more money.

Beware of complacency!

Aside from the fact that some universities don’t give you an end-of-contract bonus, you’ll find yourself so spoiled by the job conditions that the thought of returning home and actually having to work for a living might make you want to remove your own eyes with a spoon.

4. Privates

Many teachers earn a lot of extra money teaching private lessons to Koreans in their homes or by moonlighting at other schools.

Know that this practice is strictly illegal. In Korea, you are only allowed to work at the school that sponsors your visa.

If caught, you will be fined and possibly deported, though this doesn’t stop many teachers from dipping into this huge well of cash.

The best way to find any of the jobs described above is to contact a recruiter.

Good luck, and as the Koreans say: Fighting!

Teaching ESL Job Resources In South Korea

ESL Recruiters List

Dave’s ESL Cafe

Pusan Web


If you’re interested in teaching English in Asia, here are some Matador articles to check out:

How To Get A Job Teaching In Japan

Is The JET Program Right For You?

Teaching English In China

10 Online Resources For Finding A Job In Asia

ESL Teaching


About The Author

Chris Tharp

Chris Tharp lives in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English at a college. His award-winning writing has appeared on various travel sites around the web. He hates mayonnaise and any of its sister sauces.

  • Colin Wright

    Wow, the third option makes me want to take a few English-teaching courses until I find myself in Korea. Do you think this trend will continue for a while, or do you think it’s more of a fad that they are enthused about now, but won’t need or won’t want in 5 or so years?

    • Hal

      Hey Colin,

      This is NOT a temporary trend, as so many fads in Korea are. They’re mad about learning English, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

      I spent 2 years working in Seoul (though at a publishing company, not teaching), and I can say that it was the best move I ever made, both professionally and personally.

      • Caitlin

        That’s good to hear… I was thinking of going to teach English in a year when my travel funds run out. I will be upset if I miss the money boat.

  • Carruth

    What about the new e2 visa restrictions…seems like folks need a bit more than just a degree and pulse these days.

  • Shreya

    Gaah, I don’t have this “a passport from a first-world English speaking country” but I have A level English Literature and Language certificates and also in another four semesters, an undergraduate degree in English Literature.

    • Tim Patterson

      Super irrational and unfair, huh. I’m sure Koreans could save a lot of money if they hired English teachers from India….

      • tharp42

        The word is that the government is going to allow Phillipinos to come and teach, so it makes sense that fluent-English Indians could follow suit.

        • Tim Patterson

          That’s good news – in Japan it’s pretty much 1st world or nothing.

          • tharp42

            Yeah, I’ve just heard and read about this. I have yet to meet an actual Philippino teaching over here (there are plenty playing in hotel bands and working in factories) and I’m skeptical if the Koreans will warm to it. They harbor some deep prejudices against SE Asians, and nothing will compare to a shiny young Canadian ESL teacher in a lot of their eyes.

          • Shreya

            what a pity…that this 1st world or nothing prejudice should continue…I really hope it changes. I know plenty of Indian people who would be amazing ESL teachers.

  • Turner

    Good roundup; it’s so similar to teaching options in Japan, too. But I think Korea and Japan both have slighter stricter requirements for ESL – don’t you need a college degree?

  • Michelle

    Yup, you nailed it!

    Hakwons are definitely businesses first, educational institutes…sometimes. It really becomes a beating after a while. When I taught kindergarten in Korea, I was supposed to please every single parent, even when they had conflicting views.

    “He wants less arts and crafts time and more English, but she wants more arts and crafts. Okay?”

    “Um, what?”

    Education is not consumerism, and students are not my customers! Grrr…

    /rant. :)

  • michaela lola

    Trying to get a teaching in S.K. as an Asian was TOUGH.

    My boyfriend lives there now and I was hoping to teach there. I have a MA and am a US citizen but grew up in the Philippines, but it was still a no-go, mainly because of the E2 visa restrictions. But the two most difficult parts for me was that there were a lot of false hopes. It was also problematic that I am Asian. Its not a problem if you are Korean and grew up in the states but if you’re from a 3rd world country, then its almost impossible. And those that do, get 1/4th of the pay (I also met a fellow CS-er who was Filipino who taught in Thailand, and though he was able to negotiate good pay, he said that many Filipinos get paid pennies compared to what Americans get).

