teach English in South Korea

Teach English in South Korea: Private Academies for Kids

Are you interested in working abroad and becoming an English teacher in South Korea? The information below will give you an idea of what it’s like to teach English at a private language academy in The Land of the Morning Calm. 

Job Requirements

It’s not difficult to get hired as an English teacher at a private language academy, known as hagwon in Korean. If you can meet the basic requirements, then you are likely eligible. 

Basic requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Native English speaker from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand
  • Able to pass a criminal background check
  • Medical check

Some jobs may require a teaching credential or a certificate such as a CELTA, but this isn’t the case for all jobs. Recruiters and HR managers are usually very clear about the job requirements when they publish their job advertisements. And most of them are quick to respond when applicants have questions or concerns. 

The Paperwork

Employers will basically ask for the same *documents:

  • Application
  • Resume/CV
  • A copy of your university degree(s) with an apostille
  • Copies of transcripts
  • Passport-size photos
  • Copy of the front page of your passport
  • A national criminal background check (from within the last six months) with an apostille
*This list is not exhaustive. Also, the process of preparing these documents will cost you money. And when you send ALL documents (whatever else they ask for, like signed contracts, etc.) to Korea, you will have to pay for that, as well. However, many employers will reimburse you for these expenses, including postage. Keep copies of the receipts. You can confirm this during the hiring process if the recruiter doesn’t mention it first.

The Work

You. Teach. English

This type of teaching job is a great opportunity for those who genuinely enjoy working with kids, but maybe not a great idea for those who don’t. Depending on the academy, teachers might run classes alone or work together with a Korean teacher. 

Schools already have their core curriculum established, so teachers basically just have to use that in their planning and preparation. Teachers are expected to plan out their lessons each day, and sometimes this is done in collaboration with the Korean staff. There usually is some leeway in terms of activities, games and so on. If teachers follow the books, but throw in a fun game or two with a lesson, everyone’s pretty much happy.

In addition to teaching duties, it’s common for teachers to participate in special events like judging debates, teaching the students songs and poems for special programs, and sports/activity days. In addition, schools may assign teachers other duties such as writing progress reports (report cards) for students.

Typically, with private language academy jobs there is little to no room for upward mobility. If you plan on doing this kind of work for a long time, it’s possible to become “head teacher” at your workplace, which might come with a slight salary boost, but that’s likely the end of the road. You might also get yearly raises and additional vacation time if you repeatedly re-sign with the same company.  

Total Compensation for ESL Teachers

Okay, so this is probably the most important part, right? 

The word “pay” is probably not the most accurate word here because the financial aspects related to teaching in Korea are best understood if we think about them in terms of total compensation. That said, it is extremely important to ask as many questions as possible if you are unclear about something in an employment contract before you sign it. Most companies, even those offering unfavorable conditions, are ready to oblige since they want you to understand what they’re offering. 

Compensation 

Pay

Salary: In general, monthly salaries range from ₩2.1 million to about ₩2.5 million. On the low end, they typically bottom out at ₩2 million; on the very high end, they can reach ₩4 million at some academies. 

Benefits

Food: It’s not uncommon for some schools to feed the students and teachers one meal or snack per day. Also, in some cases, companies provide teachers with a small monthly food stipend. However, not all companies do this.

Housing: Most, if not all, companies offer rent-free housing. Some employers pay for utilities, some do not. Also, there’s about a 50/50 chance that the company housing includes free Internet access. The living quarters are likely located very close to the school, which allows teachers to save an additional ₩70,000 – ₩100,000 per month in transportation costs. People who choose not to live in company housing are usually paid a stipend.

Insurance: Employers are required by law to pay for half of teachers’ health insurance costs. This is standard across the board, but a lot of companies like to sell this like it’s a unique perk. According to the National Health Insurance Service, both employees and employers must make contributions equaling *6.48% of an employee’s salary to the National Health Insurance Service. Therefore, employees pay half and employers pay half, which equals 6.48%. 

