Country Information
General Information

Types of School: Where to work in Korea

Hagwon or EPIK? Korea's biggest two options are public or private but there are other options too.

One of the good things about Korea’s education fever and the ubiquity of English language jobs is the industry has become pretty standardised both in the public and private sectors.

This means unlike many countries where benefits vary wildly between schools, for Korean schools we can give more detailed descriptions than is normally possible.

Private English Schools (Hagwons)

Some quick clarifications first. All private study in Korea, which as we covered in the introduction is incredibly popular, happens in hagwons. Hagwon is the Korean word for a private learning academy/cram school.

Hagwons don’t just have to be for English, they can be for maths, science, pretty much anything you can think of. We’ll be focusing on the English language ones.

Students & Teaching Hours

Class Size: Small – usually around 12 or lower

There are three different age groups that hagwons cater for.

  • Kindergarten – Hours: 9am to 5-6pm
  • Elementary and junior high school – Hours: 3pm to 9-10pm
  • Adults – Hours: Vary according to adults schedules. Split shifts and evenings are common.

The reason for the high school gap is because of Korea’s incredibly competitive college entrance exam, high school students focus almost exclusively on preparing for it.

Teaching Experience

Unlike public school positions where you’ll have a co-teacher, teaching at hagwons is an independent teaching experience, you’ll have far more responsibility. Hagwons typically provide comprehensive materials, so less lesson planning is required.

You’re also far more likely to be with other expat English teachers, most hagwons will employ multiple teachers so you’ll automatically get a support group.

The age group you end up teaching will have a large effect on your lessons. Teaching adults is usually more demanding, they’re paying themselves and are going to be dedicated students who have come in with a goal. Teaching children needs more energetic lessons and a different style of teaching.

It's important to remember that at the end of the day hagwons are a business, not a public service like a school. People are paying for a service and particularly with parents, if they don’t agree with anything you’ll end up hearing about it.

Dodging the Bad Ones
Our knowledge base article, finding a job, goes through how to research an employer and make sure you're putting in due process.

Finally you’ve probably come across one or two hagwon horror stories when reading about Korea, just like any private business there are going to be bad eggs who are just in it for the money. Although contracts are relatively standardised in Korea, you still need to put in your due process and watch out for the bad hagwons. and the rest of this knowledge base entry on Korea, should help give teachers an idea of what is normal.

Standard Contract Benefits

  • Salary: 2 million won – 2.2 million won (entry level) up to around 2.7 million for experienced teachers
  • Airfare: Paid (typically paid upfront)
  • Housing: Provided (single furnished studio apartment)
  • Insurance: Half of National Insurance payments will be paid
  • Pension: Half of National Pension payments might be paid (This is a contentious point, see taxes and social security for more information.)
  • Bonus: One month’s salary at the end of the contract
  • Vacation: 10 days + national holidays (15)

Public Schools - EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE, TaLK

To get into public schools in Korea you need to go through one of the public school placement programs. The main two are:

  • EPIK
  • GEPIK

There's also the occasional possibility of applying through a recruiter directly to one of the provincial Offices of Education.

Both Incheon and Gyeongsangnam-Do (IMOE & GOE), have recruited outside the two main programs in recent years.

Previously there used to be a Seoul program – SMOE, however it’s been merged with EPIK and now all teachers for the Seoul area are assigned through EPIK.

You may also have come across TaLK.

All the other programs are for people who have already graduated. TaLK is a teaching placement program like them, however it is for under-graduates who are two years into university and have a year out to work.

Students & Teaching Hours

Class size: 30

There are elementary and high schools positions, however most are for elementary – Hours 8:30 to 4:30 (22 hours teaching)

Just as with hagwons there are very few opportunities to teach high school because of the focus on the college entrance exam.

Teaching Experience

In public school positions you’ll teach with a co-teacher and your responsibilities will depend entirely on how you work together. You could be running the entire lesson, helping with the conversation exercises or anything in between.

