An Introduction to ESL Jobs in Korea

Category : Career/Business / Education/Teaching
Nov 28, 2014

Types of ESL Jobs

You’ve always dreamed of teaching ESL in a foreign country. You can’t wait to write the English alphabet on the white board and proudly teach all the complicated bits of English grammar. The problem is there are just so many options to choose from. Some jobs have strict requirements for qualifications while others don’t care about much except that you are fluent in English and you’ve got a foreign passport. You also don’t want to take a bad job. You want to work for a good school and you of course want to come away with a positive experience in Korea. Take a look at the following job options. The different kinds of teaching positions are outlined here for you. The chart allows you to easily compare jobs and the overview (just below) gives you a quick synopsis of the ESL situation. Your ESL teaching dreams are about to come true!


Basic ESL Teaching Qualifications

While some positions require additional qualifications to teach English in Korea (detailed in the chart below), all teaching jobs require the following:

  • A three or four year undergraduate degree in any field from a recognized English institution, and
  • Citizenship from the UK, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.


à Note: Schools prefer candidates who have ESL teaching experience and a TESOL/CELTA certification (more than 120 hours), but it is not always required. Visit WorknPlay’s article on Getting TESOL Certified in Korea for more information.



  1. Contracts should stipulate working hours, salary, accommodations, air fare, health care, severance pay, pension payments, tax deductions, contract length (start and finish date), vacation, overtime pay, and job responsibilities and duties.
  2. All contracts in Korea should include health insurance, pension payments, and severance pay. Unless you request those written out of the contract, insist that they be included. It’s illegal otherwise. Some restrictions apply for certain nationalities.
  3. Most contracts will include housing or a housing allowance. Sometimes you have a choice, sometimes not. The housing will typically be a one room or single apartment partially (sometimes fully) furnished.


Overview (see more details below)

  1. If you’re qualified, find an international teaching job or a university job. They are the best jobs in Korea unless you love working with kids.
  2. If you really love young kids, go for a kindergarten job. They are easy to find and fun to work at.
  3. Hagwon jobs are great for newcomers to Korea. Without experience it’s hard to get a better job. Once you have taught for a year, you’ll have experience teaching and living in Korea under your belt. From there you have more leverage to find an even better position.
  4. Public schools are an excellent option if you don’t care about living in Seoul or other large metropolitan areas. There are plenty of jobs in smaller cities, rural areas and in the province surrounding Seoul. In Seoul the competition is very tough, but elsewhere newcomers can find public school positions.
  5. If you’re not qualified to teach at a university or international school, but you do have teaching experience in Korea, check out an afterschool position. Although you might not get all the perks (like airfare home and housing-allowances are always given instead of an apartment), the hours (afternoons only) and the job itself (usually smaller classes and good kids) are hard to beat.
  6. If you’re keen to have a unique cultural experience and you want a break from your undergraduate studies, try TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea). The program is certainly one of a kind and makes for an interesting ‘gap year’. It is also the only program that accepts candidates who do not have a three or four year undergraduate degree.


Comparison Chart: Check out this handy chart. You can compare the criteria along the top with the types of jobs in the first column.

Types of ESL Jobs

Additional Qualifications Required**

Av. Salary Range

(millions of KRW)

Location in Korea

Contract Length


Ages Taught

Vacation Given


Flight Reimbursement

Hagwons (Language Academies)

-ESL experience not required


All over the country

1 year

Usually evenings,

(3pm~9pm or similar)

Kindergarten/ elementary/ middle school/ adults

10 days

(5 in summer and winter)


or allowance


or stipend

Public Schools

-ESL Experience preferred but not required



2.0-2.3- GEPIK

Seoul and big city jobs are competitive

1 year


(8am ~4pm or similar hours)

Elementary/ middle school

14 days or more with GEPIK


or allowance

Yes or stipend

Private Schools

-prefer TESOL cert, Education degree and/or ESL experience

2.4 upwards

Seoul or cities

1-2 years


(8am ~4pm or similar)

Elementary/ middle school/ high school

2 weeks in summer and winter minimum

provided or allowance

Stipend is common

After School Jobs

-prefer ESL experience

-must be in Korea to apply


All over the country

1 year

Afternoons (12pm~ 6pm or similar)