*The rate as published by the National Health Insurance Service as of 05/30/19.

Also. . . 

Pension: Companies match employees’ contributions to the National Pension Service, which is required by law. The contribution rate is based on an employee’s total wages. According to the National Pension Service, employees must contribute 4.5%, and employers contribute 4.5%. This is commonly paid on a monthly basis. Therefore, 4.5% of an employees monthly salary is deducted as a pension contribution.

Note

For certain nationalities, the sum of the contributions, plus interest, minus fees, will be paid out once the worker returns to his or her home country. You can read more about pension refunds on the National Pension Service’s website

Airfare: Employers either directly purchase plane tickets or reimburse employees for airfare. Companies finalize travel arrangements a few weeks before an employee’s arrival to Korea.

Severance pay: On top of a yearly salary, workers receive an additional month’s pay for every year of employment. Again, this is mandated by the Korean government, so all employers must pay this.

In most cases, employers add this amount to an employee’s final paycheck. For example, if you earned ₩2 million per month, you would receive ₩4 million on your last paycheck. However, if you work more than one year at the same place, the company will give you your severance pay at the end of your multiyear contract. So if you worked at an academy for two years, you would receive your severance pay for years one and two at the end of your second year.

Vacation: Vacation periods can range from 10 days to one month on average, depending on the company. 

However. . . 

It is very important to read your employment contract carefully in order to fully understand its terms and conditions. Contracts will specify if vacation time is paid or unpaid, and when teachers may use their vacation time.

The schedule

The work schedules are generally good. Again, this depends on the company, but teachers can expect to have a block schedule during either the morning or evening. 

For example

Morning block: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Afternoon/evening block: 2 p.m. – 9.30 p.m.

So if you prefer to have your mornings free, you can try to get hired at an academy that offers evening schedules and go with that. If you like having your evenings free, you can focus on trying to work at a place where you can finish work earlier. 

Location, Location, Location

Teach English in Gangnam . . or Not

Everyone learns sooner or later that the most lucrative jobs teaching kids are in the Gangnam District. If a higher salary is your main goal, you should apply to jobs there. It is not unusual to see advertisements for jobs in the Gangnam area paying well over ₩3 million per month. The potential downside for some people is that it is a very busy, noisy, and crowded area of Seoul. Some people love the area and don’t mind. Others might like it, but would prefer not to live or work there. Personally, I think it’s a cool place, with plenty of awesome cafés, restaurants, etc. 

Sweet Spot

Save a lot of Money

By far the biggest advantages of teaching kids, aside from the professionally rewarding experience, are the schedules and the rent-free housing. The key point with the free housing is that it allows teachers to save a large chunk of cash, especially if they work in Korea for a period longer than a year. Additionally, if teachers live in rent-free housing located within walking distance of their school, they can save between ₩800,000 to ₩1.2 million in transportation costs, over the course of a year.

In sum

  • In general, native English speakers who posses a university degree are eligible for teaching jobs in Korea as long as they have clean criminal records. A teaching credential and/or other certificates, such as a CELTA, is a requirement for some jobs. 
  • This job can be an awesome experience for educators who truly enjoy working with kids and young people. 
  • It’s important to consider the multiple factors related to pay and benefits when assessing total compensation packages. 
  • Monthly salaries are typically between ₩2m to ₩2.5+ million, but rent-free housing boosts overall take-home pay by eliminating a major cost of living expense. 
  • Health insurance and travel costs are subsidized by employers. 
  • All employees receive severance pay equivalent to one month’s salary per year upon the completion of their employment contract. 
  • Unless it is specifically stated, vacation is sometimes unpaid. In some cases, the employers, not the teachers, choose the vacation days. 
  • Work schedules are usually favorable. 
  • Companies in the Gangnam District are known for paying notably higher salaries on average, compared to other areas. 

Interested in teaching English to adults? Check out Teaching English in South Korea: Adult Academies