Teaching In Korea: The Money

Nope. Sorry.
Nope. Sorry.

Ahhh, yes, let’s address head on the issue of money as a teacher in South Korea.

As I have written elsewhere, you usually make about $24,000 a year as an English teacher in South Korea. One of the nice things about that is this leads to to something of a utopia because really there is nothing that separates one expat from another. Everyone has a college degree (or at least is supposed to) and everyone is making about the same amount of money.

A lot of people go to South Korea simply to make money to pay off student loans. This is not a bad idea because if you play your cards right you can send back as much as $1,000 a month (with $10,000 being the total you can send back in one year without permission from the government).

But there are a lot of “buts” involved.

A lot of people these days have over $100,000 in student loans to pay off and if one were to stay in South Korea long enough to pay off all that they would be so changed by the time spent there that they would feel like a stranger in a strange land where ever they ended up. Your best bet is to stay in Korea about a year and then get the hell out. Otherwise, you grow attached to the Land of the Morning Calm and its “easy” money and you become something of a misfit. That’s what they don’t tell you about all that “easy” money you can make in South Korea — reverse culture shock is a bitch. The longer you stay in South Korea, the more the “black hole” aspect of it starts to kick in.

Also — the money simply is not “easy” by any stretch of the imagination. Dealing with not only rambunctious kids but the cultural differences associated with with South Korea  in general as well can make teaching and living in South Korea anything but “easy.” You have to be something of a weirdo, in fact, to do well in South Korea. Yes, I know plenty of goddamn hipsters are  washing up upon the shores of South Korea, but they are in for a rude awaking. In South Korea, it’s hip to be square, at least in the expat community.

It’s so rare to find a “normal” person in the expat community that by my fifth year in Korea I was shocked and taken aback should I stumble across such a rare creature.

And don’t think you can speed up the process by doing a lot of private teaching. It’s dangerous to do privates, yo, and you can and will get caught, fined and deported. That doesn’t stop people from doing it, yes, but do you really want to be living on the edge like that?

So while the short answer to “Can I make money in South Korea teaching English?” is “Yes,” the longer answer is much more complicated.  Simply going there can change your life so much that you stop thinking about your life back home and all those student loans and you start to think about how you can sneak off to Thailand or Cambodia for some RnR.

And that doesn’t even begin to address how much “wine, women and song” there is to be had in South Korea. Your ability to control yourself — especially if you’re just out of college and have nothing to compare it with –is probably going to be close to nil. So you may find that easy money is spent not on paying down student loans but instead on going to a noraebang (singing room) every night and drinking booze until the wee hours of the night simply because you don’t have to work until 4 p.m….and going on a huge number of dates with really hot Korean men/women.

So be careful. Think long and hard about why you’re going to Korea and what would happen if you loved it.

Image from here.

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Migukin has been in the newspaper business off and on for about 15 years. He lived in South Korea for about 5 years total. He co-founded ROKon Magazine in Seoul, South Korea several years ago. He currently is a freelance writer and photographer living in the Richmond, Virginia area. You can read his personal Website at migukin.wordpress.com.


  1. Sounds very stereotyping. Especially the part about being a weirdo – there are other places to teach besides hogwons and this sounded very much like a teacher with a hogwon background But then again,maybe he is being a touch sarcastic and I am missing something.

    • I don’t feel it’s a stereotype. It’s just a fact — there are a lot of very strange people teaching in hagwons, which is where I was talking about. And since Seoul has cut back on public school English teachers, there are fewer places than ever to teach in Korea where you won’t be exposed to those weirdos. Sometimes, what sounds like a “stereotype” is simply the truth.

      • Then again, you didn’t really define what you mean by ‘weirdo.’ To some extent, the decision to absent yourself from your home country and live far away fro the family, social group and support networks that you had built around yourself – this alone might be enough to fit such a definition. But it’s probably not what you mean.

        I disagree that you have to be odd in some way to do well here. True, there are strange people working in hagwons, and that’s a function of the hiring process employed by most private schools, which is usually nothing more than a phone call interview – though not all schools are like that. My first hagwon employer flew to San Francisco to meet me in person, and he was en route to Chicago to interview another guy. That’s not the most usual way, but it does happen.

        I guess what I take exception to most is the idea that such strange people prosper. I don’t think so. In my experience, if you meet weirdos teaching here, they are not in any way close to occupying the best situations. In fact, I’d say that you need to be very well grounded and serious about life in order to do really well here. If you are not that way when you get here, you will likely become more so – if you don’t become more so, then you likely won’t last more than a few years.

        The author decided to leave Korea and live elsewhere. He’s not here now. It sounds like he decided he is not weird enough. It sounds like he’s just another guy who decided it was Korea’s fault and not at all his.

        The truth is that there are a lot of us doing well here, and not just financially. There are plenty, for instance, who don’t find the bars and fleshpots to their liking. There are a lot who spend time learning the language, studying history or learning other things – taekwondo, photography, writing novels, building a business.

        So, yes, it is stereotyping … or else, the author hung out with a very specific type of people and really thinks that includes everyone.

  2. ill be looking at into getting into teaching after my stint in the Army. I was stationed over there 2 times so i already know what you are talking about.

  3. 10,000 is not the limit you can send back, perhaps to the US but not to Canada or UK. I sent back 32,000 & certainly did not need permission.

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