10 days

(5 in summer and winter)


No (must already be in Korea)

International Schools

-Education degree

-Formal teaching experience

2.7 upwards

Seoul, surrounding cities

2 years usually


(8am ~4pm or similar)

Kindergarten to High School

Long winter (2+weeks) and summer (2+months) vacation

Provided or allowance

Yes plus other travel expenses throughout the year


-Master’s degree

-ESL experience

2.5 upwards

Cities all over Korea

2 years usually

Daytime (timetables differ, av. 10-20 hours teaching)

University students

Long winter (2+weeks) and summer (2+months) vacation

campus housing or allowance

Yes or equivalent in payment


(special program-see below for exact details)

-2 years of undergraduate degree

-an associate degree

-3 or 4 yr. university degree not required

1.5 (set salary)

Rural areas

6 months or 1 year

Afternoons (12pm~ 6pm or similar)


7 days for 6 months contracts and 14 days for 1 year contracts

Homestay or housing provided



Hagwon/학원 (Language Academy) Jobs

Korea is the land of Hagwons (the word for academy) or private learning institutions. Koreans send their children to hagwons to learn a variety of subjects: math, science, Chinese writing (hanja/한자), art, music and most of all English. It’s a huge business and there are plenty of job opportunities. This is primary ESL market in Korea.


Some hagwons are fantastic, while others are less so. Hagwons are privately-owned and operated by individuals, not by a government ministry. Therefore, hagwon jobs can be less stable than the public system. With that said, if you find a great hagwon, the owner and staff will become like family.


Hagwons can range in sizes. There are huge franchised institutes with many foreigner staff, while others are tiny ‘mom and pops’ schools where you will be the only ESL teacher. At hagwons, teachers must teach between 24 and 30 hours per week. Most teachers coming to Korea for the first time will start at a hagwon.


  • Want to find out more? Check out: Requirements for Private Language Academy Jobs in Korea.


There are three main types of ESL hagwons:


Kindergarten Hagwons

These are a mix between daycares and schools. Children aged four to seven attend these schools. Some schools are fully English while others have classes or periods of the day in English. Kids play like at a daycare and study like at a school throughout the day.


Kindergarten jobs are for you if:

  • You like kids.
  • You want to see your students improve quickly.
  • You don’t need a curriculum to follow.
  • You like to be active.
  • You want to work daytime hours (typically 9:00-18:00).


Elementary/Middle School

Elementary and middle school hagwons are the most common types of academies found in Korea (although kindergartens are becoming very popular). Curriculums are usually set and classes are broken down by levels and grades.


Elementary/Middle School hagwons are for you if:

  • It’s your first year in Korea and you don’t know what you’re looking for or have no teaching experience.
  • You want a curriculum to follow and books to teach from.
  • You want small classes (about 8-12 students).
  • You don’t want to teach pure beginner students.
  • You want to work in the afternoons and evenings (about 14:00 or 15:00 until about 22:00).
  • You don’t mind disciplining.


Adult Academies

These are language institutes for adults who want to learn or improve their English. Classes will be small (about 8-10 students) and they are divided by level (complete beginner, beginner, intermediate, advanced) or by focus (travel English, business English, TESOL prep).


Adult academies are for you if:

  • You want attentive students you don’t have to discipline.
  • You want to socialize with your students.
  • You enjoy teaching business English or TESOL test prep.
  • You want small classes.
  • You don’t mind doing split shifts (early mornings and then evenings).
  • You want to relate to your students easily.
  • You don’t mind if they don’t improve.
  • You don’t mind free-talking with people who can barely speak English.
  • You want to work with other foreigners.


Tip: Read the contract carefully. As mentioned, hagwons can be unstable. It’s important that everything is stipulated in your contract. If something goes wrong you will have your rights, duties, and benefits in writing.