    Another option is to work under the table (of course, not recommended but many still do it). The sucky thing is that many nationalities from non-English countries (like French, Germans, etc.) often get hired much more (even if not everyone has good english) as tutors or whatever compared to someone who doesnt look ……er… an “english speaker.”

    Another thing is that I actually tutored Korean students, but here in the Philippines (ESL is actually HUGE here….students from other parts of Asia, Mid-east, etc come to study english or take up other courses like medicine since its half the price and taught in English). So many students actually travel around to learn English or do the phone service (like online tutorials) which go from 10 minute sessions to a maximum of 30 minutes. The people manning the phones don’t get paid that much (but better than minimum wage) but the clients pay something like $100 per session or something.

    But ya, I’m going off tangent. It’s still in demand of course. But just much, MUCH tougher if you’re ….errrr…non-white. Sorry, it sounds horrible to say, but its a reality. I’m not saying all koreans think that way, but I guess those doing the hiring do.

    But if you a) didnt grow up in the US, Canada, UK or Australia b) non-caucasian (no, this I’m not acting in a case of ‘reverse-racism’, its a reality. sucky reality, but a reality.) c) dont have a passport from any of those locations but still really want to go, then you can either:

    a) risk working under the table. risky but some do it. Just hang around Yonsei. students are a lot more open
    b) (for everyone) check out the “blacklisted schools.” I actually got “hired” by some of these, and my bad experience with getting rejected so often in a way, also made me a bit cautious about those that were a bit “too eager”…and voila! just google the school name and “blacklisted”
    c) remember to check out the chat rooms and dont be afraid to ask around
    d) BUT also dont let the Daves ESL chat rooms to color your decisions. Take things with a grain of salt coz for some reason, everyone there is angry or pissy about something. Rule of thumb, if more than 3 posts/websites blast the school, dont do it.

    (AND i have to disagree with the author…though I dont teach there, people I’ve talked to, other koreans and current teachers there, the law is NOT always on your side. BE cautious beforehand. its not, I’ll jsut go and if it all goes to hell I can just go to the cops…and if you’re asian (sorry, sorry but 98% of the cases happen this way) then, forget it. I think its also because so many people who do move to to places like Korea and Japan are domestic workers and SADLY, are not always treated well).
    e) Make your situation clear from the start. Insist that they check if it will be a problem. OFtentimes people just say “yes, its no problem” but they often arent in any authority to say so or are sales peole angling for the commission or is working by the numbers (getting applicants, regardless of whether they get through or not). So I’ve had a lot of “yes” that ended up becoming “no” after a lot of time and needless paperwork. so save yourself the trouble and lay your cards on the table.
    e) Think about studying there. There are so MANY scholarships open to students from EVERYWHERE. My boyfriend observed something funny: ALL his American schoolmates are paying out of pocket, while nearly all other nationalities (european, asians, africans, etc) took on scholarships or found grants or funding. This isnt because there arent but I think its an important message and observation too. When he asked them, they just said they didnt think about it. (before anyone tears me down for this, I’m not anti-American and my point of saying this is to look under rocks and think outside the box….and besides, its a real observation)
    f) Find other jobs…ESL isnt the only way to get abroad.

    gah! sorry for the long post……..but I do hope it helps……..

    Oh last tip…the BEST place to ask is the Seoul Couchsurfing site..a huge chunk are ESL teachers and those that arent can give you a lot of creative ideas. Plus, its really active!

    AND if you’re looking for jobs in Asia (specifically in Manila), check out my post on transitions abroad :

    and if you want to know more about Korea and working there, you can read and message Gero Schomaker ( lives in Seoul and has got a lot of information on that.

    • cheri

      I totally agree! I am in currently experiencing all those sad realities about ESL jobs application.

