Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching in South Korea

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Application Process

Is TEFL certification required to teach in South Korea?

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It depends on the school type. For public schools, TEFL certification is required unless you have an Education degree or teaching license. Not all private schools require TEFL, but they all strongly prefer teachers with certificates, and you would be at a serious competitive disadvantage trying to find a job without it. ESL teachers in Korea have a high level of responsibility for planning lessons and managing classes, and TEFL certification will help make sure you’re prepared for this.

For these reasons, CIEE’s standard program in Korea includes our online 150 hour TEFL certification course as a built-in feature! This training takes 3-4 months to complete, and new sessions start every two weeks. Our TEFL team will enroll you in a course after your Teach in Korea application is accepted and you have paid the Commitment Deposit.

If you already have TEFL, an Education degree, or a teaching license, you can apply to our Basics program, which has all the same support and placements, just without TEFL.

How competitive are teaching jobs in Korea? Are there interviews?

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Hiring in South Korea is only moderately competitive. Public schools are more competitive because the number of positions available is limited. Private school jobs are more numerous and easier to get, and they are available as a “plan B” if things don’t work out with public school hiring. The sooner you apply, the better your chances are for both public and private school positions.

There are video interviews for both school types and these are very important. Candidates should be energetic and professional, and demonstrate enthusiasm for teaching, not just travelling. We share additional tips with our candidates when they get to this phase of the process!

I haven’t graduated yet, can I still apply?

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Yes! If you haven’t graduated yet (or haven’t received your degree), please submit a letter from either your Academic Advisor or Registrar to confirm your anticipated graduation date and degree type. You can upload this to your Educational Documents section in place of your diploma and transcripts. You should also check with your university to see when you will receive the actual diploma, since you’ll need this eventually for the visa.

Why should I pay a fee to teach in Korea?

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Our fee-based program means you can expect the highest level of service and assistance. Unlike recruiters who rely on commissions from schools, CIEE works for you, and puts your interests first. Our years of experience and firsthand advice from alumni will help you have a successful experience. At every step of the process, the guidance and support that we offer sets us apart from the rest.

You also benefit from being in a program with other participants who are experiencing this for the first time together. You will meet them at orientation where you can ask questions, share thoughts, and create meaningful relationships that will last you beyond your teaching experience.

Are recommendation letters required?

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You must ask two people to submit recommendation letters on your behalf. These should be from people who have supervised your work, either at university, a paid job, or a volunteer position. Make sure that CIEE receives either letter scans OR signed originals by the application deadline.

Private schools are willing to accept scans and unsigned letters, but the EPIK public school program will eventually require signed originals with particular formatting. Review the requirements for EPIK recommendation letters.

Job Placement

What’s the difference between public and private schools in Korea?

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CIEE can help you apply to teaching jobs at public schools with the national EPIK program, or to teaching jobs at private school academies, also called hagwons.

Public school instructors have 20-25 teaching hours per week, and normally rotate between multiple schools on a weekly schedule. Public schools give you slightly longer vacations, but less control over where in Korea you will be placed.

On the other hand, private schools give you much more control over your placement location, since you’ll be interviewing with a specific school instead of a centralized government agency. The workload is around 30 teaching hours per week, and vacations are a bit shorter. Unlike public schools, private academies hire multiple foreign teachers, so you’ll be working with a few other expats.

For a detailed comparison of public and private schools in Korea, check out this handout!

How does the placement process work?

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Once you are accepted to CIEE’s program and make a deposit, you decide whether to apply for jobs with private schools or with the EPIK public school program, which is a little more competitive.

If you choose public schools, CIEE will give you tips for EPIK’s online application and then review it with you to make it as strong as it can be. EPIK will schedule a Skype interview, and if you pass, you’ll submit your visa documents by mail. Once those are received, we’ll wait for EPIK to assign you to a specific province or metro area (i.e. Gyeonggi-do or Daejeon). If you’re not placed with EPIK, we can switch to a private school job search.

If you apply to private schools, the process is simpler. We will introduce you to our in-country team, who will discuss your preferences and then arrange Skype interviews with potential employers. Before the interview, you’ll get a summary of the job, including a map with the location. If you don’t like the school, you can let us know and we will work to find one that feels like a better fit.

Where in South Korea do CIEE teachers get placed?

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We place teachers all over Korea. Public schools are found throughout the country, while private school placements tend to cluster in cities and suburban areas. Many of our private school placements are in the greater Seoul area, so that’s a more reliable way to get a job near the capitol. For both school types, the center of Seoul is extremely competitive.

It is best if you can keep an open mind about location, as this allows for a wider search, however, it is understandable to have placement preferences and you can indicate these throughout the process.

Can friends or couples teach in South Korea together?

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We get this question a lot: Can couples teach in South Korea together? Can friends teach in South Korea together? With private school jobs, it’s pretty easy to do, since many of them are hiring two or more teachers simultaneously. Both people should apply to CIEE’s program at the same time, and communicate their request clearly in conversations about placement preferences.

On the other hand, EPIK will only consider requests for joint placement from married couples. 

How long are teaching contracts in Korea? Can I renew after my first year?

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All of our partners in South Korea require a 12 month (365 day) commitment. No one-semester contracts are available. If your job performance is satisfactory, the school will likely invite you to renew your contract for another year!

