I taught English in Korea for a year and a half! I had an overall fantastic time, so check out some reasons why you should be teaching English in Korea right now.
1. The Pay
It may seem a little gauche to mention pay right off the bat. But Korea is one of the best places in the world to teach English because it pays more than similar countries while having a lower cost of living.
You can expect to earn around $2000, or 2,200,000krw a month, with free housing and fantastic cheap healthcare. Your expenses will include food (fairly easy to get by on less than 150,000krw a month), utilities (about 40,000 a month), and transport (average bus or subway far is around 1,800krw.).
That means you can expect to have at least $1,500 a month for whatever you want!
I call it the perfect intersection of pay, safety, lifestyle, and cost of living. The lifestyle in Korea is fun, the pay is more than enough to live on – and save! Japan might pay similarly, but the cost of living there is around double. And while places like Saudi Arabia might pay more (and the country is getting safer for women) it didn’t seem worth it.
2. The Safety
South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world – probably safer than your home country, even! You’ll hear and witness great stories of women pulling up, leaving their car running with the baby in the backseat while they walk past cases of iPhones just hanging out to go and get a new cell phone plan.
Theft is almost non-existent, walking alone at night as a woman is totally fine, and regular violence is also just…not there. I will warn women that drink spiking does happen, sexual violence does happen, but I’d argue it is more rare than in other places, particularly as a foreigner.
3. The Vacation Time
Teaching with a public school in Korea is one of the best options for getting a great vacation package straight out of university. 24 days is standard for public schools, usually taken in two-week chunks in February and July. If you care about vacation times, I don’t recommend going with a private hagwon as 10 days is standard (and the rules are more iffy).
In addition to these 24 days, you’ll get around 10-11 public holidays that result in 3-4 day weekends most of the time. It really adds up, especially when you think about how close countries like Japan and Taiwan are – you could easily visit them on a long weekend.
4. They’re Not Picky About Qualifications
Countries in North America and Europe tend to be a lot more strict about your qualifications for teaching English. That’s not really a problem in Korea. As long as you have a TEFL Certificate which costs around $25 off of Groupon, you’re good to go.
EPIK, the main public school program, can get a tad competitive these days. But don’t give up, there are other programs such as GOE and CNOE (Find out more about them).
5. Korea is Easy to Travel
If you love to travel, Korea is just the right size and perfectly connected so you can see a ton in a short space of time. In my year and a half I visited 47 wonderful places. Public transport via bus and train is quick and inexpensive.
No matter where you live, there will be options for a weekend escape. If you’re in the GOE program, for instance, you will likely be placed near Changwon (the largest city in the region). Changwon is just a 45 minute bus ride away from Busan, Korea’s second largest city! Learn more about what to do in Busan.
6. Korea is Well-Located in Asia
One of the biggest issues for many Americans and Canadians is getting out of their respective countries. Flights can be expensive and long. Meanwhile, in Korea, flights to Japan, China, and Russia can take as little as an hour! A weekend trip is not out of the question.
Trips to countries in SE Asia are practically at your fingertips for holidays and vacation time. Popular countries to visit are Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand, with flights being under 5 hours in most cases.
Even further flung countries are not out of the question. I was able to take a two-week trip to Italy during the spring break season.
7. The Bonuses for Teaching English in Korea
I’ve already mentioned the basic monthly pay is great, but where you can really cash in is with the bonuses.
When you finish your first contract (1-year) successfully, you are entitled to severance. This is an entire month’s pay! And the longer you stay, the more that gets added to your severance bonus. After a year and a half, I was entitled to a month and a half’s worth of extra salary.
You also have to pay into a pension while you’re in Korea. The 4.5% of your paycheck that gets put in is matched by your employed. So, you get double back when you finish up. Please note that some countries can’t get this back until Korean retirement age, but US citizens will.
When you move into your new apartment, you will get 300,000krw as a sign-on bonus. This money is great for helping you make your apartment your own, or off-setting the 400,000krw deposit that will be taken out of your first check (you should get this back in the end, though).
8. It’s Not a Difficult Job
You might be worried about teaching, especially if you only have those internet qualifications and your straight out of university. Don’t be! When you teach in Korea it is as a GET – a Guest English Teacher.
Being a GET means that you generally will have a Korean teacher in the room with you. Frequently, this rule is ignored. But it does help you adjust when you first arrive.
Lesson plans are always from a book, and you shouldn’t deviate from it. The only somewhat difficult thing might be designing games for your class. Luckily, there are great websites to help you with that, such as Waegook or Korshare.
9. There’s Tons of Time for Hobbies
Yes, you do have to be at your job for 40 hours a week. However, you’re only teaching for 22 hours a week! And remember how you’re only supposed to follow the textbook, excepting for some games? That means your prep time is incredibly low.
I probably spent only 2-3 hours a week prepping for classes, and even less by the time I renewed my contract for another 6 months. That meant I had time to apply to a graduate school, write this blog, learn to crochet, play video games, learn Korean, and read books.
Yes, it is annoying to have to be at work when you’re not “doing” anything. But in some ways I appreciated this dedicated time to do my hobbies.
10. Great Paths Upward for Teaching English in Korea
If you wind up enjoying teaching, there are some fantastic opportunities for you. Because of all of your free time, it is fairly simple to enroll yourself in an online Master’s course or a teaching certificate course. If you get a teaching certificate, with a few years of experience you can try for International School Jobs.
These international schools pay super well (sometimes up to $7,000 a month with housing!) but can be competitive in Korea. If you are already teaching English in Korea, you’ll have a big head start.
11. It’s Fairly Easy to Get a Job in Korea
Unlike similar countries such as Taiwan, finding paths to teaching English in Korea is super simple. There are recruiters such as Korvia and Korean Horizons which will basically baby you through the steps. But doing it on your own through EPIK also is not difficult.
The EPIK website will walk you through the whole thing. Don’t worry if you don’t have teaching experience, or have never been abroad – that’s all pretty normal and no one will care!
Teaching English in Korea is Great
So, as you can see, there is something of a magical confluence of great reasons for teaching English in Korea. It’s safe, like Japan or Singapore. You can earn quite a bit of money, like Japan or Saudi Arabia. It’s fairly cheap to live in, like China or Taiwan. It’s government is stable and while the bureaucracy can be annoying, overall it’s easy to navigate and get a job quickly.