Thinking of Going to Korea to Teach? (A Conversation)

Teaching Here is Fun
Teaching Here is Fun

While I’ve written before about what to think about while you’re waiting for your  paperwork to go through, think of this post as even more basic than that. This is more for those of you who stumble across this site after a panicky search of the Internet for ways to pay off your student loans. 

So you’ve taught English in Korea, huh.

Yes. For about two years.

Did you like it?

Yeah, it was pretty fun.

I don’t mean to pry, but how did you get paid, yo.

About $24,000 a year. Think of that as your basic rate, though.  That also depends on the exchange rate, which fluctuates. You can make more if you get part time “privates” taught in homes. It’s illegal though and I wouldn’t suggest you do privates without taking a deep breath and weighing the consequences. Like getting fined and or deported.

I see. What’s the cost of living, though. I got mad bills I got to pay back home, dude. 

Typically, you could send back at least $1,000 home a month. Although there is a cap of $10,000 a year. After that you have to get permission from the government to send cash back. Please take note — if you have all those “mad bills” to pay, the money doesn’t just pour in right away. It takes about two months for you to get a full pay check because of the expenses of setting up shop in Korea.

Ok, what’s the social scene like. I like to have fun and don’t know if I can survive being away from home for a whole year away from my friends.

It all depends. In the major cities like Seoul and Busan, there is a happening social scene with lots of live music. If you live out in the sticks, be prepared to learn a lot more about how to entertain yourself. You might have to learn a lot more Korean than you would otherwise.

Say, how hard is it to learn Korean by the way?

I found it very hard. I only a know a little and I was there for a total of five years. (Koreans are so busy learning English that they don’t mind if you don’t learn Korean. They often think it’s silly to hear a Westerner try to speak Korean.)

Tell me about the children.

Teaching children in general is a pain in the butt at times, but it can also be really rewarding. Liking children is a key to being successful in the teaching business, regardless of where you are. If you don’t like children — or can’t fake it, I don’t suggest you go to Korea to teach English. And kids can sense if you don’t like them. Trust me.

Ok, I’m still interested in teaching in Korea, what do I need to go?

This is what I understand you need as of right now. Things keep changing, so talk to your recruiter about exactly what you need. If you’re coming from the States, you’re going to need an apostilled FBI background check, a certified copy of your diploma and a lot of time. Doing those two things takes about three or more months. You get your apostille from the State Department.  The last thing I heard was you might need two copies, not one of these documents.  Once you get to Korea, you’re going to have to take a drug test and get a health checkup as well.

You mentioned a “recruiter.”

Yeah, you’re going to need someone to act as a go between with you and the school. They are notorious for being shady and saying anything to get you into a position. But there are some really good ones out there, as well, just be careful.

How exactly do I get the job?

Your best bet is to post your resume on Dave’s ESL Cafe and wait. There are other sites as well, obviously, but Dave’s ESL Cafe is the best known. You should get a dozen or so job offers within 48 hours if you’re lucky. It helps if you’re good  looking, young and a woman, but there are plenty of ugly old male teachers in Korea.

Thanks for the info, man.

No problem.

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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


  1. Going to Korea was easily the biggest mistake of my life. If Koreans can screw you on a contract they will, and they can screw you if they are the ones who hold the power. In Korea contracts are not enforceable by you, they are enforceable against you. Once you are here, you are screwed. The U.S. Embassy states as much in diplomatic ease on its website.

    Read this from the U.S. Embassy's site ( and official warning:

    Here's a synopsis:

    1. Koreans view contracts as flexible and subject to ongoing (and often unspoken) negotiation. You do not have a choice to agree or disagree

    2. Culturally, the real contract is not the written contract; it's the spoken agreement that the employer can put on you at will.

    3. Employers will renege on oral agreements if they can. They can at the end of the contract and you try to collect on it.



    Foreign instructors in Korea occasionally have contract disputes with their employers. Many have observed that in Korea, a contract appears simply to be a rough working agreement, subject to change depending on the circumstances. Many Koreans do not view deviations from a contract as a breach of contract, and few Koreans would consider taking an employer to court over a contract dispute.

    Instead, Koreans tend to view contracts as always being flexible and subject to further negotiation. Culturally, the written contract is not the real contract; the unwritten or oral agreement one has with one's employer is the real contract. However, many employers will view a contract violation by a foreign worker as serious, and will renege on verbal promises if they feel they can. Any contract should be signed with these factors in mind."


    The US Embassy as part of their trade agreement used words like "Foreign instructors in Korea occasionally have contract disputes", written contracts are not honored, Koreans view their oral agreement (which is subject to change and their sole determination) as the real contract, and Koreans "renege on verbal promises if they feel they can."

    In other words, good luck getting paid, airfare, severance, pension. "Occasionally" it does not happen.

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