Foreign teachers receive short breaks between semesters, but they continue to teach for most of the summer with special programs like English language camps or adult education.

Living and Working

What kind of housing is included with teaching jobs in Korea?

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In addition to the monthly salary, all of our partner schools will arrange safe, comfortable housing for teachers. It is generally a studio or a one-bedroom apartment. In the rare situation where you would be sharing your apartment with another foreign teacher of the same gender, the school would make you aware of this before signing the contract.

Do schools in South Korea give you a curriculum to follow?

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The curriculum you will need to follow varies greatly from school to school. Some schools have a structured curriculum while others have general teaching outcomes for the semester. You will learn more about the expectations and resources your school has once you arrive and meet your colleagues.

Since you can’t know these exact details in advance, it’s a good idea to be prepared for anything. Start gathering lesson ideas online, talk to friends who are teachers, and consider taking CIEE’s online TEFL training course. It’s a great way to get yourself ready!

How many hours per week will I teach? What will my role be?

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Wherever you are placed, expect to have the role of a lead teacher. Working hours will vary slightly from school to school, but a typical assignment for public schools is 20-25 classroom hours with the rest of your schedule available for planning. The typical assignment in a private school is 30 classroom hours with additional hours for planning. In the beginning of your time in either school type you will spend more hours planning as you are still getting comfortable with the curriculum and the students’ levels.

At a public school you will often have a Korean co-teacher to help with classroom management, as those classes are usually around 30 students. Private schools have smaller classes, usually around 8-15 students.

How heavy is the workload compared to other countries?

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South Korea does have a heavier workload than some of our other programs. The expectations for your lesson plans, classroom skills, and enthusiasm tend to be a bit higher, which is one of the reasons we strongly advise getting your TEFL certification.

In Korea, workload is measured by the number of hours spent teaching in the classroom each week: 20-25 hours at public schools, and 30 hours at private schools. Beyond those hours, expect to spend additional time on meetings, free periods, lunch supervision, special events and lesson prep. For private schools, first-year teachers typically need to spend significant time on lesson prep after hours, since their daily schedules are quite full and they don’t have free periods during the day to plan.

How do I get a Korean bank account? Can I use US bank/credit cards?

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Once you arrive at your school, a colleague will help you set up a local bank account, which is usually ready 3-5 weeks after you arrive. Most teachers are paid by direct deposit, but your first paycheck might be in cash if that’s not ready yet. You can continue to use your U.S. bank or credit cards abroad, but you will need to contact your home financial institution to discuss fees, travel alerts, and security.

Are teacher salaries in Korea enough to cover cost of living?

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Yes! South Korea has one of the highest starting salaries for entry-level English teachers, when you consider that rent-free housing is already provided. If you’re living like a local, other costs of living are significantly lower than in the US. This means that you can take care of meals, groceries, utilities, internet, cell phone, and local transportation, and still have plenty of money left over each month. You can use it to plan amazing trips, make student loan payments, or just save it up and bring it back with you!

Can I bring my cat or dog?

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No. It’s very difficult to “import” an animal into South Korea, and then re-import them back to your home country when you return home. Employers and landlords won’t allow you to have a pet in your small studio apartment. You’ll need to find someone for your pet to live with while you teach abroad.

Travel and Arrival

What is the CIEE orientation like?

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CIEE organizes a multi-day teacher orientation for all of the participants, no matter if you are at a public or private school. You will enjoy a weekend in Seoul where you can meet other participants, enjoy local cuisine, and visit one of the city’s cultural highlights like a palace or major temple.

The different employers normally have a wide range of start dates, but each season we organize multiple orientation weekends so that teachers can attend one within a short time after arriving at their teaching site. We also provide a thorough online orientation with tons of great advice from alumni, to get you prepared even before your plane takes off!

Is it safe to teach in South Korea?

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South Korea periodically finds itself in the headlines because of posturing by its northern neighbor, but in reality it has enjoyed peace and stability for over 65 years since fighting ended in the Korean war. At CIEE, we use our international connections and resources to monitor safety and security in all of our destinations, relying on public and non-public information sources. At this time, we are confident that South Korea is a safe country in which to live and teach, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. No place is completely risk-free, whether at home or abroad, and it’s important to follow common sense practices, such as not walking alone after dark, keeping your passport in a safe place, and being careful around roadways and motor vehicles.

CIEE participants receive several layers of 24/7 emergency support, from their supervisors at school, CIEE representatives, and iNext international travel and emergency insurance. For more information about safety in South Korea, please consult the State Department’s country page, and consider enrolling in the STEP program, which can be helpful for concerned family members as well!

Do schools in Korea cover visas and flights?

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Public schools will give you 1.3 million won as a transportation allowance. This happens 1-6 months after arrival depending on the province you are placed in. Some private schools will pay for the flight up front; others will reimburse you after your first paycheck, and some will pay for your flight home rather than your flight to Korea. This detail will be confirmed in writing at the time of each job offer.

After a job offer, you will need to wait for their documents to be processed before buying tickets. This means that teachers typically buy flights 2-4 weeks before departure.

Teachers should expect to cover the cost of their visa ($45 plus shipping for US citizens), as well as a background check (also about $45 plus shipping) and apostilled diploma copy ($15-45, depending on your US state). CIEE will cover the cost of one FedEx shipping label to carry your documents to South Korea, so you won’t have to worry about that!

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