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Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in South Korea


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Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in South Korea

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in South Korea
Admin - Feb 07 2016

If you are on the lookout for a fulfilling English teaching job in Asia, South Korea’s public and private schools represent some of the region’s best career destinations.

Let’s do the Math to explain why. South Korea is a nation of nearly 50 million people, with an economy that has posted incredible growth and global integration over the past four decades. In 2004, the country joined the world’s trillion dollar club, rubbing elbows with economic powerhouses like Germany, Japan, China and the United States.  The nation currently ranks as the world’s 12th biggest economy, providing a solid backdrop to South Korea’s equally growing global influence in the realm of popular culture and technology.  Think Samsung, Hyundai, and K-Pop and you’ll see how much this northeast Asian country offers.

For ESL and TEFL practitioners, South Korea also offers a career haven, with English designated with Korean as an official language. English is widely taught in junior and high school, partly by thousands of resident language teachers from native English-speaking nations. Both the public and private school sectors currently have a strong demand for English educators, and both present unique benefits and drawbacks for people intending to teach in the country.

Public School Perks

According to the global teacher recruitment agency, Teach Away, the public school sector in South Korea offers a good working environment for foreign language teachers as well as opportunities to experience genuine Korean culture. Teachers serving in the country’s public schools directly work for the Korean Ministry of Education and are primarily hired either to teach English to the local population or to provide technical training to other teachers.

Because public schools adopt a highly structured teaching schedule, foreign ESL and EFL educators get to enjoy substantial free time on weekends and evenings. This allows for prolonged and highly satisfying forays into the country’s natural, cultural and culinary offerings. This teaching arrangement is best for foreign language educators who are interested in ramping up their international portfolio as well as those eager to discover a new and exotic culture.

In 1995, the government established EPIK, its flagship program for English language learning, with the goal of improving the English-speaking abilities of South Korea’s students and teachers. The program’s secondary goal is to promote cultural exchanges. Every year, the program recruits more than 1,000 people to fill ESL teaching jobs in the country.

EPIK teachers get to enjoy quite a number of perks:

  • a chance to work in any of South Korea’s scenic provinces
  • tiered salary scheme depending on educational/professional level and teaching location.  Entry-level teachers — those with bachelor’s degree in any discipline — could get between 1.8 M won (or about US$1,615) to as much as 2.1 M won (or about US$1,884). Meanwhile, practitioners with master’s degrees, relevant certifications, and local tenure may nab a monthly salary of 2.7 M won, or about US$2,422 or more.
  • full one-year contract
  • free single housing (utilities not included)
  • one-way ticket to South Korea
  • paid training
  • airport-to-location transport service
  • settlement allowance
  • paid 18-day vacation leave plus paid national holidays (about 13 to 15 days)


Foreign ESL and EFL teachers intending to enter South Korea through the EPIK program can work in any of the country’s provinces. However, if you prefer a particular province over another, it is best to submit your application and state your preferred teaching location as soon as you can because teaching assignments are granted on a first come-first served basis. For South Korea’s public schools, the two main hiring seasons are in February/March and August/September. Once your host province have been determined, the relevant Provincial Office of Education (POE) will then decide which specific primary or secondary school you will be assigned to.

TEFL Teaching in Korea's Private Schools

Above, we provided some background as well as details on what ESL and EFL practitioners can expect from a teaching job with South Korea’s public schools. This time, we’ll give some guides and tips for people wanting to try out an English teaching career with the country’s private academic institutions.

Also known as hagwons, private schools in South Korea offer some of the most lucrative employment packages for intrepid ESL and EFL educators. In addition to highly attractive salaries, the sector also offers side benefits such as flexible working hours, free airfare, subsidized accommodations, and paid vacation leaves.  Compared with their counterparts in the public sector, private academic institutions hire the bulk of foreign teachers in the country, employing some 2 to 15 foreign teachers per school compared to just 1 foreign teacher per school recorded for the public sector. Experienced practitioners can bag as much as 3M won (or US$2,684) in basic monthly salary from some of the country’s private schools.

Given the highly competitive academic and professional environment in the country, hagwons have sprouted like mushrooms in many cities and provinces, promising students and their parents a fast-tracked learning experience designed to help students achieve different goals. These include scholastic score improvements in their “normal” academic classes, remedial education for students that are being left behind in class, additional training in areas not commonly covered by regular schools and preparation for board, entrance or certification exams such as those for college entry. Many hagwons specialize in just a single field such as mathematics, art, sports, and languages. Commonly patronized by South Korea’s more affluent population, hagwons take in students of any age ranging from pre-schoolers to mature learners.  There were about 70,000 hagwons in the country in 2008, with almost half focusing on high school enrollment.

Hagwons and English Teachers

The close link between hagwons and English educators can be traced as early as the 19th century when native English speakers were first hired to teach the local population. Most hagwons adopt a minimum requirement of citizenship from selected native English-speaking countries and a bachelor’s degree.  The following standard benefits can be enjoyed by ESL and EFL practitioners who are fortunate enough to land employment contracts with hagwons:

  • a full one-year contract
  • round-trip airfare
  • subsidized housing for a single occupant
  • additional one-month severance pay at contract completion

Exercise Caution

If you prefer working for the private sector, choose the hagwon you want to join carefully. This is to avoid some of the issues reported by a number of foreign instructors ranging from premature job termination, substandard living conditions at the subsidized accommodations, and some problems with health insurance and vacation leaves. While these issues are likely isolated, it is better to exercise caution than harbor regret later on for what should be a fulfilling English teaching career. Generally, hagwon teaching jobs are best for ESL and EFL educators looking to increase their savings and work in a structured teaching environment.

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