  • Bramlett

    These days Korea really isn’t worth the effort. The complicated and time consuming e-2 visa requirements make other countries such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam etc… more attractive where EFL opportunities are concerned. I will allow that the money is decent in S.K., however, if you’re in it for anything other than the scratch, stay away. In terms of cultural richness, exotica, natural beauty, Korea is flat busted. I’ve been here for 2 years now and find the place almost totally un-exceptional; that coupled with the fact that Koreans can be militant in there nationalistic xenophobia. Need proof? Google it. Then sift through the massive piles of disaster and dishonesty that is unique to the Korean EFL industry. So why am I here? The money. Pure and simple, but at the end of this contractual year this big dog is out!

  • tharp42

    Fair enough Bramlett. Korea’s not for everyone and some people hate it here. I get frustrated with the place from time to time, but it can be what you make it.

    What I would suggest for people coming here:

    Seriously look at Busan over Seoul. Seoul is bigger and has more stuff going on, but Busan is a city of almost four million, with decent beaches and milder weather in both the summer and winter. It’s also a three-hour ferry ride away from Japan.

    Koreans can be difficult at times, but I’ve found them warm and hospitable. If you make a good attempt to learn some of the language, as well as the history and culture, doors and arms will open. This isn’t the Land of a Thousand smiles like Thailand. You have to bring something to the table. A lot of foreigners come here and make no effort and then complain about how “unwelcoming” the place is. Well, it’s a two-way street.

    Also, get into the food. I’m always surprised by Korean cuisine and eat it most of the time. It’s also a key into the culture and wins you respect with Koreans.

    I suppose it comes down to your job, at the end of the day. If you mangage to get a good uni gig, Korea becomes a much better place to stay, especially given the fact that you’re probably travelling out of the country for AT LEAST two months out of the year.

    My two cents.

  • Andy Jiggs

    Alright! SO glad I got a public school contract!

    Nice summary of the Korean EFL scene, measuring by what I’ve read generally.

  • anna on pinoy jobs

    i think i have to get a related degree…
    Anyways, congratulations to Andy…=)

  • Brandon

    I have a tattoo on my forearm. Obviously I can cover it up with a long sleeved shirt. Are they going to freak out about it? I am more concerned when I go out after work with coworkers and they see it.

  • chris tharp

    Your tatoo shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you cover it up at work. If anything, it will be an object of curiousity at post-work drinking sessions. Koreans are coming around with regard to things like tatoos, though some may be a bit freaked by it…

  • cris

    To begin with, I am Filipino interested in getting an ESL job in S. Korea. However, it is daunting me to go there. I don’t know why, but it might be because of the reason and viewpoint of most Koreans that they would rather have an English native speaker to teach them English than Filipinos or other Asians. Personally, this is really unfair. There are Filipinos and other Asians who are not native English speakers; however, I strongly believe that we have all the attributes to be efficient and effective English teachers as well. The ability of teaching English is not measured by race, status and the like. I don’t have any prejudice against whites. I just want to make it clear to everyone that everyone deserves a chance in spite of the nationality of a person.

    • ESLinsider

       Actually there are some Filipinos who are telecommuting through robots. I wrote an article about this. I don’t know, but maybe in the future it could be an option for you.

  • Atalie


    I am a senior in high school, and I plan on taking Korean as a minor in college…I really do want to visit and/or live in South Korea, but my major is not related to teaching english. I DO, however, want to be able to have credentials for teaching in South Korea just in case I need a back-up job.

    So with that said, can I please have more specifics on what kind of requirements I will need to take in college?

    My best friend is also looking into living in South Korea, but she really does want to teach English as her main job, so any help would greatly be appreciated!

    Thank you very much!!!

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  • Doug

    Guys, what you need is DECENT college degree and QUALIFICATION to properly teach. Likewise, there are a lot of sketch English teachers, who are NOT qualified enough so think twice or be better prepared before coming.

    Hey Michelle, education IS consumerism and you gotta treat those little kids as your customers! If not, why the heck they have to pay for your salary?