You’ll also usually be the only foreign teacher at your school, which is excellent for immersion, but can be isolating if you struggle with acclimatising or get placed in a rural area without many foreigners.

Because public school jobs require you to be there all day when you’re not teaching, they also have a lot of downtime.

All these jobs are through government programs, so the contracts are identical and positions are secure. Although the chance of a hagwon failing is very small, your government job won't disappear. Budget cuts aren’t unheard of, but schools will usually sort this out in-between rotations (i.e. when yearly contracts expire and need to renewed) or at the very worst, move your placement to a different school.

One of the large downsides of going through a government program is you get far less choice about where you end up teaching, you can set your preference for a province but that’s about it.

Standard Contract Benefits

  • Salary: 1.8 - 2.1 million for Bachelor’s degree (Teaching experience, a masters, returning for multiple years can increase it up to 2.7)
  • Settlement Allowance (Bonus when you arrive): 300,000 won
  • Airfare: 1.3 million each way. You can keep the extra if you spend less
  • Housing: Provided (single furnished studio apartment)
  • Insurance: Half of National Insurance payments will be paid
  • Pension: Half of National Pension payments will be paid
  • Bonus: One month’s salary at the end of the contract
  • Vacation: 18 days average + national holidays (15)

Universities

Working in universities and the foreign language institutes attached to them are pretty much the most coveted jobs in Korea.

Universities can offer both full time and part time positions, they have more in common public schools than hagwons, but offer a better deal all round. You’ll be teaching by yourself, generally between 12 - 20 teaching hours a week.

There can be office and administrative duties, which will depend on where you’re working, however they’re usually small and unlike public school positions when you’re done you don’t need to hang around.

Competition

Unfortunately these positions also come with higher requirements and more competition. Most universities will be looking for at least:

  • A Masters Degree
  • Two years experience

Those two are the most common, but each university will usually have it's own criteria on top of that: experience must be in public institutions not private ones; 4 years experience means you don't need a masters etc. and remember these are the minimum requirements.

As Masters degrees get more common the competition for these positions rises and as with many of these kind of jobs, networking is just as important as your qualifications.

KOTESOL is Korea’s largest professional organisation of English teachers and getting involved is the easiest way to begin networking.

Standard Benefits:

  • Salary: 2.3 Million – 2.5 million and rise depending on experience and exact role (Assistant Professor or Full etc.) Up to 3.5 million plus on the high end.
  • Accommodation: May be provided on campus
  • Airfare: Not paid
  • Vacation: 2 – 3 months

Private Teaching Korea

Teaching privately in Korea on your E2 visa is illegal. In fact any type of extra work without permission is illegal.

The only place you’re allowed to work will be listed on the card (Alien Registration Card) you’re given when you arrive. If you can get your school to agree to the extra work and register it with immigration then it’s legal, but in practice many employers don’t want you working for other people or teaching private lessons.

As you’re probably imagining, despite the threats of fines and deportation many people still teach privately in Korea on E2 visas.

Who can teach privately in Korea? If you’re on a F2, F2-1, F4, F5 or F6 visa (F6 is replacing the F2 visas) then you can apply for a tutoring licence and legally tutor in Korea.

The average rate charged per lesson varies wildly, people charge depending on location, the kind of lesson, travel distance, the age and skill level of the students etc.

As a guideline: In an urban area, charge 30 - 40,000 won for an hours lesson, for a single student.

The best guidelines will always come from looking at adverts for private tutors in your area and finding out how much they charge.

Business English

Many large companies in Korea have their own in-house language programs. Companies may also outsource their language programs to hagwons, or hagwons may employ teachers to travel around multiple businesses teaching various in-house programs.

The conditions and benefits for these positions depend a lot from company to company however they are most similar to adult hagwon positions with irregular schedules and work hours in the mornings and evenings.

Image Attribution:

"IMG_1831.JPG" by Marie is licensed under CC BY 2.0. This photo has been cropped.
"Yonsei university in Seoul, South korea" by 콩가루 is licensed under CC BY 2.0. This photo has been cropped and rotated.