South Korea has been one of the favourite places for young ESL teachers to head to after graduating from University. South Korea is a popular destination for those who want to jump right into a completely new culture and make some decent money at the same time. In South Korea you’ll get the opportunity to taste some of Asia’s most delicious cuisine like the famous Korean barbeque and explore huge sprawling metropolitan cities like South Korea’s capital, Seoul.
South Koreans are excited to learn English and their hospitable natures make South Korea one of the best places to go and work as an English teacher. Salaries are relatively generous and with a starting salary of approximately £1600 a month, there’s great potential to earn and safe especially with most private English institutions in South Korea (hagwan) covering the costs of flights and accommodation. Another great bonus about living and working in South Korea is the cost of living. While it may seem a little expensive to some still, it’s a lot cheaper than Asia’s other most popular ESL hub, Japan.
The South Korean currency, the won is a relatively strong currency and some of the basic average living costs are as follows:
Monthly inner-city apartment for rent: 750,000 won (£450)
Internet (monthly): 35,000 won (£20)
Cheap Lunch: 6,000 won (£3.50)
Domestic beer: 3,000 won (£1.75)
It’s worth noting that the average cost of living does vary greatly from each Korean city. Naturally, like most countries, South Korea’s two biggest cities, Busan and Seoul, are more expensive with the average one-bedroom apartment costing £550-600 per month.
Depending on your experience and qualifications, there are a number of different ESL teaching positions in South Korea to be had.
The most popular place for ESL teachers in Sth Korea is the Hagwon as mentioned before. The average pay for a starting teacher in a Hagwon equates to approximately 1.9-2.2 million won (£1100-1300) per month. These are private language academies that usually work with school kids. All Hagwon hours are later due to the afterschool teaching program. There’s no rule from the state about how much a Hagwon teacher should earn in Sth Korea and it’s all down to the school owner. Most Hagwon owners are honest, but like in any country there are a few dodgy ones too who will pay you less and give you very few holidays. Unfortunately, there’s no way of regulating this therefore it’s a good idea to do thorough background research before signing a contract. Blacklisting schools and teachers is a popular thing in Sth Korea if someone has wronged another, which makes it much easier to decipher which schools are more credible with trustworthy owners. Because South Korean parents are obsessed with having their kids know English it’s not uncommon to find children as young as 3 in the Hagwon classroom.
Working in a public school in South Korea is much harder. As a public school teacher in Sth Korea, you’re considered to be an employee of the Sth Korean government therefore there’s a pay scale involved dependent on your years of experience and qualifications. The average pay for an ESL teacher in a South Korean public school can range anywhere between 1.5-3 million won (£900-2900) per month. In this kind of position, you can also earn overtime and if you do this, you could be expected to earn 20,000 won (£12) per hour.
ESL jobs at universities in South Korea are considered to be the dream job. You’re independent, you have more flexibility with the content of your teaching, you’ve got minimal teaching hours, and still you’re earning power could be around the 3.5 million won (£2,600) per month. If you’re really qualified and you’ve got solid experience in your field and teaching in Asia, it’s sometimes possible to even earn up to 8 million won per month (£4,700). South Korea values education, which is why it’s no surprise really that there are well over 400 public higher education institutions there. However, the majority of these can’t be found in Korea’s major cities and are usually on the outskirts of the larger cities.
Foreign ESL teachers also have the opportunity to work in international schools in South Korea where the average salary is 1.8-2.8 million won (£1,000-1,600) per month. These aren’t your typical ESL jobs however, and they cater to those foreign students whose parents are currently residing in South Korea for work. These jobs are considered to be ‘gold’ because they’re schools are foreign run, more reliable and it’s quite common to be paid in an international currency like the US dollar, pound or euro. As attractive as these jobs are, it’s extremely difficult to get one and usually you’ll have to have not only experience and qualifications, but also an internationally recognised teaching qualification for international schools.
Many teachers do undertake private tutoring; however, it’s worth nothing that if you’re on an E-2 visa, it’s illegal to give private ESL lessons. While it happens often, if caught, you’ll lose your job, get a large fine, and most likely be deported from South Korea making it impossible for you to re-enter South Korea for 10 years.
If you research well, there are a lot of work opportunities for an ESL teacher in South Korea, so if you’re interested in seeing where East meets West, singing and socialising in the weekends, great shopping, and beautiful nature, make South Korea your next stop.