  • Mike

    … I think you forgot the 4th type of teaching in Korea and that is the one working for the international school… I personally work for a Christian International School.. and I teach social studies and there are other foreign teacher that teach subjects such as science and math.. I have found that these foreign schools are very similar to vacation and trying to squeeze out every won (dollar) out of the teacher they can…

    While the Korean teachers have 3 week vacation or 4 week vacation.. plus time to prepare lesson plans and prepare for the next year….the foreign teacher have to teach intensive course, summer camp programs… etc etc. It is pretty sad…

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  • Deima

    It makes me sooo sad that all the doors are open only for native English speakers… Korea, Japan… All you need is a degree in any field. How does that make any sense?
    I am angry and burning with envy…

  • Marylouise Maciolek

    You want to know what, this is a great great article thank you

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  • http://google jayanta pradhan

    well ,i’m an MA in English language (with my special paper Linguistics and ELT) I have also a university degree ; post Graduate Diploma In Teaching English and a Bachelor degree in Education .I’m In the teaching profession for the last 11 years. I’ve co-authored a book titled “Better English Pronunciation”

    I am interested to earn money sharing my knoweledge and experience by teaching english and checking write-ups online
    By the way i dont have a pass port from any First world country

    Looking forward to hear from you

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hi Jayanta,

      I’m not sure who you’re writing to here as the author is not in the position to get anyone a job. All the best with your job search,

      Editor, Matador Abroad

  • Bruce Jones

    Something that was left out in requirements to teach English in South Korea was actually knowing how to teach Engilsh effectively.  While there are still schools that hire native English speakers in droves, the parents of students and the business people taking ESL classes are getting wise to poor quality native English speaking teachers.  More and more English language schools in South Korea (and the public school systems) are only hiring teachers with a professional level TEFL / TESOL / CELTA certification. 

    If you want to be a trained professional, know what you are doing and commend a better qaulity job at a reputable language school, this is the way to go.  A good school is International TEFL Academy .  They are a USA based school training nearly 1,000 new English teachers a year and help their graduates navigate the world of teaching English in South Korea and around the world.

    • ESLinsider

       You know many TEFL providers like yourself, have the same old line to sell your courses: you need it, better jobs, more money, blah, blah, blah. And that little TEFL certificate is no guarantee of any of that.

      I know from experience.

  • ESLinsider

    I used to live in Busan too. The one thing that I would like to add is that public schools aren’t necessarily a better bet for some. Hagwons and public schools both have their ups and downs. I personally had decent experiences working in Hagwons and a rather dodgy experience working with a public school.

  • ESLinsider

    Anyways I have written about how to avoid horror stories in my ebook and about the differences between these two kinds of schools.

  • Jeewon Sohn

    If you are interested in teaching in Korea. Send me an email I can hook you up with a job! : )

    • Richa Singh

      Iam teaching english to koreans in India…i want to teach english in korea..please help

    • Korea Teaching Jobs

      sure just submit your profile here

    • Molina Willie

      I am currently teaching English here in Thailand but I want to move to Korea and teach English there too.Please assist me in getting to Korea and be able to teach there…
      I have a very good command of the English language as i have exposed to English speaking nationalities and have been in Australia for many times already . I have a University degree in Psychology and have been working as an HR ( Human Resource ) person in many companies before. I would be grateful if you can facilitate an English Teaching Job for me in Korea.

    • Mark Stuebe

      just emailed you :)

      • Sibusiso

        Is it strictly First world countries? I hold a BA Hons Degree in English from the university of Zimbabwe and I am very fluent in the language. i would kie to know if it’s possible for me to teach English in Korea/Japan/China

  • Korea Teaching Jobs

    if you looking for teaching work then join us extra work private teaching.. register your profile its free.

    • Richa Singh

      i want to join

  • Roger Burge

    Hi, I am just off to Bangkok to do a TEFL/TESL course with Chichester College in December this year. I am told pay in Thailand is on the low side so any info about other countries and teachers’s experiences gratefully received.

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

  • Fleurtje Meijer

    shouldn’t you know the korean language to teach English there?
    Or how else are you going to explain it to the children?

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