Asia, South Korea

How To Teach English in South Korea

If you’ve looked into teaching English as a foreign language (commonly referred to as TEFL) you might have noticed that not only does every country have different requirements for employment, the pay rates vary drastically.  After the United Arab Emirates, South Korea is the second highest paying country for English teachers. That’s due in part because they will provide an apartment for you as part of your contract. Your only financial responsibilities are utilities and food. Not a bad deal.

So how can you get this gig?  First you need a Bachelor’s degree.  It can be in any subject, but some of the more prestigious schools would prefer a degree in English or Linguistics or something like that.  (Mine is in history)  Second, there is something called a TEFL/TOFEL/TESL certification which may or may not be necessary to get a job.  I was under the impression that I would need it, so I paid about $1000 for a class through Oxford Seminars and got certified.  The class itself did very little to prepare me for teaching, but Oxford offers job placement assistance and I was able find a job in Korea very quickly. Once I was in Korea I met other teachers who didn’t have a certificate, so it’s not necessarily a requirement of the country, but of some schools.  Most importantly -schools require that you be a native English speaker.  Some schools even go so far as to only hire teachers from North America without regional accents.


Once you get a job, the next step is to get a working visa.  There is a ton of paperwork involved, including getting your Bachelor’s degree notarized, getting a FBI background check, and then getting the background check notarized.  All of it then needs to be mailed to Korea so they can take it to their visa office.  Then you’ll get a number from the Korean government that you will then take to the Korean Embassy in your state to get the visa put in your passport.  You have to leave your passport with them which is a little scary but when you come back to pick it up you will now be legally allowed to work in Korea.

Now that you’ve got your visa, things get pretty intense really quickly.  They only reason  you are waiting to move is because you are waiting for your visa.  Now that you have it your school will want you to be in Korea as soon as possible.  Which means that you either should have been preparing to move all this time or you’d better pack fast.  It took me about a month to receive my visa, getting it after the Embassy was closed for Memorial Day.  I left on June 3rd.


The last step to being official is to pass your medical exam, which all foreign teachers have to take. It’s more than just a drug test that you might be made to take in the States. First we were taken to a room where they took my chest measurement, my male coworker’s waist measurement, our height and weight.  Then they checked our hearing, our vision and took our blood pressure.

Next it was downstairs to check our teeth.  The dentist literally stuck the mirror in my mouth went all the way around once and said, “clean!” And that was it.  The next thing was a urine test.  In America, we use a designated bathroom and pee in a plastic cup with a screw on lid that we place in a turn around window, never to see it again.  In Korea, you go to the regular restroom, pee in a paper cup with no lid and bring it back it back to the nurse who puts it on a tray with the rest of the samples right next to her desk.  I was careful not to run into anyone or anything to avoid a pretty horrible accident.

Then my least favorite – the blood draw.  Thankfully this nurse was the most skilled I’d ever had up to this point.  She did it quickly and only needed a small amount.  I only freaked out a little, not wanting to cry in front of my new supervisor and colleague.  the last thing was the chest x-ray.  I had to take off my shirt and “top underwear” as they called it and put on a snazzy wrap around shirt that was actually made of cloth and hanging up in a little locker room.  They had me basically hug the x-ray machine so they could take the picture.

After having your health checked out and everything comes back clean, the last thing you’ll need is your resident card, which we call a “green card” in the States.  However, in South Korea’s case they are blue, not green.  This will become your legal form of identification, so you don’t have to carry your passport around with you.



And that’s it!  Easy-peasy. Teaching in Korea is something that I will never forget. It was a challenging learning experience that is still effecting my life years later.


Have you ever thought about teaching abroad? Was this post helpful? Let me know in the comments!


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