Public School Jobs

Public school jobs are known to be stable jobs. The English program in the public schools is run by the Korean Ministry of Education (KMOE). At public schools, you will generally have a Korean co-teacher who will teach in the classroom with you. The foreign teacher will be responsible for teaching the English grammar and pronunciation, while the Korean teacher will be responsible for disciplining students and organizing activities and games. Class sizes can be large with as many as 35 students in a class.


Public school jobs are reliable. They won’t go bankrupt and the contract will be strictly adhered to. You won’t be paid late and you will be treated well. You will teach a maximum of 22 hours a week but you will be working a full day from about 8:00 to 16:00 or 40 hours per week. Most public school jobs are at the elementary or middle school level. Starting pay at public schools is slightly lower than at hagwons. The Gyeonggi-do board starting salaries are 2 million KRW per month while the Korean board starts at 1.8 million KRW per month


Public school jobs are for you if:

  • You don’t mind living out of Seoul.
  • You want stability in your job.
  • You want lots of free time at work and a decent amount of vacation.
  • You don’t mind teaching with another person in the classroom.
  • You don’t mind teaching students with low levels of English.
  • You don’t care about making a higher salary.
  • You want a very Korean experience abroad - you will be the only foreigner at your school.




  1. SMOE (for Seoul), GEPIK (for Gyeonggi Province), EPIK (for all of Korea), IMOE(for Incheon) are all abbreviations for public ministries of education you may stumble across while job searching. They are all related to public school jobs run under the English Program in Korea (EPIK)
  2. Please read the Requirements for Teaching with EPIK and the Requirements for Teaching with GEPIK as they differ slightly.
  3. Public jobs hire in March or September. Jobs are posted beginning in October and April. Get in touch with public school recruiters early as these jobs go quickly. If you are new to teaching ESL in Korea it may be hard to get a teaching job at public schools since they are popular.
  4. Jobs are competitive. Public school jobs are very competitive in the large metropolitan areas, especially Seoul. If you have no experience, you probably will be teaching in a smaller city or rural area.


Private Schools

Private schools are similar to public schools in that they provide stable contracts and daytime hours with less than 22 hours of teaching per week. They are like hagwons in that they have well-implemented curriculums and high levels of English. They often use American or Western curriculums. The class sizes are about 20 students per class. You will not be teaching with a co-teacher and you have freedom to design your own lessons, as long as you follow the curriculum. Lots of private schools are English immersion schools, so you may have the chance to teach a different not subject, like math, science, literature, or art. They pay more than public schools and sometimes more than hagwons.


Private school jobs are for you if:

  • You have ESL teaching experience and a TESOL certification.
  • You want stability in your job.
  • You want lots vacation and a high salary.
  • You want a good curriculum to follow.
  • You don’t want to teach with a co-teacher.
  • You want to live in a city- there are few private schools in rural areas.
  • You are in Korea for an interview.


Tip: Contact schools directly. Private schools often do internal recruiting. Don’t rely on a recruiter to find you this kind of job. Search for private school job postings and visit the schools with your resume in person. If you have a friend that has taught at a private school, get him/her to put you in contact with the hiring director.


After School Jobs

After school jobs are run by private companies within public schools. The public board subsidizes these programs so that families with low income can send their children to receive extra English classes. Rather than spending thousands of KRW on hagwons parents can enroll their elementary students in this program. For ESL teachers, the benefits are good too. Classes are limited to 20 students and they are held in the afternoons, from about 13:00 to 17:00 or 18:00. You need to arrive an hour or two before to prepare, but you don’t have to stay after the last class. That means the hours are short, the pay is the same as at a hagwon and you have total control over your classes. The classes are usually divided by grade (grades 1 and 2 together, grades 3 and 4 together and grades 5 and 6 together). They are further divided by level (high level and low level). You only work with one other Korean teacher who teaches one class grammar and writing while you teach another class speaking and listening. Then you switch classes. After school positions are competitive. You need to be in Korea to have an in-person interview and you need Korean teaching experience. A TESOL certification really helps too. These days after school companies are primarily recruiting F-series visas.


After school jobs are for you if:

  • You have ESL teaching experience and TESOL certification.
  • You want to stay a second or third year in Korea, but you are tired of hagwons.
  • You want free time to do your own thing.
  • You want to teach alone.
  • You are in Korea for an interview.
  • You have an F-series visa (not always required but highly beneficial).


Tip: These jobs like to hire F-series visa holders. If you have an F visa go for an afterschool job. If you have an E-2 visa, you’ll need Korean experience. You’ll always be asked for an in-person interview.


International Schools

There are 46 international schools in Korea. Not all of these are English schools. Some are Japanese and Chinese and there is one Italian school and one German school. Some are also religious schools and you should be religious to work at those ones. All aside, international school jobs are fantastic.


They use western curriculums and you can teach a variety of grades. All subjects are taught in English, so you don’t have to teach ESL. The students are from around the world and usually fluent (or nearly) in English. You have responsibility for your own classroom management, testing and grading. The only drawback is that you need an education degree from an English speaking country and it helps to have formal teaching experience (aka. not from a hagwon). If you do have the qualifications, find yourself an international job.


International school jobs are for you if:

  • You have a teaching degree and experience.
  • You want a great job with all the perks of a private school job plus more vacation, better housing and access to lots of teaching resources.
  • You want to live in or near Seoul (most international schools are located in Seoul or Gyeongi Province).


Tip: You can’t get an international school job through a recruiter. You can apply directly to the school or you can attend worldwide international school job fairs. Check out the article on International Schools in Korea for a list and browse Search Associates, an international teaching job fair around the world.


University Jobs

University jobs are considered the veteran jobs in Korea. Teachers who have been in Korea for a number of years often land university jobs. The qualifications are getting more stringent these days and you will most likely need a master’s degree or enough good references from teaching jobs in Korea to persuade the university hiring board.


You will be teaching ESL to university students. Classes can be huge and students may have less than enthusiastic attitudes towards English class since it’s mandatory at most schools. The bonuses are that you teach very few hours; some are as little as eight hours a week and you don’t have to be at school when you aren’t in class. Some schools require teachers to hold a few office hours at some point during the week, but that’s only a few hours. Another major plus is that vacations are long. University is out for just over two months in the summer and in the winter. If you don’t feel like traveling for that time, you can offer to teach English camps for tons of extra cash.


University jobs are for you if:

  • You have a master’s degree but not a teaching degree. If you have a Master’s in Education, consider an international school instead.
  • You have lots of experience in Korea.
  • You can attend an in-person interview in Korea.
  • You want to pursue another hobby which requires free time during the week or you love traveling.
  • You are willing to travel to find a job. Seoul jobs fill up quickly and universities have picks from scores of well–qualified, Korean experienced teachers.


Tip: You need to be diligent about applying for university jobs. Before you finish you current teaching job in Korea, start preparing. Build a great resume, look sharp and drop off resumes (including a well written cover letter, photocopies of reference letters and a good photo attached) in person to as many universities as possible. Koreans like to meet potential hires. You have a better chance of getting hired if you can win them over before they even look at your credentials.


TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea)

TaLK is an interesting program that the Korean Ministry of Education started. The program aims to bring ESL teachers to work in rural areas where English programs are underdeveloped and the language fluency is very low. The locations of these jobs make them undesirable for teachers with experience, but they are great for someone who is looking for a new cultural experience.


Most of the time you will be living with a Korean family and your working hours are afternoons only. You have lots of time to explore your surrounding countryside and learn about Korea. As well, the government sets up cultural activities for TaLK participants. The orientation is four weeks long and you don’t just learn how to teach. You go on trips, meet other teachers and engage with Korean culture. Contracts are either six months or one year, so you can do it as a gap year right after or during university. You only need two years of an undergraduate degree from an English speaking institution or an associate degree to apply. You will be teaching elementary students only.


TaLK is for you if:

  • You are in the middle of your undergrad degree and need a break.
  • You only have an associate degree but want to teach ESL.
  • You want to learn about a new culture and be totally immersed.
  • You don’t care about money or location.
  • You are looking for a great gap year adventure.


Tip: TaLK programs start in September or March, like public schools. You need to apply by early May for September or early December for March. Check out the TaLK Website for all info you need to apply!


Photo Credit: Korea Joongang Daily

Tags : Education. Teaching. ESL.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.